NFL Draft 2012: 10 Underrated Prospects Who Will Succeed Against All Odds

Josh CembellinCorrespondent IApril 17, 2012

NFL Draft 2012: 10 Underrated Prospects Who Will Succeed Against All Odds

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    Each NFL draft features uniquely talented players who are eager to take that next step in their football careers. Yet no matter how good a college prospect may be, there’s no telling exactly how he will transition to the NFL.

    For some, the transition is expected to be smooth and seamless. Analysts dissect them tirelessly only to reveal, “Hey, this guy’s ready to play at the next level.”

    But for others, the outlook isn’t so promising. A player may be too big or too small, too slow or too one-dimensional.

    He may have injury concerns, or he may have murmured a curse word in grade school.

    Whatever the case, some prospects naturally face more adversity than others heading up to the draft and leading into their NFL careers.

    This article features 10 underrated prospects and discusses why each of them will succeed against all odds at the next level.

Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin

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    Facing relentless adversity about his 5’11” height, Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson is simply one of those guys people want to root for to succeed.

    Despite his less-than-ideal size, he has all the intangibles NFL teams look for in a quality quarterback. He’s mobile, strong-armed, accurate and intelligent. But perhaps more importantly, he is determined to succeed and prove his doubters wrong.

    That’s the kind of mindset NFL coaches love.

    Wilson is a unique athlete. He was drafted twice by MLB teams—once by the Baltimore Orioles and once by the Colorado Rockies—before ultimately deciding to pursue football.

    As a college quarterback, he mastered two offensive systems, first playing for North Carolina State before transferring to Wisconsin. In both programs, he emerged as a clear leader and a coach on the field.

    Will his game tape outweigh the concerns teams have about his height?

    As a 23-year-old, Wilson has already been though a lot. His father passed away, he was drafted twice for the MLB and he succeeded as the starting quarterback for two reputable college football programs.

    He's mature, well-spoken and has a great head on his young shoulders.

    Despite this unintended pun here, there’s little reason to believe he won’t be successful in the NFL.

Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska

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    Another undersized talent in this year’s draft is Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David.

    Much like Russell Wilson, David has all the skills and tools teams look for in players at his position. The only concern is his build. After weighing in at the combine at 6’1” and 233 pounds, whispers started about the possibility of David being plugged in at safety in the NFL, as noted by CBSSports.com.

    However, once he gets on the field for his new defense, his team will realize there’s no reason he can’t stick at linebacker.

    Size isn’t the only similarity David shares with Russell Wilson. While he has great instincts and raw athleticism, David is often praised for his demeanor and attitude as a team-first leader. Per CBSSports.com, Marla Ridenour of The Akron Beacon Journal discusses how the linebacker "deflects praise," highlighting his humble nature of leading by example.

    Because he is such a sure tackler and he is so fast and athletic, David should have no trouble playing in open space at the next level. Look for a lucky team to win his services in Round 2 of the draft.

Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia

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    West Virginia’s Keith Tandy is a converted high school quarterback turned corner. Because of this uncommon transition, he has a unique perspective that most cornerbacks don’t.

    As a former passer, Tandy can use his skills and knowledge of playing quarterback to help make his decisions in the secondary.

    Seemingly, the transition to defense did not halt his growth as a football player. CBSSports.com acknowledges that Tandy learned the cornerback position while redshirting as a freshman, and he never looked back.

    At West Virginia, he demonstrated strong cover skills and consistently played with a physical presence. He’s also quite athletic overall, running a 4.51 40-time at his pro day while putting up 16 reps on the bench. At 5’10” and 202 pounds, he is a compact corner who plays aggressively.

    Tandy’s name hasn’t been mentioned much leading up to the draft, but don’t be surprised to see this underrated corner make an impact sooner rather than later. Expect him to go anywhere from the fourth round to the sixth.

George Bryan, TE, North Carolina State

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    Overlooked in a league that is salivating over speedy pass-catching tight ends, North Carolina State’s George Bryan is a name to monitor.

