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NFL Draft - Risers, Fallers and a Comback Kid
Mike Courter
April 16, 2008

With Pro Day workouts finally ending with the University of Southern California’s carefully-orchestrated media circus two weeks ago, it’s a great time to reassess the Risers & Fallers of the pre-draft process leading up the NFL’s late-April Selection Day.

RISERS

Jerod Mayo, ILB, Tennessee
Once the powerfully built (6-1, 242) junior linebacker from Tennessee declared early for the 2008 Draft, its been a steady climb up the pre-Draft rankings ever since.  SEC battle-hardened, Mayo plays with power and can knife through traffic bringing some thump to his destination.  Mayo really came on strong at the end of the 2007 season as his surgically repaired knee began to fully recover.  In a short time since declaring early, the Virginia native now projects as a late first, early second round selection.  

Trevor Laws, DT, Notre Dame
Considered too short (6-0 and 3/4) when the Draft evaluation process started last August, Laws began his path to Draft success by accumulating an unheard of 112 tackles (8 TFLs, 4 sacks) from an interior defensive line position, on an uncompetitive Fighting Irish team last Fall.  He further opened eyes at the Senior Bowl, where scouts had a chance to get an up close look at this relentless motor and his superior ability to shoot gaps in the offensive line, and at the Indianapolis Combine, his 35 reps of 225 pounds was second only to Ohio State’s Vernon Gholston (37), his 5.08 forty time bested USC’s Sedrick Ellis (5.28), widely considered the No.2 DT prospect behind LSU’s Glenn Dorsey and his Combine vertical leap (30.5 inches) was tops at his position, launching Laws up the draft rankings into a possible late second round consideration.  

Jordon Dizon, LB, Colorado
Dizon is a testament to a player’s ability to improve how NFL team’s see him. When his senior season at Colorado started last September, one prominent scouting organization rated him as a “priority free agent”- someone with a small chance of capturing a precious roster spot on an NFL team.  Dizon finished his Buffalo career with a flourish, compiling 160 tackles (120 solo) which earned him an invitation to the Senior Bowl.  The Hawaii native made the most of his opportunity by excelling in every practice and wowing team personnel director’s in the chalk talk sessions.  A solid Combine performance followed, making Dizon a legitimate mid-round possibility, a far cry from his initial label.  

Jordy Nelson, WR, Kansas State
Another late-riser who emerged toward the end of his senior season at K-State, Nelson has deceptive speed (4.49 forty at the Combine) for such a large frame (6-3, 217) and is a consistent clutch performer with great hands and a fearless route-running style.  In a thin wide receiver group with no clear standout, the former Wildcat used strong Senior Bowl and Combine performances to vault himself into first day contention.

Nick Hayden, DT, Wisconsin
Regularly referred to as “lunch pail” and “try hard” while finishing a productive career as a Wisconsin Badger, Hayden turned heads with highly athletic performances at the Indianapolis Combine and the Wisconsin Pro Day that included one of the top bench press mark’s amongst the defensive tackle group (34), a 32 inch vertical leap, 9 foot-3.5 inch long jump and a 5.19 forty time, which put Hayden amongst the leaders of the defensive tackle position.  The former Badger has used the pre-draft process well, moving his initial projection from the sixth round to the third in a few short months.

FALLERS

Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii
When the 2006 season ended, Brennan had a chance to leave school early and the hype-machine was in full tilt with web sites and mock draft’s having him go in the first or second round of the 2007 NFL Draft based on his record-setting junior season (58 passing touchdowns) in what was considered a so-so quarterback class in ‘07.  Brennan decided at the last minute to return to the University of Hawaii for a final season and that’s where the fairytale took an ugly detour.  After being exposed in the Sugar Bowl against a harassing Georgia Bulldog defense in his final collegiate game, Brennan underwhelmed at the Senior Bowl and his lack of arm strength became quite evident in front of NFL scouts and personnel executives.  Most recently, early April surgery on a torn labrum in his hip (projected 8-12 weeks of recovery time) now threatens to drop Brennan into the late rounds-priority free agent universe, a precipitous decline from his lofty projection of a year ago.    

