It was a great weekend for a number of top NFL prospects at running back as several turned in great performances and elevated their draft stock. On the other hand a few cornerbacks and offensive tackles watched their draft grade slide.
Darren McFadden/RB/Arkansas: This is the second time McFadden has appeared on the risers list and it's well deserved. The big ball carrier tied an SEC record when he finished with 321 rushing yards on 34 carries and also set a school mark of 357 all-purpose yards in the victory over South Carolina. McFadden became the second player in SEC history to run for 1,000 yards during his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons. Expected to enter the draft, there's no doubt McFadden will be a top-three selection.
Mike Hart/RB/Michigan: Playing with a badly sprained right ankle, Hart totaled 110 rushing yards to help spark the Wolverines' comeback victory over rival Michigan State. It was the eighth consecutive game Hart topped the century mark carrying the ball, a Michigan record. A hard-working back with a complete game, Hart is considered the nation's top senior running back.
Matt Forte/RB/Tulane: A sleeper of sorts, Forte has been on fire this season and is soaring up draft boards. Totaling more than 1,100 rushing yards the past five games, Forte is on pace to break the 2,000-yard mark this season. Possessing good size (6-feet-2 inches and 220 pounds), Forte favorably compares to Brian Leonard, a second-round choice of the St. Louis Rams last April.
Rashard Mendenhall/RB/Illinois: Mendenhall has played a large role in the resurgence of Illinois football this season. The bruising ball carrier has rushed for more than 1,500 yards this season with 14 touchdowns. Just a junior, Mendenhall has openly talked about entering the draft, where he'd be a top-75 selection.
Mike Pollack/C/Arizona State: Another sleeper improving his draft grade, Pollack has been dominant in the middle of the Sun Devils line this year. Pollack's ability to block on the move has caught the attention of NFL scouts who now list him as the number two senior center.
Sean Lee/LB/Penn State: Only a junior, Lee is the next in line to the throne at Linebacker U. Just one tackle behind senior Dan Connor for the team lead, Lee's playmaking skills helped secure a victory over Purdue on Saturday. Besides totaling 12 tackles, Lee forced a fumble which kept the Boilermakers out of the end zone early in the game. Lee grades as a late first-round pick when he enters the draft.
Thomas DeCoud/S/California: One of the fastest rising safeties in the nation, DeCoud is building a buzz in scouting circles. A run-defending force who's totaled 67 tackles this season, DeCoud has also shown himself to be proficient against the pass and is an outstanding special teams player. He could sneak into the draft's initial 75 selections.
Wallace Gilberry/DE/Alabama: During the Tide's close loss to LSU, Gilberry sacked quarterback Matt Flynn three times, bringing his total to a team leading seven this year. He also leads Alabama with 15 tackles for loss. In the midst of a career season, Gilberry has moved into the middle rounds.
Justin King/CB/Penn St: After some early season success, King has struggled the past few weeks. He followed up a rough performance against James Hardy of Indiana with a another bad outing against Ohio State's BrianRobiskie, and was beaten by Purdue's Curtis Painter last week.
Gosder Cherilus/OT/Boston College: Like King, the big tackle looked solid in the early going but has struggled recently at the left tackle spot. Cherilus was beaten like a drum by Chris Ellis during BC's last-minute victory over Virginia Tech, and had difficulties with Florida State's speed rushers last Saturday.
CarlNicks/OT/Nebraska: The massive blocker (6-5 and 345 pounds) has displayed surprising athleticism at times this season, but for the most part his play has been spotty. On a number of occasions he was badly beaten during Nebraska's humiliating defeat to Kansas last Saturday.
Philip Wheeler/LB/Georgia Tech: Handed a first-round grade by some draft prognosticators prior to the season, Wheeler has not met expectations as a senior. Wheelers is a liability in pass coverage and has been hesitant and minimally productive in '07.
Sources have said the men who run NFL war rooms on draft day are not happy about the time for picks in round one being reduced by one-third. Time was tight for teams when 15 minutes was allotted for each choice, as a variety of opinions were sought on the players available and trade offers were entertained before a final decision was reached. Some believe the shortened version of round one will lead to more surprise selections, less trades and a greater number of first-round flops.
To follow-up on our notes on quarterbacks invited to the Senior Bowl, sources have said Michigan's Chad Henne will fill one of the remaining roster spots for January's event. Sam Keller of Nebraska will not be in Mobile. The former Cornhusker starter broke his left collarbone in the loss to Texas and is gone for the remainder of the season. A blow to his draft grade, Keller is likely to slip into the late rounds.
Already thin of talent, the guard position for April's draft took a big hit when the top prospect went down with an injury. Eric Young of Tennessee underwent successful surgery to repair a ruptured quadriceps tendon in his left knee after suffering the injury late in the Volunteers' victory over South Carolina. He started at both the left and right tackle positions the past two seasons and NFL scouts project Young inside at the next level. Prior to his injury, he was graded as a top-60 prospect.