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CB Hayden moving up the draft board

4/8/2013

As last-minute tape study and conversations with scouts from around the NFL continue, names of certain prospects continue to come up.

Some are gaining traction and solidifying their standing, while others are facing down questions about their skill sets and where they will eventually be drafted.

Here's a look at a big-name cornerback and three other players who are creating positive buzz, and four who are trending in the other direction, including a potential first-round receiver.

ON THE RISE

Houston CB D.J. Hayden: A torn vein in his heart suffered in a practice collision ended Hayden's 2012 season after nine games, but he was cleared medically at the NFL combine and reportedly ran a 4.42 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day. Hayden (5-foot-11⅛, 191 pounds) is an easy mover in coverage, with quick feet and a rare burst to close on the ball, but his playmaking instincts are what set him apart.

Hayden (61 tackles, 8 pass breakups, 4 INT in 2012) has great eyes in coverage and knows how to manufacture turnovers, which is something that holds a lot of value at the next level. His stock should continue to rise as scouts watch more tape, and many think he'll be gone by the end of the first round.

UCLA DE Datone Jones (80): He began building momentum during a strong Senior Bowl week, and Jones' tape shows a player who fits best as a 5-technique (DE) in a 3-4, but can also reduce to the interior at times and use his hands to win inside or outside. He also plays with a high motor, and scouts rave about his character, maturity and work ethic. Jones (6-3⅞, 283) approaches the game the right way, and it won't surprise me if he comes off the board in the top 40 overall picks.

California C Brian Schwenke (76): He moved from guard to center in 2012 and was not quite as effective inside, but Schwenke (6-3, 314) has the first-step quickness to gain initial leverage, and is able to anchor and maintain position. Throw in his versatility, and he has a good chance to come off the board before Day 2 is over.

Tulane QB Ryan Griffin (30): I've heard rumblings about Griffin recently and had a chance to watch some tape over the weekend, and he has some intriguing qualities. Griffin (6-3⅞, 216) lacks an ideal frame and arm strength, but he throws with accuracy and touch, and his excellent anticipation can help make up for his lack of ideal tools. He also shows the ability to make accurate throws when off balance.

Finally, Griffin has a strong field presence and great feel for situational football. He understands down and distance, when to take shots or check down and when to throw the ball away. His lack of arm strength means he's likely not a fit for inclement weather teams, but the New Orleans Saints are an interesting option.

Tulane runs a similar system to the one in New Orleans, and the Saints need a young backup after losing Chase Daniel during free agency. Griffin has a good baseline of knowledge for the Saints' offense, can throw with timing and rhythm and could be a fit as a late-round developmental pick.

FACING QUESTIONS

Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson (88): Even a casual football fan can see that Patterson has elite physical tools and the ability to make big plays with the ball in his hands, which has him in the first-round mix at this point. However, the more NFL personnel I talk to the more I hear worries about the steep learning curve he will face at the next level. He played just one year at the FBS level and has a lot to learn in terms of route-running, got mixed reviews on his interviews at the combine and there are concerns about his ability to quickly absorb an NFL playbook.

Patterson (6-1⅞, 216) is more of a playmaker in space than college teammate Justin Hunter, but Hunter is more savvy and loose as a route-runner, and is much more natural tracking the ball and going up to win one-on-one matchups downfield. Both Hunter and Patterson have had some drops (and there are concerns about Hunter's toughness), but Hunter has more overall traits that translate to the next level and more potential there. Patterson is likely to come off the board first, but I agree with those who feel Hunter is better equipped to succeed at the next level.

Louisiana Tech WR Quinton Patton (86): I'm getting hot and cold reviews on Patton when talking to scouts. Some think he is a solid No. 2 receiver in the NFL, while others see him as no more than a No. 3 guy.

Patton's tape shows a polished route-runner who is crafty within his stem to set up defenders and create separation. However, I have questions about his strength in traffic, and he doesn't always come down with contested catches he should make. Patton (6-foot, 204) flashes the ability to make a highlight-reel grab on occasion, but he also appears hesitant in traffic at times, with clear examples coming in the Houston and Texas A&M tapes.

He had a good week at the Senior Bowl and has a chance to be a first-round pick, but there is enough on his tape to wonder whether he would live up to such a high pick. I view him as more of a mid-second-rounder.

Georgia S Shawn Williams (70): There is a lot to like about Williams' physical nature and willingness to step up in run support, and he was an emotional presence on the field during his time at Georgia. However, there are questions about his ability in coverage, despite his 4.46 in the 40. Williams (5-11⅞, 213) is tight in the hips and limited in terms of range when aligned on the high point, and a player who was in the Day 2 conversation coming into the season could very well end up in Day 3 at this point based on what I'm hearing from scouts.

NC State CB David Amerson (69): His production (13 INTs in 2011) and size/speed combination had Amerson among Scouts Inc.'s highest-rated prospects coming into the season, but the 2012 season did not go well for Amerson.

There's no question Amerson (6-1, 205) has the length and speed for the position, but his tightness leads to issues transitioning out of his backpedal and out of breaks, and those problems were exposed in a big way against Miami and Tennessee last season. Scouts have also expressed some character concerns, which could eventually push Amerson into the Day 3 range.