The 2013 NFL Draft is just under a month away. Many of the top prospects have been discussed and debated to the nth degree, so instead of discussing them some more, let’s take a look at some players who have flown under the radar so far. Several of these players have household names amongst the most avid of the draft community, but they haven’t made major headlines yet, and likely won’t cause a stir between now and April 25th.
All of these players will likely be drafted in the third round or later, though of course there is always the possibility of a team falling for them earlier. Last year, you would have been hard-pressed to find any draftnik or scouting website that listed Tavon Wilson in their top 300 prospects available, and the New England Patriots took him in the second round. And it worked out pretty well. So anything can happen. But as of the end of March, these guys are all projected as late second day and third day picks.
In alphabetical order:
DE David Bass - 6’4”, 262 lbs - Missouri Western State
One of the most productive college pass-rushers, Bass accumulated 39.5 sacks and 56 tackles for a loss in 50 career games. In terms of size and playing style, he compares to Aldon Smith. His lack of experience against top competition will hurt his draft stock a little bit, but he flashed at the Senior Bowl and had a strong Combine.
DE Armonty Bryant - 6’4”, 263 lbs - East Central Oklahoma
Another small school defensive end, Bryant is thought by some to be the most well-rounded defensive end in the draft. He has fantastic length (35 ¾” arms) and had good production in his last two years of college (31.5 tackles for a loss and 16.5 sacks). He was dismissed from Abilene Christan, likely because of grades, and he was arrested for selling marijuana to an undercover police officer at practice while at East Central. However, his issues are likely related to immaturity more than poor character, and his dynamic ability as an explosive pass rusher and savage run defender will probably keep him in the top four rounds of the draft.
DE/OLB Michael Buchanan - 6’6”, 255 lbs - Illinois
When scouting Whitney Mercilus last year, Buchanan often flashed more than his older counterpart. He’s played both Vic Koennig’s Bandit position (which produced Demarcus Ware and Gaines Adams) and the Leo position recently popularized by the Seattle Seahawks. He’s a prototypical Leo, with the length and agility to be an impact pass rusher. He plays with a little bit too much finesse and had a character incident last season, but his coach has raved about his leadership this season. He’s a bit of a wild card, as certain teams may see him as a perfect fit for their defense and thus be willing to draft him even earlier than the third round.
TE Justice Cunningham - 6’3”, 258 lbs - South Carolina
One of my personal favorite prospects in the draft, Cunningham hasn’t been nearly as hyped as he deserves. He never stuffed the stat sheet, mostly because he was used a lot as a blocker in South Carolina’s offense. He was regularly asked to single-block defensive ends on both the left and right edges, and he’s a savage and instinctive lead blocker. When he was asked to run routes, he ran them with precision, and flashed outstanding athleticism on several plays. He tracks the ball well over his shoulder, and has better body control than most players his size. He may not even be drafted, but I’m confident he’ll never be worse than a solid second tight end in the NFL.
CB Will Davis - 5’11”, 186 lbs - Utah State
This cornerback class is pretty top-heavy, but there are some great mid and late-round options who will start as rookies. Davis is one of them. He’s a fantastic press corner with good length and great explosiveness. He only started for one year at Utah State and only has 18 total starts at the FBS level, so he’s still pretty raw. But his ability to press on the outside and break on the ball will probably earn him a third or fourth-round grade with most teams.
OT Chris Faulk - 6’6”, 335 lbs - LSU
Faulk was a fairly highly-touted prospect entering his junior year in 2012. However, after tearing his ACL in practice after the season opener, he missed nearly all of the 2012 season, and will enter the draft with only one full year and two games as a starter. He has the length NFL teams look for in offensive tackles, and he has unexpected agility for a player of his weight. However, the injury concerns and his relative inexperience will drive him down the board a bit. If he can keep his weight contained, prove his 2011 performance is just the surface of his ability, and prove he can stick on the outside, he could be a potential starting left tackle who lasts into the mid-rounds.
