Alex Carrington, DE, Arkansas State
Started in the Spring with a undrafted free agent grade from the NFS (National Football Scouting) organization, driven mostly by his junior season’s film, but recorded promising measurables (6-5, 278) at his team’s Junior Day last March where he also timed an impressive, 4.78 in the forty yard dash. Carrington finished with a flurry, recording 19 tackles-for-loss and 10.5 sacks, and in the process, earned himself an invitation to the Senior Bowl for a pivotal week against the nation’s best college football seniors. The Arkansas State product proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that he belonged, observers whispering that he was the best defensive player on the field during the practice sessions and by the week’s end he had made himself a top 50 pick consideration, primarily driven by the notion that he can play both 4-3 defensive end and outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. From street free agent to potential top 50 pick, now that’s what I call rising.
Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan
Unlike Carrington, Graham started the pre-Draft process with a Top 3rd Round grade from the scouts, while measuring a little over six feet (6006) and weighing 274 pounds. Starting with a fabulous senior year on an undermanned Wolverine defense that included Graham rolling up an eye-popping 26 tackles-for-loss and 10.5 sacks in a competitive Big Ten conference schedule, the senior then proceeded to Mobile with a head of steam and glided past whatever offensive linemen he faced at the Senior Bowl with ease, despite the scouts concern about his arm length (30.5 inches). Graham heads to the Combine in a few weeks with a Draft projection now hovering between the first and second round.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, South Florida
A true junior who didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school, Pierre-Paul is a wonderfully gifted blend of athleticism packed into a 6-6, 260 pound frame and his sheer physical gifts drove the 1st-to-2nd round feedback he received from the NFL Advisory Committee. What would turn out to be his final year at South Florida yielded a team-leading 6.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles-for-loss, six quarterback hurries, an interception, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick, outshining the more well-known DE on the other side, George Selvie. As a true junior, Pierre-Paul won’t be able to participate in any all-star games, but with a Combine invite in hand, the native Haitian, able to execute a standing back flip in his football pads with ease, should have no trouble wowing teams at the Combine. With just a few years of organized football under his belt and now projecting as a possible 1st round pick, The Haitian Sensation is the poster boy for the NFL Draft’s mantra about selecting based on potential.
Lamarr Houston, DT, Texas
The 6-3, 320 pound defensive tackle, who started his senior season with a free agent grade from NFL teams, used an outstanding season (22 tackles-for-loss, eight sacks) and bowl game performance against Alabama with 10 tackles, including two for a loss with one of those being a sack, presenting himself as a scaled down, more athletic version of Alabama’s massive NT Terence Cody, whose quickness and production as an interior pass rusher means he can be on the field for all three downs, unlike Cody who will have to leave the field on passing downs. Houston’s strong hands and quick feet helped him impress enough at the Senior Bowl that a solid showing at the Combine should cinch a selection in the third round or higher in the April draft.
Mike Neal, DT, Purdue
Neal had the scouts attention from the beginning, earning a top of the 5th round grade before his senior year began and he had a pretty good final campaign for the Boilermakers with 11 tackles-for-loss and 5.5 sacks. Some teams have him as a 2nd to 4th rounder because he can play DE for a 3-4 team and the 3 technique for 4-3 teams, but think he underachieved and needs to be more consistent in his effort. Other teams think he is stronger and tougher than DT Alex Magee, a 3rd round pick of Kansas City Chiefs in 2009 and that he will test well at the Combine which should make him a likely third to fourth round selection.
Nate Collins, DT, Virginia
Given a street free agent/ camp body grade initially by scouts before the season, the 6-2, 280 pound Collins used a productive senior campaign (2nd leading-tackler on the team with 77 including 10.5 tackles for loss and 6 sacks) combined with a stellar showing at the East-West Shrine all-star game to climb his way into late round consideration, most likely sixth to seventh round. Collins used good quickness and a variety of pass rush moves to showcase well during the East-West, but his size will limit him to being a 3 technique in 4-3 schemes.
Greg Hardy, DE, Ole Miss
An initial grade of late 1st round in the Spring, Hardy now finds himself desperately clawing uphill to reclaim his once-lofty draft status, but it may be a case of too little, too late. His final season at Ole Miss was kayoed by some questionable decisions off-the-field (of a non-legal nature) and a myriad of health issues ranging from a broken bone in his right foot, a sprained ankle and fractured left wrist that ended his senior season in early November. As a result, Hardy had to go the East-West Shrine route instead of the Senior Bowl, and to his credit he stood out there and his physical talent was a cut above the other participants, helping him claw back into 3rd round consideration. He will need a strong Combine performance, part of which he will need to answer health and mental makeup questions properly, if he hopes to forge his way back into the latter half of the 2nd round.
Arthur Jones, DT, Syracuse
After deciding to return to the Orange after considering an early jump to the NFL last year, Jones started his final season at Syracuse with a top 2nd round projection after finishing the 2008 season with an outstanding performance against Notre Dame. A torn pectoral in the Spring of 2009 started things off on the wrong note, forcing Jones to be a spectator at Spring practice and then he produced an underwhelming senior season (19 tkls, 7 TFL and 1.5 sacks) in which he only played nine games as a knee injury ended his season prematurely. Despite wanting to participate in the Senior Bowl, Jones’ knee wasn’t where he wanted it to be health-wise and had to decline going to Mobile, further hurting his draft stock. The brother of rising MMA star Jonny “Bones” Jones, will now have to put all of his chips in the Combine (and Syracuse Pro Day) basket and hope that he is healthy enough to perform at peak level to stop the bleeding on his Draft projection which now sits around the 4th round.
Underclassmen declaring for the 2010 Draft
DE - Jason Worilds, Virginia Tech (6-2, 262)…11 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, 32 QB hits
DT - Brian Price, UCLA (6-2, 300)…48 tckls, 23.5 TFLs, 7 sacks
DE - Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech (6-4, 272)…55 tkls, 18.5 TFLs, 12.5 sacks
DT - Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma (6-4, 297) Widely-expected to go within the first 16 picks. 34 tkls, 15.5 TFLs, 6 sacks, 9 QBhits
DT - Linval Joseph, East Carolina (6-6, 322)… 60 tckls, 13 TFLs and 3 sacks
DE - Everson Griffen, USC (6-3, 265)… 45 TCKLS, 9.5 tflS, 8 sacks
DE - Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State (6-2, 240)…45 tckls, 13 TFls and 4 sacks
DE - Clifton Geathers, South Carolina (6-8, 281)…41 tckls, 8.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks
DE - Carlos Dunlap, Florida (6-6, 240)…38 tckls, 10.5 TFLs, 9 sacks
DE - Kevin Basped, Nevada (6-6, 242)…32tckls, 12.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks