By Marc Sluis, Staff Writer
Football is in full swing and thank goodness for that. While the warm summer weather is great it’s hard to watch sports when baseball is the only option, although the Olympics did ease the pain.
Although the NFL Draft is still a long way out I figured it would be a good chance to get the list of my players to watch out there. Ideally this would have been done before the season so you’ll have to trust me when I say I’ve been really high on guys who have been rising lately like Andre Ellington, DeAndre Hopkins and Dee Milliner before they made their mark this season. But to be honest I was just as bullish about Logan Thomas and Knile Davis who have been vastly underwhelming thus far.
Just like stocks on the New York Stock Exchange potential NFL prospects have both perceived and intrinsic value. Sometimes even experts overvalue guys that fizzle out and overlook potential superstars. These are the players I feel bare watching and have great value and therefore the ability to outperform their current projections.
Some I’ve been tracking for a while and some have made the list due to their stellar performances this season and believe are more than just a flash in the pan. In other words, it’s not that I don’t like a guy like Matt Barkley, because I do, but as a projected top 5 pick I feel he is getting the attention he deserves or is even overrated at this point. I’m looking here for guys that are vastly undervalued or top flight prospects that deserve top billing.
Highly Touted For a Reason
Dee Milliner ALABAMA (CB) 6’1 199 – David Amerson started the season as the consensus top cornerback prospect but has struggled a bit early and personally I think he will be or should be converted to safety at the next level based on his skill-set (great ball-hawking skills but sub-par straight-line speed). With that said Milliner may become a top 15 pick and possibly the top corner in the draft. He is fast, has great ball skills and physical in the run game.
Barkevious Mingo LSU (DE/OLB) 6’5 240 – While Jarvis Jones is getting most of the pub, and for good reason, Mingo has similar burst off the snap and straight-line speed potential elite NFL pass rushers need. Both are a bit undersized and need to improve against the run. In Jones’ case his height and short arms limits his ability to significantly bulk up and take on bigger NFL linemen. Unlike Jones, who is only 6’2 242, Mingo has the long frame to maintain separation from blockers and prevent massive offensive tackles from getting into his body and overpowering him. I love both, but think Mingo might be the (slightly) better pro prospect.
Johnathan Hankins OSU (DT) 6’3 320 – The Buckeye defensive lineman is a beast physically: he has a great combination of brute strength and athleticism. He needs to continue to produce this season, but has the strength to anchor and the athleticism to penetrate the backfield. He can impact a game by overpowering offensive linemen and has the potential to be a disruptive force up the middle.
Luke Joeckel TEXAS A&M (OT) 6’6 310 – He’s not Jake Long or Matt Kalil…yet. Joeckel has the size and smooth athleticism needed of an NFL blindside protector. He has an effortless backpedal and should hold up against top level athletes coming off the edge. He isn’t a dominant run blocker and could use a little more muscle to make that happen, but in a pass happy league he can protect your QB, which is priority #1.
Kawann Short PURDUE (DT) 6’3 310– Short has the strength and ability to penetrate that makes him a potential impact NFL player. He has been great for the Boilermakers and is a force inside. Look for him to hold steady at around the 10-25 range on big boards all year.
Tyler Eifert NOTRE DAME (TE) 6’6 251 – Eifert is a lock to be a productive pass catching NFL tight end. He has been productive for the Irish despite iffy quarterback play and has soft hands and ability to make plays with the ball in the air. He is a smooth athlete for his size and a serviceable blocker making him an ideal new era tight end.
Tyler Wilson ARKANSAS (QB) 6’3 220 – His recent concussion and less than stellar TD/INT ratio early this season make this a riskier declaration, but nevertheless Wilson will be among the top players in the entire draft come April. He is probably closer to 6’2 and that is somewhat concerning. But playing against the vaunted SEC and producing 3,683 passing yards with 24 TD and 6 INT in his first full season Wilson showed the live arm and toughness to stand in the pocket and take the hit after making a throw in traffic. He had a 66% completion rate and has good enough mobility to escape pressure and pick a few yards on the run.
