2012 NFL Draft: 9 Underrated Prospects Who Teams Should Take a Chance on

Daniel BarnesCorrespondent IIIJanuary 2, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: 9 Underrated Prospects Who Teams Should Take a Chance on

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    Prospect rankings for the draft are going to go haywire in the next few months as things like the Senior Bowl, the combine and pro days come along. Prospects will rise and fall drastically. At this time last year, Von Miller was expected to be a late first-round selection, and he went second overall.

    Here are nine prospects that I think will be the ones who rise by the time the draft rolls around and reward the teams that select them.

1. Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois

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    Whitney Mercilus started getting hot a little over a month ago, but now he's on fire. So why is he on this list? As highly regarded as he is, it isn't enough.

    Mercilus leads the country in sacks with 16 and has 22.5 tackles for loss as well. That's more sacks than Da'Quan Bowers had last year, and ESPN talked him up as a potential No. 1 overall pick.

    Mercilus is an ideal fit for a 4-3 team at defensive end, but he could also play rush linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme as well. Either way, he'll give opposing quarterbacks nightmares.

    Mercilus is maybe the best pure pass-rusher in the draft, but he plays well against the run as well. He's graded as a first-rounder, but I think he will end up being a top-10 pick.

2. Vinny Curry, DE/OLB, Marshall

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    Vinny Curry isn't flying under anyone's radar, but he's still underrated as a late first-round or early second-round selection.

    I think he's worthy of a very high selection. He has 22 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. The season before, he had 12 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss, so he's obviously not just a flash in the pan. In fact, the only thing going against him is the low level of competition he faced at Marshall.

    Once he steps up and plays with the big boys in the Senior Bowl, he'll show NFL scouts that he's every bit as good as the prospects from BCS teams.

3. Danny Trevathan, OLB, Kentucky

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    Two time All-SEC linebacker Danny Trevathan was the leader of a pretty good Kentucky defense.

    For the season, Trevathan accrued 12 tackles for loss, three sacks, four interceptions and 76 total tackles. Perhaps the most impressive statistic, however, is his 67 solo tackles, which has to be some kind of record.

    In my humble opinion, he's the best linebacker in the SEC, and should be an early second-round selection. The only problem he has is that he's a little undersized at 232 lbs., so he'd have to play weakside linebacker for a 4-3 team.

    Even so, there are enough teams with a need at the position for him to go pretty early.

4. Tank Carder, ILB, TCU

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    Tank Carder had a slow start to his season, and with Manti Te'o, Luke Kuechly and Vontaze Burfict getting the lion's share of media attention at the inside linebacker position, Tank Carder got left out in the cold.

    Other than having the second best name of all defensive prospects (first place is Mercilus), Carder had 70 tackles for the season, 45 of them solo. He also had 4.5 tackles for loss, three defended passes and two interceptions, both of which he returned for touchdowns.

    He was the MVP of 2010's Rose Bowl, when TCU upset Wisconsin, and he still has a lot of good tape from both 2010 and 2011, and he has been the unquestioned leader of TCU's defense for the last two years.

    With Te'o returning to school, Carder might rise up into the second round, much higher than the fourth-round grade he has right now.

5. Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt

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    Casey Hayward had five interceptions, nine broken up passes, 64 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss this season.

    He got four of his interceptions in his first four games. After that, opposing quarterbacks wised up and avoided forcing passes in his direction. In 2010, he had six interceptions and 11 broken up passes.

    The only reason Hayward is graded as low as he is is because the cornerback class is ridiculously strong this season. He may only go in the third round, but whatever team picks him up will be greatly rewarded.

6. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington

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    Jermaine Kearse caught a lot of people's attention in his monster performance against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl. He had 198 receiving yards and a touchdown.

    Kearse had fantastic seasons in 2010, catching over 1,000 yards and was promising in 2009 with a lot of big games.

    This season, Kearse has been quieter this season, putting up 699 receiving yards, but a lot of that was probably due to the new Washington quarterback, Keith Price, throwing him the ball instead of Jake Locker.

    If he shows up at the combine and shows good speed and good hands, then he'll climb back up the draft boards.

7. Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati

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    Isaiah Pead has rushed for 1259 yards this season and just over 1,000 the season before. He also rushed for 12 touchdowns and caught three more. He's a powerful runner and would be an every down back for whoever picks him up.

    He is graded as about a fourth-round pick, but he had great games against Vanderbilt in Cincinnati's Liberty Bowl win, rushing for 149 yards and a touchdown. For comparison, Trent Richardson, the consensus No. 1 running back in the country, only rushed for 107 against the Commodores. Marcus Lattimore didn't even break 100 yards against Vandy.

    He also had a monster game against Tennessee, rushing for 155 yards. Tennessee held Richardson to just 76 yards and snapped his streak of 100-yard games.

    Now he wasn't consistently great all season, but he had flashes of phenomenal ability and could reward the team that ends up picking him up.

8. Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin

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    Wisconsin pumps out great offensive linemen the way that USC pumps out overrated quarterbacks. Wagner is the latest in that line. Russel Wilson almost never gets sacked with Wagner watching out for him, and Wagner guarding his blind side is a big part of that.

    You may have also heard of Wisconsin's running game; it's pretty good. Behind Wisconsin's stellar offensive line, Montee Ball rushed for 1759 yards and a mind-boggling 32 touchdowns.

    The only player that upstaged him consistently was Illinois phenom Whitney Mercilus, and if you didn't read that prior slide about him, he's pretty good.

    Wagner won't be as highly regarded as former teammate Gabe Carimi was last season, but he's still a great option for teams looking for a tackle.

9. Scott Wedige, C, NIU

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    Scott Wedige was named an All MAC player last season and a second team All-American just a couple of weeks ago. That speaks to his talent.

    However, he is still graded as about a third- or fourth-round pick. While guys like Peter Konz, Michael Brewster, Will Vlachos and Ben Jones may have faced tougher defenses, Wedige has been a superb blocker all season.

    He's also very fast for a guy his size (314 lbs.) and gets to the second level of defenses quickly.

    If he had a good showing in the Senior Bowl and the combine, he might leapfrog a few of those other center prospects and jump into the early third or late second round.