The Most Unheralded Prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft
It's pretty easy to get overlooked before the NFL draft.
Sure, it's not as bad as it once was. Once upon a time, the only time most people cared about the draft was when the results were posted in the Sunday paper in six-point font fit for anyone with a subatomic microscope.
Draft picks didn't really get any publicity in those days unless it was a college star who had already collected four years of headlines for people to delve into. Now the draft is an event.
No longer just personnel men running to pay phones with a stack of dimes, the entire city of New York lights up for the draft. Millions upon millions of people tune in on ESPN and the NFL Network. That's more than people tune in for NHL or NBA playoff games.
Prospects really only fall under the radar when other prospects hog the spotlight.
In a great group of guards last year, Kelechi Osemele wasn't talked about very often, but he's the one with a championship ring. Russell Wilson got lost in the hype of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, but he may have been the best of the bunch in his first year.
One note about the list: Some of these prospects are going to be first-rounders. "Unheralded" doesn't mean "bad," and it doesn't mean "entirely forgotten." It means that people aren't talking about them as much as they should.
It means that they're going to sneak up draft boards while media and fans are looking at other, flashier prospects. It means that they're probably going to have as good or better NFL careers than a lot of guys drafted above them or talked about more often.
With that understood, on to the list!
Ty Powell (OLB, Harding)
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If I started this slide simply telling you about an anonymous player who is 6'2", 246 pounds, who runs a 4.6 flat 40-yard dash and has a 37" vertical, you would likely be pretty impressed.
If, then, I also told you that he has experience starting at all three levels of the defense (defensive end, linebacker, safety) and that he's a second-team All-American, you would probably start lining up to draft him.
What if I then told you that he went to Harding?
After running to Google to find out where Harding is located (Arkansas), you'd probably forget about the conversation because: "um, Harding?" That shows one of the divergent schools of thought between scouts and fans/media.
To a scout, a small-school prospect is akin to an untapped gold mine. The level of natural talent is simply an indicator of how much gold may be in "dem der hills."
If the same player went to, say, USC, we could bet that he's had good coaching not only in college but also likely in high school to put him on USC's radar in the first place.
In this way, the polish a player has to his game can actually be a negative to some scouts and pro coaches who would love the opportunity to take a lump of clay like Ty Powell and form him into a masterpiece.
Kyle Juszczyk (FB, Harvard)
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In the grand scheme of team building, the idea of "putting your best 22 out there" is often misunderstood because fans and media are so used to looking at a depth chart. If one gets hung up on a depth chart-focused view of football, fullbacks don't mean a whole lot to the success of most teams.
Instead of thinking of football as a depth chart, various formations and flexibility therein make it wise to simply think about matchups and roles. Sometimes a third cornerback looks like a backup, but a nickle corner can end up playing more than many starters.
So, instead of thinking of Kyle Juszczyk as a fullback (or a ridiculous Words with Friends scoring move), think of him as an H-back (like Aaron Hernandez) or simply as a matchup nightmare.
He catches the ball incredibly well out of the backfield and has some of the softest hands in the draft. He's also a competent blocker in both the run and the pass and can do some of the "traditional" fullback things, even if he'll never be a road-grader.
Stepfan Taylor (RB, Stanford)
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Stepfan Taylor is the type of back who could end up being terribly under-drafted but end up performing as well as anyone in his rookie season (see: Shonn Greene, Kevin Smith).
His hard-nosed, thick-legged running style will intrigue a lot of teams, even as his lack of elite speed turns many off. He's durable, dependable and extremely well-rounded.
What sets Taylor apart from his peers, however—even those who will be drafted over him—is his ability to pass block, cut block, receive out of the backfield and handle a complex NFL-style playbook.
Even without fantastic burst, Taylor may also appeal to zone-blocking teams because of his one-cut running style and ability to hit the hole with force.
Regardless of where he gets drafted in the overall order of events, look for him to make an impact in the fall.
EJ Manuel (QB, Florida State)
EJ Manuel NFL Player Comparison
Eventually, I'm just going to put an audio track on loop of me repeating my praises for EJ Manuel and have it put on the front page here at B/R. It's crazy that this guy isn't getting more attention in a world that saw Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Weeden and Jake Locker recently become first-rounders.
I would take Manuel above all those guys.
The NFL draft is not now (and never has been) about college production or what an athlete is. No, it's about what prospects can become at the next level.
If you're looking at guys like Ryan Nassib, Matt Barkley or Landry Jones—sure, all of those guys might be better passers at this moment, but Manuel has more raw tools and the most upside of any QB this side of Geno Smith.
If Manuel ends up in a good system with good coaching (Arizona should be lined up for this kid), he could end up being one of the best prospects in the entire class.
