Perception is reality. That statement is no truer than when dealing in NFL draft circles.
Whether the value of a player is rising or falling, the rumors and leaks pointing to a player's draft stock late in the draft process are often true. Why? Because the perception about initial draft stock is set by those in the media and is often based on limited discussions with team officials throughout the season. And I've found that a discussion about a player in October can be completely different than a discussion about that same player with the same scout in March.
NFL Scouting Combine workout results and pro days matter in the final analysis, as do team interviews. Medical rechecks after the combine are also important parts of the evaluation process, and the results of those aren't known until the final weeks leading up to the draft. The rechecks were conducted late last week.
Unfortunately, the players on this list appear to be heading the wrong way on teams' draft boards with film evaluations, workouts, and interviews nearing their completion. A couple of them could fall due in part to off-field incidents. New red flags at the end of the process are never a good thing.
Players with question marks stemming solely from medical concerns, like Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, aren't included on this list. Here are five prospects likely to slip in this year's draft (April 28-30).
Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson: There's no doubt that Alexander has talent. And I'm guessing that he ends up a solid NFL starter who plays for a long time. But he did not display above-average ball skills in college, and he only gave teams two years of film to evaluate by coming out as a redshirt sophomore. In a draft that has 50 players who are regarded highly enough to land in the first round, Alexander will likely end up at the very end of the first (Arizona?) or waiting until Friday night (Rounds 2-3) to hear his name called.
Tyler Higbee, TE, Western Kentucky: Western Kentucky has produced some interesting tight end prospects in recent years, such as Jack Doyle and Mitchell Henry. Higbee has a chance to be the best of the three. But even before his arrest on assault charges earlier this month, teams weren't sure they wanted to use a top-75 selection on Higbee, as he's coming off of a knee injury. Given the medical concern and the arrest, Higbee's stock is moving in the wrong direction. Higbee intends to plead not guilty to the charges.
Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor: Oakman's stock has been plummeting all season, as he's gone from being considered a potential first-round selection to a likely middle-rounder. It appeared likely that a team would take a chance on him in the third or fourth rounds as an intriguing five-technique prospect because while lacking a great motor, he could be quite effective in a rotation. However, after a recent arrest on a sexual assault charge, an NFC executive told my colleague Lance Zierlein that Oakman is "undraftable now".
Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky: Spence's story has been well-documented. After showing promise as a pass rusher at Ohio State, he was banned from the Big Ten for failed drug tests in 2014. After transferring to Eastern Kentucky, Spence excelled again, earning FCS All-American honors. Then at the Senior Bowl, he looked like the best edge prospect available. Some mock drafts had him listed in the top 10 picks overall around that time. But as teams conducted their evaluations before, during and after the NFL Scouting Combine, talk of the top 10 has slowed and now he's being mentioned in the late first- or early second-round territory.
Cody Whitehair, OG, Kansas State: Whitehair is an absolute technician. But in scouting circles, a lineman lacking the height and length to play tackle and the strength to move grown men off the line of scrimmage is a tough sell in the top 50. So now, some team will probably find him on the board in the mid-to-late second round. A team coveting mobility instead of pure power up front will find a bargain in Whitehair, and the professional strength training program should help him match up physically with veteran defensive linemen.