Andre Ellington CLEMSON (RB) 5’10 190 – Again, Ellington has been one of my favorite prospects since the summer and is proving why early this season. He has racked up 328 yards with 4 TD (6.2 yards per carry) with 228 of those yards coming at Auburn in the first game of the season. Ellington is an explosive athlete with the ability to burst through holes and break a big play on any touch. He needs to prove that he’s durable enough to hold up for an entire season, but from a talent standpoint he has huge playmaking potential.
Cordarrelle Patterson TENNESSEE (WR) 6’3 205 – Talk about exploding onto the scene, the JUCO stud had an impressive 2 TD performance against NC State in week one. He beat the nation’s top preseason cornerback as he blew by David Amerson on a double move down the field. He is full of potential, with 4.4 type speed and a solid 6’3 frame and he showed he is willing to catch balls over the middle in traffic. Don’t look now but we could be talking about a first or second rounder by the time April rolls around.
Mike Gillislee FLORIDA (RB) 5’11 209 – Like Patterson I had very little knowledge of Gillislee’s skill level prior to the season, but he’s impressed me enough to make the list. He’s not a top tier running back at this point and is not overly physical, but you have to love guys that show excellent speed and the ability to stick their foot in the ground and explode through cuts without losing momentum. As a projected late round or free agent level prospect he could easily outperform that status.
DeAndre Hopkins CLEMSON (WR) 6’1 195 – When you play opposite a freshman sensation like Sammy Watkins, you tend to get overshadowed.Hopkins even looks like Watkins with his tall, thin frame and mop of hair coming out the back of his helmet. He isn’t as freakishly athletic as Watkins, but has above average speed, gets open often and much better hands and ball skills than he’s given credit for.
Le’Veon Bell MICH ST (RB) 6’2 238 – Bell doesn’t possess the speed scouts look for from the running back position but he sure is physical. The bruising Spartan back is a punishing runner who flashed some athleticism spinning and hurdling past Boise St. defenders in week one. Bell is already more than halfway to 1,000 yards rushing with games of 210 and 253 yards on the ground. Bell is making a name for himself early and has established himself as a tough bell-cow back capable of being that old school workhorse the NFL lacks nowadays.
Poised To Rise
Cierre Wood NOTRE DAME (RB) 6’0 216 – Wood has been a little over-looked, partly because he was suspended for the Irish’s first two games, but Wood is a very talented back. He has solid straight-line speed but is sneaky quick and can shoot through holes. He is big enough to run between the tackles with the lateral agility to avoid defenders in tight spaces. A capable receiver who can hold up as a blocker Wood is a well-rounded guy to keep an eye on. I wouldn’t be surprised if he develops into a great NFL back and maybe even a starter at the next level.
Matt Elam FLORIDA (S) 5’10 210 –Elam has all the skills of a great safety. He is fast and can cover a lot of ground very quickly while being athletic enough to cover multiple positions. He has great energy and plays with a hot motor. While he’s not necessarily the most physical safety he flies to the ball-carrier and isn’t afraid to make him pay.
LaMarcus Joyner FSU (S) 5’8 195 – Although undersized, Joyner plays with passion and continually finds the ball with bad intentions. He delivers jarring hits and has terrific speed that allows him to cover an enormous amount of ground. There is a soft spot in my heart for a fast and physical playmaking safety like Joyner.
Dion Jordan OREGON (DE/OLB) 6’7 241 –Jordan is the long and super athletic style edge rusher capable of exploding onto the scene. At his current playing weight he might have trouble against NFL sized linemen, but with some more muscle and some refinement of his pass rushing moves he could be special.
Tony Jefferson OU (S) 5’10 212 – The former running back is explosive and physical making him an athletic safety with the talent and skill-set to make his mark in the pros.
Johnathan Cooper UNC (G/C) 6’3 295 – Cooper is getting some credit as a OG for a Tar Heels squad with as many as three potential draft picks along their offensive line. However, I think he has Pro Bowl potential as a center where his athleticism will benefit him more and relative lack of bulk will be masked and more appropriate for the position. Either way he is a great athlete who more than holds his own as a 295 pound interior lineman.
