The Most Unheralded Prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft
In the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft, the New England Patriots arguably made one of the best draft picks ever. Former Michigan quarterback Tom Brady was on the board late and the Pats took a chance.
Three Super Bowls, nine Pro Bowls and two MVP Awards later, Brady is definitely in the running as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL.
All that from a sixth-round draft pick.
History is littered with heart-warming, success stories like that. They might not all be of the same magnitude but drafting a player low in the draft and finding a hidden gem is something every team hopes for.
The 2014 draft is fairly deep and chances are better than normal that talented football players—even future starters in the NFL—can be had in the late rounds. But teams have to uncover these guys.
Here are eight players eligible for this year’s draft who aren’t getting enough love from draft pundits. The teams that take these guys will be pleasantly surprised, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
After Khalil Mack from Buffalo and Anthony Barr of UCLA, no one can agree on another sure-fire, first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft from the outside linebacker ranks. That’s a mistake because BYU’s Kyle Van Noy will produce at a first-round level no matter where he’s taken.
Over the past two seasons with the Cougars, Van Noy has notched 17 sacks, 39.5 tackles for loss and four interceptions. He was named to four All-American teams, according to BYU’s athletic department, and he was a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy and a semifinalist for four other awards (Chuck Bednarik Award, Butkus Award, Senior CLASS Award and the Lombardi Award).
Van Noy is a prototypical 3-4 pass-rusher and has shown his ability to wreak havoc behind the line of scrimmage.
I'm not sure why so many jumped off the Kyle Van Noy train, but as @JoshLiskiewitz just tweeted. Worth a Top-15 pick. (Well, Top-25 for me)— Inside The Film (@insidethefilm) March 25, 2014
He also has an explosive first step and the quickness to elude blockers. If he does get caught up in pass-blocking traffic, he’s an incredibly smart rush specialist with an enormous repertoire of moves to get to the quarterback. His ability to get after the quarterback (or running back) behind the line of scrimmage should have him easily going in the top half of the draft.
Kyle Van Noy finished 2nd in career production out of all the edge rushers, #NFLDraft— Ryan Riddle (@Ryan_Riddle) March 26, 2014
Van Noy only lifted 225 pounds at the combine 21 times, and he needs to get stronger, which will help him fight through traffic. But there’s no real reason why teams who need a pass-rushing linebacker shouldn’t look at him after Mack and Barr are drafted.
Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
Kareem Martin exploded on the college football scene in 2013, during his senior season with the North Carolina Tar Heels. After the two seasons prior where he combined for eight sacks, Martin more than doubled his output with 11.5 sacks, eighth best at the FBS level. Martin also more than doubled his tackle total, moving from 40 in each his sophomore and junior season, to 82 in 2013.
Where Martin might be best, however, is playing against the run, especially attacking ball-carriers behind the line of scrimmage. Martin combined for 22.5 tackles for loss in 2010 and 2011. In 2013 he tallied 21.5 in one season.
Martin is quick off the snap and has good one-way speed and acceleration. He can find gaps and uses his momentum well while rushing the passer.
What Martin doesn't do well is get away from blocks. He's going to need to develop escape moves and get stronger at the next level to keep from getting gobbled up at the line of scrimmage. He also lacks the proper footwork and tracking skills to change direction while in pursuit.
In the NFL, Martin may have to change roles a bit. On obvious passing downs, look for Martin to set the edge. His ability to tackle and hit and bring down ball-carriers may force him to the inside on running downs.
Said it before, media sleepin on him RT @Ryan_Riddle Kareem Martin graded higher than Clowney in college production & athletic measurables.— Ben Layman (@houtexmajorin) March 26, 2014
Martin has the physical attributes and upside to get a look in the first round. Which makes the fact that he’s going in the second round in most mock drafts very intriguing. He could be an absolute find for a team that needs a pass-rusher in the second round—that is, unless teams wise up to his abilities.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, DB, Nebraska
Everywhere you turn around the internet, Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste is predicted to be a third-round selection in the upcoming NFL draft in May.
