2012 NFL Draft: 11 Potential Late-Rounders That Could Become Stars
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In every NFL draft, there are always multiple players that are chosen in the later rounds that go on to flourish at the professional level, such as Tom Brady in 2000 (sixth round, 200th overall), Jared Allen in 2004 (fourth round, 126th overall) and Cortland Finnegan in 2006 (seventh round, 215th overall).
Not to mention, there's also multiple players that go on to have solid careers that didn't even get drafted at all—such as Pittsburgh's James Harrison, New York's Victor Cruz, San Diego's Antonio Gates and New England's Brian Waters.
With that being said, there are likely going to be a few players chosen in the late rounds of the 2012 NFL draft that will become serviceable NFL players.
As of right now, it is a complete crap-shoot as to where players will be selected, as the draft isn't for another four months and many players' stocks will rise and fall. We already practically know where players such as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Matt Kalil will be selected, but once you get past the first round, it is a complete guess.
Yesterday, I took it upon myself to make a complete seven-round mock draft, in hopes of getting a few selections right, and well, just trying to fill the boredom that swarmed me.
During this slideshow, I will give my potential late-round sleepers that could become eventual stars in the NFL, whether it be this year or five years from now.
NOTE: By "late-round selections," I consider it to be from the fifth-round to seventh-round selections
WR Jarrett Boykin, Virginia Tech
Boykin has been one of the best wide receivers in the NCAA over the last few years
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My Mock Draft Projection: Seventh Round, 200th Overall (Miami Dolphins)
CBS Sports' Projection: 228th overall prospect (28th ranked receiver)
Although his stats haven't shown it, Boykin has been a rather productive receiver for the Hokies over the last four seasons. Standing at 6'2", Boykin could be considered to be an average-height receiver, but he has all the tools to become a threat at the professional level.
Boykin is known to be a very athletic receiver with great hands and ball control. He knows how to utilize his body and of course, to go up and catch the football. He is thought to be a possession receiver, which could help most NFL teams that lack an aerial attack.
For Frank Beamer's squad, the receiver has caught a total of 180 passes for 2,854 yards and 18 touchdowns over the last four seasons. However, the Hokies are primarily known for running the ball instead of passing, so Boykin's stats should look a little better.
Personally, I don't believe he will ever be a legitimate No. 1 receiver in the NFL, but he could possibly flourish as a No. 2 option or in the slot. If he were in fact drafted by the Dolphins, he could maybe go as high as the No. 3 receiver on the depth chart, behind Davone Bess and of course, Brandon Marshall.
If given a shot, look for Boykin to become a very valuable asset to a team.
RB Terrance Ganaway, Baylor
Ganaway (24) helped lead the Bears to a shootout victory over Washington in the Alamo Bowl
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My Mock Draft Projection: Seventh Round, 193rd Overall (Indianapolis Colts)
CBS Sports' Projection: 191th Overall Prospect (19th Running Back)
Over the 2011 season, Ganaway was Robert Griffin III's little helper, as he also helped Griffin III become the first Baylor player to ever win the Heisman Trophy.
He was the featured back for the Bears this season for the first time in his collegiate career, and he didn't disappoint. Ganaway, along with Griffin III, led the Bears to a 67-56 shootout victory over the Washington Huskies in the Alamo Bowl a few weeks ago.
Ganaway was named the game's most valuable player, as he carried the ball 21 times for 200 yards and an astounding five touchdowns. It was his second 200-yard effort in three games, as he also carried the ball 42 times for 246 yards and two touchdowns in Baylor's 66-42 victory over Texas Tech on Nov. 26.
Although it was his first season as the team's starting running back, Ganaway proved that he belonged in a group of solid running backs that included Alabama's Trent Richardson, Virginia Tech's David Wilson, Wisconsin's Montee Ball, Oregon's LaMichael James and Washington's Chris Polk.
In 2011, Ganaway set school records for rushing yards (1,547), rushing touchdowns (21), rushing yards per game average (119) and 200-yard games (three).
The 240-pound running back may not be lightning fast, but he could become a bruising running back in the NFL. He could also take on a role such as Brandon Jacobs has in New York, as a team's big running back that could run up the middle.
ILB Mychal Kendricks, California
Kendricks was by far the team's best defensive player this season
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My Mock Draft Projection: Sixth Round, 182nd Overall (Houston Texans)
CBS Sports' Projection: 154th Overall Prospect (Seventh Inside Linebacker)
Although it was a disappointing season for California, Kendricks showed that he was the team's best player on both sides of the ball.
Named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Kendricks was all over the place this season. The linebacker registered 98 total tackles, three sacks and two interceptions for the Golden Bears, including a 10-tackle effort in their loss to Texas in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl. It was also his fifth game of the season in which he registered at least 10 total tackles.
