Most Underrated College Football Player at Each Position Entering 2013 Season
"Underrated" is a term that is often used when describing college football player's ability. If somebody isn't featured on ESPN or mentioned as one of the best at their position, the underrated label will be slapped on in hopes of building a buzz and creating a bandwagon for said player's stock.
Truthfully, everybody isn't underrated, but with what seems like endless college football teams and hundreds of players to choose from, there are plenty of under-the-radar players who should be in the spotlight more than they are.
Finding these players is quite simple, and they are hiding in every major conference in the country, whether it be a C-USA wide receiver or a quarterback in the SEC.
Note: Underrated: To rate too low; underestimate. While a case could be made for countless players at every position, these players have proven their worth over the course of their careers and are still undervalued. Show these guys some love!
QB: James Franklin, Missouri
With the love of dual-threat quarterbacks these days, it's absolutely amazing that James Franklin isn't mentioned as one of the best at his position. Maybe it was the fact he spent much of last season banged up, or he only had one great season against subpar Big 12 defenses.
Regardless of the excuse, Franklin is a top tier college quarterback when healthy. In 2011, he passed for 2,865 yards, rushed for 981 yards and scored 36 touchdowns. He isn't afraid to lower his shoulder to pick up the first down and he can make plenty of defenders look foolish in the open field.
It may sound far fetched, but Franklin could have a Johnny Manziel type season and lead Missouri back to the postseason.
RB: Marion Grice, Arizona State
The Arizona State defense is a big reason some believe the Sun Devils will make a run for a Pac-12 title this season. The other factor has to do with running back Marion Grice, who is one of the most versatile players in the country.
Last season, Grice rushed for 679 yards on only 103 rushing attempts. He also caught 41 passes for 425 yards and eight touchdowns, while scoring 19 total touchdowns. Grice averaged 6.6 yards per carry in limited playing time, so just imagine the impact he could have had if he didn't split carries with running backs Cameron Marshall and D.J. Foster.
Grice should quickly start popping up on NFL draft boards, and hopefully that finally gives him the respect he deserves.
WR: William Dukes, FAU
Be honest, you weren't aware of any FAU player by name. Unless you slave over college football about 13 hours a day, you probably forgot Florida Atlantic even had a football team. Don't worry, you aren't alone.
The Owls don't have much talent across the board, but they do have a solid wide receiver in William Dukes. Last season, he caught 63 passes for 979 yards and four touchdowns.
If you think much of that production came against weak competition in the Sun Belt, Dukes did catch five passes for 98 yards against Georgia, while finishing his final three games with a combined 24 receptions, 424 yards and two touchdowns.
Dukes has great size at 6'4" and can make difficult catches in traffic look routine. With the move to the improved C-USA, the junior receiver should start to create a little buzz.
TE: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
C.J. Fiedorowicz is one of the better tight ends in the country, but he is often left out when folks discuss the topic. This likely has to do with the lack of flashy offenses in the Big Ten and the lack of success Iowa had last season.
Still, Fiedorowicz has hauled in a combined 61 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns the last two seasons. He may not be mentioned in the same class as Washington'sor North Carolina's , but he is sure to be selected rather early in next year's NFL draft.
The senior is a great route-runner and has incredible size at 6'7" and 265 pounds. Keep a close eye on him this season, as he has a chance to become the second Iowa tight end to win the John Mackey Award.
OT: Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
Some look at Vanderbilt and consider it to be a team that is winning off of group success. This would be true, but there are a few players on the team who stick out more than others, they just don't happen to get the credit others on bigger programs receive.
Wesley Johnson is an offensive lineman who would be treated like gold if he was to play for Alabama or Notre Dame. He's started majority of his games the last three seasons and has shown remarkable versatility by lining up anywhere on the line. In 38 career starts, Johnson has started 26 games at left tackle, seven at center, three at right tackle and two at left guard.
Vanderbilt has improved its offensive production the last two seasons and a two-time 1,000-yard rusher in Zac Stacy. Johnson did more than his fair share in making that possible.
OG: John Urschel, Penn State
John Urschel is a mammoth of a human being at 6'3" and 307 pounds.
He moves well for his size and doesn't give up much room in the trenches. He started every game last season at right guard and paved the way for Matthew McGloin, who was the only Big Ten quarterback to pass for more than 3,000 yards.
Urschel wasn't highly recruited coming out of high school and had to fight his way up the depth chart. He's done that and more over the last three years in Happy Valley. He also isn't too shabby in the classroom, as he's a three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection and has no problem teaching the class when needed.
C: Tyler Larsen, Utah State
You know you're an underrated player when there isn't a photo or any highlight videos of you playing on YouTube. OK, I can watch Peter Griffin repeat himself for an hour straight, but there's nothing on a possible NFL draft prospect?
Tyler Larsen is the biggest bright spot for Utah State and has been the last three years. He's started every game at center since his freshman year in 2010 and has been the rock on the offensive line ever since. Last season, Utah State claims that he made the right assignment 97 percent of the time. Maybe that's why the Aggies had the second best offense in the WAC with an average of 469.1 yards per game.
