Saturday, July 13, 2024

2024 NFL draft risers: J.J. McCarthy among seven prospects who improved stock

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Draft boards and all of their grades are constructed for more than a year — not just in the whirlwind weeks from the NFL combine to pro days to the first team being on the clock.

And while there are few real sleepers invited to the Senior Bowl or combine, a draft riser can climb the charts through the season and the pre-draft process. He gets somebody’s attention and forces an adjustment to the grade he carried when the college football season began.

With the 2024 NFL draft approaching on April 25 (8 p.m. ET on ESPN, ABC, ESPN+), let’s take a look at the players in this draft class who have gained the most ground. Last year’s list included Darnell Wright (No. 10 pick), Luke Musgrave (No. 42 pick) and Chandler Zavala (No. 114 pick).

Here are some of the top risers for this year’s draft, starting with a quarterback whose name has been uttered plenty in the pre-draft rumor mill.

Scouts Inc. ranking: 12

How far he climbed boards: After starting the college football season out of the top six or seven quarterbacks on many lists, McCarthy has been in the conversation for every team looking for a long-term solution at quarterback.

Turning point: His was more of drumbeat as the Wolverines powered through the season toward a national championship. McCarthy threw for 272 yards more in 2023 than he did in 2022 and had the same number of touchdowns (22), but some evaluators believed he looked, acted and played with far more control of things around him.

Why he rose: His play in the biggest moments. Against Ohio State he was 16-of-20 passing for 148 yards and made a laser of a touchdown throw. His three-touchdown performance against Alabama in the first game of the College Football Playoff is also pointed to by scouts. He set a Michigan record with a 72.3% completion rate over the last 12 games of the season and threw one interception.

What they’re saying: “Just trying to focus in on doing the best I can within each play, whatever is asked of me, whether it’s hand off and carrying out my fake or ripping an in cut on the backside of the concept. Playcalling is out of my control, but whatever’s in my control, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability.” — McCarthy on decision-making


Scouts Inc. ranking: 78

How far he climbed boards: Paul, who made 44 career starts at left tackle for the Cougars, began the year as a mid- or early Day 3 prospect. At 6-foot-7½, 331 pounds, he often played too high in his stance, even as he also showed nimble feet and pass protections skills. But Paul improved his footwork and pad level through the 2023 season and could well push himself into the middle of Day 2.

Turning point: There wasn’t a singular game or play, but his body of work last season, with a first-team All-Big 12 selection, helped his case. He surrendered one sack — the only quarterback hit he gave up all season.

Why he rose: Paul built on his season by stacking one of the better weeks of any player at the Senior Bowl. There are few things that move the needle in the postseason all-star games more than work in one-on-one drills against the best on the other side of the ball. Paul’s work in Mobile, Alabama, got him noticed.

What they’re saying: “I keep telling our people I think he’s one of the best pass-blocking tackles on the board.” — AFC South area scout


Scouts Inc. ranking: 120

How far he climbed boards: Sinnott could move from early Day 3 into Day 2 if the right team is waiting and the board falls a certain way. He finished with 10 touchdowns over the past two seasons — six in 2023 — and a career-best 14 yards-per-catch average showcased his value in the passing game. The talent shown in his pre-draft work could also nudge him up the board.

Turning point: Prospects don’t move around the draft boards much during the run-up to the all-star games and scouting combine, but those events can force folks to go back and look at a player again. Some teams said they did just that with Sinnott’s performance at the combine.

Why he rose: The former walk-on for the Wildcats offered the combination of size — 6-foot-3 7/8 inches, 250 pounds — and movement skills others in a thin class at the position do not. But he was clearly the best of the group in position drills at the combine with precise routes, explosiveness in and out of the breaks and consistent hands. He was also the best, or near it, in the other testing as well. His 40-inch vertical jump and 10-6 broad were best among the tight ends.