However, Kendricks is just 5'11", which is thought to be a little short for an inside linebacker. But if there's one thing the NFL has showed us over the last few decades, it's that the little guys can play, too (Bob Sanders, Brian Mitchell, etc.)
Kendricks has all the tools to become a star at inside linebacker and could flourish in the 3-4 defense, such as the one Wade Phillips runs in Houston. However, the Texans seem to be stacked at linebacker (Mario Williams, Brian Cushing, Demeco Ryans and Brooks Reed), so if Kendricks can have a good preseason, he could work his way into the Texans' starting rotation—or any other team's rotation for that matter.
Over the next few seasons, listen for Kendricks' name on ESPN and look for his name on the Pro Bowl roster.
TE Brian Linthicum, Michigan State
Linthicum (88) was one of Kirk Cousins' main options this season
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My Mock Draft Projection: Fifth Round, 151st Overall (Detroit Lions)
CBS Sports' Projection: 134th Overall Prospect (Sixth Tight End)
With a corps that already featured B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin, many didn't think that Linthicum would be one of the main go-to guys for the Spartans. However, that wasn't the case, as he was practically quarterback Kirk Cousins' main option and safety blanket this season, especially in their 33-30 three-overtime victory over Georgia in the Outback Bowl, as he caught seven passes for 115 yards.
Although his stats may not pop off the page like most players (31 receptions, 364 yards, zero touchdowns), Linthicum could reverse that in the NFL.
I look for Linthicum to become another version of Carolina's Greg Olsen or Houston's Owen Daniels—except Linthicum is a solid run-blocker and he could possibly be utilized more in that role than in the passing game. He is 6'5" and weighs 243 pounds, which means he could be a great asset in the running game, as he is a very bulky player.
Linthicum also possesses great hands, as he rarely drops passes and catches nearly every pass that comes his way.
I also think he is one of the most NFL-ready players in the draft, as he is very smart and could easily go over a team's playbook.
However, if he were drafted by Detroit, he may not see much playing time as he would likely be the third tight end on the depth chart behind Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. But if he shows he can contribute, he could work his way up to the team's No. 2 tight end.
QB Austin Davis, Southern Mississippi
Davis spoiled the Houston Cougars' chances at a BCS berth with their upset in the C-USA Championship Game
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My Mock Draft Projection: Fifth Round, 145th Overall (Dallas Cowboys)
CBS Sports' Projection: 287th Overall Prospect (17th Quarterback)
Although his game isn't flashy, Davis most definitely got the job done for the Golden Eagles this season, especially in the C-USA Championship Game, as his team ruined the Houston Cougars' chances at a BCS berth.
I believe that his stock skyrocketed with that brilliant game and put him ahead of Boise State's Kellen Moore and Houston's record-breaking quarterback Case Keenum on the draft board.
There is no doubt that Davis would be a developmental quarterback, but he could become a solid back-up, especially if he's behind a veteran such as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers or Tony Romo (in this case). It is undoubtedly true that the Cowboys need an insurance option behind Romo, as Jon Kitna will likely not be with the team next season and Stephen McGee has not progressed at all since arriving in the NFL a few years ago.
Davis has a strong arm and is a very accurate passer. Not to mention, he also possesses a good running game, as he ran for 1,355 yards and 25 touchdowns over his collegiate career. Having those qualities definitely benefits the quarterback, as he is a dual threat to opposing defenses.
Over his career at Southern Mississippi, Davis threw for 10,727 yards, along with 81 touchdowns, compared to just 27 interceptions.
Davis has the capabilities to become a good player in the NFL—it just depends on who is tutoring him throughout his career.
DT Mike Martin, Michigan
Martin (68) is one of the biggest prospects in this year's draft
Leon Halip/Getty Images
My Mock Draft Projection: Fifth Round, 131st Overall (Minnesota Vikings)
CBS Sports' Projection: 135th Overall Prospect (14th Defensive Tackle)
Martin was arguably the Wolverines' best defensive player this season, as he was a brute force in the middle for Brady Hoke's Michigan squad.
Martin provides a big body in the middle, as he stands at 6'2" and weighs a shade over 300 pounds. He is very fast for a player of his stature, which is quite a shock given his weight. Over his collegiate career, he registered nine sacks in his four years.
He was also a solid tackler, as he tallied 171 total tackles in that span, including a career-high 64 tackles this season.
Martin is very consistent when it comes to winning one-on-one matchups because of his ability to overpower opposing offensive linemen. He is also able to constantly get to the quarterback and force them to make bad decisions, whether it be a sack or forcing a throw into coverage.
His best attribute may come in the running game, as he is a very powerful run-stuffer. His big body forces him to bother centers and guards and he is consistently able to get into the running lanes.
