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Movin' on up: Five prospects whose stock is rising

The draft board is a volatile entity this time of year. Not only do the combine and pro-day workouts help scouts refine their grades on certain players, but individual team interviews and workouts can generate plenty of rumor and speculation, which can also push a player up the board or down. If there is a great perceived interest in a player, he could find himself in higher standing as we approach draft weekend.

As March turns into April, teams also begin to get a much better feel for the depth of talent at each position, and personnel men have a better handle on their own team needs. Priorities have been set as to which needs are the most pressing, and the combination of those factors will also play a role in when players come off the board.

Here are five players who have moved up draft boards in recent weeks, with a little bit of the how and why they got there:

Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan State

Thomas' big season in 2007 put him among some rarified company in the Michigan State record books. His 79 receptions broke Charles Rogers' old mark, and his eight touchdowns tied the school record shared by Andre Rison and Plaxico Burress.

Despite the fact that his college resume features only one strong season, scouts still put him among the top 25 players in this year's draft class -- and his recent workouts have put him near the top of some teams' boards. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he ran a 4.4 in the 40 and recorded a 10-foot, 6-inch broad jump at the combine -- good numbers to go along with his explosive skills. Even with an average pro-day workout, he still maintained his position as the top WR in this draft.

There has been a decreased focus on the receiver position due to a lot of free-agent signings, and several of the top prospects in this group have had their draft stock adversely affected because of poor workouts or medical and character concerns. But Thomas' combination of size, speed and production has kept him above the fray.

With several teams looking to fill WR needs in the first round, Thomas continues to climb and figures to be a consideration for the Buffalo Bills at pick No. 11. Jim Miller, a former NFL QB and a friend of mine who attended every Michigan State game last season, believes Thomas is a bigger version of Rison.

Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville

Brohm has been consistent. He has a stronger arm than advertised with good accuracy, shows excellent poise in the pocket and good football intelligence.

He put up impressive numbers in 2007, when he threw 14 more touchdowns and 1,000 more yards than he did in 2006. Even in a bad season for his team, he completed more passes than the year before.

But his recent rise has been as much about Boston College's Matt Ryan as anything Brohm has done himself. Ryan did not "wow" scouts in his pro-day workout at Chestnut Hill, sending some teams scrambling to determine the next best thing, which would be Brohm and his 4.6 40 time.

That, combined with the growing sense of urgency that attacks teams as we get closer to late April, has led some teams to realize they do not have a satisfactory answer at QB. That has helped push Brohm up most boards. As more and more teams realize they have a glaring need at QB, and with very few top prospects at the position, Brohm will become a topic of conversation in more and more draft rooms.

Ryan is clearly the top passer in the draft, but Brohm has gone from mid-second-rounder to a potential mid-to-late first-round selection in some mock drafts.

Branden Albert, OL, Virginia

From the beginning -- that is, since he declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft in January -- Albert has been the top guard on most boards, but he has done wonders for himself in the last few months.

He started all 37 games he played at Virginia for coach Al Groh and showed a toughness that NFL scouts love. However, he really raised some eyebrows when he played well at left tackle for two weeks and at the combine when he weighed in at 315 -- down from his 340 earlier in the season.

Albert showed excellent quickness and athletic ability, and he made the line calls from left tackle. He moved well in drills and his arms measured 35½ inches, all of which makes him a solid prospect at OT as well.

He also had great interviews by all accounts and was very impressive when I spoke with him. Remember what we said a couple weeks ago: The more you can do, the more valuable you are. Albert now finds himself in the discussion among the top 10 picks in the draft.

As many as 12 teams could count OT among their most pressing needs, so Albert's potential to move to the outside has only added to his stock, while another five teams should be listing guard as a top priority. The drop-off after Albert is significant, so teams could be fighting for a chance to grab him, which will create demand and could make him a higher pick then anyone would have thought a month ago.

Dustin Keller, TE, Purdue

The tight end class lacks marquee names and has generally been pushed as a whole to mid-round consideration. But Keller has begun to change all that.

A former wideout, Keller measures 6-foot-2 and 242 pounds, which is considered small for any teams looking for a traditional in-line tight end. But Keller has a good set of hands, as evidenced by his 68 catches last season for the Boilermakers, and could be successful at the next level in an H-back role or as a "move" TE in the mold of Washington's Chris Cooley or New Orleans' Eric Johnson.

With perhaps the best performance of any athlete at the combine, Keller separated himself from the rest of the class and moved himself into solid second-round consideration. He was the top performer among tight ends in the 40 (4.55), the vertical jump (38 inches), the broad jump (10 feet, 11 inches), and the short shuttle (4.14), and was second in the bench press (26 reps) and the three-cone drill.

Duane Brown, OT, Virginia Tech

Brown started his postseason with a strong showing in practices at the East-West Shrine Game, establishing himself as both reliable in pass protection and effective as a run blocker on the edge. He played well in the game that weekend and then tested very well in Indianapolis at the combine, showing the athleticism that scouts expected from a former TE. He then improved in his 40, his vertical jump, and his broad jump at his pro day.

The combination of strong testing numbers and solid play against top talent will quickly move a player up the board, and Brown has done just that. He's listed as a good value in the second round. His name is mentioned every time I ask a pass rusher from the ACC which tackle gave him the most trouble.

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