What they’re saying: “I liked him all season, think he can contribute right away in passing game. But then you get the workout in Indy, you get that confirmation of the traits.” — AFC West area scout


Qwan’tez Stiggers, CB, Toronto Argonauts (CFL)

Scouts Inc. ranking: None

How far he climbed boards: No player in the draft process may have climbed more. Stiggers would be only the third player in the common draft era to be selected without playing in college. He has played in the Fan Controlled Football League and was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie last season. He was scheduled to attend Lane College after high school, but the pandemic and the death of his father derailed those plans. He worked several jobs, including DoorDash, before being signed by the Argonauts.

Turning point: This is the first year he is eligible for the draft — at least three years removed from high school. His season with the Argonauts (53 tackles, five interceptions) combined with a high-quality week at the Shrine Bowl has given him a chance to be a Day 3 pick.

Why he rose: His pro day in Atlanta last month drew 29 team representatives, and at 5-11, 204 pounds, he was clocked by some scouts at 4.46 in the 40-yard dash. Couple that with the physicality he showed in 2023 as the youngest player on the field much of the time and at the Shrine, and he should hear his name called in Detroit.

What they’re saying: “He’s pushed harder to get to this point than most guys. You’re not going to have to worry about drive or how much he loves football; he’s already done what a lot of guys won’t.” — NFC general manager


Scouts Inc. ranking: 222

How far he climbed boards: Laube, a six-season player at New Hampshire, has likely moved from a priority undrafted free agent or late Day 3 pick into possibly much earlier on Day 3 if the right situation presents itself.

Turning point: There’s plenty of game video where his across-the-board production on offense and in the return game is plainly evident. More important is what Laube has done to augment that at every turn in the draft windup. He ran a 4.54 in the 40 at the combine while looking comfortable and impactful at the Senior Bowl practices.

Why he rose: Production. He averaged five yards per carry running the ball and had 171 career receptions — an average of 3.7 per game over the course of his career — while also returning two kickoffs and two punts for touchdowns over the past two seasons.

What they’re saying: “The biggest takeaway from that was seeing if I’m able to compete against the best of the best, and just saying ‘Hey, like, am I ready for it?’ And I think I kind of showed I’m able to play that kind of caliber and show everyone I truly belong.” — Laube on what he showed at the Senior Bowl


Scouts Inc. ranking: 249

How far he climbed boards: Whether Shirden hears his name on Day 3 will likely depend on the fit and plan for him in an offense. But there are some coaches who see possibilities for the 5-foot-8, 187-pounder in their offenses and say they will pound the table for him.

Turning point: Despite a thigh injury that limited his combine workouts and pro day, evaluators liked what they saw from him in a limited capacity. Shirden might be able to contribute more in the passing game than he did in college — 25 receptions with one touchdown in three seasons.

Why he rose: His 3,200 rushing yards and 23 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons were a good start, but his 4.45 in the combine 40 was another piece of the confirmation puzzle. He was also the only FCS running back to be invited to the Shrine Bowl. At the Shrine Bowl he was able to show that, while he still needs plenty of improvement, he is a capable blocker in blitz pickups.

What they’re saying: “He’s not going to break that many tackles, but I like his vision, and when he doesn’t mess around and just puts his foot in the ground and goes, there’s something there.” — NFC South area scout


DeAngelo Hardy, WR/RB/DB, North Central (Ill.)

Scouts Inc. ranking: None

How far he climbed boards: Somebody should — and could — take a late Day 3 flier on this player so they don’t have to compete to sign him as an undrafted free agent. He’s on the radar, and some teams hope others don’t like him as much as they do.

Turning point: He didn’t fare as well as some had predicted during Northwestern’s pro day last month — a 4.61 (hand-timed) 40 and some middle-of-the-road testing numbers, but at 6-foot-3/4 inches and 208 pounds he presents an array of possibilities.

Why he rose: It’s all about sorting through what he has done. This is a player who scored touchdowns rushing, receiving, passing and on kickoff returns in his college career. In a December 2023 playoff game, he had touchdowns passing, receiving and a kickoff return to go with an interception.

What they’re saying: “Look, I’m not sure if he’s got enough explosiveness and all that, but there aren’t many guys, at any level, that did all of the things he did.” — AFC West personnel director

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