The 2014 NFL draft class is extremely deep from top to bottom, and there are some prospects who will certainly slide out of the first round only to become superstars at the next level.
Grading players before they hit the field at the NFL level is more pseudoscience than anything else. Nobody knows what will happen once they strap on the pads and hit the practice field during training camp, which is why so many first-round selections end up as busts.
Last year, Kiko Alonso and Eddie Lacy were both picked up in Round 2 and performed better than most of the young men selected ahead of them in the first round. And this isn't a new phenomenon—it happens every year.
So, which second-round prospects have the best chance to emerge as up-and-coming NFL stars in 2014?
Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Zach Mettenberger would be in the conversation as a potential first-round quarterback in this year's draft if he hadn't torn his ACL toward the end of last season.
As it stands, he'll be a huge bargain in Round 2, and nobody should be surprised if he ends up competing for a starting job as a rookie for one of the quarterback-needy teams in the league.
He threw for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season under Cam Cameron at LSU, completing 64.9 percent of his passes. It was a vast improvement from a mediocre 2012 season in which he completed just 58.8 percent of his passes and threw just 12 touchdowns.
At 6'5" and 224 pounds, Mettenberger possesses prototypical size for an NFL quarterback. He also has a cannon for an arm and likes to stay in the pocket, which often leads to big plays down the field. By no means is he a polished product, Mike Mayock of NFL.com cautions, via Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com:
I like his size, I like his ability and I like his arm strength. It's more just a matter of his footwork, being more consistent with the ball, his feet being lined up, getting the ball out and some of the reads he makes. I think he just doesn't get the ball out quickly enough and I think that's something that a young quarterback has got to develop.
These are areas in which most young quarterbacks struggle, however, and his struggles do not indicate that Mettenberger will fail. Given the right situation, he has all the physical abilities to shine as a franchise passer.
Jackson Jeffcoat, OLB/DE, Texas
After missing half of the 2012 season with a ruptured pectoral muscle, Jackson Jeffcoat came back with a vengeance for the Texas Longhorns last season. He racked up 86 total tackles, 13 sacks and one forced fumble, bumping his four-year sack total up to 27.5.
However, Jeffcoat had flown well under the national radar heading into the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. This was highlighted when the defensive end wasn't invited to the Senior Bowl, much to the dismay of Bleacher Report's Matt Miller:
#Texas DE Jackson Jeffcoat isn't at the Shrine Game and hasn't been invited to the Senior Bowl. Odd given his talent & production.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 14, 2014
“Not getting invited to the Senior Bowl has definitely added fuel to my fire,” Jeffcoat said at the combine, per Clarence Hill of the Star-Telegram. “I used it as motivation. I worked my butt off and kept grinding.”
Clearly, his hard work paid off. The pass-rusher posted great numbers in the 40-yard dash (4.63 seconds), broad jump (10'3") and three-cone drill (6.97 seconds), and it's clear that he possesses elite athleticism to go along with his excellent production at Texas.
Given the right situation and scheme, Jeffcoat will develop into a phenomenal pass-rusher in the NFL.
Jordan Tripp, LB, Montana
In today's pass-happy league, NFL teams are always looking for linebackers who can fly from sideline to sideline and make plays in space.
Montana linebacker Jordan Tripp fits this description.
The little-known prospect showed off his athleticism at the combine, as noted by Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen, who is a former NFL defensive back:
The Montana product posted an official 4.67 40 time, but I was more focused on his skill set as it applied to the positional work on the field. This is where Tripp showcased the athleticism I saw during the Senior Bowl sessions. And while I do believe Tripp has to get stronger as he develops in the pro game, he has the ability to develop as a Nickel linebacker early in his NFL career.
In addition to his outstanding athletic abilities, Tripp is an instinctive player with a nose for the ball, and he racked up five interceptions at Montana. His ability to make plays on the ball in coverage will make him a valuable player at the next level, as he possesses the perfect skill set to thrive in the modern game.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.
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