Tony Pauline: NFL Draft 2009: Risers and Sliders - Sports Illustrated

NFL Draft 2009: Risers and Sliders

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Another week in college football saw yet another shake-up in the BCS rankings. And as the season nears its end, NFL scouts saw several special performances by defensive players, specifically athletically gifted pass rushers who caused a lot of turmoil.

Sean Smith/CB/Utah: Smith is the best cornerback in the Mountain West, a conference that loves to throw. His size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), combined with his athleticism, has scouts excited. Smith has had a number of game-changing interceptions this season, helping the Utes finish with an undefeated record. His pick late in the fourth quarter sealed the victory over interstate rival BYU last weekend. The junior presently grades as a top 35 pick if he opts for April's draft.

Brandon Graham/DE/Michigan: Graham has been one of the few rays of light in what has been a miserable season in Ann Arbor. He led the Wolverines in sacks (10) and tackles for loss (20) this year while adding a solid 46 tackles. The junior is slightly undersized yet his ability to disrupt the backfield intrigues NFL scouts.

Arthur Jones/DT/Syracuse: The junior is another who shone brightly during a very dreary campaign for the Orange. He was outstanding during the team's upset victory at Notre Dame, making 15 tackles, including four tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Jones is expected to enter April's draft, where he will be a top 60 selection.

Sammie Stroughter/WR/Oregon State: He was sidelined last year with injury and personnel depression, but is in the midst of a bounce back season. His resiliency has impressed scouts as he has been an important cog in an offense fighting for the Pac-10 title. Stroughter's touchdown reception in the fourth quarter on Saturday brought Oregon State within striking distance of Arizona. His 47-yard catch on the team's next possession enabled the Beavers to kick the winning field goal as time expired to keep their Rose Bowl hopes alive. Stroughter has gone from free agent prospect to potential middle-round choice.

Connor Barwin/DE-OLB/Cincinnati: The senior was primarily a special teams player prior to this season and was given a free agent grade by NFL scouting services. He's changed that opinion and is climbing up draft boards by being one of the most versatile front seven players in the Big East. Barwin ranks second in the conference with seven sacks and has broken up an equal number of passes. He's a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end who may best fit a 3-4 alignment at the next level.

David Veikune/DE/Hawaii: He is another pass rushing prospect who was given little love by scouts before his senior campaign. Now he's the talk of the scouting community out west. He's amassed 13.5 tackles for loss, with 6.5 sacks, and leads the WAC with four forced fumbles. Veikune is a terrific athlete who flawlessly makes the transition of dropping off the line to playing in space on zone blitzes. Pass rushers always get drafted much earlier than originally projected and Veikune could slip into the draft's initial 75 selections with a good combine workout.

Matt Tennant/C/Boston College: The Eagles have a history of putting quality centers in the NFL, including Pro Bowlers such as Dan Koppen and Tom Nalen. Scouts feel Tennant has this type of potential as the junior is putting together a dominant season.

SLEEPER ALERT: Paul Kruger/DE-OLB/Utah: One of the most complete defensive players in the nation, Kruger has scouts buzzing. His senior stats line reads 56 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, one interception and seven pass defenses. He is a tremendous athlete who makes as a pass rusher and pass defender.

Kruger was a constant presence in BYU's backfield and a disruptive force all evening during the Utes final regular season game. He's a 22-year-old redshirt sophomore who took two years service to complete a Mormon mission. Kruger does have previous medical issues that scouts will investigate, yet is every bit an impact type of player who can line up in a three-point stance or stand up over tackle.

Oderick Turner/WR/Pittsburgh: He was one of the highest-rated underclassmen receivers coming into the season but has had a campaign to forget. He has just 20 receptions this season, almost half last year's total, and has just a single touchdown catch.

C.J. Spillman/S/Marshall: Spillman was graded as high as a potential second-round pick before the season started; he has played more like a late-round choice this year. His instincts seemed slow during the season, leading to just 64 tackles and no interceptions, his worst numbers since his freshman campaign.

Devin Frischknecht/TE/Washington State: Primarily a backup until this season, he was given draftable grades by the scouting services before the season, which surprised many. He struggled with injuries early in the season and finished the year with just 17 receptions in nine games.

• With the regular season now ending for some college teams, petitions to the NFL Advisory Committee from players seeking opinions on their draft grades will begin to pour in. Sources expect there will be a deluge of inquiries from draft eligible players over the next five weeks. Don't be surprised if a record number of underclassmen opt for the draft. Thirty-nine underclassmen were selected in the 2008 draft, the largest amount ever.

• After Ohio State's convincing victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor, running back Chris Wells was one of the last players to leave the field, hugging well wishers and mingling with the fans in the end zone. As one NFL scout at the game said, "It looked like Wells' last hurrah at the Horseshoe," inferring the Buckeye ball carrier may have played his final game in an Ohio State uniform and is likely to be playing on Sundays next year.