November 09, 2009

Less than a month remains in college football's regular season and the rankings witnessed another big shakeup at the top this weekend. The situation is a little different on NFL draft boards as, for the most part, the players graded highest at the start of the year have maintained their rankings. This week, we focus on several unheralded prospects with the potential to shake up the early and middle rounds of next April's draft.

Jeremy Williams/WR/Tulane: Williams could be the best receiver you never heard of. He's a natural pass catcher with good size and playing speed. Williams is having a breakout campaign this season and is on course to double or even triple many of his production numbers from last year. He's also displaying himself to be a game impacting kick returner. Williams' play this year will pay big dividends for him next April as the senior could sneak into the draft's initial 45 selections.

Cameron Heyward/DE/Ohio State: The son of Craig "Ironhead" Heyward has the makings of a first-round pick, just like his dad. Cameron is developing a complete game and has been the most dominant force on a strong Buckeye defensive line. He leads the unit in tackles, sacks and sits near the top in tackles for loss. Heyward is a terrific athlete with good size and growth potential. He offers possibilities as a conventional defensive tackle or two-gap end.

Jeffery Fitzgerald/DE/Kansas State: Fitzgerald began his college career at Virginia and looked like a legitimate NFL prospect from the very beginning. Ineligible in 2008 due to academics, he transferred to Kansas State and his play has taken off this season. Fitzgerald is a fine combination of athleticism, size and growth potential. His team leading six sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss has helped fuel the resurgence of the Wildcats defense. Fitzgerald offers the ability and skill to play in a variety of defensive systems at the next level. He is looking more and more like a top 100 choice.

Noel Devine/RB/West Virginia: Devine is proving to be one of the more versatile and creative backs in the nation. He shows the uncanny ability to elude defenders and pick up yardage when seemingly none is available. Devine is also a terrific receiver out of the backfield and has the makings of a return specialist. The junior already has high grades from NFL scouts should he decide to enter April's draft.

Craig Cooper/RB/Miami (Fla.): Cooper is another junior running back with big-time NFL potential. He's reminiscent of former Hurricane Frank Gore, as he shows power, elusiveness and the ability created yardage anywhere on the field. Cooper shares the backfield with Javarris James for Miami and will never put up big statistics in college -- yet he offers a great amount of upside for the next level.

Josh Hull/LB/Penn State: Hull was not graded by NFL scouting services entering the season but has moved into the late rounds based on his play this season. He's picked up the slack for his higher rated yet still ailing teammate Sean Lee. Hull leads Penn State in tackles and has displayed better than advertised skill in pass coverage this season.

Kyle Wilson/CB/Boise State: Wilson was originally graded as a fringe middle round pick by NFL scouting services but has since cemented himself as a top 100 choice. His ball skills have been so effective opponents are not throwing in his direction. Wilson also excels returning punts for Boise State and the ability to produce in a variety of roles only enhances his value at the next level.

Ed Wang/T/Virginia Tech: Wang was considered a fringe late round pick prior to his senior campaign but the Hokies left tackle has elevated his game and draft stock. The athletic lineman has done a terrific job in pass protection and his run blocking is improved. Wang is sure to receive invitations to a post-season All-Star game, which will give him another opportunity to move up draft boards.


Robert Johnson/S/Utah: The junior college transfer and former track and field star has pulled the pieces together this season. He's gone from a player that flashed skill on occasion to a defensive back developing a complete game. Johnson ranks fourth on the Utah defense in tackles and his skills in pass coverage are vastly better. He leads the team with five interceptions which he has returned for 139 yards. Johnson was not ranked by NFL scouting services entering the season yet his range and playmaking skills in centerfield have been so impressive he's heading towards the middle rounds.

Greg Matthews/WR/Michigan: Matthews was initially considered a middle round choice entering the season but the senior is struggling and has been just a minor part of the Michigan offense this year. His 19 receptions and one touchdown are his worst numbers since his freshman campaign.

Stevenson Sylvester/LB/Utah: Sylvester was considered by many to be a legitimate middle round choice entering the season. His play this year is best described as uninspired. He's an undersized linebacker known as a good athlete but has broken up just a single pass in 2009. Sylvester's tackling production is also down compared to his sophomore and junior seasons.

Notes: Syracuse receiver Mike Williams had been zipping up draft boards this season but hit a major roadblock last week. A Week 1 riser, Williams had made a successful return to the field this year after sitting on the sidelines in 2008 to get his academics in order. Williams was suspended for violating team rules prior to the Akron game, but returned to play against Cincinnati on Oct. 31. He then abruptly quit the team the following Monday. Sources familiar with the Syracuse program said Williams was about to be suspended a second time but decided to leave the team instead. The latest episode will have a near-fatal impact on Williams' draft grade.

Throughout the first two months of the season, Williams displayed the game-breaking skills scouts became accustomed to early in his college career and had climbed as high as the third round in the opinion of many. His previous academic issues coupled with the problems of this season will now push Williams deep into the late rounds next April.

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