This is the time of year when road-weary area scouts head for home base. Generally speaking, these few weeks in late November and early December are spent putting the finishing touches on senior prospect evaluations. This information is later fed from the college scout in each area to the team's director of college scouting, who digests it and spits it back out in the form of an initial 2009 draft board.
The term "finishing touches" can mean many different things. If often means a scout wants to take another long, hard look at a player whose production has significantly varied -- either positively or negatively -- during his senior season. While talking to several NFL scouts in recent weeks I've been able to compile a list of prospects whose play has earned them a spot on the "finishing touches" list.
The previous edition of the Draft Buzz highlighted five prospects affecting positive change to their draft stocks, and this week we take a look at five players headed in the opposite direction:
1. Ole Miss OT Michael Oher
There are times when Oher is flat-out dominant. There are other times, though, when he is beaten by a clearly inferior opponent. That inconsistency is maddening and makes it difficult for a scout to stamp Oher with a high grade. While he possesses the physical tools to warrant top-15 consideration, it will be interesting to see if he slips to the bottom half of the first round -- or beyond -- because of concerns regarding his work ethic, motor and overall toughness.
2. Georgia ILB Dannell Ellerbe
Ellerbe missed three regular season games because of a knee injury and he hasn't played all that well since returning. While his combination of size and speed will help him during postseason workouts and all-star games, good talent evaluators will not let that overshadow his obvious shortcomings. Ellerbe continues to display less-than-ideal recognition skills and he struggles to disengage once reached by a blocker. Making matters worse, Ellerbe missed at least three tackles that should have been made in Georgia's embarrassing 45-42 loss to Georgia Tech Saturday, a game in which the Bulldogs surrendered 409 rushing yards.
3. Ohio State OLB Marcus Freeman
Freeman apologists will cite a lingering ankle injury as the reason for his sub-par play as a senior. From our vantage point, there isn't much of a difference in his range of motion from a year ago. Freeman has always been a smooth athlete but he's not an explosive striker, nor is he an instinctive playmaker. It will be a major reach if a team elects to spend a first-day pick on a player whose chances of developing into an impact starter in the NFL are low.
4. Cincinnati DB DeAngelo Smith
Don't be fooled by Smith's 12 career interceptions. He's not the instinctive playmaker that stat would lead some to believe. In fact, Smith might struggle to find a niche in the NFL. He lacks the size of a safety, the recovery speed to consistently hold up on in island and the recognition skills of a Cover 2-style corner. The more tape we study of Smith the less we like his chances of being drafted in the first three rounds.
5. Tennessee RB Arian Foster
Foster has never been a premier running back prospect in our opinion and his regression as a senior only confirms that opinion. He didn't get much help from the Tennessee quarterbacks this season but that doesn't explain why he lost so many carries down the stretch to youngsters like sophomore Lennon Creer. Foster has good size and body control but he isn't powerful enough or elusive enough to create yards on his own. Depending on the number of quality underclass running backs who declare early, Foster could easily slide out of the first four rounds.
The Top 32
Below is Scouts Inc.'s updated rankings of the top 32 prospects for the NFL draft. Underclassmen continue to dominate the list, and until the official decision date in mid-January we will continue to include in our top 32 and overall rankings all underclassmen we deem worthy of a first-day (Rounds 1 and 2) grade.
(Note: * denotes draft-eligible junior; ** denotes draft-eligible third-year sophomore)
Todd McShay is the director of college football scouting for Scouts Inc. He has been evaluating prospects for the NFL draft since 1998.