Shayne Skov STANFORD (LB) 6’3 243 – Skov is simply an animal on the field. He plays with all the defensive cliché’s: he’s aggressive, instinctual, tough, physical and flat-out finds the ball. He is coming off a suspension and missed most of last year with an injury making his current stock much lower than his level of play would dictate. If he can mature his explosive closing speed and physicality will make him an impact player on any defense.
Casey Pachall TCU (QB) 6’5 216 – Pachall may be questioned for his transgressions off the field, but I have very little reason to doubt his abilities on it. He plays with moxie and has great arm strength, height and is a good athlete. He did an impressive job stepping in for the beloved and extremely successful Andy Dalton who is now a Cincinnati Bengal. He threw 27 TD and 6 INT while completing 66.5% of his passes in his first year as the starter (8 TD, 1 INT this year) He is right near the top of all FBS passers in efficiency this year and I just love his game.
Shamarko Thomas SYRACUSE (S) 5’10 208– Thomas has blazing speed, around 4.38, and thrives on delivering punishing hits from his strong safety spot. He will need to improve on his discipline and consistency, but I have believed since last year that he has big upside and starter potential at the next level.
Michael Dyer ARKANSAS BAPTIST (RB) – It would have been almost unthinkable to call Dyer a sleeper only a year ago, but after leaving two programs in less than a year’s time and now looking at a year without football that is exactly what he’ll be. Dyer was special forAuburn showing great power and solid burst and agility to complement it. If he can get his priorities in order he has the talent to go the NFL, but it may be best for him to find a school to play for at least another year.
Chris Gragg ARKANSAS (TE) 6’3 236 – Gragg is a great receiver with the athleticism and speed to get open from the tight end spot. He plays hard, giving decent effort as a blocker, but has solid hands, great energy and very tough to bring down.
Leon McFadden SDSU (CB) 5’10 190 – McFadden is aggressive with great instincts but not well known. He has the skills and swagger to be a legit pro corner whether people know it yet or not.
Keenan Davis IOWA (WR) 6’3 215 – A four star recruit who hasn’t blossomed into a premier player yet as a Hawkeye. Even if he fails to this year don’t count out the strong, tall and physicalDavis as a potential possession receiver at the next level.
Tharold Simon LSU (CB) 6’3 187 – Overshadowed by the flashier corners Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu that he played along side last year Simon has unique size and athleticism to match up with the taller yet faster crop of wide receivers that are now in vogue in the NFL. He will have the defensive backfield all to himself this year and if he shows similar skills as to what displayed last year he could work his way into the top 40 or so picks.
Markus Wheaton OREGON ST (WR) 6’1 182 –Wheaton is extremely fast, but also surprisingly physical for his frame and does not fear contact. The speedy Beaver has the quicks and play-making ability to pair with toughness that makes him a potential sleeper.
Sheldon Richardson MISSOURI (DL) 6’4 295 – Richardson is not your typical run-stuffing defensive tackle. He makes his mark with his tremendous quickness and ability to shoot gaps into the backfield.
Cobi Hamilton ARKANSAS (WR) 6’3 209 – A big target with good speed and body control was a playmaker forArkansas the last two years despite being buried on the depth behind three future NFL wide outs. He could be poised to breakout for a big season.
Quinton Patton LA TECH (WR) 6’2 195 – Patton is without great timed speed (nfldraftscout.com 4.56) but plays much faster and is very crafty in and out of his cuts, which he makes sharply and quickly. A very deceptively athletic player he has the potential to make plays as a return-man, from the slot or even out of the backfield. If he runs better at the combine you might be able to add deep passing threat to that list of skills.
Connor Vernon DUKE (WR) 6’1 200 – Yes he plays for Duke, but Vernon has been very productive earning Second Team All-ACC honors in 2010 and 2011. He lacks elite speed and natural ability, but is crafty, tough and more athletic than he looks.
Demarcus Lawrence Boise St. (DE/OLB) 6’3 242 – Boise St. has been known for trick plays and high powered offenses, but the defense has sent some Broncos to the NFL lately.Lawrence doesn’t have the ideal look of a defensive end, but with long arms and active hands he provided consistent pressure in the BYU backfield last week.
