The long and winding road between the end of an NFL season and the start of the league's draft often opens the door for opinions to change -- and then change again and again -- on many of the incoming rookie prospects. This year, perhaps because of the extra two weeks prior to the draft, we've seen the evaluation cycle sweep up an unusually high number of prospects.
For many, that has been bad news, with the media and front offices using the buffer to nitpick every element of a player's game. Not everyone is feeling the pain.
Several prospects have enjoyed rapid rises in their perceived stock over the past month or two, with those climbs not always meshing with the college careers they have put on tape. With the draft mercifully just a day away, here are a few players whose hype has superseded their talent.
Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh: The 2014 draft has been an utterly confounding one to figure out, with the quarterback position leading the charge. The buzz continues to point toward Teddy Bridgewater and other top-ranked (at least, by the media) QBs slipping down the board, while the seemingly flawed Savage has risen into the early Round 2 discussion.
That's not to say that Savage is destined to fail -- at 6-foot-5 with a big arm, he ticks off many of the boxes NFL teams look for at quarterback. But he also turned in three rather nondescript college seasons, while playing for three teams. He is very limited in his mobility and must get much quicker with his decision-making before any team can even begin to think about him as starting-QB material.
Does the potential bump him above a plummeting prospect like Bridgewater or other projected Day 2 guys (Jimmy Garoppolo, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray, etc.)? It might. It probably should not.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska: There was a rather sudden pro-Jean-Baptiste push earlier this week, when Mike Mayock proclaimed him a Round 1 possibility and highly respected draft guru Daniel Jeremiah unveiled a mock with the Nebraska corner landing at No. 30 to San Francisco.
"He's a long corner that fits today's game with an exciting skillset," Mayock said in a media conference call. "I could bet on that kind of guy."
Jean-Baptiste is far from a finished product, so much of the support for him comes from a similar place as that for Savage or Blake Bortles. In other words, Jean-Baptiste, at a long 6-3, fits the prototype for his position.
That said, he actually fell outside of SI's Top 100 rankings, a list that included 14 other cornerbacks. Many others had a more positive view (CBS has Jean-Baptiste at No. 71 overall, ESPN at 58). None of those numbers hit inside the 32 required to land Jean-Baptiste in Round 1.
Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana: Unlike Jean-Baptiste, Latimer did land inside our Top 100, at No. 75 overall. That ranking puts him in the Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) draft discussion. So, why is Latimer coming up so much when folks are discussing Round 1?
Again, it starts with height (Latimer is 6-3), but he also ran a 4.44-second 40 at a pre-draft workout and showed off a 39-inch vertical. Add all that in to the 1,100-yard season Latimer posted in 2013, and there is ample reason to be excited about the ex-Hoosier. The hype may have gone too far, though, in a draft loaded with receiver prospects.
Latimer right now projects as a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver once he enters the NFL -- certainly a coveted need for a lot of teams, but also something that may be available beyond Round 1.
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Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri: Ealy actually has generated less chatter over the past couple of weeks than he did right after the 2013 season, perhaps a sign that his stock is settling back to the fringe Round 1 spot where it belongs. Earlier, some had propped Ealy up as a potential top-10 pick; even within the top 20, Ealy would be a bit of a reach.
He does appear to have the versatility to play in either a 3-4 or a 4-3, and linemen who faced him in college had their hands full. (Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, arguably a top-five prospect, called Ealy the most challenging pass rusher he faced last year.) Ealy can find more immediate success if eased onto the field as a situational defender, rather than as a three-down OLB or DE. There is not a great deal distinguishing him there from Demarcus Lawrence, Trent Murphy and others presumed to be behind Ealy on draft boards.
Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia: Moses has what it takes to be a very good, perhaps even great, offensive tackle in the NFL for several seasons. I'd argue he still does not fit the profile of a top-20 pick.
And he may wind up in that range, depending on how quickly teams snap up Matthews, Greg Robinson, Taylor Lewan and Zack Martin. Moses falls into the second tier of OTs, though team needs may drive him up the board -- Baltimore, Miami, Arizona and Carolina, for example, all could use tackle help in the back half of Round 1. There often is a thin line between reaching for a prospect and landing him in a sweet spot. In Moses' case, that line should be drawn somewhere around pick 25.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State: Similar to Ealy's story arc, Benjamin's bandwagon has stopped adding passengers at the rate it was earlier this offseason. The 6-5, 240-pound Florida State prospect had, in some minds, leapfrogged Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews, Allen Robinson and so on to reach a potential top-20 spot. That high, he would qualify as a substantial gamble. While all the physical tools are there for Benjamin to be an NFL force, he has not yet put it all together on the field. Until he can counter his bouts of inconsistency with more frequent flashes of his skill, it will be tough for teams to count on him for anything outside of red-zone work.
Dri Archer, RB, Kent State: Archer has drawn a lot of comparisons to Darren Sproles because of his speed (4.26 at the combine) and size (5-8, on a good day). Such talk both devalues how incredible Sproles has been throughout his NFL career and how difficult a transition Archer may have to the NFL.
First and foremost, Archer's new team will have to figure out where to play him -- he's probably not big enough to do much at RB beyond catching balls out of the backfield (the Sproles comparison fits there), but he also needs to improve as a receiver before he can be a true threat out of the slot. His 2013 season was hampered by an ankle injury, which will give pause to teams already worried about his stature. On the right team, taken at the right spot, Archer will have a chance to be one of the NFL's most electrifying players. Forced into duty by an unnecessarily high draft position, however, and he will find the going tough.