WR Chris Harper - 6’1”, 229 lbs - Kansas State
While Harper doesn’t possess elite speed, he is a strong, physical receiver with good leaping ability and the body control and strong hands to win jump ball battles. He’s an excellent blocking wide receiver, having played in the run-heavy Kansas State offense. He hasn’t had much experience with a good throwing quarterback, as he was stuck with Colin Klein in college. He can make a living in the NFL as an Anquan Boldin-type of big, reliable possession receiver.
WR/TE Mark Harrison - 6’3”, 230 lbs - Rutgers
Harrison is actually pretty similar to Harper. They’re both big possession receivers who lack elite speed but make up for it with their blocking prowess. Harrison was an underrated deep threat during his sophomore and junior years (averaging over 18 yards per catch). In 2012, young phenom Brandon Coleman took over the deep threat duties, and Harrison worked more in the intermediate levels, still averaging over 13 yards per catch. I think he could actually be a pretty intriguing tight end convert. He would never be a strong inline tight end, but he could be a threat as a move tight end in the Aaron Hernandez mold.
LB DeVonte Holloman - 6’2”, 242 lbs - South Carolina
A former safety, Holloman was one of the better coverage linebackers in the nation. During his senior year, he played the Spur, a hybrid safety/linebacker role that plays a joker role on the defense, sometimes dropping into coverage and sometimes crashing the line of scrimmage to stop the run. He’s not an athletic freak, but he makes up for it with incredible instincts and play recognition. He has some character red flags, including an arrest and subsequent suspension because of a DUI. He may not be a plug-and-play starter in the NFL, but his ability has a hybrid player will appeal to NFL teams that are moving more and more to hybrid defenses to combat athletic tight ends and running quarterbacks.
DT Montori Hughes - 6’4”, 329 lbs - Tennessee-Martin
Hughes is a massive man, with better movement skills than defensive tackles 20 pounds lighter. If he can keep out of trouble, he’ll be a long-term starter who excels at stopping the run and collapsing the interior of the pocket. Unfortunately, he’s been plagued by academic suspensions and dismissals that led him to finish his senior year at UTM. NFL teams will need to assure themselves that his troubled past is indeed past.
DT Chris Jones - 6’2”, 302 lbs - Bowling Green
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Chris Jones. He’s an extremely high character player who was a team captain and named MAC defensive player of the year in 2012. He’s slightly undersized for a 4-3 defensive tackle and a little short for a 3-4 defensive end, but with his outstanding college production, an NFL team will target him in the third or fourth round as a potential 4-3 three-technique in the mold of Henry Melton or Geno Atkins.
FB Kyle Juszczyk - 6’1”, 248 lbs - Harvard
Juszczyk is an intriguing prospect. Fullbacks don’t get very high priority on draft day, so his absolute ceiling is probably the fourth round, but he should have a long career as an H-back. He lined up in the backfield, as a lead blocker and as a ballcarrier, and inline and in the slot as a tight end. He’s a good lead blocker (against middling competition), and he’s a great receiver with soft hands and some explosiveness (37” vertical and 10’07” broad jump).
S Brendan Melanophy - 6’1”, 209 lbs - Fordham
Melanophy might not even come up when most draftniks are discussing under-the-radar players. That’s how far under the radar he’s flying. Known as “White Lightning,” Melanophy dominated his level of competition, playing strong safety and free safety. He’s experienced in single-deep and two-deep coverage, and he played in the box a lot too. He had a strong Pro Day and was massively popular in the locker room and with the fanbase. He may not even be drafted, and his ceiling is probably the sixth round.
TE Ryan Otten - 6’5”, 230 lbs - San Jose State
Otten was one of the most productive tight ends in the country, finishing 2012 with 52 catches for 739 yards and five touchdowns. His slender frame prevents him from being a very effective blocker, but he gives great effort and could be coached to use his effort and length to his advantage. As a receiver, he knows how to use his length and strong hands to be a threat over the middle of the field, and he’s more physical than his frame would indicate. He didn’t perform at the Combine at all because of a staph infection from a cut he suffered at the Senior Bowl. He came terrifyingly near death because of it, so he’ll need to prove that he’s fully recovered. But given that he’s likely to be drafted no earlier than the fourth round, he could prove a steal in a deep tight end class.