Center isn't a glorified position as it is, but Larsen deserves a little more love than what he has been getting.
DE: Taylor Hart, Oregon
Very few know that Taylor Hart led Oregon last season with eight sacks. A lot of that was due to folks claiming that the Ducks don't play defense, while the other 20 percent were drooling over the athletic Dion Jordan.
Get over it, Hart is a solid defensive player who is now the leader of the Ducks defensive line. The senior has a thick build at 6'6" and 292 pounds and can play almost anywhere on the front seven. He's spent time at defensive end, defensive tackle and has stood up on occasion. He isn't a true pass rusher, but he gets great push on the inside and really displays his physicality at the point of attack.
Hart is due for another breakout season.
DT: Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Minnesota has a great defensive player in defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman. At 6'6" and 311 pounds, the big guy flies all over the field and seems to always make a play in the big moments. The former tight end has off the charts athleticism and terrific strength to penetrate the offensive line.
Last season, he finished with 35 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and a forced fumble. His presence on the field played a key role in Minnesota returning to the postseason for the first time since 2009.
What's scary is that Hageman seems to have just scratched the surface in his career, as he is just getting comfortable playing defense. Keep an eye on this Golden Gopher who has a chance to shoot up NFL draft boards across the country.
OLB: Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
While everybody is caught up in the flexbone/triple option offense Georgia Tech refuses to let die, try turning your attention to the defense. There is a solid player in outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, who you just may fall in love with.
Attaochu was a nightmare in the ACC last season, finishing the year with 69 tackles, 10 sacks and a forced fumble. He has a quick twitch, long arms and incredible first step quickness. He is also comfortable at dropping back into coverage and is even athletic enough to cover receivers in the slot.
Georgia Tech doesn't get a ton of national attention, but Attaochu will make some noise this season and will likely make an NFL team happy in next year's draft.
ILB: Yawin Smallwood, UConn
Connecticut is still a prestigious basketball school, but football is catching up a little bit. The Huskies had five selections in the 2013 NFL draft, which doesn't include players such as Kendall Reyes, Darius Butler and Donald Brown getting selected in recent drafts.
The next player who will be on board to make a name for himself is inside linebacker Yawin Smallwood. He finished last season with 120 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and four broken up passes. He does a nice job of moving in space, reacts well and is a tackling machine.
Smallwood has a chance to become one of the best Connecticut players in school history and will continue the recent trend of Huskies getting drafted at the next level.
CB: E.J. Gaines, Missouri
Despite the obvious struggles in the SEC, there is clearly enough talent for Missouri to be a surprise team this season. With James Franklin holding down the offense, the most underrated cornerback in the country is E.J. Gaines.
He has incredible athleticism and fluid hips to keep up with receivers stride for stride. Although he is on the smaller side of 5'10", he doesn't mind getting physical with receivers and helping out in run support. Last season, he had 74 tackles, seven tackles for loss and broke up 11 passes.
Gaines also contributes on special teams and is a playmaker with the ball in his hands. He's a fun player to watch and will be key in helping get the Tigers back on track.
FS: Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
Nickoe Whitley has the ability to get lost in coverage at times, but he dos just about everything else right. Last season, he finished third on the team with 88 tackles, while adding three interceptions and a forced fumble for good measure. Keep in mind that he was coming off a torn ACL he suffered in 2011 against Alabama.
Whitely does a nice job of flowing to the ball, isn't afraid to lay the wood and has impressive ball skills.
A lot of the credit for Mississippi State's pass defense went to playmakers such as Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay, but Whitley held his own and did a nice job of recovering from such a nasty injury. With another year under his belt, this should be another wonderful season for the senior safety.
SS: Hakeem Smith, Louisville
It may be hard to believe, but there are other solid players for Louisville besides quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Safety Hakeem Smith is one of those players who will help make the national championship conversation that much more interesting.
The senior safety is the leader of the defense, and he finished last season with 73 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and seven broken up passes. He played wide receiver in high school, so he has solid ball skills and above-average closing speed to make a play on the ball carrier.
Smith looks bigger than his 6'1", 179-pound frame would indicate, and he should be another Louisville player who has caught the attention of NFL draft scouts.
P: Pat O'Donnell, Miami
Things are looking up for Miami this season, and the special teams worries seem to be fixed thanks to punter Pat O'Donnell.
O'Donnell is a graduate from Cincinnati, who transferred to Miami for one last season of eligibility. Last season, he finished second the Big East with an average of 41.81 yards per punt and forced a touchback on 48 percent of his 75 kickoffs.
O'Donnell is a nice weapon to have this season.
K: Aaron Jones, Baylor
Aaron Jones has had a hard time finding his accuracy, as he failed to make 60 percent of his kicks the last two seasons. However, as a freshman, he managed to drill 70.4 percent of his kicks and 46 of his 47 extra point attempts.
Although making 16 of 27 field goal attempts isn't knocking anybody out of their chair, Jones does have one of the stronger legs in the country. If he can focus a little more on putting the ball between the posts, Baylor will have an impressive special team weapon who can make a kick from just about anywhere.