You would think that NFL scouts would have a pretty good sense of what a player is capable of by the time their college career ends. For every player, though, that’s just not the case.
Each year there are several players who finish their careers without as much draft attention as they deserve. Through strong workouts, excellent combine performances, good play in All-Star games or general hype, though, they gain a lot of attention and find themselves moving way up draft boards.
The highest profile players out of this group of guys this year are obvious—guys like Melvin Engram and Dontari Poe who crushed it at the combine and will soon be very rich as a result.
What I want to look at today, though, are five guys who aren’t as high profile, and who aren’t likely to be first rounders, but who have really helped themselves with their postseason performances.
Mike Martin, DT, Michigan
I have seen every game Martin has played, and I can’t believe it took teams this long to figure out that he’s the real deal. They haven’t noticed him because he’s undersized compared to the prototypical DL stud. What he lacks in size, though, he more than makes up for in strength and he proved that at the combine.
He has strong instincts, an intense hunger and more competitive fire than most players. He’s always part of the play, and he knows how to get to quarterbacks.
I have no doubt that Martin can start in the NFL, and he could instantly upgrade many defensive lines in the league. He’s a very high-character guy as well, and there is no risk of off-the-field issues involved in taking him.
He has moved himself as high as the third round so far, and I expect people who aren’t paying attention to be surprised by how high he is ultimately picked.
Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas
Bequette was first team all-SEC last year, and he managed that despite missing three games. The guy obviously has talent.
What has hurt his standing, though, is that he is not a prototypical defensive end—he’s too small for the NFL mold.
He has helped himself out in the offseason, though.
First, he worked out as a linebacker at the Senior Bowl, and he instantly made it clear that he can play there on Sundays. Next, he showed impressive agility at the combine, so teams now have confidence that he can be a versatile outside defender in the right scheme.
He was going to have to wait a long time to hear his name, but now he should only have to wait until the third round.
Bruce Irvin, DE, West Virginia
Irvin had the same problems as Bequette, but even more so—he weighs in at just 245 pounds. He’s obviously not going to play DE at that size.
He’s also been handicapped by playing in a 3-3-5 system at West Virginia that didn’t play to his strengths.
At the combine, though, he made people take notice.
He not only posted the best times in the 40, the three-cone and the shuttle for all defensive linemen, but his times were best for all linebackers in the latter two and second best in the 40 as well. He measures up extremely well as a linebacker, in other words, and that is where he’ll be taken.
He’ll require patience because he’s never played standing up, but he is clearly worth the risk and should now go in about the second round.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
Cousins is not a great quarterback in any one area. It is no fluke, though, that his team has won a lot of games since he has been starting. He’s just one of those guys who knows how to win.
Through the evaluation process this offseason people have also come to realize that though he isn’t a freak, he has some nice tools. He’s fast enough and athletic enough. He throws the ball well and his mechanics are sound. His vision is good, and his instincts can be trusted.
He isn’t necessarily a guy who is going to change a franchise immediately, but teams have drafted a lot of quarterbacks who aren’t as good and have expected big things (yes, I’m talking about you, Christian Ponder).
Cousins in moving up draft boards, and could be a second rounder.
Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Being a receiver at Georgia Tech is kind of like being a running back for Mike Leach. You just aren’t going to get a lot of opportunity to shine.
When Hill did get the chance, though, he certainly took advantage of it.
His yards per catch were ridiculously gaudy. Those numbers would have been easy to dismiss as a fluke of the system he played in, but Hill backed them up by posting some incredible numbers at the combine. He was very fast, and he showed agility, route running skills and ball skills that far exceeded what people might have imagined.
Suddenly a guy who was totally off the radar is in the mix for teams with receiver needs, and could be a second rounder.