By Russ Lande
Trying to discern which NFL draft rumors are real and which ones are bogus can be maddening. That's why we're here to help. While nothing is 100 percent certain in this ever-shifting landscape, the following reports come from trusted NFL sources (if they're wrong, you didn't hear them from us, of course).
Rumor 1: Cornerback surprise. Mock drafts have been projecting either Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert or Jason Verrett to be the first cornerback selected in May. But over the last month, we've heard from numerous people that Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller is the top cornerback on many draft boards. He doesn't have exceptional height, but at just a shade under 6-foot, Fuller is more than tall enough and when you add in his 32 7/8th arms he has plenty of reach. Teams believe Fuller can excel in any defensive scheme because he has the size, strength, athleticism and physical playing style to excel in tight man coverage, along with the instincts, closing quickness and ball skills to make big plays from zone alignments. When you add in Fuller's maturity, smarts and consistency, it shouldn't shock anybody if he's a first round pick and is as likely as any other cornerback to be the first one selected.
Rumor 2: Receiver sleeper. As the 2013 college season got underway there was a lot of discussion about USC receiver Marqise Lee being a top-10 pick, but an injury-plagued season hurt his stock. During my travels attending the Missouri and Texas A&M pro days over the last few weeks, I was fortunate to speak with more than 20 NFL people and Lee's name kept coming up. He's an incredibly hard-working young man, while his film shows outstanding routes, excellent use of hands to defeat the press and ability to easily set-up defenders to get them to turn their hips. No one is going to mistake him for Mike Evans or Kelvin Benjamin when it comes to size, but NFL people consistently commented that they were shocked at how physical Lee is, whether fighting through the cornerback's jam to release off the line, staying on his stem while the defender tries to ride him off it or running through potential tackles to make big plays after the catch. Few top-tier prospects would have played through the injuries Lee did in 2013 and his gutty performance against UCLA convinced NFL teams of his toughness. More than a few NFL people told me they would not be surprised if Lee ends up being the best NFL receiver from this years' draft when we look back in five years.
Rumor 3: Ill-fitting Ealy. When I was covering the Mizzou pro day, nearly all of the media's attention was on Michael Sam, but fellow defensive end Kony Ealy also drew close looks. After declaring for the 2014 draft, Ealy was instantly penciled in as a first-round pick by the media, but from what I have heard he is much more likely to be a second- or third-rounder. The issue is not that Ealy lacks the talent, but he is not an explosive pass rusher, nor does he have the fluid movement skills and instincts to play up as an outside linebacker or bulk up as an effective end in a 3-4 defense. Different NFL personnel I spoke to believe that Ealy's best chance to be a productive starter at the next level is to play as a base defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, which is usually not a player that gets drafted in the first round.
Rumor 4: On second thought. Although BYU OLB Kyle Van Noy is one of my most highly rated prospects, I have been hearing recently that NFL teams are not as high on him. The people I spoke with agree with my evaluation of his athleticism, but have concerns about his style of play and consistency. They expressed a concern that he's more of a finesse player who is not as effective when he has to take on offensive linemen or tight end blocks, especially against the run. Additionally, Van Noy, whose incredible bowl game as a junior really put him on the NFL's radar, did not show consistency game to game or throughout his final season. After starting out his final season so well, the people I spoke with feel his play over the second half of the season was not at the same level, which is concerning. Although my evaluation was that of a middle first-round pick, my discussions lead me to believe he will likely be selected between picks 25 and 50.
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Russ Lande writes about college scouting and the NFL draft for Sports on Earth. He is GM jr. scouting and college scouting director for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes and the Big 10 Network. He is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and former scouting administrator for the St. Louis Rams. You can follow him@RUSSLANDE.