Haden, Spikes lead Gators into Pro Day

With the NFL Combine in the rearview mirror, Florida prospects have another chance to impress teams and their scouts Wednesday, March 17 at Pro Scout Day in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

While some Gators are looking to solidify their draft status or break into the top rounds, others are looking to catch the attention of scouts to receive consideration to be drafted or at least signed as a free agent after the draft, which will be held at Radio City Music Hall in New York beginning Thursday night, April 22 (7:30 p.m.) with the first round, continuing Friday, April 23 (6 p.m.) with rounds 2 and 3 and concluding Saturday, April 24 (10 a.m.) with rounds 4-7.

In what is considered by experts to be a very deep talent pool, these Gators will have a chance to make an impression on Pro Scout Day, which begins at 10 a.m. and is open to the public with free admission. Fans must enter through Gate 2, which will open at 8:30 a.m. Restrooms and concession stands will be open but fans can not bring video cameras.

According to ESPN and Scouts, Inc., Florida has 14 players who could be drafted and seven of those prospects are ranked among the top 100 players:

Joe Haden, CB, 5-11¼, 191

Overall rank: 6. Position rank: 1.

Haden is the consensus top cornerback in the draft and will undoubtedly be the first Gator selected. The game tape proves that he has the capability to be a top-flight corner at the next level, but some concerns were raised about his speed after an underwhelming 4.57 in the 40-yard dash. The backlash on his draft value varies with some mock drafts keeping him in the Top 10 and others dropping him into the low teens. Haden is too talented to have the 40-time affect his status too much, but he has a chance to ensure he will be one of the first 10 players selected with an improved time on Pro Scout Day.

Carlos Dunlap, DE, 6-5¾, 293

Overall rank: 19. Position rank: 3.

There is no questioning Dunlap’s raw ability as a defensive end, but scouts do question his character after his DUI arrest and a rumored reputation of being somewhat lackidasical. Originally a solid first-round selection, Dunlap has fallen to the second round on most mock drafts in what is seen as a deep class at defensive line. Dunlap didn’t exactly blow people away at the combine with a 4.71 timing in the 40-yard dash and 21 reps in the bench press, numbers that several other ends surpassed. If he can improve on those numbers, then he will solidify his status and may jump back into the first round with ease, especially if Dunlap is able to ease the character concerns in interviews with teams.

Maurkice Pouncey, OC, 6-4¾, 316

Overall rank: 26. Position rank: 1.

Pouncey has been steadily moving up the board as the draft nears, with most mock drafts placing him somewhere in the latter part of the first round. Pouncey has impressed scouts with his cerebral play at the center position and his versatility of being able to play anywhere on the interior of the offensive line. He has the chance to guarantee himself a first-round spot and perhaps even move into the early 20s or teens with a good performance.

Brandon Spikes, ILB, 6-3, 252

Overall rank: 35. Position rank: 2.

Spikes has proven that he is capable of being a leader in a championship-level defense at Florida. Heading into the season, he was expected to solidify his status as a first-round pick, but Spikes slipped on many draft boards as the season went on. It didn’t help his cause that so much publicity was drawn to the eye-gouging incident against Georgia, something that many experts are saying may have raised a red flag against Spikes. Nevertheless, Spikes’ talent and intangibles are unquestionable. The biggest on-field question mark right now is Spikes’ speed, but he has a chance to move himself solidly back into first-round consideration with a good showing in the 40-yard dash, which he did not run at the Combine. Most mock drafts currently have Spikes falling somewhere into the second round.

Aaron Hernandez, TE, 6-2¼, 252

Overall rank: 47. Position rank: 4.

After a stellar season catching the ball, Hernandez is considered one of the top tight end prospects in the draft. In such a deep draft, Hernandez probably will not be able to move into the first round as a tight end, but he has the opportunity to get pretty close. Hernandez did not run drills at the combine, so if he can impress with his speed and strength at Pro Scout Day, then he will at least lock himself into second-round status.

Riley Cooper, WR, 6-3½, 214

Overall rank: 92. Position rank: 13.

