The college football season is coming to a close, NFL Draft prospects are declaring and more will certainly announce their intentions after their team's bowl game. After presenting my "Five Most Overrated NFL Draft Prospects", I've put together five players who are the most underrated in this class. Some names may surprise you, and hopefully you see a name and watch him for your own take.
5. Teddy Bridgewater Quarterback, Louisville
Yes, the player who is my top prospect in the entire 2014 NFL Draft Class and who I consider to be an elite quarterback prospect is underrated. I loved Bridgewater at the end of last season, after spending a lot of time watching him I felt like he was an elite prospect. By the midway point of the 2013 season he was the consensus number one pick, but things have started to change recently.
We are now seeing more draftniks come out with their rankings and have Carr as the top quarterback prospect, this followed by reports by multiple NFL insiders that Bridgewater isn’t really a top-10 talent for teams but because of need he is pushed up the board. While you have to know how to sort through the smoke being pushed out by teams, a trend is starting to develop.
Bridgewater has been at the top for a while now and some people are beginning to nitpick, finding little things to use as to why he isn’t as great as believed. You are seeing more things brought up about his arm strength, playing against weak competition, and just not possessing any extraordinary skill. I’m all for everyone having their own opinion, but Bridgewater is now being overly critiqued and the real positives are ignored.
Yes, Bridgewater doesn’t have the arm strength of Carr, it would be crazy to say he is close to having the same deep power that Carr offers.
But as we continue to see arm strength isn’t everything, just because you can throw it 70 yards down the field, it doesn’t mean you will find success in the NFL.
I also understand the criticism of Bridgewater’s frame, he has nice height at 6’3” but he is maybe 200 pounds and will need to focus a lot of his time training for the draft and focusing on getting up to around 220 pounds.
Bridgewater needs to improve his touch on the deep ball, he tends to overthrow on passes deep down the field and will need to fix this issue in order to really become a great quarterback. The strength of schedule argument for me isn’t valid. When you watch the throws he makes, the movement in the pocket and just the mastership he has on the field, it doesn’t matter who he is playing.
The biggest aspects of Bridgewater’s game that isn’t being recognized are things like reading the defense, making adjustments at the line, navigating through pressure like a technician and his ability to throw on the run.
No matter how much pressure is in his face, Bridgewater keeps his eyes down field looking towards his wide receivers and progressing through his reads. He has the athleticism to move around in the pocket and roll outside to avoid pressure, rolling to the right or left side he can deliver a perfect strike while on the run. When you combine this with the ability to read the defense and make adjustments at the line, move the defense around with his eyes and get his wide receivers open.
These are the rare gifts that take years for a quarterback to develop and Bridgewater already has them as a junior in college. He is not the perfect prospect but you really have to nitpick to find the negatives like his touch deep down the field. As long as he declares he is no doubt the best prospect in this class for me who can start day one and help a team like the Texans to the playoffs.
4. Marqise Lee Wide Receiver, USC
I wrote about Lee earlier this week in “The Curious Case of Marqise Lee” in that article, I wrote about Lee’s fall from the top this season, going from a potential top-10 selection to being outside the first round for some.
It has gotten to a point where people who were proclaiming Lee was “overrated” early in the year have now helped push Lee’s stock so far down that he has become underrated.
Yes, there are no doubt issues with Lee’s hands and he drops too many passes.
It is a major issue and the biggest factor when determining the success of an NFL wide receiver.
In order for a player to be able to fix their issues at the next level they have to want it more than anything in the world, focusing on improving their weak points so they can become a better player is key.
It comes down to work ethic and when you hear coaches speak about Lee; he has shown them exactly that. Lee is a game changer, while his 40-time may only say 4.5, he is the type of player who just needs a little bit of space to torch the defense for an 80-yard touchdown.
Lee showed that ability in 2012 with Matt Barkley at quarterback but because of nagging knee and shoulder problems this season that he has battled through plus poor quarterback play, Lee hasn’t come close to living up to expectations. Lee’s athleticism is exceptional but what makes him a special talent is his surprising physicality and toughness. Lee is more than worthy of a top-20 selection even in a loaded 2014 draft class, and will rise back up the boards after the NFL Scouting Combine.
