November 17, 2008

College football took a breather this week from what has been a crazy season so far. Yet there's no rest for prospects trying to impress NFL scouts, many of whom will see their college careers end in just a few weeks. This week's risers include a number of lesser-known prospects, including next-level players who do the little things neccesary to produce at the pro level.

Eric Wood/C/Louisville: Wood has been the forgotten man in a draft full of good center prospects. He's a tough blocker with a great head for the game and has been resilient for Louisville, starting every game the past four years. Wood is turning into one of the draft's most underrated blockers as we move towards April.

Russell Okung/OT/Oklahoma State: The Cowboys' left tackle is overshadowed by the other great tackle prospects in the Big 12, but don't be fooled. He's a stellar pass protector in Oklahoma State's high powered passing offense yet also displays himself as a fierce run blocker who gets results. Okung is a junior who will impact the draft's initial 45 picks if he opts for the NFL at the end of the season.

Larry English/DE-OLB/Northern Illinois: The Huskies' dynamic pass rusher has impressed scouts the past two years with his ability to disrupt the action. English, a terrific athlete, is expected to light up the combine next February with his workout. His play late in the game last week against Central Michigan helped spur an NIU comeback that forced the game into overtime.

Mark Herzlich/OLB/Boston College: Herzlich leads Boston College in tackles, sacks as well as forced fumbles and is turning into the most dominant defensive prospect to come out of the school since Mathias Kiwanuka. He has developed into a complete linebacker, as evidenced by his three interceptions and four pass break-ups this year. The buzz is building that the junior is developing into a first round prospect.

Jamarko Simmons/WR/Western Michigan: Simmons, a three-year starter who's shown steady progress in college, could be one of the best possession receivers in the nation. He's a well-sized target (6 feet, 2 inches and 225 pounds) with reliable, consistent hands. Simmons has already broken the century mark in receiving yards and is on pace to catch 100 passes this season.

William VanDeSteeg/DE/Minnesota: The Gophers' stark turnaround this season is due in large part to their opportunistic defense, which possesses the best takeaway margin in the Big Ten. VanDeSteeg, the leader of the unit, has done his best to contribute to the cause. He's the team leader in sacks (nine) as well as tackles for loss (16) and the junior has impressed scouts by taking his game to another level.

Codera Eason/RB-FB/Mississippi: Eason has stepped up his game and the junior is developing into a triple-threat player. Already a skilled blocker, Eason has added ball-handling duties to his arsenal as he is the Rebels' leading rusher. He's also displaying himself to be a competent pass catcher and has upgraded his standing in the eyes of NFL scouts, who feel he's a good fit for a West Coast offense.

*Sleeper Alert*

Mark Hafner/TE/Houston: Hafner was an afterthought entering the season, with NFL scouting services grading him as a low-level free agent. He's changed opinions with his play as a senior. Hafner has developed into one of the nation's most proficient pass-catching tight ends and has doubled, or in some cases tripled, his receiving numbers from a year ago. He lacks the classic size teams want in a tight end, yet Hafner would be a good fit for an offensive system run by teams such as the Indianapolis Colts or Denver Broncos.

Josh Freeman/QB/Kansas State: The Wildcats' rifled-armed passer is drawing comparisons to Jamarcus Russell in size, pocket stature and ability to fling the ball a country mile with ease. Freeman lags behind Russell in that he shows a fraction of the poise under pressure and command of the offense the former No. 1 pick displayed at LSU. Only a junior, Freeman is expected to enter the draft, which scouts feel would be a mistake.

Michael Bennett/DE/Texas A&M: The older brother of Dallas Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett has failed to meet expectations this season. He was considered by scouts to be a better athlete than his younger sibling, yet Bennett continues to show flashes of skill rather than a complete game.

Bruce Johnson/CB/Miami-Fl: Johnson was graded as a possible first-round pick coming into the season, which left many scratching their heads. His game this year has been inconsistent; the senior has been beaten on numerous occasions and does not show the skills necessary to project as a starting cornerback in the NFL.

• Vanderbilt cornerback D.J. Moore, a Week 10 riser and ranked 27th on our list of the nation's top 45 NFL prospects, continues to impress NFL decision makers. During the Commodores' victory over Kentucky on Saturday, a win that made the program bowl-eligible for the first time since 1982, the junior was literally a one-man show. Besides intercepting two passes, Moore added a pair of touchdown receptions and finished with three catches and 51 receiving yards after sporadically lining up at wide out. One of those touchdown receptions came at the expense of Kentucky corner Trevard Lindley, another underclassman who is highly regarded by NFL scouts.

• Mississippi State linebacker Jamar Chaney, who was given a solid fourth-round grade by NFL scouts only to see his season come to a crashing halt after suffering a leg injury in the team's first game, hopes to return for another season with the Bulldogs. Chaney will apply to the NCAA for a medical hardship waiver that would grant him another year of eligibility.

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