2014 NFL Draft: 5 Under-the-Radar Prospects Worthy of First-Round Consideration
The college football season is just two weeks in and the 2014 NFL draft is a far ways off, but that does not mean cases aren't already being made for first-round consideration.
By now, we're all well-versed on who the big-name players are and most have a good grip on who the top guys will likely be, but nearly everything after that is still very much up in the air.
Certainly, it goes without saying that a lot will be changing between now and January. However, the following is a list of under-the-radar players who have more than enough natural talent and ability to rise up the draft ranks this fall.
QB Stephen Morris, Miami (FL)
If we were to go strictly off potential, then Stephen Morris would likely be a sure-fire first-round pick. After all, in terms of physical tools like arm strength and athleticism, not many come close to his level of upside and talent.
Nevertheless, the game is still slowing down for Morris, and while there are flashes of brilliance, he still must improve upon his overall accuracy and decision-making. The tools are definitely there, now all scouts want to see is him blend it all together into one efficient package.
DT Dominique Easley, Florida
If you've been paying attention to college football early on this season, then you probably already know that Easley has been perhaps college football's most impressive defensive player.
So far, Florida has used Easley in multiple defensive alignments, and his versatility to quickly penetrate backfields from multiple angles is simply astonishing and one of the reasons his draft stock is currently trending upwards.
CB Jason Verrett, TCU
For some reason, not everyone necessarily likes Verrett's upside. Nonetheless, despite his size (5'10", 176 pounds), Verett still comes across as being an extremely physical player with perhaps the best all-around ball skills.
At the end of the day, size is one thing, but Verrett's combination of instincts, toughness and ball-hawking ability is hard to find and should leave his value pretty much in tact despite the size concerns.
LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Much like Verrett before him, for what Shazier lacks in size he more than makes up for in toughness, instincts and intensity.
After all, if you have seen any of his games then you know there is perhaps no harder hitting run and chase linebacker in all of college football. This, added on to the fact that he is also a talented blitzing and coverage linebacker, makes Shazier one of the more intriguing prospects to keep your eye on this season.
QB Jeff Matthews, Cornell
Okay, so I lied. Not everyone you will find on this list has already stood out, but in the case of Cornell's Jeff Matthews it's not because he hasn't tried. It's because he hasn't yet had the opportunity.
You see, Cornell doesn't officially kick off its season until September 21 when the team faces off against Bucknell. Meaning, you'll have to wait yet another week in order to see Matthews in action. But to garner a sense of what he can do, check out this film from last season against Yale.
Without a doubt the first thing that should stand out to you is the arm. Matthews' arm talent is effortless and he has a natural ability to zip the ball in tight windows, while showing a natural inclination to make all the throws required of him at the next level.
Besides just his arm however, is that in addition to his NFL size (6'3", 224 pounds), Matthews is also an extremely accurate and intelligent quarterback to boot.
Being from an Ivy League school, it would be rather narrow-minded of me to call him smart, but that's exactly what he is and it shows up in his decision-making and ability to make reads and go through progressions.
Of course, like any small-school prospect not everyone will be quick to jump on Matthews’ bandwagon, as there will always be questions surrounding his level of competition.
Nonetheless, aside from just the physical skills is a player who also possesses the mental makeup and desire to become a great leader.
I have little doubt in my mind that coaches will absolutely love his work ethic and ultimately fall in love with the player whose upside is backed up by solid character.
RB Bishop Sankey, Washington
My man crush for Bishop Sankey started early last season and has continued to grow with what seems like each successive carry.
To start things off this year, Sankey rumbled to an impressive 161 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns against Boise State, proving that not only can he handle a full workload, but he's also pretty darn good at.
In this game, Sankey displayed the same terrific blend of patience, vision, shiftiness and burst to accelerate out of his cuts and make defenders miss in the hole.
Overall, his footwork and balance were excellent, and his ability to hold up in pass protection and also become a reliable receiver out of the backfield reminds me of another player who coincidentally used to play for the team Sankey ran roughshod over in Week 1.
Of course I'm talking about Doug Martin, and although the comparison is a little but unfair, the similarities in their running styles and body types are not that far off.