3. David Fales Quarterback, San Jose State
As the NFL Draft class continues to fluctuate, one position that has been through the most shakeup and rotating is the quarterback position.
Marcus Mariota, Bryce Petty returned to school, while Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray tore their ACL’s at the end of the season. This has left draft writers to go back to the quarterback tape of some of the other guys and one name that has stood out is Fales.
Now if you go back to July, you would actually see Fales in the first round of plenty of early mock drafts and positional rankings. He was coming off a strong year and while he was knocked for his arm strength, many saw him as someone you could plug into a west coast offense and he would thrive.
Then the 2013 season happened and for a variety of reasons, Fales fell down the boards and his name was forgotten. But after going back and watching Fales, I came away impressed by his 2013 performance and pushed him right back up the quarterback rankings.
The belief was before the year that Fales had a weak arm; he didn’t put enough zip on the ball and just chucked it down field instead of placing it. But I didn’t see that nearly as much this year.
I saw a quarterback who could throw the ball deep down the field and deliver the ball right over the cornerback’s shoulder into his wide receiver’s hands.
He does a nice job moving around in the pocket progressing through his reads before he steps up and delivers the ball in the right spot, especially on back shoulder throws. Surprisingly where Fales ran into some issues comes on short throws, at times you would see him overthrow the running back or wide receiver on a screen and cost his team yards.
One of the bigger issues with him is reacting to pressure and trying to force throws when things break down. Fales doesn’t have ideal arm strength and he needs to continue to show improvement setting his feet and delivering his passes on the spot, but he is more than just a WCO-only quarterback. He may not fit for the Arizona Cardinals or Cleveland Browns, but his arm nearly isn’t as weak as initially thought and with a strong Senior Bowl can emerge as a second-round pick.
2. DeVante Parker Wide Receiver, Louisville
Another Louisville Cardinal finds his way on to my underrated draft prospects list and Parker is more than deserving. Parker has been overshadowed this year in a deep wide receiver class that continues to grow and because Bridgewater on his quarterback.
But when you watch some of the throws Bridgewater makes to Parker and the chemistry between the pair, you realize there is a lot more talent in Parker than people give him credit for.
Parker offers ideal size at his position at 6’3” and 209 pounds; he has consistently shown the ability to go up and make contested catches.
Countless times in the past two seasons inside the red zone when Bridgewater is looking for a sure touchdown, he will throw it up high in the end zone to Parker just to where Parker can pull it down in bounds.
But Parker isn’t just a red zone threat, he has the speed and quick feet to create separation from the cornerback and stretch the field and create big plays.
When he gets in open space, he does a nice job using cut moves to avoid tackles and get to the outside to pick up more yards. Parker has shown a little more consistency this year but still needs to cut down on the drops and eliminate the body catches. But with his size, speed and skills in the red zone, Parker proves he is a gifted wide receiver and worthy of being a second-round pick.
1. Billy Turner Offensive Tackle, North Dakota State
I only recently became aware of Turner while scouring through some games and hearing his name tossed out by a few draftniks.
I watched him briefly at first getting a general idea for his style, strengths and weaknesses, but spent a lot of time watching him the past two days. While he may come from a small school, Turner is quickly becoming one of the biggest risers for me in this class.
It doesn’t take long to realize just how mean, physical and nasty Turner is on the football field. There is nothing he loves more than to just pancake a guy into the ground or shove him five yards down the field.
You see his aggressiveness and attitude in the running game where he just bullies his opponent down, even with sloppy technique. Not only does Turner have a mean streak in him, but for a guy who is 6’6” and 314 pounds, he moves pretty quickly, and has the feet to slide in pass protection against faster edge rushers.
Right now Turner is a project in pass protection, he has fared well in college because of his athleticism and size, but will be picked apart by defensive linemen with his lapses in hand placement, movement and pad level.
Turner will need to spend time with NFL coaches on getting his pads lower and his hands higher. Too often in games you will see Turner up high while his hands are near his waist, until he thrusts them forward into the defender.
While he may do this to get a more powerful punch, they key to being successful is creating first contact and being the first player to establish position.
If Turner can work on getting his shoulder pads lower and keeping his hands up near his chest, it will go a long way in helping him improve in pass protection. Before the year, not many have heard of Billy Turner, but now he has turned into one of risers this season.