NFL Draft risers, sliders: Week 11
Defensive back D.J. Swearinger showcased his skills in South Carolina's victory
Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope looks like the second coming of Eric Decker
Once a top safety prospect, Alabama's Robert Lester has looked indecisive
Two more teams fell from the ranks of the unbeaten Saturday as the college schedule season moves toward its conclusion. During a weekend that will produce a shake-up in the top 10, several likely mid-to-late round draft choices, players who will contribute in the NFL, impressed scouts with their performances.
D.J. Swearinger, DB -- South Carolina: Swearinger does not receive the notoriety many of his headlining teammates do, yet NFL scouts have taken notice of his play. He's a well-rounded defensive back who usually lines up at safety but can also play cornerback. Swearinger did exactly that against Arkansas and displayed NFL skills throughout the game. The senior lead the Gamecocks defense with 13 tackles and also intercepted a pass in the second half which he returned 69-yards for a score. He's a versatile defender with the size and speed needed to start at the next level. Swearinger could now jump into the third round of the draft.
Devin Smith, CB -- Wisconsin: Smith has shown steady development all season and scouts like his next-level potential. He led the Badgers defense with two interceptions and eight pass break-ups prior to Saturday's showdown with Indiana. Smith then made several critical plays during Wisconsin's 62-14 victory, including a pair of pass defenses and an interception that helped end drives. He was projected as a late-round pick prior to the season, but his ability to line up in man-to-man or zone coverage has elevated his stock.
Chris Jones, DL -- Bowling Green: Jones was considered a future free agent entering the season but has since risen into the middle rounds. The senior has taken his game to another level, producing 17 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries with two games remaining on the schedule. He beats opponents with quickness, hustle as well as smarts and offers potential as a three-technique lineman. Expect Jones to be selected in the middle part of the draft's final day for any team that desires an interior pass rusher.
Corey Fuller, WR -- Virginia Tech: The Hokies have struggled through a tough 2012 season and many of their highly rated prospects have not met expectations. On the other hand, Fuller has pleasantly surprised scouts. He caught only two passes last season, yet 10 games into his senior campaign Fuller has amassed 36 receptions, 671 receiving yards and five touchdowns. NFL scouts took a wait-and-see approach toward Fuller, who ran a 4.36 forty during offseason testing. Now he's receiving serious consideration in the late rounds.
Ryan Nassib, QB -- Syracuse: Nassib has caught the attention of NFL decision-makers, as the senior is a smart and tough game manager with the arm strength necessary for the next level. He showed a lot of moxy during the Orange's victory over formerly unbeaten Louisville, passing for 246 yards and 3 touchdowns. His throwing statistics told just a fraction of the story. Nassib did a terrific job leading Syracuse's offense and consistently made correct decisions in the pocket. His game comes with a degree of upside and Nassib is a middle-round prospect that teams believe can develop into an NFL starter.
Ryan Swope, WR -- TexasA&M: Swope entered the season as a possibly late-round selection but elevated his draft grade even prior to the contest against Alabama. His dominant performance during A&M's 29-24 victory over the top-ranked Tide will force scouts to continue to revaluate their opinion of Swope. The senior finished the day with 11 receptions for 111 yards and one touchdown. More impressively, Swope came through in the clutch, making spectacular catches during the game's critical moments, including two receptions in the fourth quarter, which moved the Aggies into scoring position. Swope lacks the speed to be used as a vertical receiver, but he plays smart, tough football and offers reliable hands. His game is similar to Broncos receiver Eric Decker and Swope could end up a third-round pick, just like Decker.
Ra'Shede Hageman, DL -- Minnesota: Hageman, a former tight end, is in the midst of a breakout season and has scouts salivating. Lining up on the nose of Minnesota's four-man line, Hageman displays the ability to control the line of scrimmage or make plays in the opponents' backfield. He's totaled 6˝ tackles for loss and five sacks this season and Hageman is still developing on the defensive line. The junior is likely to enter the draft and expected to be a top 120 choice.
Margus Hunt, DL -- SMU: Hunt is another defensive line prospect whose future potential excites scouts. Hailing from the nation of Estonia, Hunt enrolled at SMU as a champion shot putter and discus thrower before turning to football. Despite no highschool experience on the football field, Hunt set an NCAA record with seven blocked kicks as a freshman. He's posted a career-best six sacks thus far this season and has shown consistent development in his game. Hunt is a freakish athlete with incredible size and the ability to play any of three positions on the defensive line. He entered the season with late-round grades but could now slide into the late part of the third frame.
Bacari Rambo, S -- Georgia: Rambo has impressed scouts with his consistency and ability to stay away from mental mistakes this season. He's a forceful safety who effectively works with cornerbacks to control the action in the middle of the field. Rambo posted eight tackles and one interception during the win over Auburn and has cemented himself as a middle-round selection.
Robert Lester, S -- Alabama: Lester looked like a top safety prospect after 2010 and had many scouts believing he was better than former teammate Mark Barron. His play has since leveled off with some scouts, even believing Lester has regressed on the field. The senior has looked indecisive and slow to react this season, making plays after the fact rather than forcing the action. Lester posted 52 tackles and eight interceptions as a sophomore. His cumulative totals the past two seasons include 69 tackles and five interceptions.
Jason Peacock, OL -- Arkansas: Peacock had the difficult task of trying to stop South Carolina's awesome pass rush and was victimized throughout the game. He seemed intimidated at times and played back on his heels. Scouts are likely to look at this contest and conclude the Razorbacks' offensive tackle future lay solely at guard. Peacock's draft grade will take a hit as a result.
Arkansas receiver Cobi Hamilton looked impressive despite the Razorbacks' 18-point loss to South Carolina. His ability to find open space in the defense then pick up big chunks of yardage running after the catch has him moving up draft boards. In a year in which the talent at receiver is thin, especially from the senior class, Hamilton could be a surprise pick late in the second round.
The situation surrounding Washington State receiver Marquess Wilson bears watching. The highly rated junior has struggled through a miserable campaign and was demoted from his starting spot two weeks ago. He walked out on a team conditioning workout last week then was indefinitely suspended by coach Mike Leach. On Saturday, Wilson announced he was leaving the team permanently, blasting Washington State coaches for " belittling, intimidating and humiliating" players. Even before the recent incident it was believed Wilson would opt for the NFL after the season. Entering the draft under the current circumstances won't help the wideouts' grade.
Derek "D.J." Hayden, a Week 10 slider, suffered a near fatal injury in practice last week. During a collision with a teammate the Houston cornerback tore his inferior vena cava, the large vein that carries blood from the lower half of the body to the heart. The injury is usually linked to motor vehicle accidents and is fatal "95 percent of the time" according to Dr. Walter Lowe, the Cougars' team physician. Hayden remains hospitalized and is listed in "critical yet stable" condition. Sources told me Thursday several NFL teams stamped Hayden as a potential first-round pick prior to the injury.
Penguins squeak past Ducks in shootout
Johan Franzen scores two as Red Wings pound Devils in Detroit