Crashing the party

March 25, 2015

With the 2015 draft still some 5 weeks away there appears to be considerable movement of players up and down draft boards around the league. The following are a number of players who may not have been much more than third-day prospects when the draft process started, but have moved well up since and may actually have begun to get just a hint of late first-round consideration by some teams.

Clemson ILB Stephone Anthony: Thought of a productive, but somewhat limited athlete with mid-to-late round prospect for the upcoming draft, Anthony has been pushing the envelope right through the pre-draft process starting at the senior Bowl where he was all over dispelling the notion that he had primarily between the tackles range. Anthony then had an outstanding combine where he clocked a very fast time of 4.56 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the third-fastest time among all defensive front-seven players in Indianapolis this year. For good measure, Anthony also had an athletic 37-inch vertical, while his agility drill times were all among the top figures at the position. Finally, Anthony showed plenty more agility and fluidity in positional drills at both the combine and the Tigers’ pro day earlier this month. NFL teams still have some concerns about Anthony’s natral football instincts, particularly when dropping into coverage, however, because of his toughness when making the tackle and overall athletic skills, Anthony has gone from a possible 4th-5th round pick this year to a point where he is contending with the likes of Mississippi’s State Benardrick McKinney, Eric Kendricks of UCLA and Miami’s Denzel Perryman to be the first inside linebacker off the board. Indeed, there is a palpable buzz that a team like Green Bay could actually be looking at him as a possibility for their late first round pick.

Oregon OT Jake Fisher: We kind of joked early in the 2014 college season that Fisher should maybe get some Heisman consideration when the Ducks’ offense just took off after missing some time with an injury. Turns out Fisher may get the last laugh. Fisher is a former TE who has shown in pre-draft workouts that he he is a much more fluid, athletic offensive lineman than previously thought. At the combine, for example, Fisher had the second fastest 40 clocking among offensive linemen at 5.01 seconds, while he posted a 32.5-inch vertical, which also tied for second among OL, and then blew away the competition at the position in the agility drills. All that has NFL teams thinking of a Fisher as a guy who could come in and start at RT right away, but what has pushed his up boards across the league is the sense that he has the feet and work ethic to eventually play at LT at the next level, although he still needs to add some strength and clean up some technical issues, in particular his hand usage off the snap. However, at 6-6, Fisher has the frame to bulk up to the 320 pound range – he weighed 306 at the combine – and given the value team’s place on the LT position, is another player who now looks like a solid early-to-mid-second round candidate who no one would be totally shocked if some team ultimately pulls the string in the latter part of the opening round.

Central Florida WR Breshad Perriman: If UCF’s Perriman didn’t have teams thinking about him as a potential early pick prior to his pro day this week, then they almost certainly will after he reportedly ran the 40 in something in the 4.3 range. In fact, Perriman may be just what the 2015 draft needs and that’s yet another really good prospect at receiver as he has a rare combination of size (he’s 6-2, 212), track speed and leaping ability. He also plays fast with an explosive first step and the ability to make sudden cuts. Indeed, he emerged as one of college football’s most dangerous big-play receivers last fall when he averaged almost 21 yards per catch (on 50 total receptions) and scored a team-leading 9 TDs on a team that really didn’t throw the ball all that well. In the past, though, Perriman has gotten by on his pure speed and athleticism and will need to clean some things up when he gets to the pros. In particular, his routes are sloppy as he tends to round them off and his hands are average at best as he lets too many passes get into his pads. Still, you can’t teach speed and athleticism such that his physical traits and ability to hit the big play should warrant plenty of early round consideration this year. And yes for the record, he is the son of former Miami WR Brett Perriman, who had a solid 10 year NFL career.

Arizona State FS Damarious Randall: No player in the 2015 draft class has come further, faster than ASU’s Randall who wasn’t even playing football four years ago. Indeed, Randall played baseball at a community college in 2011 before transferring to Mesa Community College where he was a JC All-American in 2012 after picking off 9 passes that year. Randall then played the last two years at ASU where he evolved into one of the most productive safeties in the country as he led the team with 106 tackles last fall, including 9.5 for loss, while he picked off 3 passes and broke up 9  others. Randall isn’t all that big at just 5-11, 195, but he can really run and has great instincts and ball skills. Indeed, there are some teams that are reportedly looking at him as a possible corner, although he is probably a little stiff in the hips to hold up on an island against elite receivers. Still, Randall was only one of two safeties to run under 4.5 seconds at the combine (along with Eric Rowe of Utah), while he was in the top 2-3 prospects at the position in the other key physical tests including the agility drills. And in a year in which ball-hawking free safety types are about as rare as hen’s teeth, Randall is another guy with the potential to be off the board within the first 40 or so picks at this year’s draft.

Bonus buzz: In addition to the above players, there is something of a buzz that QBs Bryce Petty of Baylor and Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson may have passed Brett Hundley of UCLA as the #3 prospect at the position this year behind Jameis Winston of Florida State and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Hundley is by far the best athlete of the three, but Petty and Grayson are just better passers out of the pocket. And given that there are simply more than two teams with major QB issues heading into the draft, the question around the NFL is just how early teams that don’t get Winston or Mariota will feel the pressure to get the next best thing at the position and that could mean reaching a tad in the second round. There has also been something of a buzz around the league of late that nobody should be surprised if Georgia RB Todd Gurley is selected a lot earlier than where he is being projected in most current mock drafts. Gurley, of course, was considered to be the best player in college football last season before he tore an ACL in October that sent his stock tumbling. However, Gurley’s rehab is reportedly going well such that he may not have to wait much past the first 10-12 or so picks before he starts to come into play, that is if somebody doesn’t pull the trigger in the top 10.