Through the initial five weeks of the college season, we've placed most of the attention on the country's well-known prospects rising and sliding on draft boards. Yet, several lesser known players who entered the season with free-agent grades have created a buzz in scouting circles. This week, we take notice of the under-the-radar players rising up draft boards, including a few juniors that have scouts excited.
Taylor Potts/QB/Texas Tech: Past Red Raider quarterbacks have been labeled 'system players', and justifiably so, but Potts is ready to break the stereotype. His statistics are gaudy thanks to the wide open offense at Texas Tech, and yet he's proven to be a legitimate next-level prospect. He has the arm strength to throw the deep pass and gets the ball through the tight spots. Potts also offers solid intangibles, quarterback intelligence and uses of all his weapons. Once rated as a free-agent prospect, scouts feel Potts could move into the later rounds next April.
Shane Vereen*/RB/California: The Cal program consistently offers the NFL talented running backs, with first-round pick Jahvid Best being the latest. Vereen is set to keep the tradition moving forward, as he's a multi-versatile ball carrier with the ability to produce in a variety of ways. Vereen posted 150 yards rushing and two scores in Cal's lopsided victory over UCLA, while also registering three receptions for 50 yards. Compared to Best, Vereen does not have the same east-west running style but scouts feel he's a better ball carrier between the tackles.
Vincent Brown/WR/San Diego State: The senior class of receivers is disappointing, and there's bound to be surprises at the position. Brown could be the biggest one of 'em all. He's a sure-handed wideout and the go-to guy on an improving Aztecs offense. Brown collected a season-high six receptions against BYU on Saturday after coming off another best of 177 yards against Utah State. He's on pace for a career year and good workouts prior to April's draft could push Brown into the draft's first 75 picks.
Mike Holmes/S/Syracuse: The Syracuse program is making a quantum leap after years of despair. Defense has been the driving force behind the resurgence, and Holmes is one of the unit's leaders. He's a feisty safety with a complete game, offering solid ball skills in centerfield besides an aggressive nature in run defense. He lacks classic safety size, but the ability to line up in several defensive systems and produce on special teams will secure a place for Holmes in the late rounds.
Phil Taylor/DT/Baylor: Taylor came to Baylor with big expectations after transferring from Penn State. His first season at Waco was a washout, as Taylor was overweight, out of shape and rode the bench late in the year. He turned his game around this season and after dropping a reported 25 pounds. Taylor has displayed tremendous athleticism and movement skills for a 340-pound lineman, besides and overpowering nature. He was graded as a marginal free agent at season's start, but has moved into the middle rounds with his play.
Akeem Dent/LB/Georgia: Dent has been one of the few bright spots during the Bulldogs' dismal season. The senior captain is the most consistent player on defense, according to Georgia coaches. He leads the unit with 54 tackles and has shown surprising skill in pass coverage. Dent is another that has played himself into the draft after initially being graded as a free agent.
Sleeper AlertAlfonzo Dennard*/CB/Nebraska: Playing across from Prince Amukamara, the top cornerback in the nation, assures that Dennard sees his fair share of passes. Yet each week, the junior proves he's up for the challenge. Dennard is a strong, sturdy shut-down cornerback with terrific ball skills, like his teammate. He sits atop the Cornhusker defense this season with three interceptions. Dennard is not as highly considered as Amukamara, yet offers the potential to be a starter at the next level.
Luke Stocker/TE/Tennessee: Stocker entered the season as the top-rated senior tight end and has responded with uninspired play. His pass-catching numbers have improved just slightly since last season and Stocker's blocking leaves a lot to be desired.
Evan Royster/RB/Penn State: Royster, expected to carry the load for the Nittany Lions this year, has disappointed scouts with his play during the first six games. He's carried the ball more than a dozen times in just one game this season and is averaging under 65 yards rushing per contest. Reports stated Royster was overweight heading i to the season, which led to his reduced role in the offense. He was graded as a potential third-round pick by NFL scouts but is sliding into the late frames.
Mark Barron*/S/Alabama: The highly considered junior very much looks the part in centerfield, yet has been plagued by inconsistencies this season. His ball skills have been average and more disturbingly the large defender has had too many of his tackles broken, in part due to poor technique.
Notes: Several former risers continue their momentum up draft boards with outstanding play. Once again Stanford's Owen Marecic impressed scouts at linebacker in the win over USC. Marecic posted two tackles for loss and came up with several big plays in coverage. The double-duty player continues to watch his draft stock rise as scouts are now grading him on the defensive side of the ball.
Auburn's Nick Fairley continues his tear through the season. The first year starter leads the SEC with 12.5 tackles for loss, rates second in sacks with five and has also accumulated 12 quarterback hurries this year. ... LSU's Drake Nevis was again given the weekly award as the top defensive lineman in the SEC. In the victory over Florida, he totaled seven tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble. ... Finally A.J. Green of Georgia had another big afternoon during the Bulldogs' win over Tennessee. Green collected six receptions for 96 yards and one score. The feeling amongst those close to the Bulldog program is despite recent statements, Green will enter the draft at the conclusion of the 2010 season.