The 2014 NFL draft is scheduled for May 8-10, but the excitement has already begun mounting after the conclusion of the NFL Scouting Combine and the beginning of pro days across the country.
Unheralded stars like Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro, Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan have fans excited about the potential for their team to acquire a difference-maker late in the first round.
Here are the prospects who will be taken late in the first round but will perform at an elite level in the NFL.
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The tight end position has become more important than ever with the NFL moving to a more pass-happy mindset, and that opens the door for a pass-catching TE like Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro to thrive.
There is no doubt that Amaro will have to work on his blocking on the line of scrimmage to be an every-down factor, but with elite size (6’5” and 265 pounds), strength (28 reps on the bench press) and speed (4.74 seconds in the 40-yard dash), Amaro is an ideal target in the passing game.
Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller commented on Amaro’s combine performance:
Jace Amaro showing off his athleticism. Ran a 4.66 at 265 lbs. Great flex tight end prospect.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 22, 2014
While there are several teams that need help at tight end, this is a deep class at the position. There is a chance that Amaro could fall all the way to his ideal landing spot, the New England Patriots at No. 29.
The Patriots are desperate to find a player who can be a reliable target for Tom Brady and a complement to Rob Gronkowski when he eventually returns from his injuries. If Amaro falls to No. 29, New England will be in the driver’s seat in the AFC.
Predicted Landing Spot: No. 29 New England Patriots
Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Safeties in today’s NFL must be able to step up against the run and be viable in coverage against the best receivers, running backs and tight ends in the NFL. One of the best prospects in the 2014 class is Louisville’s Calvin Pryor.
Pryor has shown his immense talent against the run, amassing a reputation as one of the hardest hitters at the position last season, but it has been his improvements in the passing attack that have caused teams to take a harder look at him.
According to NFL.com’s Gil Brandt, Pryor reminds him of a very prominent safety:
Pryor looks like a carbon copy of Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas; he really punishes people as a tackler and has great coverage skills. He's fast (4.58 40) and strong (18 reps), and I think he'll probably get a boost after this.
That’s high praise.
There are many teams in the late stages of the first round that need help in the back half of their defensive units, and Pryor would be an ideal fit. While Pittsburgh at No. 15 and Philadelphia at No. 22 are possible lading spots, the Green Bay Packers need him most at No. 21.
With the ability to create havoc in coverage and step up against the run, Pryor would fill two separate needs with one selection.
Predicted Landing Spot: No. 21 Green Bay Packers
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
One of the most underrated defensive players in the 2014 NFL draft is Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan.
The major flaw in Jernigan’s game is his conditioning, but the raw talent he possesses in the middle of a defensive line is impressive. He knows how to clog the running lanes by using his size and athleticism, but it is his unique ability to create pressure from the DT position that makes him special.
The reason Jernigan could last until No. 32, though, is his inconsistency and lack of durability, as detailed by Draft Breakdown’s Ryan Lownes:
Writing up Ra'Shede Hageman and Timmy Jernigan tonight. Two players that flash tremendous natural ability; but "flash" really the key word.— Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) March 5, 2014
Whether it’s the Seattle Seahawks at No. 32 or another team in the first round, the raw potential of a player like Jernigan makes the reward worth the risk. The NFL is full of elite strength and conditioning coaches, and with the right commitment, Jernigan could become a top star.
Jernigan has shown immense talent in spurts throughout his college career, and if a team could maximize his potential by improving his ability to stay on the field throughout a game, this could be the steal of the draft when we look back.
Predicted Landing Spot: No. 32 Seattle Seahawks