New mock draft: WR Allen Robinson S Jimmie Ward CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste OLB Adrian Hubbard OG Brandon Thomas ? James Wilder QB Kenny Guiton— Fly Eagles(10-6) (@FlyEaglesNation) February 25, 2014
A third-round grade on Jean-Baptiste is too low.
Not only does Jean-Baptiste look the part of the new NFL cornerback at 6’3” and 218 pounds, but he seems to have total control over his trunk and limbs. With the size and physicality to stay with big receivers, he should be able to take advantage of the new trend toward taller corners.
Not only does Jean-Baptiste look the part, he’s developed into a heck of a ball-hawking corner. He led the Cornhuskers in 2012 and 2013 in pass breakups with nine and 12, respectively. He also picked off six passes in his final two years in school and all that was over just 17 starts.
Jean-Baptiste is a converted wide receiver (which may be why he’s so adept at disrupting receivers in their routes) with enough speed to play press coverage and enough range to make the most out of a cover zone scheme.
If teams continue to sleep on Jean-Baptiste, he may be around at the end of Day 2 of the draft. Sooner or later some NFL general manager will wise up and move his draft card up into the second round.
Ahmad Dixon, SS, Baylor
Depending on where you look or which scout you ask, Baylor strong safety Ahmad Dixon is anywhere between the fourth-ranked safety in the draft to No. 7 or 8. And his draft stock pushed him anywhere in the fourth or fifth round.
But Dixon shouldn’t be a last-day draft pick on Saturday. He’s good enough to go in the third round, especially if he’s thrust into the right situation.
Dixon is known as an angry hitter, someone who can punish a ball-carrier if the guy toting the rock is lucky enough to make it through the first two levels of the defense. He can attack fast and is superb in run support.
Where Dixon is lacking as he moves to the next level is in his cover skills and overall football IQ. Dixon doesn’t turn his hips especially well, and he’s not known as a ball-hawking threat at all. He’s also been penalized at times coaches might call inopportune, and he has trouble sometimes hitting instead of tackling.
That’s where Dixon could climb up draft boards if he’s taken by a smart general manager with an active and wide-ranging free safety. If Dixon is allowed to spend most of his rookie season in run support and allowed to learn on the fly to be a better cover option, he could flourish.
He’s already showing some improvement as the safety makes the transition from the college to pro game.
Really like Ahmad Dixon. Just showed nice range getting to pylon from centerfield.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 22, 2014
Ahmad Dixon looking very smooth in press coverage. He's attacking. And has hands to get the ball.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 21, 2014
It may take an extra year but at some point in the near future teams are going to be shocked Dixon was such a low draft pick.
David Fales, QB, San Jose State
While few can agree where they’ll go in the first round, most agree that Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel are early first-round picks, and the best quarterbacks in the upcoming NFL draft in May.
After that triumvirate, names like David Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo and the SEC trio of A.J. McCarron, Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray get lots of love as late first-round picks (Carr), second-rounders (Garoppolo) or anywhere from the third to the fourth round, possibly the fifth for the others.
Where does San Jose State quarterback David Fales fit in?
While Fales is considered the ninth-best quarterback in the draft by some ranking systems (CBS is one such service), there are those out there that believe he has much more upside than a possible fifth-round pick should have.
I like David Fales more than I should. Every throw is on the money. Love the accuracy. Drew Brees cover band.— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) March 25, 2014
Fales completed 68.1 percent of his passes over the last two years of his college career and threw for over 4,000 yards in each season. He’s smart and makes great decisions, and he has total control over his surroundings, both on the field and in the locker room.
There are still some things Fales needs to work on. He’s got to fix his footwork in the pocket, and he’ll need some time learning to confuse defenses with his eyes. A perfect situation for him might be to go to an NFL team with an established quarterback and line, so he can learn as a backup for a few years before he takes over.
He has the college pedigree and anyone who’s compared to Drew Brees can’t be all bad. In fact, maybe Brees would make a good mentor for Fales for the next two to three seasons.
