As the college football regular season is nearing the end, NFL scouts are making their final visits to their big schools before the Bowl Games and the All Star circuit begins. At the same time, late season performances can often help players who struggled or did not receive a lot of playing time early in the season. Below is a look at five players whose stock has been moving over the past few weeks based on my film evaluation and what I am hearing from NFL scouts.
US PRESSWIRETennessee QB Tyler Bray about to release pass.
6060 (Estimated) 215 (Estimated) 4.85 (Estimated) Potential 2nd Round Pick
To emphasize how well Bray has played recently, early in the season he was on the list of players who stock was falling as he scuffled through the first seven games throwing 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. However, during the Volunteers loss to Alabama Bray flashed the confidence that had been lacking much of the season making some big throws even though he still threw two interceptions. Since that game, Bray has been much more quick and decisive within the pocket, striding into and throwing the ball much more aggressively. This increased confidence and decisiveness with the ball have led to improved accuracy, more big plays and very few errors (In the three games since Alabama, he has thrown 13 touchdowns and only one interception). While I still strongly believe that Bray should return to Tennessee for his senior season, his recent play has me, along with the scouts I have spoken with, believing that if he can play at this level throughout next season he could be a high first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Zach Ertz Tight End Stanford Senior
6060 (Estimated) 252 (Estimated) 4.65 (Estimated) Potential 2nd Round Pick
Former teammate and fellow tight end Coby Fleener received much of the press during the 2011 season and Ertz along with the rest of Stanford’s strong group of tight ends was largely overlooked. However, a number of scouts told us that they believe Ertz is a better all-around player. Despite similar measureables to Fleener, on film Ertz looks bigger and displays better playing strength as a blocker and running after the catch. A smooth route runner, Ertz gets out of cuts quickly and has the hands and body control to make tough catches seem routine. With NFL teams desperate to find tight ends that can create matchup problems like Gronkowski, Gates and Graham, Ertz could end up being drafted in the first round, higher than Fleener, if he performs well in the run up to the Draft.
Curtis McNeal Running Back USC Senior
5070 (Estimated) 188 (Estimated) 4.45 (Estimated) Potential 3rd / 4th Round Pick
After a 1,000 yard season in 2011, many expected McNeal to be the feature back and big play ball carrier for the Trojans this season. However, after running back Silas Redd transferred from Penn State, McNeal became a backup and was not a big factor in USC’s offense early this season. Against California a few weeks back McNeal flashed the explosiveness and speed to make big plays that had NFL scouts wondering if he could be the next Darren Sproles. Then this Saturday he exploded as he started his first game of 2012 and displayed the rare burst through the hole, elusiveness and big play open-field running skills that so excited me last season. His lack of ideal size will keep McNeal from being a high draft pick, but similar to Sproles he will likely be a mid-round pick. I believe that McNeal’s explosive play-making ability should enable him to make more of an impact in today’s wide open pass first NFL than his teammate Silas Redd.
Eric Reid Safety LSU Junior
6020 (Estimated) 212 (Estimated) 4.55 (Estimated) Potential 1st Round Pick
Reid is an interesting case because he has been talked about in the media as a first round pick since last season, but scouts we spoke to were lukewarm to his play last season and viewed him more as a third rounder when the season began. While Reid still will get out of control and miss some tackles that he should and must make when he gets to the NFL, he has been a much more consistent tackler in 2012. Naturally instinctive, Reid reads and reacts to the play quickly, gets started towards the ball fast and has the closing burst to finish the play and is not afraid to deliver a violent blow to ball carrier. His top end playing speed gives him sideline range vs. the run and in deep coverage. He is not challenged covering tight ends in man coverage, but will have trouble doing the same against slot receivers in the NFL. Overall, Reid’s improved consistency has put him in position to challenge to be the first safety drafted if he comes out early for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Rex Burkhead Running Back Nebraska Senior
5100 (Estimated) 213 (Estimated) 4.55 (Estimated) Potential 6th / 7th Round Pick
A strong 2011 season led to many scouts telling us that Burkhead was their “sleeper” running back for the 2013 Draft. However, this season has not gone as well as planned as Burkhead has struggled with nagging injuries which have limited his production. An aggressive runner with excellent instincts and the strength and balance to run through arm/grab tackles to gain yards after contact, he has not made the same plays he did a season ago. Never an elusive back, but one with a little wiggle, Burkhead has struggled to avoid contact this season and has not gained yards after contact as consistently. For a player scouts said could be a third or fourth rounder when the season began, Burkhead is likely going to be a late round pick if he is drafted at all. He will need to shine at whatever all-star game he is invited to and workout very well at the Combine to insure he gets drafted.
Email Russ at Russelllande@yahoo.com and Follow Russ on Twitter @RUSSLANDE