2016 NFL Draft: 5 Prospects Likely to See Stock Soar in Coming Weeks
With the 2015 college football season now in the rear-view mirror, even more eyes are now focused on the 2016 NFL draft.
With the January 18 deadline looming for underclassmen to officially declare early, this year's draft picture is starting to take shape before the all-star circuit and workouts begin later this month.
Events like the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine are on the horizon, so prospects are preparing to put on a show for NFL scouts in hopes of boosting their draft stock as April approaches.
There are always a handful of prospects who take advantage of their last opportunities to showcase their skills for NFL decision-makers, whether in postseason game action, all-star practices or pre-draft workouts.
This year is no different, as plenty of players have either already made a statement with their play in recent weeks, or are poised to generate plenty of buzz with their measureables and natural athletic ability.
Let's take a look at who could be flying up draft boards in the coming weeks.
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Prior to the national championship game, O.J. Howard was an athletic but rarely used pass-catcher who had yet to make a significant impact for the Crimson Tide over his career.
But he picked the biggest stage on which to have his coming-out party, as the junior tight end hauled in five catches for 208 yards and a pair of long scores in Alabama's 45-40 win over Clemson. Howard had tallied just 394 yards receiving all season heading into the final game.
At 6'6", 242 pounds, Howard has the size and athleticism NFL teams covet from the new generation of playmaking tight ends, and his performance in the title game proved he can create mismatches against even the toughest opponents and come up with big plays in the most important moments.
If he decides to enter the draft early, he could easily take advantage of a relatively weak tight end class and be the first one off the board, likely sometime on Day 2. His athletic ability would make him a standout at the combine, which would only boost his stock.
Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
The buzz around Carson Wentz had already started to build in the early part of the 2015 season, but a broken wrist forced him to miss a portion of the regular season and the playoffs.
However, Wentz returned for the FCS title game, leading the Bison to their unprecedented fifth straight national championship, and putting on a show for NFL scouts with both his arm and his legs.
At 6'6", 235 pounds, Wentz has the prototypical frame for a pro quarterback, and he's got enough arm strength to make every NFL throw. And even at that size, he's equally impressive as a runner, using his athleticism and smarts to cripple opposing defenses by making plays outside of the pocket.
Wentz has already entered the first-round conversation—as Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller pointed out, among others—no doubt helped by a quarterback class that isn't incredibly top-heavy.
But a solid outing at the Senior Bowl would help him pick up even more steam as the pre-draft process moves along, and with plenty of teams still looking for a franchise quarterback, he could easily find himself off the board early.
Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson
O.J. Howard wasn't the only player who made an emphatic statement about their potential draft value in the national championship game. On a night when most were focused on teammates Mackensie Alexander and Shaq Lawson, Dodd was easily the most dominant player on the Clemson defense.
The redshirt junior racked up three sacks against the Crimson Tide, and he was seemingly unblockable against the run for most of the night.
He ended his 2015 season with 12 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss, and he was one of multiple Clemson underclassmen to declare early for the draft.
Dodd's combination of power and quickness is rare for someone of his size—6'5", 280 pounds—and his frame and skill set should give him the versatility to play in any scheme at the next level.
He's already worked himself at least into the Day 2 conversation and could potentially sneak into the first round if he impresses at the combine.
Artie Burns, CB, Miami (FL)
Most of the talk regarding this year's top cornerback prospects has centered around the likes of Florida's Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida State's Jalen Ramsey and Clemson's Mackensie Alexander. But Miami's Artie Burns could find himself knocking on the door of the first round once April 28 rolls around.
At 6'0", 193 pounds, Burns has the size NFL teams are looking for in their corners, as opposing receivers seem to be getting bigger, more physical and more athletic.
Burns has rare physical tools, from his track speed to great length and smooth feet. Combine those with his ball skills and instincts, and Burns looks the part of a future star at the pro level.
Burns excels in press man coverage, something more and more NFL teams need from their corners. He's a bit inconsistent on film, but he's likely to light up the combine with his athleticism and speed, which could vault him into the first round.
De'Runnya Wilson, WR, Mississippi State
At first glance, it's not hard to see why NFL teams would be interested in De'Runnya Wilson. At 6'4", 215 pounds, he's got the size pro scouts salivate over, bringing with it an enormous catch radius and leaping ability that makes him a dangerous weapon in the red zone.
A second-team All-SEC pick in 2015, the junior receiver caught nine touchdowns for the Bulldogs this year, but consistency and off-field issues will be his biggest hurdles to overcome in the pre-draft process.
Wilson was arrested on multiple drug charges in March of 2015, which could raise questions about his ability to stay out of trouble and avoid suspension at the pro level.
At the end of the day, NFL teams are suckers for the things you can't teach, and Wilson's combination of size and athleticism certainly falls into that category. He looks the part of a No. 1 NFL receiver and should impress at the combine, which could easily entice a team to take a chance on him early on Day 2.