Cooper has impressed scouts with his ability to beat defenders in deep patterns and go up for jump balls in coverage, but he has drawn concerns for inconsistency in catching the ball at times. Cooper has wowed with some acrobatic catches, but the concerns come in his drops on easy or low catches. If Cooper has a solid day catching the ball and can improve upon his Combine 40-time of 4.52, then he will find himself moving up the draft board. Right now, Cooper sits somewhere in the fourth- to fifth-round range on many mock drafts.

Tim Tebow, QB, 6-2¾ , 236

Overall rank: 100. Position rank: 6.

The biggest draw at Florida’s Pro Scout Day will undoubtedly be Tebow, who will finally unveil his new throwing motion that he has been keeping undercover. Tebow received criticism for his play at the Senior Bowl, and opted not to throw at the Combine while he continued to tweak his delivery. But he did impress scouts with his athleticism in Combine drills, including a 4.72 run in the 40-yard dash. Tebow is already one of the most widely discussed players heading into the draft, with opinions all over the place as to how he will fare in the NFL. Tebow’s attitude and winning mentality alone will convince someone to take a chance on him, but his new throwing motion will tell how worthy that risk may be. If Tebow impresses scouts with his new throwing mechanics, then he could possibly entice a team to draft him somewhere in the first round. Most mock drafts are currently predicting Tebow will be selected somewhere in the second or third rounds.

Jermaine Cunningham, OLB, 6-3, 251

Overall rank: N/A. Position rank: 10.

Cunningham proved himself as a consistent playmaker on the Florida defensive line and could make an impact at the next level. He needs to prove to scouts that he is strong enough to take on linemen at the next level, and proving that he is faster than scouts think by running a solid 40-time would not hurt, either. Cunningham seems to be looking at a selection somewhere in the third or fourth rounds, according to current mock drafts, but he has the capability of moving up higher, depending on his Pro Scout Day performance.

Major Wright, S, 6-0, 202

Overall rank: N/A. Position rank: 13.

Wright had a good showing at the combine, running a 4.48 in the 40, placing him behind only expected first-round selections Eric Berry, Taylor Mays and Earl Thomas at safety. If Wright can further prove himself on Pro Scout Day, then he may be able to squeeze into the second round come draft time. Right now, he is expected to go somewhere in rounds 3 or 4.

Brandon James, KR, 5-7¼, 183

Overall rank: N/A. Position rank: 2.

James is probably too small to become an impact player on offense at the next level, but teams will undoubtedly be looking at him to make an impact in the return game. He has proven himself as a shifty returner that is capable of making dynamic game-changing plays in the return game. If James showcases top-flight speed and a full recovery from foot surgery, then teams may consider drafting him in the fifth or sixth round.

Ryan Stamper, ILB, 6-1¾, 237

Overall rank: N/A. Position rank: 21.

Stamper has proven that he can be a solid and productive player on the field at Florida while leading the team in tackles last season, but scouts question his upside at the next level. Stamper needs to prove himself in drills on Pro Scout Day in order to ensure he will be selected next month. Currently, he is considered a borderline draft pick, with the possibility of being selected in the late rounds. At the very least, a solid performance will make sure someone signs Stamper as a free agent after the draft.

Dustin Doe, LB, 6-0¼, 230

Overall rank: N/A. Position rank: 40.

Doe isn’t currently projected to be drafted, and his performance at Pro Scout Day could determine whether a team is willing to take a chance on him. Doe may not be able to move into the draft, but a solid performance could give him consideration as a free agent.

Wondy Pierre-Louis, CB, 6-0¼, 189

Overall rank: N/A. Position rank: 49.

With his recent arrest for alleged domestic batttery, Pierre-Louis figures to be fighting an uphill battle to make it in the NFL, as he is currently not projected to be drafted based on his talent. If Pierre-Louis can prove his talent in drills at Pro Scout Day, then he may be able to convince a team to take a chance on him after the draft.

David Nelson, WR, 6-5, 214

Overall rank: N/A. Position rank: 52.

Nelson has the size to play in the NFL, but he needs to prove to scouts that he is worthy of being taken in the draft. Nelson was never able to put up big numbers at Florida, but if he can impress scouts in drills and prove that he has the talent to succeed in the NFL, then he may move onto draft boards. With his size, Nelson may be able to convince teams to take a late-round chance on him or at least pursue him as a free agent after the draft. But he is not in the picture in mock drafts currently.