April 18, 2008

Prognosticators have their opinion of the players rising in next weekend's draft, but what about people inside the league? Based on conversations with a half dozen scouts and personnel directors, here's a list of players they expect to be drafted much earlier than anyone is predicting.

Branden Albert, OL, Virginia: NFL coaches and general managers have fallen in love with Albert. His size and athleticism has most people thinking the college guard possesses the tools necessary to play the all-important left tackle position. Albert was originally considered a fringe first-round pick after declaring for the draft in January, but many now think he'll end up as a top-12 selection.

Justin King, CB, Penn State: King's play last season was uninspired, leading many to question his decision to leave college early for the NFL. His combine workouts and interviews have made many rethink their original position. Scouts love King's size, natural skill and intelligence. He may just slip into the very-late part of round one.

Donnie Avery, WR, Houston: He has plenty of speed, something that is lacking from this year's receiver class. He recovered from a strained hamstring, which had hampered him at the combine, in time to turn in a great pro-day workout. Avery was originally thought to be third-round material -- yet could slip into the early part of the second frame.

Trevor Laws, DL, Notre Dame: He doesn't pass the Eyeball Test yet has answered every other question scouts have about his game. Laws offers the versatility to be used at several spots on the defensive line and is unlikely to last past the middle of round two.

Mike Pollack, C, Arizona State: He came into the year with a seventh-round grade yet has been on a steady charge up draft boards. He rates as the top center and could be off the board in round two.

Jason Jones, DL, Eastern Michigan: NFL scouting services considered Jones undraftable at one point but have since altered that opinion. He is a terrific athlete and quite possibly the most versatile defensive lineman in the draft. Jones offers potential at end, as an inside rusher or even a two-gap lineman. He's likely to be drafted in the late part of round two.

Orlando Scandrick, CB, Boise State: Scouts have a variety of opinions about Scandrick. He was a solid college player and offers the athleticism, as well as the size, to start at the next level. Scandrick's upside potential has many thinking he'll be selected in round two.

Duane Brown, OL, Virginia Tech: Brown quelled his doubters the past six months, most recently impressing scouts at the combine. He played offensive tackle at Tech, yet some project him to guard at the next level. Most feel Brown is a lock to be drafted during the second frame.

Tyvon Branch, CB, Connecticut: Branch, given a free-agent grade last August, is one of the nation's fastest-rising corners. Scouts were super-impressed with his play during the season and Branch's combine performance, one of the best in Indianapolis, clinched the deal for him. He is another top-60 choice, who also brings the element of a special teams player.

Bryan Kehl, OLB, BYU: Kehl was quietly one of the nation's better linebackers last season. He turned in a solid combine workout, then looked even better during his pro-day. Kehl ranks as one of the top half-dozen pure linebackers and will be selected within the first 75 picks.

Craig Stevens, TE, California: Stevens was thought to be a one-dimensional blocking tight end and slow afoot entering his senior season. His all-around play last year improved and scouts were shocked by his 40 time of 4.6 seconds at the combine. Stevens has ensured himself a spot in round three.

Gary Guyton, OLB, Georgia Tech: Guyton was the fastest linebacker at the combine after tipping the scales at 245 pounds. His play as a senior was outstanding, and many scouts feel he grades just slightly lower than his more heralded teammate, middle linebacker Phillip Wheeler.

Notes: Clemson defensive lineman Phillip Merling will participate in a last-minute workout next Thursday. Almost two dozen teams are expected to be on hand to watch the likely first-round pick. Merling did not participate at the combine or during the Clemson pro day due to a sports hernia, which was surgically repaired March 5. His agent, Jimmy Sexton, said Merling was given the OK by doctors to work out and participate in rookie mini-camps next month. Merling will be doing defensive line drills but won't run the 40.

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