Ras-I Dowling is the first overall pick in the NFL Draft of guys with
Star Wars Names, but could he actually go in the first of 2011 NFL Draft?

Each and every year there are certain players that get drafted much earlier than expected. Sometimes this happens when a fringe first round player gets taken in the top-15, while other times it happens when a clear 2nd (or even 3rd) round pick gets taken in the first.

Last year Jacksonville fans were shocked to hear the name Tyson Alualu called in the top-10 of the draft. Alualu was rarely mocked even in the top-25 of the draft, and for him to go in the top-10 was insane by draft value standards.

Some also thought that Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas were going to fall out of the first round of the draft, but they both went there (unfortunately the coach isn't there to see how it turns out).

One of the better examples of this concept is when Eric Wood went in the first round in 2009. Wood was arguably the third or forth best center in the draft, but his upside to play guard helped to convince the Buffalo Bills that he was a 1st round pick.

There is no perfect way to predict dark horse prospects in the draft, but I do think there are a few guys that almost nobody has going that high. This is not an article about how I think someone everyone has in the first (like Danny Watkins) could sneak into the first. These are guys that few believe with go high in the first (or in the first at all).

Five That Could Go Much Higher Than Expected

1) Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor

The 3-4 nosetackle is a postion that is nearly impossible to find. It is even rarer to find a 3-4 NT that has the speed to operate on all three downs, and Phil Taylor has it. Most think that he will sneak into the first round, but I would argue that he is a good enough NT to go in the top-10. Washington, Houston, San Diego and Kansas City are all teams that could be in the market for a NT, and I currently have Taylor going to a Houston team that always drafts their guy.

2) Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas

There are way too many reports out there about Mallett's numerous character concerns which include drug use, and some believe that Mallett will fall to the third or forth round. I do think that given the eventual rookie pay scale that will be in place that the risk for Mallett won't be as abundantly placed as a "face of a franchise."

I also believe that a recent quote from Adam Schefter could mean that teams want him more than the media does:

"The funny thing is that he interviewed very well with teams. The media didn't like Mallett -- he came off as curt and abrasive to them (though I have to say I enjoyed my brief meeting with Mallett; he seemed like a personable guy to me). But teams that spent time with Mallett and the players that spent time around him really liked him."

3) Jake Locker, QB, Washington

Speaking of players that could be dark horses, I think Jake Locker is one of them. Locker has had a quiet spot in the draft process being the likely 3rd QB taken, but his potential, some good techniques, and his intangibles (see Tebow) could make him a top-10 pick. Tennessee, Washington, Minnesota, Miami, and a number of other teams could love him.

4) Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois

I am actually a very big fan of Leshoure. He is a power-yet-quick runner, and he plays a position that is always over-drafted. Each and every year I have my doubts that even two runners go in the 1st round, and almost every year we see 3+ go. I believe that Mark Ingram goes earlier than expected, so therefore a team could then be pushed into taking Leshoure if they are set on a top runner.

5) Rahim Moore, S, UCLA

This pick has two different elements. The first is the fact that the safety class this year is arguably the worst ever. There just isn't much true talent that is in the draft, and a team needing a safety might have to reach a little bit more to get a decent one. The other element is that he plays an underrated position. The safety positions technically is one of the weakest ones to build a team with, but the correlation between playoff teams and teams with good safeties is becoming more clear. Surprisingly over the last five years there have been more safeties drafted in the first 12 picks of the first round then there have been cornerbacks.

Players That Could Sneak Into The First Round

1) Orlando Franklin, OG/OT, Miami

I actually put this article off a little too soon because Todd McShay beat me to this pick in his recent mock. There are a few teams that reportedly believe that Franklin is a good guard with the potential to shift to offensive tackle. As a guard prospect Franklin is a 3rd round prospect, but with his offensive tackle upside he becomes an intriguing pick at the end of the first round.

2) Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech

I personally don't think that Williams is worthy even of an early 2nd round pick, but I also am not a GM. Remember me saying earlier that it seems like 3 RB go in the first round each year? Well a team like the Packers might be willing to reach a little bit on the upside of Williams.

3) Christian Ponder, QB, FSU

There are 18 or more teams in the draft that could be looking for quarterbacks. Ponder is one that many are calling the "safest" passer in the draft. If a team like the Titans are looking for a game manager that can lead a team with a great defense and great run game to the promised land, then they may trade up for a 'safe' pick like Ponder. I personally want a guy with upside that high, but some teams want their guys.

4) Marcus Cannon, OG/OT, TCU

I have been hype Cannon for way too long now, but if a team that loves big monster offensive linemen is looking for a guard that has elite RT potential, then Cannon is your guy. Cannon athletically moves as quick as a 320-pound linemen despite weighing 355 pounds.

5) Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia

Last year the Vikings took Chris Cook, CB, Virginia at the start of the 2nd round, but reportedly would have taken him at the end of the 1st. Dowling is a more technically sound that Cook was, and it isn't even close. The biggest question with Dowling going into the combine was his speed, and a 4.4 40-time fixed that. He does have some injury concerns, but a team like the Steelers or Ravens could be willing to reach on him and transition him into a starting role.


I must add one final name to this list

6) Rodney Hudson, OG/OC, Florida State

Hudson is a guy that came into the draft season as one of the better (but not best) OG players in the draft. Because guards have a funky position that they are drafted, it was possible that he could be the 4th OG taken near pick 100. But since then he has exploded up draft boards because scouts believe that he could (and will) find his place in the league at center. He is arguably the best (and likely no less than 2nd best) center in the draft, and his versatility at OG could make a team love him. There are so many teams that made the playoffs last year with a need at both OG and OC, so he could become a hot commodity.