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Posted: Tuesday December 2, 2008 12:35AM; Updated: Tuesday December 2, 2008 12:58AM

Risers/Sliders for 2009 NFL Draft

Story Highlights

Jeremiah Johnson could make it back-to-back first-round RBs for Oregon

LSU DT Ricky Jean-Francois needs to step up his game during bowl season

UConn's William Beatty may emerge as the No. 1 prospect at left tackle

By Tony Pauline, Special to SI.com

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Jeremiah Johnson dashed Oregon State's Rose Bowl hopes by rushing for 216 yards.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Except for a few remaining contests the college football regular season is finished as the attention now turns to the conference championship games. In this final version of Risers and Sliders for the '08 campaign, we look at several unheralded players across the nation, underrated prospects who have the potential for long careers in the NFL.

Jeremiah Johnson/RB/Oregon: Johnson is part of the two-headed ball carrying monster at Oregon. He's a shifty and creative running back with the speed necessary to take it the distance. Johnson finished his college career in style running roughshod over rival Oregon State for 216 yards, helping to end the Rose Bowl dreams of the Beavers. His draft stock is soaring and Johnson will have another opportunity to impress NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl in Alabama next January.

William Beatty/OT/Connecticut: The Huskies left tackle has been one of the nation's premier pass protectors the past two seasons. Beatty further proved his worth to scouts last week after limiting South Florida's George Selvie, one of college football's best pass rushers, to just a single tackle. He needs to pick up the intensity of his run blocking yet Beatty's size, athleticism and footwork has caught the attention of NFL decision makers.

Eben Britton/OT/Arizona: Britton is another left tackle making a name for himself. He offers terrific size, athleticism as well as an enormous amount of upside potential. Britton has shown steady progress the past two seasons and even though the junior is still a bit raw and needs to complete his game, he is a prospect scouts speak well of.

Quan Cosby/WR/Texas: The Longhorns sure handed pass-catcher finished his senior campaign with career numbers and now has scouts grading him as a potential mid-round choice. Cosby came up big during critical moments all season and projects as a fourth receiver in the NFL.

Jamarca Sanford/S/Mississippi: Sanford has gone from a prospect with a free agent grade at the seasons start to a potential mid-round pick in April's draft. He's a hard hitting safety who is one of the leaders in tackles on the Mississippi defense and Sanford also offers a special teams mentality for the next level.

Robert Francois/LB/Boston College: Francois was a back-up for most of his Boston College career until he replaced starter Brian Toal, who went down early with a season ending injury. Francois has since displayed himself to be a complete three down linebacker and is now a draftable commodity heading towards April. Scouts feel Francois has a terrific NFL future as the arrow is pointing north for him.

Jordan Lake/S/Baylor: Lake could well be the most underappreciated safety in college. He's a fierce run defender who finished the season with 97 tackles and two forced fumbles. Lake also displays solid ball skills in coverage, as evidenced by his three interceptions. The junior is a player to keep on the radar screen for NFL teams needing a centerfielder.

Jarron Gilbert/DL/San Jose State: Gilbert was not graded by NFL scouting services before the season began yet his play this season has many thinking he could end up as a fourth round selection in April. He's an athletic prospect with a tall, slender build and a large amount of potential. Gilbert is versatile enough to line up at tackle or as a two-gap end in a 3-4 alignment.

SLEEPER ALERT

T.J. Lang/OL/Eastern Michigan: Lang's been a three-year starter at tackle for EMU, handling the duties on both the left and right side. He barely caused a ripple in the scouting community before the season began yet has been getting long looks the past two months. Lang is a fleet footed blocker who excels in pass protection and will likely move to offensive guard at the next level for a team which employs a zone blocking system.

Sliders

Ricky Jean-Francois/DT/LSU: Scouts expected big things this year from Jean-Francois, who was named BCS National Championship Game Defensive MVP in the victory over Ohio State last January. The junior has been non-existent for most of the season and in nine games has struggled to match his tackling numbers from a year ago when he suited up for just two contests.

Jorvorskie Lane/FB/Texas A&M: Lane entered the season with a mid-round grade from NFL scouts yet leaves Texas A&M as an afterthought. The senior was lost in the team's youth movement and totaled just 93 yards rushing and five touchdowns this season. Lane topped the 700 yard rushing mark as a sophomore and junior, posting a combined 35 touchdowns, when he was considered one of the nation's premiere short yardage runners. His poor senior campaign could push him out of the draft.

Jaison Williams/WR/Oregon: Williams looked like a star in the making as a red shirt sophomore when he recorded 68 receptions with 984 receiving yards, and rumors were rampant he was leaving for the NFL. His production has dropped every year since as his career regressed and Williams finished his senior season with 33 catches and 421 yards. He's gone from potential top sixty choice to likely late round pick.

Notes: Scouts have reassessed their original opinion of West Virginia quarterback Pat White. Initially grading him as an NFL wide receiver, those who have worked the Morgantown area have come away impressed with White's passing potential and want to see more of him behind center. Scouts feel White brings a nice blend of passing and playmaking potential to the field, comparing him to Seattle Seahawk quarterback Seneca Wallace and New York Jets receiver Brad Smith. The end result is White will likely see plenty of action at quarterback during next month's Senior Bowl.

One quarterback who continues to free-fall down draft boards is Missouri's Chase Daniel. After yet another tough performance on Saturday in the team's loss to Kansas, scouts are starting to brand Daniel with the label of "system quarterback" which will further depress his draft stock.

 
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