In the first edition of Draft Stock Survey, PewterReport.com’s new feature, Bucs beat writer Eric Dellaratta showcases which NFL draft prospects have improved their stock and which have hurt their stock based on their bowl-game performances. Be on the lookout for more Draft Stock Surveys to be released following the conclusion of the Senior Bowl weigh-ins, Senior Bowl practices and game, NFL Combine, and pro days.
South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery (Junior)
Jeffery came up big for South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl against a quality opponent in Nebraska. The junior wide receiver was asked to face another potential first-round pick, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Jeffery had his way with Dennard in the first half. He burnt Dennard on a crossing route that ended up going for a 78-yard gain.
Just before halftime, Jeffery caught a Hail Mary pass from quarterback Conner Shaw. He vaulted himself over five Nebraska defensive backs, made the catch, and ran into the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown. The two standouts let their emotions get the better of them in the third quarter. The two began to fight near the sideline. There was shoving, grabbing of the facemasks, and a few punches were thrown. Both were ejected from the game by the referee.
Jeffery finished the game with four receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown. Despite the altercation, Jeffery is expected to be a first-round selection come draft day. A big game against a quality opponent is exactly what Jeffery needed to finish his college career.
Alabama ILB Dont’a Hightower (Junior)
Hightower has been a force for the Crimson Tide’s defense, and his performance in the BCS national championship game against the LSU Tigers helped push his draft stock even higher. The junior linebacker was all over the field and was always near the action.
The 6-foot-4, 260-pound prospect recorded a sack-fumble on quarterback Jordan Jefferson late in the fourth quarter. He also contributed four tackles and an assist on a tackle for loss. Hightower appeared to be at full speed, completing his recovery from a torn ACL in 2009.
The standout linebacker is very versatile. He can play inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and is frequently used as a pass-rusher on the outside in third-down situations. He’s a true thumper that won’t have trouble finding a home in the NFL. The Alabama junior projects to be a late first-round selection come draft day.
Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon (Junior)
There wasn’t much more room for Justin Blackmon’s stock to rise going into the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, but Oklahoma State’s stud wide receiver might have solidified himself as a top 10 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. The junior turned in a monster performance for the Cowboys and he did it with an infected right thigh.
Blackmon finished his dominant performance with eight receptions for 191 yards and three touchdowns. The Cowboys receiver showcased his explosiveness as he tallied two long touchdown catches. He scored on a go route for a 43-yard touchdown and later scored a 67-yard touchdown on a catch-and-run after hauling in a pass on a short slant route.
Blackmon was named Fiesta Bowl offensive MVP and showed NFL talent evaluators that he can be a No.1 receiver at the NFL level. The junior receiver possesses enough talent to warrant a very high first-round pick in April.
Georgia CB Brandon Boykin (Senior)
Cornerback Brandon Boykin really impressed in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State. For a smaller corner, he really plays bigger than his size would indicate. On the first drive, Boykin sniffed out a bubble screen and tackled the Michigan State receiver for a safety. Boykin showcased his explosiveness all day and was by far Georgia’s best defensive player.
Just before halftime, Boykin scored a touchdown on a 92-yard touchdown on a punt return. The senior turned his back to the opposition, side-stepped a defender, and ran for the longest punt return in school history. In addition to his spectacular defense and special teams, Boykin also caught a clutch 13-yard touchdown pass on offense.
The senior has been an exceptional playmaker for the Bulldogs, but his size will most likely keep him from being a high draft selection in April. Boykin definitely improved his stock in the Outback Bowl, and will likely end up being selected on the second day of the draft. Boykin has accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl, so be sure to check PewterReport.com’s coverage to see how Georgia’s defensive back fares.
Arizona State MLB Vontaze Burfict (Junior)
The Arizona State linebacker was benched by his coaching staff, and saw very little playing time in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. He only recorded a few tackles and really had no impact for the Sun Devils. This is extremely disappointing for someone that is being touted as the “next big thing” at linebacker.
Burfict is physical monster who plays the game with extreme intensity. He had very good seasons as a freshman and sophomore where he showed endless potential.
The best word to describe Burfict’s play-style is violent. His number one favorite thing to do on game day is crush opposing players. However, the junior has had issues controlling his emotions on the field, and is frequently penalized. This might be a cause for concern among NFL front offices. After having a great sophomore campaign, the Arizona State beast really took a step in the wrong direction as a junior. He failed to record double-digit tackles in any game in 2011.
Burfict was also benched during Arizona State’s loss to California this season. It was also reported that he got into a fight with a teammate after a practice earlier this season. If Burfict didn't have emotional issues, he could have easily ended up a top 10 selection.
If Burfict ever wants to reach his maximum potential he will have to learn to keep his emotions in check. His stock has slid from a top 15 pick to a late first-round selection.
Georgia TE Orson Charles (Junior)
The junior tight end had little to no impact against the Michigan State Spartans in the Outback Bowl. He was not very impressive as a blocker and he only caught one pass for two yards.
Charles, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 241 pounds, was one of Georgia’s most valuable threats in the passing game throughout the season, but he was invisible in the team’s biggest game of the year. In addition to his Outback Bowl performance, his size and overall strength might cause him to fall in the upcoming NFL draft.
Most teams in the NFL are looking for complete tight ends that excel in blocking and receiving, and Charles really only excels as a pass catcher. This will concern some front office members around the league, and will most likely put a ceiling on his draft stock.
Despite his size concerns, I can see Charles in an Aaron Hernandez-type roll in the NFL. If Charles is able to bulk up and improve as a blocker, I can see him being one of the better values in the draft. The junior tight end projects to be a third-round pick in April.