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Sliding scale: 10 seniors who helped themselves

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Recent posts by Matt Feminis

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By Matt Feminis

Opportunity knocked and these 10 players capitalized by making the most of their senior seasons, showing well in the post-season evaluation process and ultimately elevating their draft stock:

  • QB Mike Kafka, Northwestern: Lightly recruited out of the Chicago Catholic League, Kafka was little more than a tall athlete with good running ability when he arrived at Northwestern. He waited his turn as a backup for four years, flashing a glimpse of potential with a Big Ten-record 217 rushing yards against Minnesota in relief of injured starter C.J. Bacher in 2008, and worked his way into a draftable position. In a weak class of senior passers, Kafka is viewed as a raw, inexperienced prospect with enough athletic ability to potentially develop into a backup.
  • ATH Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss: Rebels QB Jevan Snead got all the pre-season hype, but McCluster was the team's offensive star by season's end. A diminutive playmaker, McCluster presents matchup problems and offers versatility to contribute in several ways with the ball in his hands. He is the first player in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards and total 500 yards receiving in a single season, and he accomplished that feat despite sitting out against Northern Arizona, minimal statistical production against Southeastern Louisiana and UAB (blowouts) and three other contests in which he received less than 10 offensive touches. While he does not possess elite top-end speed, McCluster is agile and accelerates in a blink, which has coaches salivating at the chance to line him up in the backfield, the slot and as a returner. His national coming-out party came in mid-November when embarassed Tennessee by racking up over 300 yards from scrimmage.
  • RB Montario Hardesty, Tennessee: A highly recruited speed back coming out of high school (recorded a sub-10.4 100 meters as a North Carolina prep), Hardesty's first four seasons in Knoxville were marred by injury, including an ACL tear in 2005, but he received a new lease on his football life under then-head coach Lane Kiffin in the Vols' pro-style offense. Hardesty had a strong senior season, showing a well-rounded skill set and remnants of the athleticism that landed him at UT. With an NFL build, he is a competitive, physical runner who churns out yards after contact and finishes. He is not overly elusive and durability concerns cannot be overlooked, but Hardesty put himself back on the map and could fill a role as a complementary back at the next level. 
  • TE Dennis Pitta, BYU: Pitta is overaged (he will be a 25-year-old rookie), but teams don't seem to care. A year after former Cougar Austin Collie stepped into the Colts offense, Pitta's maturity and natural receiving skills are valued highly and he could hear his name called in Round Two. While he is not an elite athlete and won't factor as an in-line blocker, he has outstanding ball skills, is praised for his professional approach and is considered a relatively safe pick. He figures to become a solid, productive tight end for years to come.
  • OT Rodger Saffold, Indiana: The Hoosiers have not produced a draftable offensive tackle since the early 90s, but Saffold will bring that dubious streak to an end this year. He quietly played very well, showing balance, athletic ability and foot quickness to handle outside rushers and operate in space. Does not have ideal length, but is versatile enough to play tackle or guard and should become a solid pro sooner rather than later.
  • OL Vlad Ducasse, UMASS: Was considered a sleeper last summer, but it didn't take very long for scouts to flock. What they saw was a massive, long-armed power player with big-time raw ability. Ducasse did not dominate I-AA competition like you would expect, in part because he lacks sudden movement skills and is unrefined technically, but the tools are there for an offensive line coach to work with. His upside is significant and could thrive as a mauler, be it outside or inside.
  • OT Jared Veldheer, Hillsdale: A poor man's workout warrior, Veldheer is another small-school offensive line prospect who did not physically dominate inferior competition. That said, Veldheer, who did not allow a sack in four years, possesses excellent size (6-8 1/8, 312) and moves very well for a big man. Additionally, he works hard in the weight room and coaches rave about his intangibles. Will require patience, but could be worth the investment as a developmental project if he learns to play with leverage and incorporate power into his game.
  • DT Dan Williams, Tennessee: Another Volunteer player who made strides as a senior under a new coaching staff, Williams is a true nose tackle entering the league at a time when the 3-4 is en vogue. Powerfully built with a thick anchor, he moves well for a 320-pounder and shows ability to push the pocket. Went from underachiever to first-round pick as a senior and could be successful in a "30" front or a 4-3.
  • DT Lamarr Houston, Texas: A high school linebacker-running back, Houston began his collegiate career at defensive end before sliding inside as a junior. While he lacks bulk and is not stout at the point of attack, his quickness, movement skills and motor were assets at tackle and with speed in the 4.9 range, he will be drafted as a three-technique and expected to play behind the line of scrimmage.
  • OLB Daryl Washington, TCU: The Horned Frogs have not have a linebacker drafted since 1986, but it was a matter of time before Gary Patterson's talented defenses began churning out pro prospects. Washington's speed and active, intense playing style forced evaluators to take notice during TCU's march to the Fiesta Bowl. Long, athletic, explosive and loose-hipped, he flows fast and fits perfectly on the weak side in a one-gapping 4-3 scheme. He could become one of the best linebackers in this class.

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