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Spencer turned heads with 'pro-day' workout

4/23/2004

Despite starting 33 games in four seasons, Shawntae Spencer went uninvited to the NFL's pre-draft scouting combine, and the University of Pittsburgh cornerback has spent the past two months trying to demonstrate to scouts that the surprising slight was undeserved.

And, apparently, Spencer is succeeding in that quest.

Most scouts agree that no player in the 2004 draft pool has moved up as much on draft boards, at least relative to their starting points, as Spencer has since a March 22 "pro day" audition on campus. In front of a legion of scouts in attendance primarily to check out Panthers wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in his lone pre-draft workout, Spencer certainly commanded his share of the spotlight with a terrific performance.

He was clocked as low as 4.48 in the 40, had a vertical jump of 34½ inches, and was dynamic in position drills. Perhaps the only drawback is that Spencer, at 181 pounds, could use more bulk spread over his 6-feet-1 frame.

His stock, which began to rise immediately after that workout, has since skyrocketed. Once regarded as a middle- to late-round prospect, Spencer likely will be chosen now on the first day of the lottery after visiting with nearly two-thirds of the teams in the league. It is all but a given that Spencer, who concluded his career with 203 tackles and eight interceptions, will be the first player chosen who was not at the combine.

Spencer is not, however, the only prospect who has enjoyed a meteoric ascent up draft boards in the past month. In an ESPN.com survey of personnel directors and scouts, it seems several players have enhanced their status by as much as a couple rounds, most of them with standout "pro day" workouts.

Unlike Spencer, some of those players won't be chosen Saturday, in the first three rounds, and, in fact, most are projected as late-round selections. They nonetheless dramatically upgraded their status during the run-up to the draft. So here is a look at some players who, in the past month or two, have risen at least two rounds on draft boards:

  • TE Kevin Zureki (Eastern Michigan): In 43 games and 35 starts, he caught just 69 passes for 819 yards and seven touchdowns. But he's a 266-pounder who runs well and might be able to deep-snap in a pinch, and his name is suddenly showing up on draft boards.

  • DE Raheem Orr (Rutgers): Long, lean and quick, he played big against some big-time teams. He posted 8½ sacks in 2003, got in on a lot of plays, and has peaked the interests of about a dozen teams in the past month.

  • OT Kevin Sampson (Syracuse): Most teams didn't even have a scouting report on him until he ran the 40 in just over five seconds on "pro day." At 6-feet-4¼ and 308 pounds, he has a nice, live body and decent feet.

  • CB Jeff Shoate (San Diego State): He might not have the speed you want, but he played in a conference where they throw the football all over the field, and he's got fundamentally sound cover techniques. He had seven interceptions in 25 starts.

  • WR Derrick Hamilton (Clemson): He kind of got lost among all the high-profile wideouts in this draft, but was very productive, and one of the ACC's premier playmakers. Besides catching 167 passes in three seasons, he averaged 26.8 yards on kickoff returns.

  • LB Cody Spencer (North Texas): He's a rugged inside linebacker with good instincts and a nose for the ball. As a three-year starter, he notched 297 tackles but, just as notable is that he showed some cover skills, intercepting seven passes and defending eight more. He could be an instant contributor on special teams.

  • DE Tommy Kelly (Mississippi State): In 26 starts, he posted only six sacks, but often played at tackle, where his pass-rush opportunities were limited. He has a big body (6-feet-5 ¾ and 299 pounds), and teams are intrigued by the possibility he could grow into a pretty good strong-side end.

  • WR Kendrick Starling (San Jose State): Very raw as a receiver but teams see him as a potentially explosive kickoff returner. He averaged 28.1 yards per runback in 2003. He has nice size (6-feet-1, 193 pounds) and might evolve into a No. 3 receiver in time.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.