Our analysts are constantly talking to their NFL and college sources about players in the college game. In this space each week, Daniel Jeremiah, Bucky Brooks, Charles Davis and Lance Zierlein share some of what NFL folks are discussing in their circles.
The scoop: "The guy to watch out for in the draft is (Ohio State WR) Devin Smith. Media guys are going to be slow to catch up on him, but he's going to shoot up draft boards. He's bigger than (Florida State's) Rashad Greene and faster. Ohio State should have used him better." - NFC North scout
The skinny: Smith isn't a big wide receiver by NFL standards (verified 6 feet and 199 pounds), but he has blazing vertical speed. He finished the 2014 season with just 26 catches, his lowest total since his freshman season, but had at least one catch of at least 30 yards in 10 of 12 games, giving him a healthy average of 25.5 yards per catch. Smith has the type of speed that "will match Phillip Dorsett at the combine," the scout said, referring to the Miami receiver with mid-4.4 speed.
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The scoop: Miami's Clive Walford and Ben Koyack of Notre Dame are "head and shoulders" ahead of this year's crop of senior tight ends, but some evaluators are beginning to favor Walford. "Walford's knee injury doesn't bother me; he got in good shape this year and was just more confident in himself, which helped him cut down on the drops," said an NFC director of college scouting. "He's a way tougher player than Koyack."
The skinny: Despite a right knee injury that will sideline him for Miami's bowl game and potentially the combine, Walford's draft stock is moving up. He saw his catches (44), touchdowns (7) and yards per catch (15.4) spike in 2014, and he had his biggest game against Florida State (4-127-1). Koyack might be the better athlete, but Walford has been more productive and "has the body and toughness to be the better blocker," according to the source.
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The scoop: "This draft class won't be nearly as talented as last year's group, but it is shaping up to be a deep group at (offensive) tackle and edge rusher." -- AFC executive
The skinny: It's hard to imagine many recent drafts being stronger than the last one; it's one of the most impactful rookie classes to come along in some time. But the strength of the 2015 class, as identified by this exec, could make the 2015 draft more meaningful. Besides quarterback, there are no more important positions in the NFL than tackle and pass rusher, which is good news for those teams that will be drafting at the top of the first round; those two positions are on the needs list of almost every bad team.
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The scoop: "He hasn't been quite as productive as he was early in the year, but he's a strong player. He's a really good athlete, and a sneaky pass rusher." -- AFC area scout on Mississippi State DE Preston Smith
The skinny: The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Smith has gone from a borderline draftable player entering his senior season to one that will probably get first-round consideration. He leads the Bulldogs with nine sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss and 15 QB hurries. Last year, Auburn's Dee Ford took a similar path to the first round with a strong senior year. There's still work to be done for Smith, who could help himself even more with solid performances at the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine.
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The scoop: "He's a talented player with good size and speed and potential in either (a 3-4 or 4-3) scheme. He's been playing a little inconsistent. Good player, but I'm still waiting for his breakout game." -- AFC personnel director on Auburn DT Gabe Wright before last week's Iron Bowl against Alabama
The skinny: Wright's an interesting story. He showed up at Auburn at 316, but in three-plus years he dropped 32 pounds and now carries 284 on his 6-foot-3 frame. He probably won't go as high as former Auburn linemen Dee Ford or Nick Fairley did, but he certainly has merited second-day consideration. Because of his slashing, dashing ability, scouts have been left wanting more. He lacks that breakout game on his resume, so Wright stands to gain -- or lose -- a lot of money over the next five months.
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The scoop: "(Mario) Edwards was hyped as the Seminoles' top defensive lineman, but Eddie Goldman has better pro potential." -- AFC personnel director on the Florida State defensive tandem
The skinny: Goldman, a 6-foot-4, 320-pound junior defensive tackle, was expected to be a dominant force after entering FSU as a consensus national top-10 recruit in 2012, but it took him a few years to settle in as a disruptive playmaker. After notching 19 tackles and two sacks a season ago as a defensive end, he has tallied 35 tackles, eight tackles for loss and four sacks in 12 games. The production has matched Goldman's impressive play on tape, as he has overpowered single- and double-team blocks at the point of attack to live in the opponent's backfield. Earlier this season, North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren called Goldman "probably the best defensive tackle in college football."