Aaron Dobson (WR, Marshall)
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Whenever radio hosts ask me about free-agent receivers, I always give a stock answer about how foolish it is to overpay for a free agent when there's such a deep crop of receivers available in the draft. Then, I always name two guys I think could be available deep into Round 2: Aaron Dobson and Markus Wheaton (Oregon State).
I picked Dobson for this list because Wheaton has some rawer physical tools and is starting to get some first-round consideration from the media. Dobson has a basketball background, and it shows up on tape.
So often, fans can get caught up in the scouting language of things like "stiff hips," "burst," "foot frequency" and "crisp routes." While all that is important, the bottom line for receivers is: If someone throws the ball up, is this guy coming down with it?
With Dobson's hands, body control, leaping ability and big-play mentality, he's coming down with it more often than not.
Jamar Taylor (CB, Boise State)
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While just about everyone agrees about this year's free-agent class, no one seems to mention Jamar Taylor as one of the top prospects, even though he could end up in the bottom of the first round.
It seems like people skip from the sure-fire first-rounders—Dee Milliner and Xavier Rhodes together with either Desmond Trufant and/or Johnthan Banks. After that, everyone seems to have their favorites. For some, it's Jordan Poyer. For others, it's Darius Slay.
For me, it's Jamar Taylor.
Being proficient (not just experienced) in both man and zone schemes is important for young cornerbacks. Too often, players come into the NFL specialized, and very few NFL teams run as vanilla coverages as most colleges.
Taylor also has the physicality needed for the position and the aggressiveness needed against the pro run game.
Jesse Williams (DT, Alabama)
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When a small-school player looks like a man among boys, it can be a sign of good things to come. Or it can be a complete non-factor when said player gets to the NFL and his opponents start to match him athletically.
Now, put that man among boys into the SEC? Scared yet? You must not be an NFL quarterback.
Jesse Williams played rugby for most of his life and plays football with a similar dose of reckless abandon. He's a load for single or double-teams. He's also a talented pass-rusher with more than enough size against the run.
He's raw, but the upside could be almost limitless.
Williams not only has to fight against the fact that Alabama seemingly has a hundred other talented defensive prospects in every single draft class during the Nick Saban era. He also has to fight with the fact that he's not even the most famous Jesse Williams on the net.
Xavier Rhodes (CB, Florida State)
Xavier Rhodes NFL Player Comparison
This is where I'm going to direct most of you back to the intro slide. Xavier Rhodes is almost unquestioned as a first-round prospect, but he's "unheralded" because no one is talking about him—ever.
When's the last time ESPN or NFL Network had its sights set on Rhodes? How about the last breakdown of his abilities you've read without specifically searching for one? Crickets? Yeah, me too.
Rhodes is big and physical enough to cover the Calvin Johnson-sized receivers in the NFL. Many college corners—even good ones—either lack that trait or are snatched up by the Seahawks.
He can also potentially play free safety at the next level. Rhodes could be a valuable tool against guys like Rob Gronkowski who create such mismatch problems for typical defenders.
Dee Milliner is the top cornerback in the 2013 class, but Rhodes deserves far more credit than he is getting. I'm guessing his vindication will come when next year's rookie awards are being handed out.
Keenan Allen (WR, California)
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Who's the No. 1 receiver in the 2013 class?
For years, it was supposed to be either Robert Woods or Keenan Allen (once he stopped playing around at safety).
On a Cal team that lacked talent all over both on sides of the ball, Allen still managed to find ways to shine through. He's a first-rounder to almost everyone, but he keeps slipping down behind each new flavor of the month.
I'll say it: I'd take Keenan Allen every day (and twice on Sundays) over guys like Cordarrelle Patterson, Tavon Austin and Quinton Patton.
Allen isn't perfect, but people are forgetting about how much talent he has. He's a true No. 1 receiver with loads of upside. He can carry a team from the receiver position and will make a lot of teams look awfully foolish if they forget about him as much as the media has.
Arthur Brown (LB, Kansas State)
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I'm not sure there is a more quietly polarizing prospect in the draft than Arthur Brown.
The "draftnik community" (term used lovingly) loves Brown. I've seen him mocked to teams in the upper half of the first round.
He was also left out of recent high-profile mock drafts like Todd McShay's. And that was a two-round mock! Although, as Rotoworld wisely pointed out, McShay might know something more about Brown's recent injury than others.
Mostly it's the position Brown plays. Interior linebackers aren't "sexy" in today's pass-crazy NFL, and the one linebacker everyone wants to talk about is Manti Te'o.
I don't think Brown is a top-10 prospect like some, but I think he's closer to the teens than he is falling out of the first two rounds altogether.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.