    Bryan is an excellent blocker who fits the mold of a more old-school tight end. He’s big and physical, and he can rough it up at the line of scrimmage.

    Though blocking is his most notable forte, Bryan is also a terrific pass-catcher. His hands are described on CBSSports.com as “world class” and “hands of glue.”

    So if he’s such a great blocker and pass-catcher, why isn’t he being considered in the top-tier of tight end prospects?

    The problem, ladies and gentlemen, is that this guy is slower than your Nana’s scooter.

    He ran a 5.03 40-yard dash at his pro day.

    But at 6’5”, 258 pounds and with a good overall skill set, Bryan should be able to help a team right away. He’s a late-round prospect who will improve a team’s running game, and he could also pose as a useful red-zone target in the passing game.  

James Brown, OT, Troy

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    A sleeper offensive tackle prospect this year is James Brown out of Troy. He’s 6’4” and 306 pounds with impressive quickness and agility for a big man.

    WalterFootball.com discusses Brown’s potential with optimism, noting that he made First-Team All-Sun Belt in 2011 and started over 37 games for Troy over three years. He’s an athletic mover with sufficient hand and arm length despite his less-than-ideal height for an offensive tackle.

    Even though Brown excelled at left tackle in college, he probably won’t ever play there in the NFL due to his height, as suggested by NFL.com.

    He’s projected to make a move to offensive guard, but don’t be surprised to see him emerge as a solid right tackle for a team for many years down the road. Since he has never played inside, the move to guard may not go smoothly, and his team may discover he can get the job done on the outside.  

    Brown is a bit more of a developmental offensive lineman only because it’s unclear where he’ll play. However, he offers versatility that could be valuable to many clubs looking for depth along the offensive line. 

Chris Givens, WR, Wake Forest

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    Being overshadowed—both literally and figuratively—by the taller wideouts in this year’s draft, Wake Forest’s Chris Givens has a lot of coveted skills for a receiver. But at 5’11” and 198 pounds, he  has been gradually ceding draft stock to the taller prospects.

    At the combine, Givens was solid across the board: He ran a 4.41 40-yard dash, put up 19 reps on the bench and posted a 33.5” vertical jump. Last year, he notched 83 catches for 1,330 yards and nine touchdowns.

    Obviously, he has the attributes and production that all NFL clubs look for in their pass-catchers, except for that darn height.

    But there’s one area that Givens has the advantage over all those tall speedsters. Per the St. Louis Post Dispatch, NFL.com’s Gil Brandt said the following about the Wake Forest standout: “‘Givens is probably the best route runner of any of these guys coming out.’”

    NFL stars like Steve Smith (Carolina), Santana Moss (Washington) and DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia) have proven that height isn’t a prerequisite for becoming a successful NFL wideout. With speed and crisp routes, a player can become a dynamic playmaker. The same rings true with Givens.

    Even though he has been slightly under the radar, Givens should be an early-round pick and should enjoy quick success as a No. 2 receiver for whichever team he ends up representing.

T.Y. Hilton, WR/KR, Florida International

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    Florida International’s T.Y. Hilton’s case for success is much like his playing style: sharp and to the point.

    He’s small but extremely fast. He can contribute effectively in the return game, and he runs good routes as a receiver. Though he isn’t very strong or physical, he uses good judgment and has the burst to make plays.

    In 2011, Hilton made 72 receptions for 1,038 yards and seven touchdowns. But because he’s only 5’10” and 183 pounds, some teams are going to be wary about selecting him early in the draft.

    Nevertheless, all 32 teams were in attendance at his pro day, as pointed out by WalterFootball.com. So clearly teams like the potential with this smaller speedster.

    Hilton projects best as a slot receiver in the NFL. He can stretch the field and catch the ball in space to make plays for the offense. Put in the right situation, he could have nice value creating mismatches. 

Najee Goode, ILB, West Virginia

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    Najee Goode’s name has a nice NFL ring to it. But to be good at the next level, the West Virginia linebacker will need to be more consistent.

    And I think he can do it.

