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On the Move

The following is an article written by Real Football Services. They will be a frequent contributor on in the weeks leading up to the draft.

The draft evaluation is a long process that begins more than a year prior to the actual draft.  Various schools have junior day workouts the previous spring where underclassmen are measured and timed.  Then each team dispatches their regional scouts to watch players in as many as two to three games during the season.  But the players really come under the microscope in the postseason during the all-star bowl games, the combine and pro day workouts.

The process intensifies during this time as teams focus in on strengths and weaknesses of each player and begin to put their draft board together.  As a result, the stock of many players begins to fluctuate as they slide up and down the board with every move.  Here is a list of some of the top players rising up the board as we get closer to draft weekend.

One offensive player who has steadily moved towards the top of the draft is Maryland TE Vernon Davis.  The 6'3", 254-pounder boasts the best receiving skills of any player in the draft.  That and his highly productive career in College Park had boosted him into the bottom of the first round by the end of the regular season.  But it was at the combine that Davis really started to soar.  He ran a much-publicized 4.38 in the 40, recorded a 42-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot broad jump, remarkable numbers for a man his size.  He also had 33 lifts on the bench press.  Some scouts thought that performance boosted him into the top ten.  But since then, the combination of size, strength and skills, and the lack of elite WR's in the draft have helped his status even more, and Jets fans heard this week that he is a potential top five pick.  As more and more teams look for that middle of the field receiving threat in the mold of Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez, look for Davis to be one of the first players off the board.

Another offensive mover has been USC OT Winston Justice.  He's big (6'6", 320) and strong (38 reps on the bench at 225 pounds) and has a high pedigree coming from Pete Carroll's Trojan program where he has spent the past few seasons guarding southpaw Matt Leinart's blind side at RT.  But the thing that raised scouts eyebrows was the athleticism that the big man showed at USC's pro day, recording a 39-inch vertical and a 9-foot broad jump, and running a 5.16 in the 40 despite tweaking his hamstring.  That combination of size and agility is rare in a 320-pounder and as a result he has climbed the board.  Most scouts now project him as a top ten pick, with a chance to go as high as #7 to the Raiders.

The rest of the "Risers" group, at least near the top of the draft, play on the defensive side of the ball.  The top dog appears to be NC State DE Mario Williams, who some scouts have as high as the number two pick in the draft.  Some of that is based on the needs of teams in the top five, but there is a school of thought that teams might be willing to trade that high to get the big pass rusher.  Though he has a great first step, good initial quickness, and a non-stop motor that make him an ideal edge pass rusher in a 4-3 scheme, he also has the size (6'7", 295) to potentially be a fit as a DE in a 3-4 scheme, though he lacks bulk and has never done it before.  This guy does it all and is a playmaker through and through.

Two defensive tackles also are making a case for an early exit off the board.  Oregon's Haloti Ngata and Florida State's Broderick Bunkley have been making late moves.  Ngata has been nearly a consensus top ten pick since the end of the season.  He's a 338-pounder who ran a 5.1, but it is his quickness off the ball, and his ability to penetrate and disrupt play in the backfield that makes him so attractive to scouts and coaches alike.  Many teams have him rated as high as fifth on their  boards, ahead of players like Ohio State OLB A.J. Hawk, Davis, and Texas S Michael Huff.

A few months ago Bunkley was no more than a late second round prospect.  But he's another player who really raised his stock with a great showing at the combine.  Bunkley put up a near record 44 lifts on the bench press, had a 32-inch vertical and ran a 4.9 in the 40 in Indy.  The knock on Bunkley was a lack of size.  But his strength and quickness made him a disruptive force in the middle, and now that he has bulked up to ver 300 pounds, teams have taken notice.  Expect Bunkley to come off the board in the first 15 picks.

With so many teams moving to a 3-4 defensive alignment, there is a group of tweener defensive ends who are getting a long look from scouts as stand up OLB's.  Included in that group are NC State's Manny Lawson and Florida State's Kamerion Wimbley.  Both are tall, rangy players who possess great athletic ability and the speed, not only to rush the passer, but drop into coverage.  Both have a wide range of football skills that will make them ideal for that role.  We expect both players, who were late-second, early third-round prospects a month ago, to be selected in the first 20 picks.

Another Florida State player on the rise is OLB Ernie Sims.  Speed kills in the NFL and Sims has plenty of it.  He can make plays all over the field, is aggressive and has a nose for the ball.  We hear that Tampa Bay is very interested and could play him inside in their Cover Two scheme, which doesn't have a height requirement for the MLB position, and groom him as an eventual replacement for Derrick Brooks on the outside.  He's a versatile player who can contribute right away.

Finally there's the injury recovery climb.  Tennessee safety Jason Allen, Florida State corner Antonio Cromartie, and Ohio State LB Bobby Carpenter all had injury flags entering the postseason evaluation period.  But all have apparently recovered well enough to be considered legitimate first round prospects.  Cromartie tore a knee ligament in July and missed his senior season, but he has excellent size and speed, is a playmaker, and is versatile.  He has also played receiver and can return kicks.  Allen has great instincts and ball skills, and can play corner or safety, but a dislocated hip cut short his senior year.  He answered questions about his health and lack of speed with a 4.39 40 at the combine though, and considering he was a first round prospect before the injury, he has now returned to his rightful place on the board.  He could go to the Steelers at the bottom of round one.  Carpenter suffered a broken bone in his leg in November against Michigan and missed most of the postseason.  His reputation as a hard-nosed, instinctive playmaker kept him on the Day One radar, but until he ran a 4.6 in the 40 at OSU's pro day (he still was not at 100%), scouts were leary.  However, with a return to health, he has steadily climbed the board in recent weeks and could be selected in the bottom third of the first round.

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