Draft watch: Texas QB, Iowa RB among most surprising performers
QB Colt McCoy has impressed scouts with his tools, smarts and physical maturity
Iowa's Shonn Greene routinely displays the skills of a future No. 1 back in the NFL
OU's Jermaine Gresham headlines a stellar TE class, should he choose to go pro
Last week, we focused on the college players who are watching their draft stock drop due to disappointing play. Now it's time to look at the other side of the coin. Here are 15 players who've surprised NFL scouts by playing beyond expectations.
Colt McCoy*/QB/Texas: McCoy has led the Longhorns to the top of the college football world and is watching his draft stock head north, as a result. Scouts questioned whether McCoy was a legitimate NFL prospect or just a good college quarterback before the season started. The Texas signal-caller has quelled many of those criticisms by working hard in the offseason, increasing his arm strength and most importantly, significantly improving his decision-making in the pocket this year.
Donald Brown*/RB/Connecticut: UConn's top skill player has been a one-man show on the field, while impressing NFL scouts. Brown has dominated opponents this season even as they specifically game plan to try and stop him. He's displayed an array of ball-carrying skills and ranks as a top-45 pick if he enters the draft.
Shonn Greene*/RB/Iowa: Greene, who came out of nowhere, is one of the hottest names in scouting circles. He sat on the sidelines last season with academic issues and was a part-time player his first two years with the program. Greene even moved to defensive back for a short time but has been a dominant force at his natural position. He possesses the size, speed and skill to eventually develop into a feature runner in the NFL.
Jermaine Gresham*/TE/Oklahoma: April's draft will be full of quality tight ends and Gresham would be at the top of the list -- if he chose to go pro. He possesses the athleticism and pass-catching skills of Tony Gonzalez, yet has better size and potential as a blocker.
Dennis Pitta*/TE/BYU: Pitta is another talented prospect in an already crowded field at tight end. He's a superior pass-catcher with the speed and skill to create mismatches in the defensive secondary, like many former BYU tight ends. Pitta is on course to total 1,000 yards receiving this year -- an exceptional mark for a player at his position.
Andy Levitre/OL/Oregon State: The Beavers starting left tackle has taken his game to another level. Levitre was graded as a late-round pick before his senior campaign but has since climbed into the draft's top four rounds. He is unlikely to stay at tackle in the NFL, prompting a move to either guard or center.
Jason Smith/OT/Baylor: Smith is a sensational athlete whose game is drawing comparisons to former All-Pro Jonathan Ogden. He's a terrific pass protector and displays great potential when blocking in motion. Smith has moved into the draft's top-20 selections, as scouts love his productions this season, along with the great upside he possesses.
Troy Kropog/OT/Tulane: Kropog is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the nation's better pass blockers. He entered the year with a third-round grade but his play this season, specifically against top competition, could move him into the second frame. Kropog is set to receive an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl next January, giving him another opportunity to impress NFL decision makers.
Terrence Cody*/DT/Alabama: The JUCO transfer has surprised everyone with his dominant play from the get-go. He's been the main cog in Alabama's defense, top-rated in the SEC. Cody is already considered the No. 1 nose tackle prospect by league scouts.
Brian Orakpo/DE/Texas: Orakpo has been the nation's top senior defensive lineman this season, and his play in the big spot has excited scouts. He dominated the talented Phil Loadholt in UT's victory over Oklahoma and was omnipresent in the Missouri backfield during the Longhorns' most recent victory. NFL teams are always looking for disruptive pass rushers on draft day and Orakpo has separated himself from the pack this season.
Aaron Curry/OLB/Wake Forest: The Demon Deacon senior was considered a potential first-round pick by scouts before the season began, but his play this season has been nothing short of outstanding. Curry is exceeding all the expectations placed upon him and has been a dominant defender, forcing the action all over the field. Scouts now feel Curry could be a top-12 pick next April.
Clay Matthews/LB-DE/USC: Matthews, a former walk-on and backup until this season, has been a standout for the Trojans defense. His play at a number of positions has been instrumental for a unit that's been forced to shuffle players, due to injuries. Matthews was considered a free agent prospect by scouts just two months ago but has made a move into the middle rounds.
Scott McKillop/ILB/Pittsburgh: McKillop, one of the best players in the Big East, has been awarded Defensive Player of the Week honors by the conference on three separate occasions. He leads the league in tackles, yet his play in pass coverage has pleasantly surprised scouts -- thus elevating his draft stock almost a full round.
Keenan Lewis/CB/Oregon State: Lewis has been one of the steadiest senior cornerbacks in the nation. His ability to shut down opponents has forced signal-callers to throw away from him. With a strong finish this season and a great NFL Combine performance, Lewis could be a first-rounder next April.
Rashad Johnson/S/Alabama: Johnson has been on an upswing since his junior campaign and has developed a complete game. NFL scouts have been been impressed with his knack for doing the little things well, while playing intelligently.
Alabama's Cody could miss the next two games after injuring his knee in the team's victory over Mississippi. The future first-round pick underwent an MRI on Sunday to determine the full extent of the injury. The hope is Cody can return by Nov. 8, when the Tide play LSU, a team with a number of quality NFL prospects on the offensive line.
Quarterback Cullen Harper underwent surgery on his non-throwing shoulder on Sunday but is expected to return to the field this week and return to the starting lineup when Clemson takes on Boston College in two weeks. The Tigers signal-caller was benched by former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden and sat on the sidelines during the team's 21-17 loss to Georgia Tech.
Oklahoma's Nic Harris got an early start on what may be a permanent position change. A week ago, we alerted readers that NFL scouts are already projecting the Sooners safety to linebacker at the next level. This weekend against Kansas, Harris filled in at middle linebacker for injured started Ryan Reynolds and turned in a solid performance, posting five tackles and breaking up one pass.
* Denotes Underclassman
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