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Under-the-radar prospects on the rise

10/12/2011

The college football season is at the midway point, and among NFL prospects the big names like Andrew Luck, Landry Jones, Matt Kalil and Morris Claiborne are getting most of the attention.

However, as we study game film from the first half of the season it's becoming clear that plenty of quality prospects are flying under the national radar. As a result, this week's edition of the Nickel Package looks at five players not getting the attention they deserve based on their skills and production. As always, underclassmen are noted with an asterisk.

Washington RB Chris Polk*

There's been a lot of talk about Trent Richardson, Marcus Lattimore, LaMichael James and Michael Dyer, but Polk rarely gets the attention he deserves. He has 116 carries for 611 yards and three scores this season, and he's coming off a 29-carry, 195-yard game against Utah.

Polk has the toughness and competitive nature to handle that monster workload, and while he lacks elite top-end speed he does have good stop-start ability and shows good vision. He's also a proven commodity as a receiver out of the backfield. He's expected to enter the draft early and will be in the mix to be the first back off the board after Richardson. This week: at Colorado

Illinois WR A.J. Jenkins

Jenkins has burst on the scene as a senior, ranking first in the nation in total receiving yards (815) at this point and piling up 450 yards in the last two weeks alone. He did have 100-plus receiving yards earlier this season versus Arizona State, but we will be watching closely to see how he performs against tougher competition down the stretch (Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin and bowl game).

Jenkins projects as a sub-package possession receiver in the NFL, and while scouts aren't impressed with his grandstanding and occasional sloppiness (poor routes, concentration lapses), he can certainly elevate his draft stock to the middle-round range if he continues to produce. This week: vs. Ohio State

Oklahoma DE Frank Alexander

After failing to live up to expectations earlier in career, Alexander is turning in a highly productive senior season. He has 28 total tackles (7.5 TFL), 5.5 sacks, four PBUs and an interception. He's playing with great passion and focus, and while Alexander lacks ideal initial burst and top-end speed he has the size to defend the run in the NFL and shows good speed-to-power moves as a pass rusher.

We gave him a late-round grade in the preseason but he's offering up much better game tape this fall, and as we dig further it will be important to determine whether the light truly came on or if Alexander is finally playing hard because he's in a "contract year." This week: at Kansas

Georgia DE/OLB Jarvis Jones*

We talked earlier in the season about Jones' impressive performance in Georgia's loss to Boise State, and the USC transfer has become a huge difference-maker at OLB in Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme. Jones has 33 tackles (9 TFL), four sacks and also 12 quarterback hurries. He's been even more consistent than 2011 second-round pick Justin Houston was a year ago.

Jones is quick and powerful, a versatile athlete with an enormous upside if he continues to work on his craft and can add good bulk without losing any speed/suddenness. This week: at Vanderbilt

Kansas State LB Arthur Brown*, Kansas State

Brown is a Miami transfer who has thrived under Bill Snyder's staff. He's playing with a good motor and appears to have rededicated himself to the game. Brown is 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds with above-average speed, which is helping him lead the team in tackles (38 total) to this point.

He's only a junior and would do well to return for another year to gain additional game experience, but even without that he could work his way into the Day 2 range. This week: at Texas Tech

Other notables

North Carolina WR Dwight Jones

Wake Forest WR Chris Givens*

West Virginia WR Stedman Bailey*

Stanford TE Coby Fleener

Clemson DE Andre Branch

Penn St. DT Devon Still

Texas A&M LB Sean Porter*

Rutgers DB Khaseem Greene*

Tennessee DS Prentiss Waggner*