Eastern Washington wide receiver Brandon Kaufman is among the 2013 NFL draft's top hidden gems.
Many of the names you will hear during the weekend of the 2013 NFL draft are players who you have watched play for major college football programs and heard of for months. On the contrary, there are always some surprise draft selections that leave even avid followers of the draft scrambling for information.
When those players develop into NFL standouts, they are often referred to as “hidden gems.” They can include players from major college football programs who simply didn’t receive much playing time or attention, but they most often consist of small-school products who successfully accomplish the tough jump from lower-level collegiate play to NFL success.
In this slideshow, we take a look at 10 such hidden gems. All of these prospects played their college football outside of the Football Bowl Subdivision, and if you are not an avid draft follower or a fan of small-school college football, chances are good that you have not heard of many of these players.
While hidden gems can certainly consist of players from much larger programs as well, this slideshow focuses on small-school players. It does not, however, include small-school products who are typically projected within the first three rounds, such as Arkansas-Pine Bluff offensive tackle Terron Armstead, William and Mary cornerback B.W. Webb, Missouri Southern State defensive tackle Brandon Williams and Southeastern Louisiana cornerback Robert Alford.
This list is not intended to be all-inclusive. Let us know what other players you think belong here in the comments section!
All measurables courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise credited.
Stony Brook product Miguel Maysonet may quietly be one of the 2013 draft class’ most dynamic running backs.
The 5’9”, 209-pound back does not have measurables that wow, but he is a decisive runner with great lateral agility. He does a great job finding and hitting the hole, often makes defenders miss with his open-field moves and consistently runs hard.
He does not have blazing speed and is not a power back, which makes him a likely late-round pick coming from a small-school background. But as a situational back who makes defenders miss, consistently finds holes and fights for extra yardage, Maysonet could turn out to be a steal or be drafted earlier than people expect.
Even in a loaded class of wide receivers, there may not be a better pure red-zone threat than Eastern Washington’s Brandon Kaufman. At 6’5” and 215 pounds, Kaufman is one of the draft class’ tallest and largest wideouts, and he is skilled at elevating and high-pointing the football for receptions.
Kaufman led the Football Championship Subdivision with 1,850 receiving yards last season, and his size, hands and ball-tracking ability will translate to the next level.
Kaufman’s biggest concern is not level of competition, but his athleticism. He does not have great speed, running only a 4.67-second 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine, and he is not an explosive lateral athlete either. He could struggle to separate at the next level, but he will be able to use his size to his advantage to make plays against smaller defensive backs.
Even with some concerns about his upside, Kaufman’s overall skill set makes him well worth a Day 3 draft choice.
Division III powerhouse Mount Union has established a surprising talent pool of wide receivers in recent seasons, with two standouts who are currently NFL starters in Pierre Garcon and Cecil Shorts. The Raiders’ next NFL wide receiver could be Jasper Collins.
Collins is not as quite as explosive as Garcon or Shorts, but he has good potential as a slot receiver. He is a crisp route-runner who has great hands and does not shy away from contact and has good lateral agility to extend plays in the open field.
Collins is a small receiver (5’10”, 180), but tested well in pro day workouts (4.47 40, 34 1/2” vertical jump, 10’1” broad jump and 6.85 3-cone drill, per NFLDraftScout.com). A very productive player in Division III, Collins is a late-round sleeper who could turn to be a steal just like predecessors Garcon and Shorts.
Every draft class produces quality offensive linemen from the small-school ranks, and while Terron Armstead is getting all the attention because of his athleticism, the best small-school offensive lineman for the 2013 draft class could very well end up being Cornell’s J.C. Tretter.
A converted tight end, Tretter was a dominant left tackle in his two seasons for the Big Red.
Tretter has very good feet for an offensive lineman, slides along the line naturally, is a polished pass-protector and is good at moving up to the second level to pick up run blocks. He is very good with hand placement, leverages defenders well and can quickly switch from one defender to another when blocking against stunts.
Tretter has subpar length for an offensive tackle (33 3/8” arms) and is not an overpowering run-blocker, but he has a well-rounded game that should hold up even with the jump from FCS competition to the NFL. He projects best as a guard, but should be viewed as a versatile offensive lineman who could also compete at tackle. He'll probably be an early Day 3 draft choice.
The Ivy League isn’t a traditional football factory, but they have a few players who are likely to be drafted this year. Tretter will probably be the first among them, but he will have competition for that crown from Princeton defensive end Mike Catapano.
Catapano, who had 12 sacks in his senior season for the Tigers, is a skilled pass-rusher who can rush both around the edge and inside. He uses his hands very well to beat offensive linemen, has good quickness off the snap and is a high-motor player.
Catapano has great measurables for a defensive end, weighing in at 6’4” and 271 pounds while running a 4.75-second 40-yard dash at Princeton’s pro day, according to the Tigers’ official athletic website. He does not have tremendous explosion, but gets good leverage and is a disciplined player who sets the edge well against the run.
