Kentucky's Wesley Woodyard was the only player to rank among the nation's top 20 solo tacklers each of the past three seasons, but he probably won't get taken until the middle rounds of the NFL Draft.
NFL scouts are concerned Woodyard might not be big enough to play linebacker in the pros, even though his statistics suggest otherwise after he recorded three consecutive 100-tackle seasons for the Wildcats.
"I've never been the biggest person," Woodyard said, "but I've always had the biggest heart."
Woodyard's situation reflects how college production is just one factor considered by NFL organizations as they set up their draft boards.
NFL scouts take one look at Woodyard's "measurables" and wonder if he will measure up at the game's highest level. Woodyard isn't quite 6 feet 1 and weighs 227 pounds. The linebackers in last year's Pro Bowl averaged 250 pounds, with each weighing at least 239.
Woodyard boosted his stock with a big performance in the Senior Bowl, but he still isn't rated among the elite prospects. Frank Coyle of draftinsiders.com rates Woodyard as the No. 7 outside linebacker available and expects him to play the weakside in a 4-3 scheme.
"He's a middle-round guy," Coyle said. "Maybe he could go as early as the third round, but he's more likely a fourth- or fifth-round guy."
Woodyard has grown accustomed to the skepticism.
"That's the reason I play with a chip on my shoulder," he said. "You look at some of the best offensive linemen and best players, they're in the Southeastern Conference. I competed against them four years and did pretty well at the SEC level. It's what makes me be the person I am every day. I want to prove a point on the football field."
Woodyard isn't alone. Many other players with even better college credentials also face uncertain futures. Kansas State wide receiver Jordy Nelson, Colorado linebacker Jordon Dizon and LSU strong safety Craig Steltz are Rivals.com first-team All-Americans from last season who probably won't get drafted until the latter rounds. A fourth first-team selection from last season — Illinois guard Martin O'Donnell — isn't pursuing an NFL career.
Of course, the lack of emphasis on college production also can help certain prospects. Virginia Tech wide receiver Eddie Royal has spent the past few months showing NFL scouts why statistics sometimes don't tell the whole story about a player's potential.
Virginia Tech emphasized the run for most of Royal's career. When the Hokies did throw the ball, they spread it around in a deep receiving corps that also featured Justin Harper and Josh Morgan. That explains why Royal never had more than 497 receiving yards or four touchdown catches in a season at Tech. Royal's lack of overwhelming statistics left him with something to prove as he headed into the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine.
"It was real important just to go and show I can put up the numbers they need, that I can be a productive receiver and that I am a polished receiver," Royal said.
That's exactly what he's done. Royal performed well enough the past few months to prove he's better than his numbers suggest. He also showed he played bigger than his 5-10, 184-pound frame. Coyle now has Royal getting taken with the final pick of the second round.
"No one else has him that high," Coyle acknowledged, "but he's a very well-developed receiver. You can move him around. He can run after the catch. He gets open, and he catches everything. A lot of the smaller guys just work outside the hashes. (California's) DeSean Jackson has Desmond Howard written all over him. Throw him over the middle and he's got alligator arms. Royal will go there and battle with 210-pound safeties and come out winning most of the time. And he's a good returner."
Royal will spend the next week hoping most teams agree with Coyle's analysis instead of simply looking at his college stats.
"I'm expecting to go early, but you never know," Royal said. "Look at Brady Quinn. He expected to go in the top 10, and you saw what happened. You never can tell."
NUMBERS AREN'T EVERYTHING
College production is only one of the factors used by NFL teams as they set up their draft boards. This list shows five productive college players who probably won't get drafted until the later rounds and five more who should go early despite not putting up huge numbers.
HIGH PRODUCTION/LOW PICK
• Hawaii QB Colt Brennan: Brennan's college career may have ended, but he's still facing accusations of being a "system" quarterback. Don't be surprised if he goes undrafted.
• Colorado LB Jordon Dizon: Dizon was the nation's No. 2 tackler last season, but his lack of size (6-0/229) probably means he will go on the second day.
• Louisville WR Harry Douglas: Douglas had more than 2,400 receiving yards in the past two seasons, but his size (5-10/176) is a concern.
• Michigan RB Mike Hart: Michigan's leading career rusher is lost in a crowded running back class and may not get taken before the fifth round.
• LSU SS Craig Steltz: This Thorpe Award finalist could fall into the sixth or seventh round because of a lack of speed.
LOW PRODUCTION/HIGH PICK
• Arizona State SS Josh Barrett: Barrett recorded just 38 tackles during an injury-plagued senior season, but he still could get taken as early as the third round.
• Texas A&M TE Martellus Bennett: Bennett never had more than 538 receiving yards or three touchdowns in a single season while playing in a run-oriented offense, but someone will probably take him in the second round.
• Tennessee TE Brad Cottam: Cottam caught a total of 21 passes during an injury-riddled career, but his 6-8 frame has made him one of the fastest-rising prospects at his position.
• LSU WR Early Doucet: Doucet never had more than 772 receiving yards in a single season while battling injuries and playing on LSU's talent-laden offense, but he could be a first-round selection.
• Penn State CB Justin King: The speedy King picked off just three passes in his three-year career, but he performed well at the Combine and could go in the second round.