Falling prospects

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NFL Draft prospect highlights

The words "falling" and "sliding" are dreaded labels for draft prospects. And unfortunately for some, the association is a product of factors beyond their control.

While the handful of players below are still projected to go no later than the third round of this year's NFL draft, they have each slipped down the board because of questions about their play, workout results of off-field issues. That might not seem like such a big deal, but in the business of the draft, dropping even three to five picks in the first round can cost a prospect hundreds of thousands of dollars on their first contract.

TOP-5 FALLING PROSPECTS

1. Michigan junior defensive tackle Alan Branch
Branch, who entered the draft early after receiving a first-round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee, was a projected top-10 choice until he hit the postseason. His grade fell as a result of average workouts, and some questions about his toughness in the middle and his ability to be a true playmaker in the NFL.

At times, he appears to be less of the dominant interior defender that can take up space and fight through double teams and seems more another disappointing underclassman that has riddled this position in recent years. He was a little out of shape at his pro day workout as several scouts noted that he was out of breath and lacked explosiveness in his drills. To his credit, he has not made any excuses, but there is now more of a consensus that he could need a lot of motivation to reach or play his best.

The lack of a true nasty streak and the fact that he is better at receiving information "live" than in the classroom also has some position coaches fearing that he could be a bit of a high rep learner, which slows down a young player's progress. He's too big and naturally skilled to slide much past the first 15 picks, but is now seen more as a top-20 guy.

2. California senior cornerback Daymeion Hughes
Hughes' trouble started when he ran in the high 4.6-4.7 range at the NFL scouting combine in February. He rebounded a few weeks later with slightly better times, but he also failed to show ideal quickness and change-of-direction skills when being timed in the drills portion of his workout.

The good news for Hughes is that he has too much good game film to simply overlook because of his average workout results, plus most evaluators in the industry already knew he was a 4.6-type range runner. Hughes has very good instincts and his play on special teams help balance out his grade. Still, he is now more likely to be taken late in the second round or early third by a Cover 2 team that can scheme him away from being caught too often in man coverage situations.

3. Virginia Tech senior safety Aaron Rouse
One look at Rouse and it would be hard to think a prospect with that body type could come off the board any later than the first round. However, a closer look at his skills and weaknesses, especially in pass coverage, bring you to another conclusion.

Rouse's straight-line speed and athleticism are not in doubt, but he is stiff in the hips and fails to explode to the ball while it is in the air. He can pack a punch on impact, but too often he goes for those hits with his head down or allows plays to be made right in front of him because he takes bad angles to the ball or ball carrier.

The concern is that in today's NFL, he is more of an in-the-box or strong safety type. Most teams prefer combo defenders that can simply interchange at the safety position based on the strength call of the offense. If you post Rouse, lacking flexibility and fluidness, over a slot receiver or in one-on-one coverage against a top-flight tight end or good route runner out of the backfield, he will generally be exposed. His role would be best as a situational defender and special teams ace since he has great intangibles for the game. He's similar to former first-rounder Derrick Gibson.

4. Florida State junior outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons
Here is a perfect case of a prospect that really hasn't done anything wrong. However, the popularity of linebackers in free agency and the belief that teams can find guys similar to him in the early-to-mid rounds could make Timmons more of a mid-to-late first-round choice opposed to an earlier top-15 projection.

Timmons had average workouts for a player of his ability and skill level, but his times still represent a good impression of the prospect you see on game film. Also, it seems like he would fit ideally in a scheme that allows him the freedom to be uncovered, play in space and use his lateral quickness and athleticism. Therefore, a handful of defensive coordinators may not think he is the best fit for their scheme, so he could remain on the board while two-three other prospects at this spot are selected.

5. California junior running back Marshawn Lynch
Scouts have probably wavered more on Lynch's grade more than any other prospect; he ranges from surefire top-20 to second-rounder. Lynch's evaluation has been affected by accusations of a sexual assault (charges have not been filed); his late-season ankle and back injuries; fumbling problem; and speculation that he got a less than glowing review from the Cal coaching staff.

Lynch posted solid workout numbers across the board at the combine, but there's a notion by several teams that numerous potential 1,000-yard rushers will still be on the board in rounds 2-3. Therefore, if teams have long-term concerns about Lynch, he could still be on the board towards the later portion of round 1. In that scenario, teams could look to trade up for his services as was the case with Kevin Jones and Steven Jackson in recent drafts.

John Murphy's 6th annual NFL Draft Bible is now available. Learn more at www.nfldraftbible.blogspot.com