Catapano projects as a rotational player on a defensive line who will be a strong defensive end against the run, but can also kick inside in pass-rushing situations. He could be an early Day 3 draft selection.
Armonty Bryant doing a drill at the NFL Scouting Combine.
East Central Oklahoma defensive end Armonty Bryant has had a rocky road through his college football career, but even against Division II competition, he has clear potential as an NFL pass-rusher.
Bryant is an explosive athlete who is quick off the snap and a skilled edge-rusher with a strong arsenal of pass-rush moves and good speed around the edge. He is effective as a wide rusher and playing in a LEO scheme may be his best fit, but he is a solid inside rusher as well with great size and length (6’4”, 263 pounds, 35 3/4” arms).
Bryant needs to become stronger at the point of attack and is not particularly good against the run, which may make him a situational pass-rusher only. That said, he has the potential to really make an impact on games as he continues to develop as an edge-rusher.
The biggest concern with Bryant, however, is his character and off-field decision making. The Ada News reported in 2012 that Bryant was arrested for selling marijuana.
Given the combination of his off-field issues and lower level of competition, Bryant could fall as far as being undrafted. His physical talent and upside, however, could propel him to being an early Day 3 draft selection.
Ty Powell (No. 37, left) posing for a picture at combine.
Harding’s Ty Powell has taken an unusual career path that took him from high school to community college to Division II football, all the while making a transition from defensive back to defensive end. Nonetheless, Powell has emerged as one of the most versatile defensive prospects in the 2013 NFL draft class.
At 6’2” and 249 pounds, Powell’s likely home at the next level is as a linebacker, but has the potential to play any linebacker spot in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. He is an explosive athlete who is a skilled pass-rusher off the edge, but also moves well in space, can make plays all over the field and has good ball skills.
Powell remains a raw talent, but flashed against top competition at the Senior Bowl and has serious athletic upside. He should draw interest as a Day 3 developmental prospect from 3-4 teams as a potential rush linebacker outside and also inside linebacker. 4-3 teams will look at him as a possible strongside linebacker and situational rush defensive end.
Even in a strong draft class of safeties, Georgia Southern’s J.J. Wilcox is a small-school prospect with the potential to sneak into the draft’s second day. Wilcox is a 6’0", 213-pound strong safety who combines good size and athleticism and is both an effective cover safety and an active playmaker in run support.
Wilcox only played year of safety at GSU after moving from the offensive side of the ball, and it quickly proved to be a good move. His athleticism makes him a safety with very good playmaking range, but his tackling does not suggest being new to the position, as he consistently comes up to make stops in run support and is a big hitter.
Wilcox is effective in playing a deep center field role and is good at cleaning up plays on the back end. He struggles with one-on-one coverage against receivers, but is quickly progressing and should continue to get better as he gains experience on the defensive side of the ball.
At the very least, Wilcox should be a great special teams player, but he has the potential to be a very good starting strong safety. He is a playmaker on the back end who is not afraid to come up and deliver a hit at any time. He also has the range to be a very effective cover safety and track down ball-carriers downfield.
Wilcox isn’t the only hard-hitting and athletic strong safety whose name could be called earlier than expected on draft weekend. Division II program California (Pa.) has a few possible NFL draft choices, but the one who looks like a certain choice in the middle to late rounds of the draft is safety Rontez Miles.
Miles was a big playmaker on the back end of the Vulcans defense, and he has the potential to develop into that type of player at the next level.
Miles has good size (6’0", 203 pounds) and athletic ability and is an instinctive defensive back. He can really lay the wood, both as an attacking tackler in run support and a hitter on passes over the middle. He also has very good ball skills.
Miles does not have fluid hips and could struggle in deep pass coverage at the next level. That said, Miles has some real potential given his measurables and playmaking ability and would be a great choice on Day 3 as a developmental prospect, situational safety and special teams playmaker.
There are unlikely to be any non-FBS quarterbacks selected in the 2013 NFL draft, but if there is one potential hidden gem among them, it could be Illinois State’s Matt Brown.
Physically, Brown has the tools to be an NFL quarterback. He has a strong arm, good feet, a compact delivery and quick release. He has great size (6’3”, 229 pounds), and although he is not a dual-threat, he has impressive measurable athleticism (4.83 40, 35” vertical jump, 10’ broad jump in his pro day workout per NFLDraftScout.com).
Brown’s accuracy was inconsistent even against FCS competition, and he consistently stares down his receivers, so he must become better at making reads and hitting his targets to make it at the next level.
But given his physical tools and his ability to make tough downfield throws with accuracy when he is at his best, it would not be a surprise if a team decided to take a late-round chance on him as a developmental project quarterback.
Dan Hope is an NFL draft featured columnist at Bleacher Report.