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 following is a look at five players heading north, and check back next week for the southbound list:
1. Louis Delma, S, Western Michigan
Delma's high level of production has not wavered as a senior, but because it's unusual for a Western Michigan safety to grade out this high it's only normal for scouts to double- and triple-check the film before rubber-stamping his grade. However, by finishing the season as strong as he started Delma has made it easy for area scouts to stick to their guns. He has notched 28 total tackles in his last three outings, including 12 stops in the 23-17 victory over Illinois in early November. If he carries this momentum into postseason all-star play and individual workouts Delma could conceivably land a spot late on Day 1.
2. Clint Sintim, OLB, Virginia
Sintim is thriving as a rush linebacker in Virginia's 3-4 defense and he's expected to play a similar role in the NFL. Like the rest of the team, Sintim started the season slowly and had just one tackle for loss and zero sacks in the first three games. In the seven contests since then, he's been an absolute terror with 14 tackles for loss and including nine sacks. Sintim should come off the board by the end of Day 1.
3. Marcus Thigpen, WR/RB/RS, Indiana
Thigpen is flying under the radar right now but his versatility and breakaway speed are intriguing to many NFL teams. He will never be an every-down back or receiver but Thigpen can contribute in both areas on offense and he shows enough explosiveness to make an impact in the return game as well. Thigpen could conceivably work his way into the fourth-round range if his pre-draft workout times meet high expectations.
4. Rulon Davis, DE/OLB, California
Davis has been through injury, illness, junior college and a tour of duty with the Marines to Iraq to reach this point. We fell in love with his potential while breaking down his pre-season tape last summer and he continued to flash special qualities early in 2008. Davis was inconsistent, though, and missed four games due to a foot injury, which only added to the list of concerns. However, he returned to the lineup two weeks ago and turned in a season-best performance versus Oregon State, which included a sack, forced fumble and a pass breakup. Considering his combination of size, power and speed, it won't be surprising if Davis shoots up a lot of draft boards between now and April.
5. Anthony Hill, TE, N.C. State
Hill had fallen off the map midway through the 2008 season, but after missing all of 2007 season with a torn ACL and four more games early this year due to a chest injury Hill has returned to make a surprising impact down the stretch. He has nine catches in the team's last three outings. More importantly, he has been flat-out overpowering defenders as a blocker at the point of attack. Hill's upside is limited due to his below-average speed and athleticism but NFL teams are now reconsidering the 6-foot-5, 275-pounder as a hybrid tight end/offensive tackle, possibly as early as the fourth round.
The Top 32
Below is a look at our updated rankings of the top 32 prospects for the 2009 NFL draft. The list has undergone big changes this week, beginning with TCU's Jerry Hughes and Penn State's Aaron Maybin debuting in the top 20.
Missouri's Jeremy Maclin and Wake Forest's Aaron Curry have cracked the top 10, while Texas' Brian Orakpo dropped 15 spots to No. 25.
Underclassmen continue to dominate the list even with the announcement that Georgia DT Geno Atkins will return to school, 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.