Malcolm Kelly, WR, Oklahoma
The playmaking wide out from Oklahoma remains a legitimate first day pick, but his blaming of the OU training staff for his pedestrian forty time (4.68) at his recent Pro Day workout reflected poorly on him and raised possible attitude problem questions.  In addition, his agent sent a full-scale mailing to all 32 teams complete with a doctor’s note disputing recent reports that his troublesome thigh contusion from the Fiesta Bowl is still not kosher.  The accumulation of negative happenings surrounding Kelly have caused his draft stock to drop from mid-first round to late second round, maybe early third.

Steve Justice, C, Wake Forest
When the 2007 season began, Justice was considered to be the best senior center in the country and his superb play for the Demon Deacons held that projection, despite persistent size (6-3, 290) and strength questions.  However,  Justice was continually overpowered by the larger defensive tackles throughout Senior Bowl week, and was outplayed by Arizona State’s Mike Pollack, who was ranked several spots below him before arriving in Mobile.  His once late first round consideration has dissolved to a third to fifth round projection now that he’s been painted with a specific-fit label, meaning there’s a finite group of team’s running the zone-blocking scheme that utilize smaller, more athletic linemen that will be the only suitor’s for his services.

Adarius Bowman, WR, Oklahoma State
Last Fall, Bowman was given a “Top of the 1st Round” grade from one scouting organization based on the tremendous size and athleticism he brings to the wide receiver position.  Like Colt Brennan, he also toyed with leaving early for the 2007 Draft after being projected to go in the first two rounds, but decided to play one more year at Oklahoma State.  Bowman experienced a dreaded double-whammy in this year’s pre-Draft process, a snail-like forty yard dash at the Combine (4.76) and his recent arrest for simple possession of marijuana on, of all date’s, April 1st, bringing new meaning to April Fool’s Day.

Brandon Keith, OG-OT, Northern Iowa
NFL teams would come in to check out more highly-touted OL teammate Chad Rinehart but would leave the Northern Iowa campus raving about the University of Oklahoma transfer.  Keith is a load (6-5, 343) with long arms, good balance, opening up right tackle possibilities, and an impressive forty time for his size (5.29), propelling what was once a late round projection to a possible fourth round pick.  Then came Keith’s March 10 arrest for “rioting and interference with official acts”, sending his draft status into a tailspin in today’s conduct-emphasized NFL.

Carl Nicks, OT, Nebraska
A JUCO transfer to Nebraska, the massive offensive tackle (6-5, 341) was a late-riser in the Draft process after getting scouts excited with his exceptional feet and graceful movement, paired with his meat locker frame.  In early December, talk amongst scouts had Nicks making a possible run at the first round, provided he put on a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and Combine and allay character concerns that persisted about him.  The one-time New Mexico State transfer recorded and adequate 5.26 forty time in Indianapolis, but he couldn’t keep it together off the field and was arrested in late March for “being an inmate of a disorderly house and failure to disperse” which subsequently led to his banishment from the Nebraska Pro Day by new head coach Bo Pelini.

COMEBACK KID

John Carlson, TE, Notre Dame
When the 2006 season ended, Carlson could have gone pro since he had already fulfilled requirements to graduate, a decision, in hindsight, that he should have embraced due to a weak 2007 TE class that boasted Greg Olsen (Miami) as the only immediate impact player at the position.  Carlson had come off a strong statistical year and was neck-and-neck with Olsen amongst many in the NFL scouting community.  But Charlie Weiss seemingly talked him into returning for another year, which turned out to be a disaster from a professional and financial standpoint, as the Fighting Irish imploded and Carlson’s receiving numbers dropped precipitously as a result.  His blocking also received heightened scrutiny and was labeled an “area of improvement” for him.  Though he started the 2007 season as the No.1 rated TE in many circles, the difficult final season was followed by a viral bout that took a steep physical toll on him, causing significant weight loss and sidelining him from participating in the ultra-important Senior Bowl game in late January, which slid him down into the pack of TE prospects. 

Carlson’s draft stock incurred another body blow during the Indianapolis Combine where he ran an offensive tackle-like 4.9 forty and struggled in other drills, partly due to his not being able to train extensively as he recovered from the virus.

His Pro Day on the campus of Notre Dame stood as his last chance to redeem himself in front of the NFL community and Carlson made the most of it.  The fifth year senior improved his forty time greatly (4.67) and also added five inches to his vertical leap (35.5 inches) from his Combine results, which has apparently righted the ship and pointed Carlson back toward the top of the Draft again.

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