At this juncture of the NFL draft process, just about every prospect desires to hear the word "rising" associated with his name. And while the round each player gets drafted will vary, the path to reaching this point is generally the same.
Many of these players have used their all-star games and then post-NFL scouting combine workouts to convince teams that they can contribute a certain skill level in the pros. The five prospects mentioned below are a combination of recognizable names from big conferences and small-school guys who might have had professional evaluators scratching their heads when their names were brought up just a few months ago.
TOP-5 RISING PROSPECTS
1. Stanford senior quarterback Trent Edwards
The 6-foot-4, 224-pound athletic passer rebounded from a season-ending right foot injury to post 40-yard times in the 4.75 range. He then wowed scouts and quarterback coaches with his quick, compact delivery; overall accuracy; and deep ball during workouts. In fact, even some of the all-time best talent evaluators of this position weighed in following his pro day.
"He had some of the best pure mechanics and setup that I have seen in recent years," Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach Bill Walsh told reporters after the workout.
Edwards' rare physical tools and better-than-advertised toughness have helped push him back up the ranks the past few months. There is at least one NFL offensive coordinator who has him ranked among the top-2 QBs in the draft. He has had private workouts with a number of teams among the top 10 who are in need of drafting a quarterback and could now be taken as high as the first 35-40 picks.
2. Maryland senior cornerback Josh Wilson
Wilson's straight-line speed (4.33/4.39) to go along with his high character and intangibles could make him this year's version of Fabian Washington – a speedy, under-sized cornerback who went from third- to fifth-round consideration to first-round choice (No. 23) by the Oakland Raiders two years ago.
Although he is just 188 pounds, Wilson's ability to read and react so quickly to the play allows him to contribute against the run, and he is one of the best all-around special teams prospects on the board. The NFL is lacking in cover corners, so when combined with Wilson's background, physical tools and ability to contribute immediately on nickel/dime packages and special teams units, he should be drafted over several other higher profile cornerbacks.
3. Missouri Southern senior offensive tackle Allen Barbre
He started to put his name on the map last spring when he ran impressive times for scouts coming through the Midwest. Barbre followed that up with a solid senior campaign that earned him a place in the Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Classic. He consistently stepped up his game in one-on-one drills, shutting down opposing defenders from Division I-A and I-AA programs.
Barbre has rare athleticism for his size (6-5, 295), the frame to grow to 315-320 over the next few years and the long arms (34 inches) that make line coaches smile. A bright kid, he absorbed both the coaching and instructions given to him during the practices, which is an area of concern most times when you try to translate how a small-school prospect will fair at the next level.
He needs to increase his upper-body strength and keep from getting so high at times in his initial setup, but he has the balance, footwork and upside to make a team think long-and-hard in the third and fourth rounds. Most other linemen still on the board will lack his overall combination of size and athleticism.
4. NW Mississippi CC defensive tackle Walter Thomas
If you ever wanted to know how to make 100 NFL scouts raise their eyebrows, set loose an unknown, 370-plus pound defensive tackle such as Thomas in late January. Thomas was highly recruited out of high school by most schools in the Big 12, and picked Oklahoma State where he stayed for just over a year before having academic issues.
Thomas ended up at the JC level and thanks to him being a native of Galveston, Texas found his way into the Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Classic. He punished opposing defenders in one-on-one drills, using sheer strength, quickness off the ball and impressive balance for an athlete of his size. Thomas was also a sponge when it came to listening and taking to the coaching he received during the week.
His recent workout numbers wowed even the most hardened scout as he measured in at nearly 6-5, 373 pounds; ran between 5.11 and 5.20 in the 40; has 33 bench reps of 225 pounds; and had 11½-inch hands. Players of his size and agility just do not come along often enough for teams to pass on him once the fifth round starts in spite of his limited game film, exposure to big-time competition and raw technique. Just think about this tidbit for a moment: he ran 1.70 in the first 10 yards of his 40. In comparison, one of USC wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett's 10-yard splits was 1.65 and Thomas weighs over 150 pounds more than Jarrett.
5T. Albany (NY) senior defensive back Rashad Barksdale and Howard U. senior cornerback Geoffrey Pope
Barksdale was a pro baseball prospect who decided to play football his senior year. One baseball scout was quoted as saying he timed Barksdale at 6.4 or less in the 60-yard dash, the baseball equivalent to the 40-yard dash and a time that is reserved for first-round picks in Major League Baseball.
On top of his pure speed, Barksdale plays with great desire and dished out several licks while playing in the East Coast Bowl this past November. He is a well-built, natural athlete who can be tried at either cornerback or free safety.
Meanwhile, Pope has been timed in the mid-to-high 4.2 range, while also showing an improved back pedal and the character to be described as very coachable. At just under 6-0, 186, he also did 15 bench reps, and has gained solid mid-round grades from those who earlier had him as a priority free agent.
Speed sells on draft day and that is why one of these two prospects could very well jump up to be a surprising top-100 selection.