NFL Combine 2013: Can't-Miss Underrated Prospect to Watch for
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The 2013 NFL Scouting Combine is an opportunity for the lesser-known draft prospects to earn some exposure.
We know guys such as Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, USC's Matt Barkley and Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel will be featured and rightfully so.
Still, there are other talents, like UCLA Bruins running back Johnathan Franklin, that are looking to bolster their NFL draft stock. Even with the more popular names expected to receive the most attention, we can't discount the potential of guys in Franklin and the others mentioned here.
There's simply too much prospective talent that exists after Round 1 of the draft, which makes these players quite appealing. And their performance at the combine only helps.
Johnathan Franklin: RB, UCLA
UCLA's Johnathan Franklin became a complete running back as the 2012 college football season unfolded.
As a sound runner entering the season, Franklin hadn't contributed nearly as much as a screen/check-down receiving target.
Well, in addition to racking up 1,734 rushing yards, Franklin packed on 323 receiving yards. He also accounted for 15 total touchdowns and averaged 6.1 yards per carry.
The running back position is loaded with mid-round talent, because there aren't any Trent Richardsons this draft. That said, Franklin possesses great athleticism with a quick burst between the lanes and in open space.
With the ability to accumulate impressive yards after contact, Franklin will make an immediate impact as a rookie. And his draft stock will increase after the combine.
Leon McFadden: CB, San Diego State
There are plenty of legitimate reasons why Leon McFadden goes overlooked.
For one, he doesn't play in the SEC and two, San Diego State competes in the Mountain West—a non-BCS conference.
So, it's easy for anyone to pass on McFadden when viewing the best cornerback prospects of this draft. Well, that also only makes him a stronger gem selection in the middle rounds.
McFadden over the past three seasons had defended 46 passes, recorded seven picks and made 162 tackles.
His consistency is quite impressive and he's also reliable in any coverage. With the quickness to react or catch up if initially beaten, McFadden's tackling ability pays dividends in not allowing many yards after the catch.
Bringing the awareness in zone and tenacity to lock down man-to-man, we'll see a glimpse of McFadden's ultimate potential at the combine.
Ryan Swope: WR, Texas A&M
Much of the success for Texas A&M throughout 2012 was Johnny Manziel dazzling defenses.
Not to mention the dependable offensive line led by Luke Joeckel.
Because of that impact elsewhere, receiver Ryan Swope goes largely unnoticed by comparison on his own team. But if there's a truly reliable receiver this draft, Swope is it.
When Ryan Tannehill was at the helm in 2011, Swope caught 89 passes for 1,207 yards and scored 11 times. Throw in Manziel and Swope snagged 72 passes for 913 yards and eight scores.
Although the numbers were down, that's also courtesy of Manziel's rushing threat taking a chunk of the offense. Swope, however, developed even more as a run-blocker downfield in 2012, which makes him a complete player.
That's a key reason why Manziel was able to accumulate so many yards after reaching the second level.
Factor arguably Swope's best game coming in the road win over Alabama—11 catches for 111 yards and one score—and he presents the route-running and strength to win against man coverage and siphon through the underneath zones.
Jamie Collins: LB, Southern Miss
Here we have one great athlete in Jamie Collins from Southern Miss.
Having played in the secondary prior to joining the front seven, Collins recorded 124 tackles, two picks, forced two fumbles and scored twice before the 2011 campaign.
Playing linebacker throughout all of 2011 and 2012, Collins amassed 190 tackles, defended 14 passes, forced five fumbles and accounted for 39.5 tackles for loss. He provides the versatility to contribute as a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside 'backer, but Collins does need to get more consistent from snap to snap.
His acceleration and explosiveness will undoubtedly get quarterback pressure and disrupt any play in the backfield.
It's simply a matter of impact that potential at a greater rate of consistency. Now Collins still has the ability to squeeze the edge against the run and fill lanes, though, because getting stronger and more instinctive will only come throughout NFL development.
Justin Pugh: OT, Syracuse
The offensive line is a deep position once again, so there's plenty of talent to be had in the middle rounds.
Justin Pugh of Syracuse has Round 1 potential and we'll see that in the combine.
As a run-blocker he quickly gets downfield from the backside and stifles the defender for anything playside. Without question does he need to build some strength, but his lateral quickness and balance bodes well to line up at tackle or guard.
For pass protection he's patient and doesn't give up an immense amount of ground.
And the athleticism resides to get upfield on screens and extend running lanes for tosses, counters and sweeps. Pugh also brings the potential and attitude to make a smooth transition into pro football.
Plus, quarterback Ryan Nassib was only sacked 16 times in 13 games last season. Sure, it's the Big East, but Pugh's dependability enhances his level of marketability as the draft nears.