The NFL draft process is a constant roller coaster for the players involved and the people who cover it. Players are constantly being overhyped or underappreciated throughout draft season, and it’s up to the people evaluating these prospects to keep a level head, realize whose value is real and whose is a product of the media’s impact on the draft boards in the NFL and on the Internet.
Some players tend to sink under the radar early in the draft process before people get information from NFL scouts or before people in the media get a chance to truly watch film and find out for themselves just how talented some prospects are.
Here are eight prospects who deserve more buzz in the 2014 draft class.
The former SEC Freshman of the Year, Isaiah Crowell was kicked off the Georgia football team and landed in the SWAC conference at Alabama A&M to start over. Crowell has stayed out of trouble throughout his career at A&M, produced at a high level throughout his two-year tenure and chose to enter the 2014 draft class with the hopes NFL teams will get past his issues at Georgia.
On the field, few runners in this class run with the tenacity and power of Crowell, and it’s clear that despite leaving the SEC, he didn’t leave his talent behind. With the burst up and through the hole and the balance through contact he possesses, Crowell can have success in both man- and zone-blocking schemes.
He’ll likely fall on draft day despite his immense talent, but don’t sleep on the small-school runner with big-time talent.
Despite showcasing his ability against future NFL corner Bradley Roby in-season and impressing during Senior Bowl week, Jared Abbrederis still isn’t receiving the attention he deserves as a top-10 receiver in this class. The lack of great top-end speed or elusiveness in the open field may limit his upside a bit in NFL teams’ minds, but he’s a worthwhile top-100 pick.
Abbrederis isn’t a worthwhile first-rounder and likely won’t be a second-rounder thanks to the talent of this receiver unit pushing everyone’s value down.
But don’t dismiss the Wisconsin product as simply an adequate receiver worthy of mid-round consideration. He’ll be a long-term player in this league, and his route development, physicality at the catch point and decisive open-field cuts could make him a long-term NFL starter.
Similar to Abbrederis, Robert Herron impressed during his senior season and especially during Senior Bowl practices to the point that he has emerged as one of the premier slot receivers in this class. He’s a bit undersized and doesn’t extend away from his body as well as you’d like, but he’s poised, consistent and efficient throughout his movements.
Likely sliding to Day 3 of the draft thanks to the receiving depth in this class, Herron could be the rare plug-and-play starting slot receiver for an NFL team looking to take advantage of the deep pool of talent in this draft.
Herron is not only a name to keep in mind through the process, but also one that will likely garner heavy fantasy football interest come August.
At Optimum Scouting, we have eight juniors among the top nine at the tight end position in this year’s draft class.
The lone senior? C.J. Fiedorowicz.
The Iowa product fits the stereotype of Iowa in-line players, as he is a tough, physical blocker, but he has the hands, physicality at the catch point in the short area and polish in quick hitch and out routes to be a near-immediate starter in the NFL.
He’ll likely slip a bit in the draft thanks to the influx of talented tight ends the junior class provides, but there may not be a safer, more complete tight end in this class than Fiedorowicz. He may not be as athletically gifted as Jace Amaro or Eric Ebron, but he’s a reliable receiving and blocking weapon for an NFL team.
The fact that he’s only 6’4” and wasn’t always dominant at Clemson leads some evaluators to the point of kicking Brandon Thomas inside to guard in the NFL. However, based on his performance against Jadeveon Clowney in-season and his ability to extend and finish blocks during Senior Bowl week in pass protection, he deserves a bit more hype.
With the length necessary to play tackle, the hand strength and sturdy base on the edge and the adequate kick slide to hold against 3-4 rushers, Thomas can play tackle in the NFL, or at least provide versatility there.
He won’t get the same publicity as Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson, Taylor Lewan or Cyrus Kouandjio, but he could certainly be an opening-day starter in the NFL.
During USC’s in-season rebound after the firing of Lane Kiffin, the Trojans defensive line stepped up in a big way, led by Leonard Williams (who stayed in school) and George Uko. While Williams was the more impactful of the two during the 2013 campaign, Uko certainly made his presence felt as an interior disruptor and a legitimate top-100 potential prospect.
With ideal size and quickness to initially compete and be an every-down 3-technique in the NFL, Uko doesn’t wow in any particular area, but he is efficient enough in run situations to contain the interior and flashes upside as a pass-rusher.
After a 13-sack season in 2012 during his breakout campaign at USC after making the leap from junior college, Morgan Breslin was hampered by injuries during his senior season and couldn’t live up to the preseason expectations set by many close to the program. After dealing with a hip injury much of the season, Breslin was forced out for the season when it became too much to deal with and ultimately had surgery in early November.
Despite being an NFL Scouting Combine snub, Breslin is training now to showcase his abilities at USC’s pro day in May. With the power-rushing ability and control at the rush point to adjust and counter as a rusher, Breslin can fit in both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses as an edge protector with plus power-rush ability.
Playing both safety and linebacker in his college career, the strong safety-built Dion Bailey may be one of the most underappreciated players in the draft class. Likely a combination of playing on a consistently underrated USC team (the third USC player on this list) and changing positions throughout his career, Bailey is a strong second-round pick and a potential high-impact player in the NFL.
With the ball tracking, tackling and short-area coverage skills of a linebacker and the range, timing and quickness of a safety, Bailey is the best of both positions. His skill set should translate to a Kam Chancellor or Troy Polamalu role in the NFL once he gets comfortable at the pro level.