By now, NFL fans know all about the big names set to take the NFL storm.
In a class potentially headlined by Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, it is hard for a lesser-known prospect to break through to the hive mind of fans.
But like any year, fringe first-round picks can and will emerge on draft day. Last year, it was names such as Denver defensive tackle Sylvester Williams or Dallas center Travis Frederick.
Expect more of the same from the 2014 draft. While some prospects may appear on the outside of the first round looking in, a select few will break through.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
As the 2013 season has progressed, Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin has continued to emerge as a top receiver in the class.
While it is easy to discredit Benjamin for playing with Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, there is plenty to like about the redshirt sophomore, who stands at 6'5", 234 pounds.
As Bleacher Report's Matt Miller points out, Benjamin has everything NFL teams look for at the position in the early rounds:
As for Kelvin Benjamin, he has size and a ton of potential, but not a first-rounder on my first look. At 23 he’s likely to enter as RS Soph— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 3, 2013
Bleacher Report's Jeff Risdon has heard from one scout that Benjamin's stock has jumped to that of the best receiver in the class:
Talked to a NFC South scout today, told me he thinks Kelvin Benjamin will be 1st WR taken in May. His team sees "Calvin Johnson potential"— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) December 13, 2013
The size is there but so is the production. Benjamin caught 50 passes in 2013, which translated to 957 yards and 14 touchdowns, good for an average of 19.1 yards per reception.
That sort of speed and size is difficult to find at any level. Benjamin beats smaller defenders by catching the ball at its highest point but is also strong enough to bowl over the opposition for yards after the catch.
While he may not be the first receiver off the board, Benjamin will easily find his way into the first round.
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton has managed to polarize draft pundits this year after gaining weight in the offseason and not tallying major statistics.
Yet, Sutton was awarded the Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award for the second consecutive year. Sutton himself did not expect the award, as noted by Arizonasports.com:
It's crazy. Coach Graham called me last night, and I thought I was in trouble. I thought, "Should I answer or not." Then I finally answered. And when he told me, I sounded like a kid on Christmas. My voice got all high-pitched and I got all excited. I didn't think I'd get the Defensive Player of the Year award again, because my numbers are down and everything. I thought, "Oh well." But we are winning, so it didn't matter to me. Winning it is crazy.
Go ahead and push statistics to the wayside. His lack of numbers have hurt his stock (ranks as the No. 35 overall prospect over at CBS Sports), but Sutton remains one of college football's most dominant players.
Listed at 6'1" and 288 pounds, Sutton is versatile schematically and can bruise his way to the quarterback or buckle down and stuff the run. Think about a guy like Cincinnati's Geno Atkins, a player NFL teams foolishly let fall to the fourth round in 2010.
That is not to say Sutton will ever be the player Atkins is, but they are cut from the same cloth. Potential like that easily finds its way to the first round.
Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
The running back position continues to devalue at the pro level (thanks, Bobby Rainey), but that does not mean a talented back cannot slip into the first every now and then.
Ka'Deem Carey has as good of a shot as anyone. At 5'10", 207 pounds, with impressive stats to his name, Carey comes pro-ready and will be hard to pass up. Arizona's Twitter sums up Carey's season nicely:
Add in 303 rushes for 1,929 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2012, and it's easy to see why Carey is highly regarded. Carey himself sounds ready to make the jump to the pro level if the grade is right, per Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star:
First round, second round, that’s comfortable stuff you can’t pass up. Anything after that, I think you have to get your degree. Right now there’s a lot of things boiling in the pot affecting my decision...I’ve started to think about it, but I won’t give it serious, serious thought until after our bowl game. Until then, honestly, I’m trying to not even think about it too much.
Prospect most likely to sneak into first round?
Carey better get comfortable with the fact he is headed to the pro level, then. The NFL is marred in a committee approach at the position, which is fine, but Carey is a rare, every-down back who will act as such at the pro level.
To sneak into the first round is a big deal these days for running backs, but Carey has the body of work and traits that will justifiably land him near the end of the opening round.
A lot can change between now and the draft, but Carey will surely measure and work out well before the draft, which will only help his first-round cause.