Kenrick Ellis has upside and baggage

Pat Devlin (left) and Kenrick Ellis (left) are two of the top small-school prospects in the 2011 draft. AP Photo

As HBCU prospects go, Hampton NT Kenrick Ellis is the best of the best in terms of NFL potential.

We rated Ellis as the No. 4 small-school prospect in the nation and gave him a late-third or early-fourth round grade following the completion of the FBS regular season, and he has done little since then to hurt his stock.

Ellis has an impressive build for 6-foot-4½, 336-pounder, he shows a good first step for his size and the explosive upper-body power and strong punch to shock and shed blockers as a run defender, and when he plays with good technique and pad level he can occupy multiple blockers in the middle.

He was very active against the run during practices leading up to the Texas vs. Nation all-star game, where he was the highest-rated prospect on the field and stood out all week. Ellis also flashed the quickness to get across the line and get to the quarterback during practices, and he showed a powerful bull rush at times as well.

However, Ellis plays too high at times and is sometimes off-balance as a result. That means he can get caught in the wash when pursuing the ball, and he needs to expand his array of pass-rush moves because he has a hard time redirecting when he doesn't win with his first move.

Overall, though, there's a lot to like about the upside Ellis displays. His size, power and initial quickness give him the physical tools to become an immediate contributor at the next level.

That being said, there are some red flags surrounding his character and Ellis will have to put those to rest during the predraft interview process to maximize his draft standing.

First, his motor runs hot and cold, though he did his best to put those concerns to rest with his hustle at the Texas vs. Nation game.

Off-field concerns appear to be a bigger issue. Ellis began his college career in 2006 with a redshirt year at South Carolina and played in 11 of 12 games in 2007, but in February of 2008 he was suspended for the first three games of the upcoming season for unspecified violations of university policy.

He was dismissed from the program later that spring and transferred to Hampton, where he sat out the first game of 2010 after being arrested for assault during the spring. Ellis is a vocal competitor who will get in the faces of his opponents, but he has to limit that edginess to the field.

In the end, Ellis has too much potential to free-fall down draft boards, but how he handles himself with NFL front-office types could determine whether he is able to work his way into the later portion of the third round.

Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl all contributed to this story.