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Dec 1, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA Florida State Seminoles defensive end Bjoern Werner (95) stands on the field during the fourth quarter against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the 2012 ACC Championship game at Bank of America Stadium. FSU defeated Georgia Tech 21-15. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Draft Risers and Fallers


It’s an interesting cycle to watch each year as the top pick of the “experts” goes from the top overall pick to clear out of the first round. While I might only be exaggerating a little bit, remember Clemson’s DE Da’Quan Bowers as an example.

I recall the Miami Dolphins fans picketing the stadium a couple of years ago with signs saying “Suck for Luck” after they had gotten off to a horrible start under then-Head Coach Tony Sparano.

The whole scene had me wondering what was going to happen the NEXT season if they hadn’t drafted Ryan Tannehill. Would the signs then read “Blow for Barkley?”

Fortunately, we’ve been spared that path. But every season and every draft has their Da`Quan Bowers…as well as those who quietly climb the draft ladder. Let’s have a look:

Risers:

Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida – The big, strong young run-stuffing defensive tackle from Florida has shot up the boards in recent weeks since the unspecified heart ailment put a black mark on Utah’s DT Star Lotulelei, rightly or wrongly, but it is what it is. Some say Floyd hasn’t reached his maximum potential yet and still others say he’s overrated. He can play end in a 3-4 or tackle in a 4-3, so he’s versatile. I think he’ll be a very good player with good coaching to clean up his fundamentals.

Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU – Good size at 6-5 240 pounds and good burst with a 4.53-40 means he’s got very good athletic ability coming out of LSU. The issue? He’s never played OLB before. Most teams think he can make the transition to edge-rusher…IF he can learn the tools of the trade. Pass rushing isn’t just about speed off the snap; rushers must learn moves and counter-moves to get past the increasingly athletic NFL left tackles, and that takes time.

Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia – This guy’s no secret by now and his 4.27-40 combine time put him squarely in the first-round sights of most teams. While his size (5’9″ 179 lbs) means he’ll be relegated to the slot WR, finesse passing teams could sure use him as a safety valve or hot route outlet receiver who has the speed and moves to take it to the house on any given play – something the likes of Wes Welker and Danny Amendola never could. High risk/reward guy that could really put some “pop” into a west coast offense.

Dec 1, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive linesman D.J. Fluker (76) celebrates winning the 2012 SEC Championship game against the Georgia Bulldogs at the Georgia Dome. Alabama won 32-28. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama – It’s also no secret that players coming out of Nick Saban’s Alabama program have been coached up and are likely as good as they’ll ever be since Saban gets the most from his guys. Fluker is big, heavy, has long arms, and has surprisingly little body fat. He’s a top-notch run blocker who will be relegated to right tackle at the NFL level or might even be kicked inside to the guard position. Few linemen are on his level when it comes to run-blocking, but he could struggle against some of the better strongside NFL pass rushers. He’ll fit well with a team who likes bigger tackles (like the Rams) as opposed to more athletic ones (Dolphins, Packers)

Ziggy Ansah, DE, BYU – Ansah’s this year’s Jason Pierre-Paul…a pass-rusher with raw skill and talent and raw technique to go with it. He’s a project with a very high ceiling, but another boom-or-bust candidate who is getting more and more attention for his upside alone. Barely a low first-round pick going into the combine, he emerged to start creeping up draft boards until he’s now considered a lock for the top ten.

Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse – A few teams are really falling in love with this guy and one of those teams is the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo is a difficult place to play football in winter, and the strong-armed Nassib is used to playing outside in windy and cold conditions. Chicago has Jay Cutler in part to fire passes that slice through the wind and Nassib has that ability. He lacks ideal size and accuracy, but can buy time in the pocket with his feet. Evaluators like his attitude and improvement in college over the years and feel he can carry that into the NFL and continue to improve.

Fallers

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia – Thought early to be the top pick in the draft before the Chiefs signed Alex Smith, Geno Smith could possibly fall to the bottom of the first round as a result if the Buffalo Bills take either Nassib or a non-QB at #8 overall. Geno’s good at many things, but not “great” in any area. He could see a draft-day slide much like Aaron Rodgers saw on his big day.

Feb 24, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith practices his broad jump during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama – Milliner’s size (6’3″) and speed (4.31, 4.37) aren’t the issue; it’s his health. Milliner has a lingering shoulder injury and isn’t 100% going in, causing some teams some caution. When you pick in the top-ten, you’re usually expecting immediate results. Milliner may not be able to deliver that from opening day, but when healthy he’s a top-five pick all day long. His draft position will depend on how he can sell his health to NFL teams. If he can’t do that, he could slide and not even be the top CB taken. Right now he looks to go at #5 or #6, tops. If he doesn’t, we’ll know why.

Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State – one of those “tweener” prospects, he was on most boards as a top-5 pick two months ago and he’s now looking at the second half of the first round at best. He’s a foreign-exchange student who picked up football late in life (relatively speaking of course) and was very productive in college. Has questions about his motor and lacks elite explosiveness off the edge, but has very good instincts. Part of the issue with Werner is in evaluating his unique situation.

Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia – Another early top-ten or even top-five projection, the NFL Scouting Combine revealed he’s not as athletic as was once thought. Translation: his playing speed is faster than his timed speed, so his instincts and timing are excellent. He ran only a 4.9-40 but made play after play in the SEC schedule he played at Georgia. The trump card could be that he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine) in college, a condition which has caused several other NFL players to retire early.

Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah – Early on was consistently ranked either #1 or #2 in the entire draft, the infamous “heart ailment” that was detected at the NFL combine has proven to be a non-starter, but some teams are still afraid to pick him up high. Star’s star might fall from the top-five, but shouldn’t fall out of the top-15. He can also play end in a 3-4 or tackle in a 4-3 and probably will excel at either spot once he gets settled in.

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee – this kid’s got the physical tools to be a dynamic player in the NFL. He’s 6’2″ 216 lbs. and ran a 4.33-40 at the combine. He has good strength to fight off press-coverage on the outside, and is an accomplished kick returner as well. So what’s the issue? He’s not a very good route-runner and has issues dropping easy passes at times and lacks experience with only one season of full play at the FBS-level in college. His talent says top-ten pick while his intangibles scream second round. We’ll find out which one wins out Thursday night.

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