Players to watch that could be finds in the draft

NFL.com associate editor Jason Feller sat with Pat Kirwan and Vic Carucci during their "End Zone" show on Sirius Satellite Radio live from the Scouting Combine. The following observations were gleaned with help from their conversations with Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen, Lions coach Rod Marinelli, NFL Network host Paul Burmeister, Titans coach Jeff Fisher and safety prospect Dominique Barber.

INDIANAPOLIS -- By this time, the top tier of prospects have been identified and the players projected to go among the first few picks are unlikely to change dramatically.

The intriguing area to look at is which players outside of those select few are working their way up the list and could become finds for teams picking a little later in the first round or in subsequent rounds.

A number of players fit in that category this year. For whatever reason, they are not considered among the most elite prospects, but seem to have the skills to merit serious consideration.

Here is a glance at some players who fall into that group:

Jordy Nelson, WR, Kansas State

The radio show gets a lot of calls about the big wide receiver out of Kansas State. Fans want to know why he is not rated higher and, frankly, we think he could be a bargain pick, especially for a team like the Colts in the mid-rounds.

His size and college production make him an interesting prospect. He checked in at 6-foot-3, 217 pounds at the combine and if he can run around a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash (his combine time was not released since he was not among the top 10 WRs), he may separate himself from the pack a bit.

He was pretty good, not sensational, at the Senior Bowl and showed coaches he is a good route-runner and has football smarts.

This could be a case of perception vs. reality. Nelson is not an electrifying player necessarily, but has the skills to be a highly productive player.

He caught 122 passes for 1,606 yards and 11 touchdowns his senior year at Kansas State and grew into the position each year after being switched from the secondary following his freshman season.

In the right system, Nelson is one of those players that could wind up being a steal for some lucky team.

Chris Johnson, RB, East Carolina

There are around 10 running back prospects who could go in the first two rounds this year and it may be one of the best RB classes in recent years. Both Titans coach Jeff Fisher and Colts president Bill Polian said on the show that this is an extremely deep year for running backs.

The fastest of the bunch turned out to be one of the few seniors in the group, Chris Johnson. The East Carolina product clocked an incredible 4.24 in the 40.

This gives him a big advantage.

Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen told us on air that the 40 is very important when evaluating players and his view reflects that of many other personnel people.

Allen revealed that a great 40 time could significantly impact a player's draft stock and Johnson figures to gain ground with his time.

Johnson was a bit of a one-year wonder in college because his production spiked so much his senior year.

After averaging 129 carries, 520 yards and a 4.0 yard-per-carry average his first three seasons as a Pirate, Johnson rushed the ball 236 times for 1,423 yards and a 6.0 yard-per-carry average in his senior season.

Still, many players blossom in their senior season and Johnson's world-class speed and athletic ability make him a prospect worth watching.

The next challenge for Johnson is performing well in the interviews and demonstrating he has the football knowledge to compete at the pro level.

If Johnson can prove himself capable of understanding a pro playbook, the team that picks him may come up just like Johnson's teeth -- golden.

Joe Flacco, QB, Delaware; Chad Henne, QB, Michigan

After Boston College's Matt Ryan there seems to be a group of quarterbacks fighting to slide into that No. 2 spot.

The two guys who seem to be making a move are Michigan's Chad Henne and Delaware's Joe Flacco.

NFL Network College Football Now host Paul Burmeister was on the show and said those two quarterbacks clearly stood out from the competition at the combine.

He commented that Henne and Flacco each had unique deliveries, but the result was the same: sharply thrown balls that were usually on target.

Burmeister noted that the "RPMs" on their balls were high, meaning they threw with tight spirals, a necessity at the pro level.

Henne started four years at Michigan and was once considered on his way to stardom.

After leading the Wolverines to a perfect record going into their regular-season finale at Ohio State in his junior season, though, things began to crumble.

They lost that game to the rival Buckeyes and then lost the Rose Bowl to Southern California. Coming off those two bitter defeats, Henne's senior season was then plagued by injury and he missed three games.

Those factors caused his stock to fall, but by performing well here in the combine he may have climbed his way back up the list.

Unlike Henne, Flacco was not on television every week and played outside of a BCS conference at Delaware.

He was the tallest quarterback at the combine, coming in at 6-6. That height gives him the ability to see over most pro defensive linemen and find passing lanes.

He obviously did not play against the best competition in college, but his production was outstanding.

He passed for the most yards (4,263) in the Championship Subdivision during his senior season and had 23 touchdowns compared to only five interceptions.

If he can convince teams that he will be able to adjust to the higher level of competition, he might be taken sooner, rather than later, in the draft.

All that being said, Fisher noted on air that "this may be a Tom Brady draft," meaning that the best QB of the bunch may not be unearthed until the later rounds.

For now, though, Henne and Flacco have helped themselves with strong showings.

Dominique Barber, S, Minnesota

Dominique Barber hasn't worked out yet and we haven't seen too much tape on him, but he was impressive in our radio interview.

He is the younger brother of current Cowboys RB Marion Barber; he said his sibling had given him advice on how to deal with the combine and told him to remain confident at all times.

He has the confidence part down, saying he hopes to model his game after that of reigning Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders.

He displayed his football knowledge when explaining how he had to call coverages with three freshmen flanking him in the Gophers' secondary and then flashed his leadership skills when describing how he helped the freshmen overcome their mistakes.

What was striking about Barber was his polish and maturity. He will instill confidence in the coaches that speak to him.

One of the biggest questions that talent evaluators must face when drafting players is if money will change the player. They will have a sense that Barber will probably not be affected by the cash.

Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli came on the show with us and said that he values passion and work ethic above pure athleticism. He prides himself on being a tough interview and hammers prospects on the issue of work ethic.

Barber is the type of player who would impress a coach like Marinelli.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.
Gamepass_vert_web_r

See all the Action

Replay every game all season.