For instance, like Martin, Sankey has proven he can be a three-down back who consistently reads his blocks, picks his path and takes what the defense is giving him.
Being fair to both parties, however, Sankey isn't quite the same downhill runner as Martin, nor is his lower body quite as thick to break tackles consistently. However, what Sankey has already proven is to be a dependable player who has only gotten better with every passing season.
Assuming this season goes no differently, and it's not out of the question to think that Sankey may not only be the most talented back in his own conference, but perhaps even in the entire nation.
LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
By now, I hope you have at the very least heard of, if not had the chance to see Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack in action. But if not, go ahead and checkout this highlight video from his season-opening performance against Ohio State.
In this game, Mack collected 2.5 sacks and returned an interception for a touchdown. But perhaps even more importantly is that he was able to accomplish all this while competing against a rather elite opponent in the Ohio State Buckeyes.
For a while now, scouts have had Mack on their radar, but performing against lower levels of competition is always a tricky subject and path to tread lightly on when evaluating players from smaller programs.
Nonetheless, with this performance, Mack reaffirmed what some people had already known and has now also answered the question of whether or not he can hang with the "big boys."
Surely the season is still young and Mack still has a lot to prove in terms of consistency, but in terms of raw skills, there is perhaps no better athlete to groom and mold into the next great 3-4 pass-rushing NFL linebacker.
After all, his combination of size, speed, range, power and quickness are all highly coveted, unique traits and are certain to have him very high upon many wish lists next spring.
DT Will Sutton, Arizona State
The term "dancing bear" is one of the first things that comes to mind when talking about Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton.
At just 6'1", 288 pounds, Sutton is far from a perfect prospect physically, but what makes Sutton unique is his movement skills and ability to explode and penetrate into the backfield.
With a low center of gravity, Sutton is able to gain a natural leverage advantage on his opponent and has the type of initial quickness and motor to be a menace on any given play.
In fact, it is his relentless pursuit and effort that allowed him to collect 13 sacks last season, on top of a whopping 23.5 tackles for a loss.
I don't need to tell you how impressive that is, especially when coming from the defensive tackle position. However, to put that into perspective and further illustrate my point, consider that former Utah defensive tackle and Carolina Panthers first-round pick Star Lotulelei had 11 tackles for a loss and a mere five sacks last season.
Meaning, although playing in the same conference and lining up against many of the same offensive lineman, Sutton was able to collect eight more sacks and over twice as many tackles for loss.
Turn on the tape from last year and not only are you sure to see No. 90 consistently in his opponent’s backfield, but you will also see the elements that make him so special and hard to block one-on-one.
Certainly, most of this can be attributed to a combination of great balance and overall coordination of both his hands and feet, but what we have here is one of those rare players who can impact the game from inside.
Unfortunately for Sutton, not everyone can see his greatness, and detractors are blinded by his lack of ideal height and shorter than preferred arm length.
Nonetheless, outside of his stature, Sutton has nearly everything working in his favor and will have a great opportunity against a talented Wisconsin Badgers offensive line this Saturday night to further cement his spot in the minds of NFL scouts.
CB Marcus Roberson, Florida
Up to this point, much has been made about Florida's other talented junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, but not nearly as much has been said about Marcus Roberson.
Both players are certainly and without question talented, but in watching film it is clear that while Purifoy may have the higher upside, it is actually Roberson who is the more well-rounded and better overall corner for the Gators right now.
Now, it goes without saying that both corners have a great combination of overall size and athleticism, but the case can be made that one is more of an athlete playing football, whereas the other (Roberson) is much more in tune with the finer parts of the game.
For instance, on film Roberson comes across as being the more technically refined, smart, dependable and sound corner in terms of both his footwork and overall awareness in man and zone coverages.
Because of these skills, Roberson consistently puts himself in good position and has more than enough speed and overall fluidity to turn and run with receivers down the field or recover if beaten initially.
Moving forward, I think it's imperative we see Roberson continue to add strength and weight as well as do a better job locating the football once the ball is in the air.
He's not perfect, but then again he doesn't need to be quite yet. Scouts already know what his upside is; now all they want is a little further vindication that his best football is still ahead of him.