Early entry prospects: Part IV

• Penn State outside linebacker Navorro Bowman is without a doubt one of the draft’s most athletically gifted players at the position. His ability to quickly redirect, explode out of his breaks and close on the football are three reasons he has a chance to develop into a starting-caliber weak-side linebacker in the NFL. He also showcases above-average instincts at the line and looks very natural when asked to play in space vs. the pass game. However, at only 6-1 and 232 pounds, Bowman looks undersized for the position and isn’t a guy who has the ability to take on blocks inside or even consistently wrap up physical ball carriers on contact (see Ohio State). There’s no denying the kid’s athletic skill set, but the perception that he’s physical enough to come in, start from day one and warrant a top-20 draft selection is completely off base. Bowman has the ability to mature into a solid starting player in the NFL, but I can’t see a team drafting an undersized linebacker with character concerns in the top-half of the first round.

• Speaking of undersized linebackers, Georgia’s Rennie Curran is another who decided to forgo his senior year and opt for the NFL Draft. Now, if Bowman, who’s listed at a generous 6-1, 232 pounds, is considered undersized, what does that make the 5-11, 225-pound Curran? However, Curran has been productive the past two seasons playing in the SEC and even led the conference in tackles with 122 this season. Because of his lack of size, maybe he’ll never be able to push his draft stock much higher than it is now, even if he did return for his senior year. Nevertheless, when evaluating Curran’s potential at the next level, the highest possible grade I can give him is a 6.2, which reads: Has one deficient area of his physical attributes that he can NEVER overcome but has been productive and has the potential to be a starter in the NFL despite his shortcomings.

• There’s been a bit of a shakeup now atop the 2010 center rankings with the addition of Florida junior pivot man Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey is a massive 6-5, 318-pound interior lineman who displays the flexibility and power to consistently overwhelm defenders in the run game, as well as the fluidity and athleticism to slide his feet and mirror in pass protection. Pouncey not only looks like the nation’s top center prospect, he grades out as one of the draft’s top overall talents in my opinion. He has the makings of someone capable of winning a starting job in training camp and eventually developing into one of the league’s top centers.

• On the opposite side of the Florida line, DL Carlos Dunlap has also decided to declare early and take his game to the next level. Dunlap will likely be one of the most debated prospects in the draft this year because of his pure physical skill set and overall upside. At 6-6, 290-pounds he possesses rare athletic ability for his size and offers teams the versatility to line up as a base end in a 4-3, kick inside to the three-technique on passing downs and could even play as a 5-tehcnique in the 3-4 scheme. However, there’s a catch. Dunlap has some character concerns and was suspended for the SEC championship game this season because of a DUI. There are also questions about his overall work rate and passion for the game. Still, it isn’t often you find a guy with his overall athletic and physical skill sets. And remember, it only takes one team to fall in love with him on draft day. I expect someone to do so within the top 15 picks after he puts on a show at this year’s NFL Combine. A true boom-or-burst prospect.

• One junior receiver who I assumed would return for his senior year was South Florida’s talented 6-4, 212-pound wideout, Carlton Mitchell. However, with all the recent controversies taking place at South Florida, Mitchell ultimately decided to declare early for the draft. Now, as an overall athlete, Mitchell is as talented and physically gifted as they come. He’s explosive and powerful off the line and consistently is able to get behind defensive backs when asked to get vertical down the field. His size/speed ratio might be tops among any of the wide receiver prospects this year, and he definitely has the ability to develop into a legit starting-caliber wideout at the next level. But Mitchell is raw, isn’t a real natural receiver and struggles to pluck the football away from his frame. Does he have the ability to make plays in an NFL offense down the line? Absolutely. But he’s going to need time to learn the position and develop as a route runner because right now, he’s not ready to be anything more than an occasional deep threat.

Click HERE for Part I.

Click HERE for Part II.

Click HERE for Part III.

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