Sure we could tell you stuff about Andrew Luck and Justin Blackmon that you already know, but we've got six draft prospects that you had better know about going into the 2011 college season


With the 2011 NFL Draft behind us, it’s time to start looking towards the 2012 crop of draft prospects.  There are many elite prospects we already know about: Andrew Luck, Alshon Jeffrey, Matt Barkley, etc. However, every year there are a few players under the radar who break out in a big way and earn themselves big bucks in April.  Here are six of the lesser-known players who could drastically improve their draft stock this coming season.


 

1) Brandon Jenkins, DE/OLB, Florida State

Jenkins is probably the most well-known player on this list, and rightfully so: as a sophomore, he tallied 13.5 sacks, the third highest total in D-I last year.  This fact alone makes it mind-boggling that he’s a player widely projected as a late first, early second round pick.  Jenkins spent most of 2010 lining up across from, and dominating, left tackles in both the ACC and SEC (including 22nd overall pick Anthony Castonzo, 46th overall pick Orlando Franklin, and 63rd overall pick Marcus Gilbert, as well as highly-regarded Matt Reynolds of BYU), in spite of running backs, tight ends, and guards staying in to help block him and his wide variety of pass-rush moves.  Perhaps what is most impressive about Jenkins is the number of coverage sacks he got—or rather, the lack thereof, due to the poor coverage on the back end.  With cornerbacks Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes a year older and (hopefully) better, look for Jenkins’ sack numbers to improve; a 15+ sack campaign is not an unreasonable expectation.  Jenkins has reportedly bulked up to around 266 pounds this offseason, and while adding weight is a dicey proposition for pass-rushers, Jenkins stands to become a top five prospect if he can maintain his elite burst off the line at that size.


2) Dwight Jones, WR, North Carolina

Dwight Jones very quietly notched 62 receptions, 946 yards, and a relatively underwhelming 4 touchdowns for the Tar Heels in 2010.  After a very slow start to the season, Jones averaged over 105 yards per game in the final 8 contests, the result of four 100+ yard games and a combined stat line of 15 receptions for 431 yards (28.7 YPR) and 3 touchdowns against Virginia and Florida State.  Jones was treated as a No. 1 receiver by season’s end, with quarterback T.J. Yates routinely tossing up deep bombs to Jones even when he wasn’t open.  At 6-4, 220 pounds, Jones possesses legitimate deep speed and is the rare receiver that will be able to step into the NFL and dominate against single coverage on deep routes as a rookie.  The scary part is that Jones often looks like a gawky teenager whose coordination hasn’t caught up to his growing body, suggesting that he’s only begun to tap his immense potential.  However, Jones needs to show improved body control and a willingness to make the tough grabs in traffic.


3) Vinny Curry, DE/OLB, Marshall

Much like Brandon Jenkins, Curry was an incredibly productive player in 2010, totaling 12 sacks in just 12 games.  He also amassed a whopping 94 tackles, including four straight 11-tackle outings in the first five games of the season.  He didn’t just get those numbers against C-USA opponents, either: he made Ohio State left tackle Mike Adams go through an absolute nightmare in the season opener, a 45-7 Buckeye victory that does no justice to Curry’s immense presence on defense.  Curry is not a finished product by any stretch, but at 6-5 and over 250 pounds, he certainly has the size and fluidity to be an elite NFL pass-rusher.  Speed and effort are also strong points; Curry can and will chase the ball carrier downfield to make the tackle, doing so on a particularly notable play early in the aforementioned Ohio State game.  Curry will have three chances to prove himself against FBS talent this year, with games at West Virginia and Louisville and a home contest against Virginia Tech.  If he plays well, he has a shot at being the first Marshall player selected in the first round since Byron Leftwich in 2003, and the first ever Marshall defender selected there.


4) Mike Martin, DT, Michigan

It seems odd to put a Michigan defender here, given the Wolverines’ struggles on that side of the ball the last few seasons, but Mike Martin is an animal.  Few players can take on a triple-team and still pressure the quarterback; Martin is one of them.  With immense strength and a relentless motor, Martin is a fit for any defensive scheme and reminds me a lot of Jay Ratliff and Kyle Williams, two NFL nose tackles who make up for a lack of ideal size for the position (both at or under 306 pounds for a position that considers 310 lbs “undersized”) with incredible strength at the point of attack.  Martin will be undervalued because of his team’s horrendous defensive rankings, but watching him play will make anyone appreciate just how truly awful the rest of Michigan’s “stop” unit really is.  His biggest concern is staying healthy and maintaining his production over a full season; after notching 2.5 sacks in the first half of the season (and a one tackle game against Notre Dame that doesn’t come close to depicting his domination in the trenches), Martin failed to make even a single tackle in consecutive games against Iowa and Penn State, then missed the Purdue game with an injury. To be a top-tier prospect, Martin can’t disappear like that.


5) Keshawn Martin, WR, Michigan State

Like Jerrel Jernigan from the 2010 class, the Martin from the other Michigan school is not a big-time prospect; however, it’s hard not to notice him when you’re watching tape of the Spartans.  A shifty, deceptively-fast receiver, Martin does not have all-world speed but is an absolute headache to try and catch after the reception.  While he’s unlikely to ever be a No. 1 receiver, he’s a multidimensional threat (157 yards rushing in 2010, 11 combined touchdowns rushing/passing/receiving/returning both punts and kickoffs between 2009 and 2010 seasons) with a solid frame (he’s the same listed size as former Super Bowl MVP receiver Santonio Holmes).


6) Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas

Much like Brandon Jenkins, Davis is a player many fans are familiar with.  However, Davis tends to be upstaged nationally by more heralded players like Trent Richardson and Marcus Lattimore.  Fact is, Davis may be the best pro running back prospect in the SEC.  Davis quietly led the SEC with 1322 rushing yards and tied for 7th in the league (with Mark Ingram) with 13 touchdowns for the pass-first Razorbacks, finishing the season on a ridiculous run of 889 yards, 12 touchdowns, and a 6.6 YPC average over the final six games—and that’s not including his 139 yard performance against a strong Ohio State defense in the Sugar Bowl.  At 6’ even, 220 lbs, Davis has more than enough size to be a bell cow at the NFL level, and has exceptional lateral agility to go with 4.5, possibly 4.4 speed.  Unlike another pair of recent Arkansas backs who looked the part, Davis is willing to fight for extra yardage, although he isn’t a power runner and doesn’t routinely punish tacklers.  On the whole, it’s hard to find a flaw in Davis’s game as a pure runner.  On the other hand, his pass protection is shoddy and nearly got QB Ryan Mallett killed a couple times last season.  Davis is also not a fluid receiver and could use some work in this area in spite of soft hands.  At his best, Davis evokes memories of Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma; at his worst, he looks a little overmatched and raw.  Regardless, given that he may very well finish his college career with fewer than 500 total offensive touches, he’ll bring a very fresh and very talented pair of legs to some NFL team next April.