This weeks Risers and Sliders article features a number of unheralded prospects and in some instances players who take a back seat on their own team yet offer terrific next level potential. Also staring this week is possibly the fastest rising small school prospect in the nation.
James White/RB/Wisconsin: The Badgers bring a nice one-two punch to the running game each weekend yet when talking about next level prospects White always takes a backseat to redshirt sophomore Melvin Gordon. And while White does not bring the mouthwatering measurables possessed by Gordon, he offers a more complete and versatile game. Against BYU he rushed for a season best 147-yards on 23 carries with two scores. White also caught a touchdown pass and finished the day with six receptions for 47 yards. White won’t be cast as a potential feature ball carrier for the next level as Gordon has been yet the ability to beat defenders around the edge, quickly get through the cutback lanes and produce as a pass catcher out of the backfield could make for an easier transition into the NFL.
Kony Ealy/DE/Missouri: Week 8 riser Michael Sam has cooled off after his recent tear but Ealy is picking up the slack and impressing scouts. The junior posted 3 tackles for loss as well as 3 sacks in Mizzu’s victory over Kentucky on Saturday. His totals this season also include 13 quarterback hurries and 5 pass defenses. Ealy is better suited to be an every down defensive end in the NFL compared to Sam and comes with a large degree of upside potential. Continued progress will help push him into the draft’s initial 75 picks.
Marcus Smith/DE-OLB/Louisville: If there’s a player this week whose substance and style parallel Missouri’s Michael Sam, it would be Smith. The senior entered the season with a seventh round grade but has played beyond expectations in 2013. During the victory over winless UConn, Smith lead the team with 7 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. His totals this season include 11 sacks with 15 tackles for loss. At 6-feet, 3.5-inches and 254 pounds, Smith is better off as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL, especially when one factors in his pass rushing skills. Good forty times prior to the draft could push him into the middle frames.
Khalil Wilkes/C/Stanford: Wilkes is someone often mentioned on this site. From being handed a fourth round grade in August to our recent podcast last week, I feel he’s woefully underrated and proved as much during the victory over Oregon. Wilkes handled the larger and higher rated Wade Keliikipi all game, holding the Ducks nose tackle to just 4 assisted tackles. Stanford rushed for 275 yard against Oregon, 158 coming via the legs of Tyler Gaffney. Close inspection of the game film shows much of the yardage was gained between the guards. And though I’m overrating Wilkes who’s size deficient, there’s definitely a place for him in the draft’s later rounds.
Ahmad Dixon/S/Baylor: Dixon is another underrated NFL prospect with a solid game. In the contest against Oklahoma the senior safety finished with a team leading 10 tackles, giving him a total of 50 this season. Dixon also has 1 interception and 5 pass break-ups to his credit this year. Though he lacks classic next level speed Dixon’s combination of size, intensity and instincts makes him a legitimate late round pick. He’ll fit nicely at the next level as a dime back/special teams player.
Kirby Van Der Kamp/P/Iowa State: Its rare that a punter makes the Risers list at any time the past twelve years but its well deserved for Van Der Kamp. His directional punting helped tilt field advantage for Iowa State all game on Saturday. Three times Van Der Kamp was able to pin TCU inside the twelve yards line, including a 47-yard punt which stopped dead on the one yard line. Given a mid-round grade by scouts, Van Der Kamp is not one to kick moon shots yet is a tremendous directional punter.
Cody Latimore/WR/Indiana: Who has the most lethal passing offense in the Big Ten? If you said Indiana you win the prize as the Hoosiers are pasting opponents for more than 327-yards through the air each weekend. The team’s leading receiver, junior Cody Latimore, sits near the top of just about every pass catching category in the league as well. Latimore put up a season best 11 receptions, 189-receving yards and 3 touchdowns against Illinois on Saturday and the receiver prospect has shown consistent improvement over the past three seasons. He’s a potential third round talent if he continues to progress on the field then works out well prior to the draft.
Sean Hickey/T/Syracuse: The Orange have not given up more than a single sack in any single game for more than a month and Hickey is the prime reason. The left tackle is smart, efficient and intelligent. He’s a long, lean lineman who makes great use of angles and hand punch to knock defenders from their angle of attack and protect his passer. Hickey was stamped as a middle round pick befor the season began yet considering his skills and the propensity for talented left tackles to be selected much earlier than initially projected, a top 100 calling of his name is not out of the question.
Za’Darius Smith/DE/Kentucky: For weeks we’ve been hearing Smith, a junior college transfer who made an immediate impact at Kentucky this season, was giving serious consideration to entering the draft. The more I watched him play the more I thought he’d be best returning to school, something that was confirmed on Saturday in the loss to Missouri. Smith finished the game with four tackles and barely got a sniff of the signal caller, registering just one quarterback hurry. He was handled by Justin Britt all day and could not get off a block. Smith has an upside and next level potential but is definitely not NFL ready.
Darryl Cato-Bishop/DL/North Carolina State: Bishop, who entered the season with late round grades has played pedestrian football for much of the season. His totals in the loss to Duke include one tackle, which gives him 15 for the year along with 2.5 tackles for loss and half a sack.
Notes: Two weeks ago I tweeted the name of my favorite small school sleeper from the defensive side of the ball, tackle James Meder of Ashland. If there’s a prospect that sticks out to me from the scoring side it would be North Dakota State left tackle Billy Turner. The senior is building a buzz in the scouting community and getting rave reviews from NFL personnel people. After a tip from an insider I pulled out recent NDSU tapes (Kansas State game first and foremost) and now understand why many are excited about his play. Turner, a long, lean athlete who shows no stiffness in his game, looks markedly improved from last season. He’s a terrific run blocker who easily gets out to the second level and annihilates linebackers. What’s prominent on film is Turner’s athleticism and the way he works throughout the action, blocking with a nasty attitude and playing through the whistle. Some feel he’s a better athlete than former Hillsdale product Jared Veldheer, a three year starter with the Oakland Raiders. While Turner needs fine tuning of his footwork in pass protection consider this; he entered the season stamped as a street free agent yet many scouts now feel he’s top 75 material. Considering the success NFL teams have had with small school lineman around the league (Veldheer, Jahri Evans, Jermon Bushrod), expect Turner to be in play during the draft’s second day next May.