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
Former Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla is the perfect combination of a pass-catching tight end with little-to-no blocking capabilities. He’s very much akin to recent retiree Tony Gonzalez and current New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham in that regard.
He, unfortunately, also has some off-the-field issues too. And that may be a huge reason (or one of them) why Lyerla is looking like a sixth-round pick instead of a second-day selection.
The details aren’t readily available, but Lyerla left the Oregon football team in 2013 after just two games.
He later got into some trouble with the authorities on a drug charge. It obviously wasn’t a great time in Lyerla’s life.
The next step in Lyerla’s football career could be the best of times. If he can put his troubled past behind him, he could transform into one of the better receiving tight ends in the NFL. He’s a great route runner and does some amazing things with his body when the ball is in the air.
The 60-plus catches per season Lyerla is capable of in the NFL, absolutely assure he needs to be a Friday draft pick. But some NFL team is going to get lucky on Saturday and nab a huge talent.
Will he put his troubles in the rear-view mirror?
Derrell Johnson, OLB, East Carolina
East Carolina linebacker Darrell Johnson wasn’t invited to the NFL combine. It would be a shame if he wasn’t invited to play in the NFL via the draft in May, because he can definitely produce on Sunday’s at the next level.
Johnson matched his junior-season sack total of seven in his senior season, and he finished his four-year career with the Pirates with 18 sacks. He also found an affinity for getting behind the line of scrimmage to take down ball-carriers. After 10 tackles for loss during his first two seasons combined, Johnson notched 11 during his junior year and 13 in 2013.
Not only is Johnson a smart football guy, he’s very coachable.
Ruffin McNeill's been around a bunch of NFL LBs. He told me #ECU's 257-lb Derrell Johnson is best LB he's ever coached in his 33 seasons.— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) November 13, 2013
Johnson is also incredibly quick off the snap and takes excellent angles to the quarterback. If he does get caught up in traffic—which is something he can typically avoid because of his ability to pick the right lanes of attack—he’s got the strength to fight through blockers. It will be interesting to see if his play against weaker competition in college will be much of hindrance in the NFL. It’s quite possible he excelled because he didn’t have to face SEC linemen.
But it’s also possible that he’ll grow into a linebacker in the NFL that people wonder how he slipped into the seventh round in the 2014 draft.
Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson
There are some people who have a first-round grade on Clemson cornerback Bashaud Breeland.
@Ryan_Riddle the guy I'm significantly higher on than most this year is Clemson CB Bashaud Breeland - I have a 1st rd grade on him.— Josh Liskiewitz (@JoshLiskiewitz) March 25, 2014
Then there are services that rank prospects, like CBS, that have Breeland as the 10th-ranked cornerback in the draft, going anywhere from the second to the third round. If he’s drafted on Friday, he’ll be a steal for the team that nabs him.
Breeland moves well and has the speed to cover great distances. He’s also a guy who can change directions at will. He tore up his pro day at Clemson on March 6 and showed why his improvement in college during his final season will translate into the NFL.
#Clemson CB Bashaud Breeland is tearing things up. Is having a fantastic drills session. Fluid and fast w/ great hands— Knox Bardeen (@knoxbardeen) March 6, 2014
@knoxbardeen Kid always had speed, agility, etc but struggles to cover WRs. Needs to work in his fundamentals.— David Hamilton (@DavidHamiltonTV) March 6, 2014
In the NFL, some defensive backs coach is going to have to sit Breeland down and fix his fundamentals when it comes to coverage. Breeland needs to maintain his ability to stick with a receiver but enhance his ball-hawking skills. If he can use his eyes more to anticipate passes before they land in the receivers’ hands, Breeland’s interception rate can climb.
Breeland needs to get drafted by an NFL team that will allow him to play in press coverage to utilize his movement skills and route-altering capabilities. If he can shine there, he’ll also show some team he can be a fantastic player on special teams, and he’ll get his hands dirty helping against the run.