In this case, Martin would be a very valuable pick for the Vikings because of Kevin Williams' age, who is Minnesota's current starting defensive tackle. As he is getting up there in age, the Vikings should be looking into finding a replacement at that position and Martin could definitely fill that void. Although he is a couple of inches shorter than Williams, they are about the same weight and it wouldn't be much of a change between the two.
Martin may not become a great player in a 3-4 scheme or as a nose tackle, but he could flourish in a 4-3 scheme.
WR Juron Criner, Arizona
Criner has been one of the best receivers in the NCAA over the past two seasons
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
My Mock Draft Projection: Sixth Round, 162nd Overall (Indianapolis Colts)
CBS Sports' Projection: 308th Overall Prospect (34th Wide Receiver)
Criner is one of the most intriguing prospects in this year's draft, in my opinion. He has all the tools in becoming a solid NFL wide receiver, as he stands at 6'4" and weights 215 pounds. Personally, he reminds me of Detroit's Calvin Johnson and that is a pretty good comparison, as Johnson is arguably the NFL's best wide receiver at the moment.
I believe his best attribute is his combination of speed and power. With his size, he is able to beat an opposing cornerback for the ball most of the time. His 6'4" stature is taller than most, if not all cornerbacks which gives him a hefty advantage when it comes to downfield targets.
Criner may not be the best route-runner in the world, but he makes up for that fault with his size and his ability to just "go up and get it", which is something Calvin Johnson is very familiar with.
He also has great hand-eye coordination and rarely drops passes, which is a necessity in the NFL—Chicago's Roy Williams is notorious for dropping passes and could be out of the NFL next season because of that fault.
The receiver was one of the best in college football last season, as he registered 82 receptions for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns—he also earned First-Team All Pac-10 honors last season for his efforts.
Before this season started, it was thought that Criner could miss the entire season due to a serious medical condition, but he returned and it looked like he didn't miss a beat. This season, Criner caught 75 passes for 956 yards and 11 touchdowns for the second straight season.
I think Criner has the abilities to become a legitimate receiver in the NFL, and could eventually become a team's No. 1 option. If given the opportunity, he could become a solid threat in the NFL and in this case, he could become a contributor for the Colts because of the possibility of Reggie Wayne's departure.
DE Jake Bequette, Arkansas
Bequette (91) is a solid pass-rusher and could become a star if he stays healthy
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
My Mock Draft Projection: Fifth Round, 136th Overall (Carolina Panthers)
CBS Sports' Projection: 170th Overall Prospect (13th Defensive End)
Over the last couple of seasons, Bequette has been one of the best defensive players in the SEC, perhaps the best conference in college football—and that is saying something. Bequette, the defensive anchor for the Razorbacks, has been their best pass-rusher the last few seasons and he could become a star in the NFL if he stays healthy.
Bequette missed three games earlier this season, including the Alabama game, because of a nagging hamstring injury, and if he could keep that under control, he may become a powerhouse on the defensive side of the ball.
In this scenario, I have Bequette being selected by the Panthers in the fifth round, joining former SEC alumnus Charles Johnson (Georgia), Eric Norwood (South Carolina) and Greg Hardy (Ole Miss) on the defensive front. Bequette could eventually fight his way into the starting lineup, as the Panthers are trying to revamp their defense, which was towards the bottom of the league against the run and the passing game.
Bequette could help the Panthers in both of those categories, especially the running game, as he racked up eight sacks this year after playing just nine games (Arkansas still has one game to play against Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl).
I believe that Bequette could become a very valuable defensive end in the NFL if utilized correctly. It is also entirely possible that the Panthers could line up at linebacker on some plays, much like Mario Williams of the Texans, because of his build and speed.
Watch for Bequette to become a solid pass-rusher over the next few seasons.
OLB Sammy Brown, Houston
Brown was perhaps the Cougars' best defensive player this season
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My Mock Draft Projection: Seventh Round, 216th Overall (New York Giants)
CBS Sports' Projection: 227th Overall Prospect (22nd Outside Linebacker)
Brown was the anchor of the Cougars' defense this season, helping lead the team to a 30-14 victory over Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl a couple of days ago. He was also one of the best outside linebackers in all of college football this season, totaling 89 tackles and 13.5 sacks for Houston.
Standing at 6'3", Brown is considered tall for a linebacker and is one of the fastest in college football. He is an outstanding pass-rushing linebacker and has drawn comparisons to the likes of Dallas' DeMarcus Ware.
In this case, the Giants are in drastic need of a linebacker and Brown would fit into the system fairly well.
Teaming with the likes of Mathias Kiwanuka, Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, the Giants could have one of best pass-rushing defenses in the NFL.
I believe that Brown would be one of the biggest steals in the draft if he's used correctly, and he could be used like that with the Giants. He'll definitely be a solid pickup for whichever team selects him in this year's draft.
