2013 NFL Draft: Overlooked Talents Worthy of First-Round Consideration
Every year in the NFL draft, we see prospects get overlooked, only for those same under-drafted rookies impact their respective teams throughout the subsequent season.
Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks is a prime example from last year's draft.
Possessing first-round talent, the 5'11" Wilson wasn't selected until Round 3 and arguably performed better than any of the five quarterbacks drafted ahead of him.
As for the 2013 draft,we'll preview ahead is West Virginia's Tavon Austin, who may potentially be this year's hidden gem.
He's the most versatile player entering this draft season, because Austin has contributed an immense amount to the Mountaineers. On offense, he can stretch defenses as a receiver or widen zones when taking a handoff.
Austin also consistently made big plays on special teams, as his overall athleticism gave West Virginia a competitive advantage. Whichever team selects him and (or any of the following prospects) will gain that same competitive advantage.
Giovani Bernard: RB, North Carolina
One of the most consistently productive backs in college football the past two years has been North Carolina's Giovani Bernard.
As a redshirt freshman in 2011, Bernard accounted for 1,615 total yards and scored 14 touchdowns. He also averaged 5.2 yards per carry before proceeding to up his game in 2012.
This past season, he compiled 1,718 total yards (including a four-game stretch of 200-plus yards of offense) and reached the zone 17 times. Even more impressive was his 6.7 yards per rush, despite only appearing in 10 games. For certain, he needs to prove better durability and increase his top speed.
At the same time, his size (5'10", 205) and explosiveness is a competitive advantage.
Whether it's third down or inside the red zone, Bernard's versatility and athleticism creates mismatches against any defense. He can make guys miss in the open field, bounce off any would-be tackler at the line and power through the trenches on shorter downs.
A third dimension on punt returns simply increases the appeal. Because contributing on special teams with 263 return yards with two touchdowns and a 16.4 per return average will grab additional attention.
Given his youth, experience and success, Bernard isn't a reach in the back end of Round 1.
Tavon Austin: WR, West Virginia
Much like Giovani Bernard, West Virginia's Tavon Austin possesses an immense amount of versatility.
The difference resides in Austin primarily contributing as a receiver and having impacted more on special teams.
Although he's quite undersized, Austin brings the acceleration, top speed and low-center of gravity to pro football. In short, he can start and stop at the blink of an eye, then immediately change directions.
Austin is a key reason why quarterback Geno Smith enjoyed tremendous success statistically, as he constantly accumulated yards after the catch. As a receiver alone, Austin snagged 215 passes for 2,475 yards and 20 receiving scores between 2011 and 2012.
On the ground, he racked up 984 yards over the past three seasons. During that same span Austin averaged 10.3 yards per rushing attempt and scored five touchdowns (six for his career).
As a return specialist, Austin's impact exploded over the previous two years.
Throughout 2011 and 2012 he amassed 2,184 total return yards and scored four times. He's proven to be an upgraded version of Dexter McCluster, which enhances Austin's marketability.
Whether it's jet-sweeps, quick tosses from shotgun, screens or slants the guy will expand an offense's playbook. Factor in his value on special teams and he is a complete player.
Kawann Short: DT, Purdue
Easily one of the more consistent defensive linemen, Kawann Short dominated his final three seasons at Purdue.
Between 2010 and 2012 he collected 45 tackles for loss, 19.5 sacks and defended 14 passes.
Despite arguably being undersized for the position of nosetackle at 6'3", 325, Short was a constant menace in the backfield. Offenses have to double-team him for isolation, otherwise he will get quarterback pressure and track down the ball-carrier.
In 2012, one of his better games came against Notre Dame.
Recording four tackles and two sacks against the Irish, Short and the Boilermakers nearly pulled the road upset. Notre Dame was limited to just 52 rushing yards, which was a rarity until facing Alabama in the BCS Championship Game.
Short has a knack for controlling the line of scrimmage and his potential will quickly develop as a 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end.
Desmond Trufant: CB, Washington
When thinking of top cornerbacks this draft season, Washington's Desmond Trufant may not be included in the buzz, but he deserves to be.
For one, the East Coast rules with Alabama's Dee Milliner, Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks and Florida State's Xavier Rhodes.
Secondly, the Huskies only finished 7-6, lost their final two games and were crushed by LSU and Oregon.
Trufant still put on a solid season. Despite defending just nine passes and recording 36 tackles, this came after an impressive 2011 campaign with 16 defended passes and 63 tackles.
In other words, Trufant wasn't challenged by opposing quarterback nearly as much. As a result, Washington ranked No. 16 in pass defense, which was second overall in the Pac-12 and No. 10 in opposing completion percentage (53.52)
And when tested, such as the Stanford game, Trufant welcomed the challenge and defended three passes including the game-winning interception.
The Cardinal went on to win the conference and Washington upset Oregon State later that season. Trufant was a key reason for this success, as his dynamic coverage ability and reliable instincts forced opponents to more conservative play-calling.
Logan Ryan: CB, Rutgers
Logan Ryan of Rutgers isn't going to wow you with size at 6' 190, but he's effective nonetheless.
Over the past two seasons he has defended 38 passes, recorded seven picks and 161 tackles.
Possessing great lateral quickness and field awareness, Ryan is a true playmaker capable of making an immediate impact as a rookie. He does need to become more consistent at getting off blocker quicker, but that will come through development.
His top speed and reactionary skills are quite appealing entering draft season and one of Ryan's better games came vs. Virginia Tech in the bowl game.
Finishing with seven tackles and three defended passes, Ryan helped Rutgers limit Hokies' quarterback Logan Thomas to a 41 completion percentage and the Scarlet Knights snagged two picks. Now yes, he gave up the one touchdown pass, but no defender is impervious to getting beat either.
Just ask the entire 49ers' secondary in the NFC title game.
That said, Ryan brings the skill set and instincts to quickly develop. Factor in the potential of a strong Combine and Pro Day, his stock will increase.