By Rob Rang
February 12, 2008
With the Pro Bowl and the 2007 season in the rearview mirror, the attention immediately turns to the NFL Draft.
After highlighting prospects from the all-star game circuit each of the past two weeks, this week's Risers & Fallers focuses on more significant changes. The "Risers" listed below entered the season barely a blip on NFL scouts' radars -- and yet are now each viewed as potential Top 100 selections. The "Fallers," on the other hand, entered the 2007 season ranked among the elite at their respective positions, only to drop significantly over the course of the season.
Kevin Smith RB Central Florida No player enjoyed more of a breakout 2007 than Smith. While his 943 rushing yards as a sophomore provided an indication of his ability, no one could have projected that he'd approach Barry Sanders' single-season NCAA record of 2,628 rushing yards. Smith, who finished only 61 yards short, isn't viewed as an elite prospect because of a lack of prototype speed and an angular running style. He is a natural runner, however, who has impressive cutting ability and excellent vision.
Johnny Dingle DL West Virginia Dingle didn't get much attention at WVU with the high-octane offense the Mountaineers employed. Expect that to change, however, as scouts are realizing Dingle -- used as an end in WVU's unique 3-3-5 alignment -- is one of the more athletic and versatile defensive linemen available. When he entered the draft, he was initially ranked by some as a late-round prospect, but closer film work puts him in the middle rounds -- and quite possibly much higher.
Devin Thomas WR Michigan State Another junior whose stock skyrocketed in 2007. After signing with Michigan State as one of the country's most heralded JUCO prospects, Thomas caught only six passes in 2006. Last season he caught 79 and racked up 2,590 all-purpose yards. If Thomas runs well, he could leapfrog several more well-known wideouts and emerge as a top 50 candidate.
Jeff Otah OT, Pittsburgh Otah only began playing football as a high school senior, but in demonstrating the ability to shut down big-name defenders like Chris Long and George Selvie last season, Otah could end up as a first-round prospect. A JUCO transfer from Valley Forge, Otah remains too inconsistent to expect that he can walk in to the NFL and be an immediate starter, but with rare size (6-6, 340) and athleticism he is viewed by some as a player with Pro Bowl potential.
Oniel Cousins OT UTEP Cousins, who only switched to offensive tackle three years ago, is even more raw than Otah, but his rare athleticism makes him an intriguing developmental prospect. Originally signing with the Miners as a defensive tackle prospect, Cousins flashed the balance and foot speed scouts are looking for when he started eight games at left tackle as a junior. In moving to the right side last season, Cousins seemed to grow into the position, leading to an invitation to the Senior Bowl.
Tommy Blake DE TCU Undoubtedly the biggest faller so far. Rated among the elite senior prospects by NFL scouts heading into the 2008 season, Blake struggled through a bizarre year of leaving the team for personal reasons and returning a heavier, slower version of his former self. Playing at 25-30 pounds heavier than he should, the 280-pound Blake recovered some stock in finishing the season with sacks in three consecutive games and flashing his trademark burst while at the East-West Shrine Game. Still, a potential top 20 selection entering the year, Blake may now struggle to make the middle rounds.
Ryan Torain RB Arizona State Torain entered last year as one of the highest rated senior running backs in the country. A transfer from Butler Community College, he enjoyed immediate success as a junior for the Sun Devils, rushing for 1,229 yards -- the most by an ASU back in more than 30 years. With only eight starts at the D-I level, however, scouts wanted to see if the physical 6-0, 215-pound back could handle the punishment of a full season. Surgery after breaking his big toe ended Torain's senior season after only seven games, causing him to drop into late-round consideration.
Alexis Serna K Oregon State The 2005 winner of the Lou Groza Award and a semifinalist in 2006, Serna struggled with consistency early in his senior year and ended the season being consistently inaccurate. Serna missed two of six kicks over the Beavers' first five games, but it was an abysmal 2-for-7 stretch against Washington State, Oregon and Maryland in the Emerald Bowl that really has scouts worried. It raised doubts among teams who had pegged the 5-7, 168-pound kicker as one who may lack dominant leg strength, but could be counted for his accuracy.
Adam Kraus OG Michigan After earning first team Big Ten accolades as a junior, expectations were high for Kraus. Scouts were willing to give him a bit of a pass last year, as he suffered through some horrific off-field issues, including his family being evacuated due to Hurricane Katrina. While he earned first team accolades again as a senior, Kraus' lack of strength and leverage at the point of attack makes him a bit of a 'tweener prospect for the next level and a middle- to late-round prospect.
Jason Shirley DT Fresno State At 6-5, 335 pounds, Shirley has the size NFL teams are looking for in a mammoth run-stuffer. Inconsistency on the field and poor decisions off it, however, will push him into the late rounds or perhaps even free agency. Shirley played in only three of the Bulldogs' 13 games last season and was suspended three separate times in 2007 -- with the last suspension being indefinite and handed down by Athletic Director Thomas Boeh.
Otah is sounded better and better, but will he still be around at 23