Top NFL prospects typically enter their senior season with a catalog of film for scouts to peruse and the corresponding hype that surrounds them during their final collegiate season.
There are exceptions.
|Opponents see South Carolina's Melvin Ingram in the backfield often when he's given the chance. (US Presswire)|
Examining NFLDraftScout.com's preseason evaluations over the past few years reveals trends in the type of players able to greatly increase their draft stock during their senior seasons.
Defensive linemen lead the way in outperforming preseason expectations. Each year it seems one or two mammoth defensive tackles finally become productive enough as seniors to take advantage of teams' ever-increasing desire for big bodies in the middle.
Mostly due to increased playing time based on graduation or early departure of draft-eligible underclassmen to the NFL, college ends with the ability to move to rush linebacker in a pro 3-4 scheme are also among the most likely to burst late onto the scene. Cornerbacks can make progress, too, with strong production and excellent Combine athleticism test results.
One or two offensive linemen seem to creep up draft boards with strong senior seasons. In most cases, they have already proven themselves as multi-year starters but needed to tighten up their technique during their final year or respond to the NFL coaching at the Senior Bowl and Combine.
The lack of senior first-round prospects at skill positions -- 25 since 2005, as opposed to 31 offensive linemen and 74 total defenders -- makes it difficult for quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends to make the leap. However, teams picked QB Jay Cutler, RB Chris Johnson, TE Dustin Keller and WR/TE Matt Jones in the first round despite not being on the radar as elite prospects heading into their final season.
The talented players listed below have the potential to earn more respect among NFL personnel evaluators during the 2011 college football season. They'll all need to take advantage of increased playing time and opportunities or improve in some facet of their game -- as previous prospects listed at their position who worked their way up boards have done -- but are capable of first-round grades before the 2012 draft.
Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina The presence of veteran Cliff Matthews and rising junior Devin Taylor limited Ingram to only one start as a junior. Opponents saw him in the backfield quite often when he was given the chance. He brought down a quarterback on nine of his 11 tackles for loss, rushing the passer with his hand on the ground or as a stand-up blitzer inside and out. Scheduled to start across from Taylor in 2011, Ingram can use his 271-pound frame to show scouts he can play against the run on early downs and chase the quarterback.
Senior DE/OLB "risers" from past drafts: Larry English, DE/OLB, Northern Illinois (2009, No. 16, San Diego) Robert Ayers, DE/OLB, Tennessee (2009, No. 18, Denver) Anthony Spencer, DE/OLB, Purdue (2007, No. 26, Dallas)
Coryell Judie, CB, Texas A&M Judie has the ability to make plays on defense (four interceptions) and in the return game (two kickoff returns for scores in 2010). The Fort Scott Community College transfer also has average size (5-11, 188), like the three former first-round picks listed below, but teams would be willing to overlook that if he runs well at the Combine and continues to be a difference-maker in his second year with the Aggies.
Similar senior CB "risers" from past drafts: Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers (2010, No. 27, New England) Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy (2008, No. 11, Buffalo) Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State (2010, No. 29, New York Jets)
Kelechi Osemele, OL, Iowa State Despite exceptional toughness and all-conference accolades playing against tough Big 12 competition the last three seasons, scouts haven't been blown away the bend and lateral agility Osemele displays at left tackle. But an excellent senior season and showing at the Senior Bowl and Combine with nimble feet at 6-5, 350-plus pounds, would put power-blocking teams in a position to consider him in the late first round as either a guard or right tackle.
Kendall Reyes, DL, Connecticut Reyes, a two-time team captain and 2010 first-team All-Big East pick, has gained about 60 pounds since arriving on campus without losing significant athleticism. Regularly disrupting plays in the backfield (10 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks), with some improvement bringing down quarterbacks and playing the run consistently under new UConn head coach Paul Pasqualoni should allow scouts to project him as a top prospect at either 4-3 tackle or 3-4 end.
Alameda Ta'amu, DT, Washington Consistency has been an issue for Ta'amu since arriving at Washington as a high school All-American. But let's face it -- wide-body nose tackles (he's 6-3, 335) are difficult to find, and teams looking for run-stuffers with good short-area footwork will take a chance on their talent late in the first round. Continuing to eat multiple blockers in the run game and increasing his ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage (five TFL in 2010) could push him into the first.
Chad Reuter is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Follow him on Twitter at @ChadReuter.