November 16, 2009

NFL prospects continue to rise and slide on draft boards as the college season enters the final weeks, but injuries continue to dominate the news.

Two weeks ago I reiterated what Mississippi coaches were telling everyone; that defensive end Greg Hardy was fully healthy for the first time in almost two seasons. Evidently that proclamation was premature as Hardy's season is over, the result of a fractured wrist.

Hardy justifiably was handed one of the highest grades of any senior entering the season by NFL scouts, but his inability to stay on the field will raise red flags. The bigger issue is the variety of injuries since 2008, including foot, ankle and now wrist

Another defensive lineman whose draft stock will take a hit because of injury is Arthur Jones. The Syracuse senior turned down millions to return for one final college season. He suffered a pectoral injury last spring, which required surgery, and a knee injury ended his season last week. Jones will undergo surgery to repair his knee and hopes to be ready to play in the Senior Bowl in January.

Then there's running back Jahvid Best.

Most expected the Cal junior to enter the draft, but that was before his frightening injury against Oregon State. Those close to Best still believe he will enter the league despite a series of concussions, which will send up red flags. NFL insiders I spoke with feel this will push Best from the top half of round one into the bottom third of the frame.

There is good news for Corey Wootton of Northwestern. A slider in Week 4, Wootton is starting to revert back to form as his surgically repaired knee becomes healthier. He was a non-factor during the first month of the season. Big Ten sources felt the defensive end probably should not have been on the field in September, barely seven months removed from knee surgery.

Dan Williams/DT/Tennessee: Williams was barely considered camp worthy by NFL scouts entering the season, but his play this year has been so effective it has completely turned the tide. He's playing smart, tough football. He's been a reliable run defender who goes hard until the whistle blows. Several teams presently grade Williams as a second-round selection.

Devin McCourty/CB/Rutgers: McCourty is living up to expectations. Opponents aren't throwing in the direction of the shutdown corner, so McCourty is finding other ways to be productive. He leads Rutgers in tackles and is one of the nation's best special teams players. His blocked punt in a recent win over South Florida was the sixth of his career. The prior week he returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown in a narrow victory over Connecticut. He has cemented himself as a top 75 selection next April.

Daryl Washington/OLB/TCU: He's an unsung hero on the Horned Frogs defense, leading the team in tackles and interceptions. Scouts are well aware of Washington's skills as the speedy linebacker makes plays sideline-to-sideline and efficiently handles pass coverage assignments. He's established himself as a solid middle-round choice for a defense that employs a one-gap scheme.

Mike Johnson/G/Alabama: The Tide's rushing offense is one of the most lethal in the SEC, thanks in part to Johnson's blocking. He's a terrific pass protector and dominant run blocker. Johnson is stating his case to be among the top five guards in next April's draft.

Dexter McCluster/RB/Mississippi: McCluster, one of the most versatile skill players in the nation, has been shooting up draft boards since September. The multi-talented ball handler has caught 27 passes this season, averaging 13 yards per reception. He's also topped the century mark carrying the ball the past three games, most recently amassing 282 yards on the ground against Tennessee. McCluster is also experienced returning punts and kicks at Mississippi. At 5-foot-7, 160 pounds, he's compared to a successful yet undersized NFL player, Darren Sproles of the San Diego Chargers.

Riley Cooper/WR/Florida: Cooper was graded as a fringe late-round pick by scouts last summer but has significantly raised the level of his game and draft stock. Tim Tebow's most reliable wideout, Cooper is a big-bodied pass catcher with the uncanny ability to find the soft spot in a defense. He's been a terrific red zone threat, as evidenced by his six touchdown receptions this year. His average of almost 17 yards per reception is impressive for a 215-pound wideout. Cooper has elevated himself into the middle rounds and will continue the upward movement if he runs well prior to the draft.

SLEEPERGeorge Johnson/DE/Rutgers: Johnson has been a pass-rushing terror for the Scarlet Knights the past two seasons and can constantly be found making plays in the backfield. He lacks the classic size for an NFL defensive end, yet compares favorably to his former Rutgers teammate,Jamaal Westerman, who's now playing for the New York Jets.

Brandon Carter/G/Texas Tech: The Red Raiders massive lineman looks a little too large this season and his play has been sloppy at times. Carter struggles blocking in anything other than a small area and is consistently beaten by quick, athletic defenders.

Charles Scott/RB/LSU: Scott was sliding down draft boards before having his campaign end prematurely with a broken collarbone last week. Considered a potential first-round pick entering the season, Scott rushed for 100 or more yards just twice this season and finished the year with two rushing touchdowns. The injury and poor play will drop Scott almost a full round next April.

Bryan Anderson/WR/Central Michigan: Anderson looked like a dynamite future prospect early in his college career and was drawing comparisons to Vincent Jackson, the productive starter for the San Diego Chargers. The big wideout has not shown much in the way of progress on the field; his numbers have steadily declined the past two seasons.

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