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November 5, 2008

NFL Draft: Some are seeing stock fall

There have been a number of well-known, highly rated prospects who have disappointed scouts with their poor play this season. Mike Lombardi, Andrew Brandt and Wes Bunting of the National Football Post take a look at what prospects have hurt their draft stocks the most in 2008.

1. QB Cullen Harper, Clemson
Coming off a fabulous junior season, Harper was ranked atop the senior quarterback class and looked to be on his way toward a first-round grade. But after an opening-week beatdown at the hands of Alabama, Harper has yet to rebound. He has thrown 11 interceptions, five more than he threw last season, and has thrown for less than 200 yards in six games. Clemson is 4-4, and the ACC preseason favorite is struggling to simply gain a bowl bid. Harper still possesses good arm strength and does well moving in the pocket, but he seems to have lost his confidence. His accuracy and footwork have been spotty, and he's really struggling to make good decisions under pressure. Harper now needs a strong postseason to secure his spot as a top-100 pick. If he doesn't, he could see himself slide to the middle of the second day.

2. QB Curtis Painter, Purdue
Painter was considered one of the nation's top quarterback prospects heading into the season. But he has yet to live up to the expectations. The Boilermakers are 3-6, and Painter has thrown six touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. To put that in perspective, Painter threw 10 touchdown passes in the Boilermakers' first two games last season. He has completed at least 55 percent of his passes in only three games this season. Painter lacks great arm strength and struggles throwing the ball downfield; scouts knew that from last season. But what is so puzzling is that Painter's accuracy his greatest strength has been off this season. He is lacking the precision from the pocket that he demonstrated in 2007. A shoulder injury has hindered him, which could be the reason for his struggles. But Painter has fallen considerably down the draft boards: There isn't much room in the NFL for weak-armed quarterbacks who lack accuracy.

3. RB P.J. Hill, Wisconsin
Hill broke onto the scene as a freshman, rushing for 1,569 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2006. Since then, Hill's numbers have been on the decline. He isn't even on track for a 1,000-yard season in 2008. Hill has just one 100-yard game in his past six, and has scored just two touchdowns in that span. He is battling injuries, but looks slow to the hole and isn't running with the same type of power he displayed as a freshman. Scouts are concerned about his longevity. If he is starting to show signs of wear and tear as a 20-yard-old junior, imagine what he will be like after a couple of seasons in the NFL.

4. DE Greg Middleton, Indiana
Middleton, the nation's leading sack man a year ago with 16, has yet to find his groove this season. He has three sacks for minus-9 yards, and just 14 tackles total. So, what's the problem? Middleton lacks a consistent motor on the outside. He is seeing more double-teams and is content to stop moving his feet and be blocked. NFL pass rushers consistently see some form of chip or double-team on every obvious passing down, so this is something Middleton needs to get used to. He has a long way to go and seems likely to return for his senior season. Middleton has all the physical tools you want in a pass rusher, but he needs to stop taking so many plays off - especially on key passing downs.

5. FB Jorvorskie Lane, Texas A&M
Lane entered the season as one of the more intriguing prospects in the nation. But after showing up to camp out of shape, coach Mike Sherman has used Lane sparingly - mostly as a short-yardage back. There is no questioning Lane's quickness and body control for a man his size. He has excellent change-of-direction skills and runs with great power inside. But he lacks the burst to be anything more than a goal-line back in the NFL, unless he can prove to be a lead blocker. Lane has lined up as a lead blocker at times this season and showcases the body control and power to destroy linebackers in the hole. The question: Does he have the blue-collar mentality to do it full-time in the NFL?

6. WR Tiquan Underwood, Rutgers
Underwood had more receiving yards in his first game last season (248) than he has in eight games this season (247). He is a long, angular target who needs to add more muscle and girth to his overall frame. He is an explosive athlete who gets up to speed quickly for his size (6 feet 2/185 pounds), but he needs to become a more consistent receiver. Underwood lacks concentration and has yet to become a natural pass catcher. He has had at least one "bad" drop in every game he has played during the past two seasons. The talent is there, but in order for Underwood to become more than simply a speedy vertical threat, he needs to improve his concentration level and hands.

7. CB DeAngelo Willingham, Tennessee
Willingham (6-0/200) is a tall, physical corner who started the season among the top cornerback prospects in the nation. But he has struggled all season with SEC receivers and was torched by Alabama freshman Julio Jones. Willingham has good ball skills and is natural at the line bumping and re-routing receivers. But he lacks flexibility and struggles dipping his hips and turning to run. He doesn't possess the straight-line speed needed to make up for a false step and will struggle out on an island at the NFL level. He is more of a cornerback/free safety 'tweener and doesn't warrant more than a mid- to late-round pick.

8. DT Ricky Jean-Francois, LSU
After blocking a field goal, recording six tackles and 1.5 sacks and being named defensive MVP of the national title game last season, the sky seemingly was the limit for Jean-Francois. But he has been somewhat of a disappointment. He has only one sack and has managed just 11 tackles this season. There is no questioning his first-step quickness or athleticism. He has the explosion to shoot gaps and consistently attack up the field. But too often he gets high in his pass rush and struggles playing with a low pad level at the point of attack. Jean-Francois needs to learn to play with more leverage and consistently show the same type of motor he displayed in the national title game last season. He remains a dynamic athlete, but looks to have slipped toward the back end of the first round or early portion of the second.

9. QB Todd Boeckman, Ohio State
After leading Ohio State to the national title game last season, expectations were high this season. But after solid start, which included a 65 percent completion percentage, Boeckman and the Buckeyes were destroyed on the road by USC. This opened the door for freshman quarterback Terrell Pryor to step into the starting role, and Boeckman hasn't played in the past four games. Boeckman lacks great arm strength and athleticism, but is a sound decision-maker who doesn't make many mental mistakes. He was never going to be a top selection in the draft or a difference-maker in the NFL, but going from one of the top 10 senior quarterbacks to a fringe draftable prospect is a mighty fall.

10. WR Aaron Kelly, Clemson
Harper isn't the only Clemson player to see his draft stock take a substantial hit. Kelly had 88 catches for 1,081 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. This season, he is on a pace to catch 55 passes for 596 yards and four touchdowns. Kelly plays at one speed and doesn't show any kind of second gear or burst in and out of his routes. He is a smooth route-runner who can find the ball and use his body to make plays. But he doesn't have the speed to threaten secondaries deep and looks like more like a No. 3 or 4 receiver at the next level. Kelly needs to show well in the postseason and prove he can separate from more explosive corners down the field.

Nationalfootballpost.com is a new football insider Web site featuring Andrew Brandt, the vice president of the Green Bay Packers for the past nine years, and Michael Lombardi, who has worked in NFL front offices for 22 years - including nine years with Cleveland and eight with Oakland.

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