WR Da’Rick Rogers - 6’2”, 217 lbs - Tennessee Tech
On pure talent, Rogers may be the best wide receiver in the draft. As a sophomore with Tennessee, filling in for the injured Justin Hunter, he had 67 catches for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s powerful, quick, and strong, able to stretch the field and win jump ball battles against the best of the SEC. However, he had major issues with the coaches at Tennessee, and was kicked off the team after failing drug tests. He destroyed the Ohio Valley Conference to the tune of 78 catches for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he had an eye-popping Combine: 4.52 forty, 4.06 short shuttle, 6.71 three-cone, 11’ broad jump, and 39.5” vertical. His sheer talent and athleticism will probably keep him in the top three rounds, but he may last into the third.
OLB Caleb Schreibeis - 6’3”, 255 lbs - Montana State
Schreibeis is another player who may not be drafted, but he’ll definitely be a priority undrafted free agent, especially for teams like Seattle, Jacksonville, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Dallas who will be running hybrid 3-4/4-3 defenses. On film, he looks remarkably like Clay Matthews, and not just because he’s a white outside linebacker. He has the same burst and tenacity pursuing the quarterback. As a senior in 2012, he set a school record with eight forced fumbles, to go along with 12.5 sacks, 15 tackles for a loss, and seven quarterback hurries.
DE/OLB Quanterus Smith - 6’5”, 255 lbs - Western Kentucky
Smith is perhaps the best pass rusher in the draft, and would be a lock for the top 40 if he hadn’t torn his ACL in the tenth game of the 2012 season. Despite only playing ten games, he still ended up with 12.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for a loss (33 sackes and 41 tackles for a loss in his college career). He has length, explosiveness, flexibility, and power, and is a force against the run. He moved inside on passing downs and still impacted the play. Unfortunately, his knee injury means he likely won’t contribute in 2013 at all, meaning his draft ceiling (apart from an exceptionally optimistic team) is probably the third round.
LB Phillip Steward - 6’0”, 223 lbs - Houston
Steward is the best coverage linebacker in college, and had a ridiculously statsheet-stuffing senior year, totalling 19.5 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, three passes defensed, ten quarterback hurries, and five forced fumbles. He’s a little bit undersized for an NFL linebacker, but with the recent success of players like Lavonte David, and the advance of hybrid defenses, some NFL team will find a place for him. He can make an impact as a special teams player initially, and should earn a spot as a 4-3 weakside linebacker or 3-4 inside linebacker. He probably won’t be drafted until at least the fifth round.
Walter Stewart - 6’4”, 246 lbs - Cincinnati
Stewart was on a track to be a sure draft pick, perhaps even cracking the first round. He has length and speed, and he used his experience as a linebacker to supplement his play as a defensive end, racking up sacks, tackles, and passes defensed. Then he suffered a neck injury and was diagnosed with a congenital spinal abnormality: he’s missing the posterior C1 arch in his neck. Doctors initially advised him to retire from football, but after receiving some second and third opinions, he decided to enter the draft. Because he’s lived with the condition his whole life and never suffered a prior injury, it’s possible he isn’t any more at risk than another player. Mike Mayock tweeted recently that he’d be a top ten pick if he was cleared medically. While I’m not quite that high on him, I think he’ll likely be taken before the end of the fourth round.
Cooper Taylor - 6’4”, 229 lbs - Richmond
Taylor is another talented player with great upside--and bizarre medical risk. After suffering from an alarmingly high heartbeat in practice, he was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. He had surgery to correct an electrical issue in his heart, and is supposedly completely healthy now. NFL teams will want to clear him with their own physicians, but if he’s cleared, he could go as high as the fourth round, and definitely won’t survive the sixth. He’s huge for a safety, as big as many linebackers, but he still possesses good coverage ability. He impressed with his range and instincts at the Senior Bowl, and projects as huge, in-the-box enforcer who can still be trusted in single-deep coverage, much like Kam Chancellor of the Seattle Seahawks.