TE David Paulson, Oregon
Paulson has been one of the best tight ends in college football this season
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
My Mock Draft Projection: Sixth Round, 165th Overall (Cleveland Browns)
CBS Sports' Projection: 280th Overall Prospect (15th Tight End)
An important part to one of the NCAA's most electrifying offenses, Paulson was one of the best tight ends in college football this season. Teamed with quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, Paulson registered 31 receptions for 438 yards and six touchdowns.
However, Paulson's stats could be considered to be average, as he was underutilized in the Ducks' offense, although he was still a vital part of it. The Ducks have had so many explosive players in the offense, that Paulson hasn't put up the numbers that he would in a typical offense that properly uses a tight end—he caught just one pass for 10 yards in the Ducks' 45-38 victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
But he was still solid for the Ducks this season and has been throughout his career, whether it be as a run-blocker or a pass-catcher.
Given the right offense, Paulson could become a decent tight end at the professional level. As of right now, with this scenario, the Browns are lacking depth at the tight end position and Paulson could eventually take over the team's No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Ben Watson.
He could contribute both ways, as he is an excellent pass-catching tight end and is a solid run-blocker. And as of right now, the Browns need all the help they can get.
CB DeQuan Menzie, Alabama
Menzie (24) has been one of the most consistent players on defense for the Tide
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My Mock Draft Projection: Sixth Round, 164th Overall (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
CBS Sports' Projection: 266th Overall Prospect (32nd Cornerback)
Menzie has helped lead the Tide to a No. 2 overall ranking, as they face the LSU Tigers next week for the BCS National Championship Game. Alabama is currently among the top teams in almost every defensive category, mostly because of a solid secondary, consisting of Menzie, Robert Lester and possible first-round selections Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron.
All four players are likely to be selected in this year's draft, with Menzie probably being the last to have their name called.
Although his stats don't reflect his actual play, Menzie has become quite a surprise for the Tide this season, totaling 36 tackles, 1.5 sacks and one interception.
Menzie, however, could become quite a talent in the NFL, as he possesses a long set of arms that gives him a good advantage against the pass. He is also big enough to blitz from the outside and get to the quarterback when he is given that opportunity.
He is also a very good player against the run, which is something you wouldn't expect when you look at him. Menzie isn't afraid to take on bigger players, such as tight ends, fullbacks and running backs.
The cornerback could become a very solid contributor in the NFL if he's given the chance for quality playing time. In this case, the Buccaneers are in drastic need of a cornerback, especially with Ronde Barber's age and Aqib Talib's legal issues and demeanor. Menzie could fit in quite nicely with the Buccaneers if he is in fact selected by them.
And You May Also Want to Take a Look At...
Ballard was undoubtedly Mississippi State's best offensive player this season
Butch Dill/Getty Images
* RB Vick Ballard, Mississippi State
My Mock Draft Projection: Fifth Round, 135th Overall (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Ballard has the potential to become a very good back-up running back, something the Jaguars are currently lacking.
He is a very powerful running back and is surprisingly fast for a player of his stature. Could definitely be a contributor a team such as the Jaguars.
* CB Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma
My Mock Draft Projection: Fifth Round, 150th Overall (Houston Texans)
Fleming definitely has the abilities to become a decent cornerback in the NFL. He may not ever be a team's No. 1 cornerback, but could fit in as the team's nickelback.
He is very good against the pass, and could eventually be tagged as a "shutdown corner."
* ILB Jerry Franklin, Arkansas
My Mock Draft Projection: Sixth Round, 175th Overall (Arizona Cardinals)
The linebacker could become a valuable blitzer and/or pass-rusher in the NFL, if given the right coaching staff and schemes.
Franklin may not be a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but could be a quality linebacker.
* C William Vlachos, Alabama
My Mock Draft Projection: Seventh Round, 204th Overall (Seattle Seahawks)
Many consider Vlachos to be one of the best centers in college football, as he anchors one of the best offensive line in college football.
Personally, I believe he will definitely start at some point during his NFL tenure, and it is just a formality.
* FS Blake Gideon, Texas
My Mock Draft Projection: Seventh Round, 207th Overall (Dallas Cowboys)
Gideon is very good in coverage, and many consider him to be among the top at that aspect. He is also a very good hitter, and he rarely misses tackles.
He could be a solid pick-up in the later rounds of the draft.
* WR Junior Hemingway, Michigan
My Mock Draft Projection: Seventh Round, 212th Overall (Tennessee Titans)
The receiver was named the Sugar Bowl's Most Valuable Player, as his Wolverines defeated Virginia Tech last night.
His numbers aren't eye-popping, but he could flourish as a possession receiver and in the slot.