NFL teams are always looking for the next big thing, and they're willing to think outside box to find it. Teams now search high and low, at all levels of college football, in an effort to find the athletes with the skills to make an impact at the next level.
Here are seven prospects—with varying degrees of collegiate success and name recognition—who have the raw athleticism which will catch the attention of NFL scouts in the coming months.
Mingo has taken some heat this season for his lack of production, but his athleticism will be difficult for teams to overlook.
Listed at 6'4", 240 pounds, Mingo is expected to run in the 4.5 range in the forty-yard dash at the Combine and should display the type of athleticism that lands him in the upper half of the first round.
While Mingo is smaller than Jason Pierre-Paul, his draft stock could be viewed in a similar light should he enter the 2013 NFL draft. Like Pierre-Paul, Mingo has relatively little experience and production, but has the type of raw skills that teams will salivate over.
Hunt is another prospect struggling to live up to lofty expectations this season.
While he possesses the size of an interior lineman (6'7", 280 pounds), Hunt has the athleticism of a defensive end and projects as an ideal 3-4 end at the next level.
His inability to consistently produce at SMU will likely keep him out of the first round, but his size/athleticism combination will cause someone to take a chance on him early in day two of the draft. In the right defensive system, he could take his game to new heights at the next level.
Jordan is a converted tight end who has lined up at both end and linebacker in Oregon's defense.
Standing at 6'7" and weighing 245 pounds, he compares favorably to Jason Pierre-Paul but will be even more polished as a pass rusher than Pierre-Paul when he enters the pros.
The only challenge in developing Jordan will turning him into a more well-rounded lineman. While he possesses impressive athleticism, he lacks the bulk to hold up against the run and may be forced to play a limited role early in his career.
Ezekiel Ansah joined the BYU football team in 2010 after initially coming to BYU from Ghana to participate on the track team.
While he's unlikely to make an immediate impact at the next level, Ansah may only be scratching the surface of his football potential. He's listed at 6'6", 270 pounds and moves like a tight end.
A team would have to be willing to bring him along slowly, but he could be an investment that pays significant divideds down the road.
NFL teams view tight end prospects differently these days and collegiate production isn't necessarily a prerequisite for a high draft grade. The success of prospects like Jimmy Graham have opened to door for guys like Toilolo.
He isn't one of the focal points of the Stanford offense but at 6'8, 265 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to develop into an elite pass-catching tight end at the next level.
Thomas isn't just a freak athlete, but he might be a little bit crazy too. Or at least that's how his teammates classify him.
During the offseason, Thomas can reportedly be seen pushing his car around campus as a training drill.
The Syracuse defense doesn't get much national attention, so Thomas has flown under the radar, but could start to fly up draft boards once he shows off his skills at the combine. He can reportedly run the forty in the 4.3 range and should also excel in the vertical leap.
It's not often that an underclassman from Kent State has the skills to consider an early jump to the NFL, but Archer is one of the most electrifying athletes in MAC history.
Archer is undersized (5'7", 175 pounds) but has the speed and quickness to be an elite return specialist and a weapon at both running back and receiver on offense.
As more NFL teams are getting creative on offense, the demand for guys like Archer has increased. He may never be a feature back but weapons with his skills set aren't easy to find.