    Goode is scheme versatile at 6’0” and 244 pounds. After bouncing around between outside and inside backer at West Virginia, he started to thrive up the middle in 2011, which appears to be his best fit in the NFL. According to NFL.com, “Goode is a solid tackler and works better in the box than he does in space.”

    As a pretty athletic thumper, Goode’s 4.66 40-time shows he has good enough speed. However, coverage isn’t one of his strengths, and as a result he figures to begin as a two-down player due to his “classic inside presence,” as quoted on NFL.com.

    In 2011, he logged 87 tackles, including a whopping 14 tackles for loss. In addition, Goode recorded five sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. Those are pretty impressive numbers from the middle linebacker position.

    WalterFootball points out that Goode “was solid at the East-West Shrine and the Combine.” Now that hehas begun to settle in at inside backer, there’s a good chance he can carry this momentum over in 2012.

Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas

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    Quietly making his way up draft boards this offseason has been Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette. His name may be more familiar than some others on this list; nevertheless, he has received mediocre attention and little hype.

    Maybe that’s a good thing.

    When buzz surrounds certain prospects, sometimes it’s for the wrong reasons. Sometimes it leads to more questions than answers. With Bequette, teams know what they’re going to get.

    CBSSports.com describes him as a player who “loves the game of football and has the overachieving mentality that he can do anything.” As the fourth member of his family to play football at Arkansas, teams can expect that Bequette will be highly motivated to make his family proud by succeeding in the NFL.

    Though he doesn’t necessarily excel in any one facet of the game, the former Razorback is a solid all-around defensive end and is very good at setting the edge. Stingy against the run and effective at getting to the passer, he had his most productive season in 2011 despite missing time with an injury.

    As CBSSports.com writes, he notched “28 tackles, a team-high 10.5 tackles for loss, an SEC-best 10 sacks, 5 forced fumbles and 1 pass break-up, earning First Team All-SEC honors.”  Those stats came in just 10 games.

    At 6’5” and 274 pounds, this guy fits the mold of playing defensive line. He possesses good upper-body strength and above-average straight-line speed. At the combine, he ran a 4.82 40-yard dash, posted a 34” vertical jump and ran the three-cone drill in 6.90 seconds.

    Projected by various draft sites to be selected in the fifth round, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bequette go earlier. He comes with little risk, a decent ceiling and the kind of attitude and work ethic teams love to bring into their locker rooms.

Chris Rainey, WR/RB/KR/PR, Florida

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    That’s not my indecision in the slide title; Florida’s Chris Rainey really does all those things.

    The Gator version of the Swiss Army Knife is a world-class sprinter. His impressive pro day included him recording a 4.41 and 4.35 in the 40-yard dash. According to Gil Brandt of NFL.com, Rainey worked out at wide receiver at his pro day, though his skill set translates across multiple positions.  

    Rainey is only 5’8” and 180 pounds, making him a fragile, little dynamite package. Surprisingly, one of his biggest skills is blocking punts, as he blocked six punts in college, per WalterFootball.

    Don’t expect that to continue at the next level; instead, look for Rainey to dazzle with the ball in his hands.

    With such an uncommon package of skills, he will be an asset to the team that drafts him. He can run with the best of them, catch passes both out of the backfield and in the slot, set up clean routes and return both punts and kicks on special teams.

    Multi-talented and versatile in these ways, “[t]he all-purpose star left Florida having rushed for 2,464 yards (ninth all-time for the Gators) and caught 69 passes for 795 yards, scoring 19 touchdowns over his career,” according to CBSSports.com.

    NFL clubs will likely be cautious of Rainey due to his smaller frame, but none of that concerns the former Gator. Per CBSSports.com, Tom Green of The Independent Florida Alligator writes the following:

    Chris Rainey isn't concerned about his NFL Draft stock; he doesn't "want to hear all of that bullcrap." The former Florida do-everything back just cares about proving to NFL teams that he belongs in the league.

    Rainey will get his chance to do just that, and when he does, it should be exciting to watch.