The 2014 draft is still a few months away, but many football fans are already in full-on draft mode. That is especially true for those fans whose teams failed to qualify for the playoffs. A number of high-profile prospects are receiving plenty of attention, but there are several others who are flying under the radar.
For every Teddy Bridgewater or Jadeveon Clowney, there are intriguing prospects who haven't received a ton of hype. Since hype rarely dictates which players will succeed and which won't at the NFL level, though, there are bound to be some players who essentially come out of nowhere to blossom into NFL stars.
Here are three underrated draft prospects that aren't getting a ton of publicity right now but will ultimately thrive in the NFL.
Since it is seemingly easy for NFL teams to find quality running backs pretty much anywhere these days, the position's draft value has fallen precipitously in recent years. No running backs were taken in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, and it's entirely possible that the same will happen in 2014. There are a number of intriguing backs that teams will consider in the second round and beyond, and Ohio State's Carlos Hyde should be chief among them.
The likes of Ka'Deem Carey, Tre Mason, Bishop Sankey and Lache Seastrunk have been getting some love from prognosticators, but that hasn't necessarily been the case with Hyde. It's difficult to figure out since Hyde has ideal size at 6', 235 pounds.
Perhaps Hyde doesn't have elite speed, but that isn't always necessary to have success in the NFL. Hyde was super productive for the Buckeyes this past season, and he very well may have been in the Heisman discussion had he not missed a few games, according to Ben Axelrod of FOX Sports.
Hyde steadily improved with each passing year at Ohio State, and it culminated with better than 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. Hyde also averaged nearly eight yards per carry, which suggests that a lack of speed and quickness won't hold him back in the NFL.
He rushed for over 100 yards in eight straight games to close Ohio State's regular season, and he enters the draft with a ton of momentum, which teams shouldn't ignore.
There is no doubt that University at Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack is receiving some love from draftniks as he is ranked highly by several publications, but the general public still doesn't know much about him. The fact that he played in the MAC prevented him from being known at a national level, but Mack legitimately had one of the most productive four-year careers by a linebacker in the history of college football, and he's an elite athlete to boot.
Fans often look to compare prospects to existing NFL players in order to gauge how they will translate. It's tough to pigeonhole Mack since he can do so many things, but an anonymous AFC scouting director believes he is similar to Denver Broncos star Von Miller, according to Mike Huguenin of NFL.com. That director also praised Mack's incredible versatility.
"He's one of the top pass rushers in the draft," the AFC college scouting director said. "He played his best games against the biggest opponents, and can be an [outside linebacker] in a 3-4 or a Sam [linebacker] in a 4-3."
The scout's claim that Mack shows up against top competition rings true as well. He was dominant against Ohio State to open the season as he racked up nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown against Braxton Miller. It was a special performance, and Mack continued to do that throughout the season.
Some fans might be puzzled when Mack goes off the the board within the top 10 or 15 picks, but he'll be a household name soon enough.
The wide receiver position appears to be quite strong in this year's draft with Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Marqise Lee and Kelvin Benjamin all potentially coming out, but that has led to Oregon State's Brandin Cooks being overshadowed.
Cooks was the most productive wide receiver in the nation this past season, and he also happens to have an explosive skill set that makes him a first-round talent, although most signs point to him being taken in the second at the earliest.
Cooks made a ridiculous 128 catches in 2013 for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was definitely a product of the Beavers' pass-happy offense in some ways, but he is a legitimate prospect as well. He has ideal speed and quickness, but the main concern is obviously his slight frame at 5'10", 186 pounds.
Smaller receivers have become stars in the NFL before, though, and Cooks is aiming to do the same as he has officially entered the draft, as seen in this video, courtesy of Oregon State.
It wouldn't be too far off to compare Cooks to a guy like Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Although Jackson has more natural athleticism, they have a lot in common. There were concerns about Jackson's size and strength when he came to the NFL, but he has held up well as a No. 1 receiver for several years.
Cooks has pretty much every tool you look for aside from size, so he stands to be a huge steal in the 2014 draft.
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