Walter Stewart CINCINNATI (DE/LB) 6’5 249 – Stewart is active and athletic with a knack for getting into the opponent’s backfield. Sure sounds like he’ll have teams interested in his services come April despite his relatively light frame for the defensive end position.
Miguel Maysonet STONY BROOK (RB) 5’10 205 – Not often does a newly minted Division I program like Stony Brook send players to the NFL, but Maysonet produced nicely against in-state opponent (rival?)Syracuse and looks to be a solid pro prospect. He might be a better prospect than his backfield mate Marcus Coker, an Iowa transfer who was second to Montee Ball in rushing in the Big Ten (2010).
Joe Vellano MARYLAND (DL) 6’2 285 – Not a jaw-dropping athlete or outrageously ripped beast, and maybe without a true position but the second generation Terp has a non-stop motor and a nose for the ball.
Jamar Taylor BOISE ST (CB) 5’11 196 – Another Bronco who isn’t widely known or highly rated but has solid ability and gets it done on the physical. He plays with the energy and confidence a cornerback needs to be successful.
Chris Thompson FSU (RB) 5’8 187- His miniature stature limits his role, but we’ve seen smaller guys like Darren Sproles make an impact simply by getting touches. Thompson is probably more Jacquizz Rodgers than Sproles though in terms of potential impact.
Ezekiel Ansah BYU (DL/LB) 6’6 270 – Okay, he’s a super duper deep sleeper but any time a 6’6 football newcomer has the athleticism to play linebacker I take notice.
Don’t Give Up On…Yet
Logan Thomas VT (QB) 6’6 260 – I’m certainly not giving up on a 6’6 262 athletic beast with an incredibly strong arm, but he hasn’t made me look good so far. I had him as my #2 overall prospect for the 2013 NFL Draft and gave him serious consideration for the #1 overall spot this summer. It’s not that I didn’t realize he’s a pure “potential” type guy who won’t reach his ceiling until his second or third year in the NFL.
With that said, I expected him to refine his skills as a passer in the summer and come out looking at least slightly more polished than he has, especially given his solid performance in the bowl game vs.Michigan. I’ve knocked him down to the #3 QB behind Barkley and Wilson, which still makes me a bit higher on him than most, but I still believe in his potential greatness and think he has Roethlisberger-like potential down the road. To live up it such a high billing he will need to be more than a big-bodied thrower and become more of a polished passer.
Knile Davis ARKANSAS (RB) 6’0 226 – Davis has tremendous physical ability, reportedly running a 4.33 40 and 4.04 pro agility test in spring workouts, but is coming off a serious left ankle injury and looks to be not quite 100%. He has great straight-line but runs a bit upright and at 6’1 has a high center of gravity and seems to build up momentum rather than making quick stops and starts. He has the build to hold up between the tackles and the raw speed to be an impact running back as he showed by leading the SEC in rushing in 2010.
Davis is a gifted prospect with tremendous ability but unfortunately his ankle injury forced him to essentially forfeit the 2011 season after a promising year. Anytime a player gains a reputation for being injury prone he really needs bounce back strong and display his prior form. Averaging 3.5 yards per carry and looking less than explosive while the likes of Le’Veon Bell and Andre Ellington are tearing it up doesn’t bode well for his stock.
Margus Hunt SMU (DE) 6’8 275 – An athletic beast, the hulk-like Estonian born Hunt is extremely powerful. His unbelievable physical talent is hard to describe so I’ll just list some of his workout accomplishments: He is 6’8 275 lb, has an 82 inch wingspan, ran a 4.70 in his initial tryout, benched 225 35 times, cleaned 384 pounds, and has a 36 inch vertical. He appeared at #1 on Bruce Feldman’s 2012 College Football Freak List.
With such athletic prowess his undeveloped football skills should improve as he gets more and more experience. That certainly hasn’t happen yet with Hunt really only contributing as a superb special team player blocking a ridiculous 14 kicks. Is he a freak of nature that is simply just not a football player? The jury is still out, but he hasn’t shown the feel for the game needed to turn that raw talent into production at this point.