Every season, prospects come out of nowhere to become some of the country's brightest stars and potential highly rated prospects. Mike Lombardi, Andrew Brandt and Wes Bunting of Nationalfootballpost.com take a look at the year's top surprises.
1. RB Donald Brown, Connecticut THE BUZZ: Brown entered Connecticut as a 5-foot-10, 180-pound scatback with 4.3 speed. Since then, Brown – now a junior – has added more than 20 pounds of bulk and muscle and is carrying one of the heaviest workloads in the country. He is second in the nation with 235 carries and has accounted for a bit more than 47 percent of UConn's total offense. Brown still possesses excellent speed and is quick to hit the hole. He has good first-step quickness and a devastating jump cut that allows him to bounce against the grain and attack the cutback lane. He needs to continue to work on running with a lower pad level and becoming more elusive at top speed. Brown is extremely productive, with 1,436 total yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
2. DT Terrence Cody, Alabama THE BUZZ: We had Cody, a junior, in our top-100 prospect list to start the year and took some grief. But his combination of size (6-5/367) and power simply was too much to overlook. Now, scouts are jumping all over this mammoth nose tackle, who has single-handedly made Alabama one of the toughest units to run against in the nation. Cody is an ideal run-stuffer who has the body control and agility to play in a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense. He looks like a real difference-maker and is the type of player you can build a defense around at the next level. After his tremendous play during the first half of the season, we are willing to bet he doesn't get past the first 10 picks come draft time.
3. DE Aaron Maybin, Penn State THE BUZZ: Maybin, a third-year sophomore, was viewed as only a pass-rushing specialist coming into the season. But a suspension to Maurice Evans put Maybin in the starting lineup. He is second in the nation with 11 sacks and first in the Big Ten with 15 tackles for loss. Maybin possesses a long, angular frame with great first-step quickness, and he has the closing speed to turn the corner. He still needs to add more girth and power to his 242-pound frame, because he still struggles to hold the point of attack against the run. But he plays with good leverage, and when he does add more base strength, Maybin could take his game to the next level. One of the nation's most-feared pass rushers looks to be the next in line of top-flight defensive ends to come out of Penn State.
4. DT Roy Miller, Texas THE BUZZ: Going into the season, Miller – a senior – was considered by many as a fringe draft prospect. But he has been the top-ranked Longhorns' most disruptive interior lineman. Miller is a stout, penetrating tackle who gets off the snap quickly and displays the lower-body strength and leverage to get into the backfield. Miller never will be a star at the next level because of his lack of size and overall athleticism. But his ability to hold the point of attack inside and penetrate upfield on passing downs has him moving up draft boards, and he now looks like a mid-round selection.
5. OT Jason Smith, Baylor THE BUZZ: Every year, former tight ends make the transition to tackle and mature into some of the nation's best offensive line prospects. That is the case for Smith, a senior who was recruited as a tight end and didn't move to tackle until before his sophomore season. Scouts had taken note of his potential and upside, but he possibly has become the best senior tackle in the nation. Smith had been able to get by on sheer athleticism, but he has become a real technician and looks to have added a lot more upper-body strength. Add that to his rare blend of quickness and body control, and you have the most dominant offensive tackle in the Big 12. Smith will continue to improve with better coaching in the NFL, and there is no way this guy doesn't go in the top 25.
6. DE Stryker Sulak, Missouri THE BUZZ: Sulak is a tall, thin-framed pass rusher with a great first step and a nose for the ball. Sulak, a senior, has destroyed Big 12 competition all season with his sub-4.7 speed and never-ending motor. He has 10.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, five quarterback hurries, five forced fumbles and a blocked kick. He is being viewed as a potential pass-rush specialist or 3-4 outside linebacker, and now warrants a mid-round grade. Sulak plays with passion and relentlessness. He still needs to add a wider array of pass-rush moves, but he's the kind of player you can count on when you need a play on third down.
7. RB Shonn Greene, Iowa THE BUZZ: Greene, a junior, returned to Iowa this season after spending 2007 in junior college working on his academics. Greene (5-11/235) is a big, physical back who is third in the nation in rushing (144.3 ypg). He has run for 100 yards in each of his first eight games. Scouts love his blend of quickness and power between the tackles. He has the ability to churn out yards after contact and knows how to move the chains against eight- and nine-man fronts. Greene has good vision and short-area quickness, and becomes stronger as the game progresses. There isn't much flash to his game, but he certainly looks like the kind of workhorse back who has the power to carry the ball 20-25 times a game.
8. QB Rhett Bomar, Sam Houston State THE BUZZ: Bomar, a senior, was the starting quarterback at Oklahoma before being dismissed for NCAA violations. He has thrown for 1,790 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions in six games. NFL teams are becoming more and more comfortable drafting FCS (i.e., Division I-AA) quarterbacks, and Bomar looks to be the next in line. Furthermore, with the senior quarterback class currently in shambles, don't be surprised to see Bomar go a lot higher than most scouts thought. He has better physical skills than most of his senior counterparts, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he ends up becoming the first senior quarterback off the board in April.
9. WR Juaquin Iglesias, Oklahoma THE BUZZ: Iglesias, a senior, was the Sooners' most productive wide receiver last season on a team that included second-round pick Malcolm Kelly. But NFL scouts wanted to see how Iglesias would perform this season without Kelly on the other side. Iglesias has done nothing but impress. He leads the high-powered Sooners in receptions with 44, including a 12-catch, 191-yard performance against Kansas. Iglesias possesses nice size (6-0/205), with good deep speed (4.45 in the 40). But it's his ability to snap off routes quickly and get separation on all levels of the field that is most impressive. Iglesias has become a precise route-runner and knows how to separate against press coverage, a skill that few college wide receivers possess. Iglesias ranks as one of the top two receiver prospects in the senior class.
10. DT Ziggy Hood, Missouri THE BUZZ: Hood was considered one of the nation's top 10 senior defensive tackle prospects heading into the season, but he has consistently outplayed the completion and looks like one of the most explosive three-technique tackles in the draft. He has 36 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks and nine quarterback hurries. His ability to be disruptive off the snap has allowed his teammates to make plays, too. Hood has good first-step quickness and the lateral mobility to beat blocks and explode upfield. He plays with a good pad level inside and knows how to hold the point of attack against the run. Hood has been rising up draft boards and looks like a potential second-round pick.
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.