Florida State OLB A.J. Nicholson improved his draft value against Boston College last Saturday night. The senior linebacker emerged as the dominant individual performer of the game, finishing with 19 total tackles and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a score.
Nicholson has some character issues that could cause him to slip on draft day. He also lacks ideal speed (4.71 in the 40-yard dash) for a WLB in the NFL, which might force him to move inside at the next level. However, the 6-foor-1, 241-pound linebacker uses his great instincts and quickness to make plays from sideline-to-sideline versus the run. He also is equally adept at rushing the passer and dropping into coverage in the passing game.
Teammate Ernie Sims has more upside, but Nicholson is the more polished pro prospect at this point. If he continues to play at a high level throughout the fall, and can improve some of his speed and agility times at the combine, Nicholson could emerge as a solid second-round draft selection come next April.
Last year's linebacker class was considered strong, but the 2006 group has a chance to be special. Including Nicholson, there are as many as 11 outside linebacker prospects who could come off the board on the first day of the 2006 draft, including Ohio State's A.J. Hawk, Iowa's Chad Greenway, Florida State's Ernie Sims, Alabama's Demeco Ryans, Washington State's Will Derting, UCLA's Spencer Havner and Justin London, Tennessee's Omar Gaither, UTEP's Thomas Howard and Ohio State's Bobby Carpenter.
In addition, Virginia's Ahmad Brooks, Iowa's Abdul Hodge, Maryland's D'Qwell Jackson and Tennessee's Kevin Simon are inside linebackers who project as first-day selections. In comparison, there were five outside linebackers and six inside linebackers selected in the first three rounds of the 2005 draft.
Maryland TE Vernon Davis is a fast-rising junior prospect. At 6-3, 250 pounds, Davis has a team-high 13 receptions in three games played and is averaging 24.9 yards per catch. Davis lacks ideal size and strength as a blocker, and is likely to be limited to an H-back type of role in the NFL. However, should Davis elect to return for his senior season, he will have a year and a half from to hit the weight room and cafeteria.
UCLA's Marcedes Lewis is the only lock first-round draft pick in this year's tight end class, but the 2007 group projects to be more competitive, with the likes of Georgia's Leonard Pope (jr.), Arizona State's Zach Miller (so.), Miami's Greg Olsen (so.) and Notre Dame's Anthony Fasano (jr.). That undoubtedly will be a factor in Davis' decision following the Terps' season.