In every NFL draft, there seem to be one or two guys that somehow fell through the cracks and slipped into the later rounds, guys that may not have had the biggest and best numbers in college, but still showed signs of potential.
Most notably, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been the poster boy for this type of player after being drafted in the sixth round. Another sixth-rounder who is making a splash in the NFL is former Florida Atlantic running back Alfred Morris. He had a tremendous rookie season, rushing for better than 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns.
In this year’s draft there are plenty of players who have the potential to be successful in the NFL, but whether or not they realize that potential and go somewhere with it will be something we will have to wait to see.
For now, here are four guys to keep an eye on from this year’s class.
Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas St.
The former Wildcat has the size and speed to become a powerful edge rusher at the next level. Brown is the fourth-rated linebacker from this year’s class and could make as big of an impact as anyone next season.
He runs the 40-yard dash between 4.5 and 4.6 and looks like the prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker. Although he is somewhat small for his position, he is still a force on the defensive front.
After transferring from the University of Miami to K-State, Brown led a complete resurgence of the Wildcats’ defense that allowed the most rushing yards in the country in 2010. Brown has shown great instincts when defending the run and has shown that he can run well vertically and laterally.
His style of play is reminiscent of a guy like London Fletcher. He’s an underrated player who can make tackles all over the field, sideline to sideline. Brown could be one of the most effective players to come out of this year’s draft.
Jelani Jenkins, LB, Florida
Here’s a guy who struggled with injury his last two years at Florida, but who could come in for a team and make an impact right away if given the opportunity. Jenkins had his best season in 2010 when he played in every game for the Gators and recorded 77 tackles in addition to a pick-six against LSU.
His junior season was not too far off from his stats in 2010, as he tallied 75 tackles and an interception. But after missing half of his senior season due to injury, his draft stock isn’t as high as it probably should be.
Jenkins is a guy who not many people are giving a chance to be successful in the NFL. When healthy, Jenkins is certainly an impact player. He runs like a corner and has instincts like a safety; he is a true sideline-to-sideline player.
His size and speed make him a playmaker in space, and he also has the ability to make plays in coverage against tight ends and running backs. Similar to Brown, the biggest knock on Jenkins is his size.
If he can put on some weight between now and the draft, it would improve his ability to shed blocks and would surely increase his draft stock.
Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
The former Tar Heel running back is certainly a home run hitter. He is a stocky guy at 5’10”, 205 pounds, and uses his low center of gravity to his advantage. He is also impressively quick and can make plays in the passing game.
Bernard’s vision is also elite, as well as his ability to make cuts in the hole. Aside from being an impressive guy in the backfield, Bernard is also a threat as a punt returner.
The reason why Bernard is not as high on some people’s draft boards is because he missed the 2010 season after suffering a torn ACL. Many people are wary of taking a chance on guys who already have a surgically repaired knee, but considering his production this past year at UNC, it’s hard to say it’s troubling him.
Bernard averaged 6.7 yards per carry in 2012, rushing for more 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. He led the ACC with 19 total touchdowns this past season. Plain and simple, Bernard can play.
Ryan Griffin, QB, Tulane
Griffin is a guy that did not have eye-popping stats in college, but could find some success in the NFL. Griffin has the build that you look for in a pocket passer at 6’5”, 205 pounds.
Griffin has good arm strength and solid accuracy, and he stands tall in the pocket. Although he is not a great runner, he has shown good mobility in stepping up in the pocket.
In a weak quarterback class, Griffin’s name rarely comes up. Considering he hasn’t had much talent to work with in his years at Tulane, Griffin would definitely be able to put up bigger numbers if he had better players to throw to.
Although Griffin never had a particularly bad season at Tulane, he never really had a great one either. But when you watch the tape on him, there is definitely potential.
If a team who doesn’t necessarily need a quarterback right now picks him up and develops him for a couple of years, we could definitely see Griffin getting his shot in the NFL.