2014 NFL Draft

2014 NFL Draft: The Most Overlooked Player at Every Position

Dan HopeContributor IIIApril 11, 2014

2014 NFL Draft: The Most Overlooked Player at Every Position

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    UCLA wide receiver Shaquelle Evans is among the most overlooked players in this year's draft.
    UCLA wide receiver Shaquelle Evans is among the most overlooked players in this year's draft.Eric Francis/Getty Images

    All NFL draft coverage is not created equal. While star prospects like Jadeveon Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel have received more attention than they’ve probably wanted leading up to this year’s event, there are many other prospects whose talents are getting overlooked.

    Some of those players have skill sets that warrant more attention than they're getting. Sometimes, those players go on to have great success in the NFL; just ask 2000 sixth-round pick Tom Brady or 2009 undrafted free agent Arian Foster.

    In a draft class that Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has said is "as deep across the board as any draft (he’s) seen in 30 years,” per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com, there are scores of players flying under the radar.

    The following 15 prospects are among those who truly deserve more attention for their abilities to play their positions.

QB: Keith Wenning, Ball State

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    Brian Kersey/Getty Images

    There are many quarterbacks in this year’s draft class viewed as early-round talent by some and late-round talent by others, but one talented signal-caller who has largely been ignored is Ball State’s Keith Wenning.

    Wenning’s physical tools don’t stand out much more than the competition he faced in college, but he has enough size and arm strength to attract real NFL interest. Meanwhile, he typically throws the ball with accuracy and touch to all levels on the field, including on deep balls.

    The overshadowed passer has a tendency to throw off his back foot and stares down his reads too frequently, but had Wenning played for a more prominent program, he’d almost certainly be getting more attention. His footwork and mechanics are mostly effective, including when he throws on the run, and he showed consistent improvement throughout his four years as a starter at Ball State.

    It’s unlikely that Wenning will be drafted before the late rounds, but he just might end up being a steal. As a developmental quarterback prospect, he could be a very smart choice in the late rounds; he deserves more attention than he’s getting at the most prominent position on the football field.

RB: Henry Josey, Missouri

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Henry Josey ran for 2,771 yards and 30 touchdowns in three playing seasons at Missouri, but he hasn’t gotten much love as an NFL draft prospect. He is currently ranked as just the 37th-best running back in this year’s draft class by NFLDraftScout.com.

    If Josey is to go undrafted, the biggest reason might be the severe knee injury he suffered Nov. 12, 2011. Multiple ligament tears and a torn patellar tendon didn’t just end his 2011 season prematurely; they also kept him out for 2012.

    That said, Josey came back in 2013 and still showed the speed and shiftiness that give him the ability to make special plays as a situational back. He has terrific vision and the hands to catch passes out of the backfield.

    At just 5’8” and 194 pounds, Josey might struggle to hold up between the tackles, especially given his injury history.

    Nonetheless, he is a tough runner who has shown that he can make plays with the ball in his hands. If he can become a more established pass protector on backfield blitz pickups, he could be a dynamic change-of-pace runner. Even in a deep class of running backs, Josey deserves a shot as a late-round draft choice.

FB: Ryan Hewitt, Stanford

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    USA TODAY Sports

    There’s nothing physically exceptional about Ryan Hewitt, but he consistently found ways to stand out on the field for Stanford.

    Hewitt won’t blow anyone away with his size, speed or skills, but he’s a smart player who always seems to be in the right position to make plays. He’s a reliable hands catcher, both from the tight end spot and out of the backfield, and he also exhibits strength from both spots as a lead blocker.

    The fullback position might be fading in the NFL, but his versatility to play tight end, contribute on special teams units and even take a few carries out of the backfield makes him well worth a roster spot.

    Overlooked more because of the position he plays than anything to do with his skill set, Hewitt is a player who can be counted on to give full effort and find ways to impact his team in a positive way. An NFL team could end up selecting him in the late rounds and getting a valuable player who sticks around for many years to come.

WR: Shaquelle Evans, UCLA

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    With as much depth as there is in this year’s draft class of wide receivers, it’s easy for a player to end up overlooked. One player who has seemingly been shut out of the conversation of the draft’s top receivers this year is UCLA’s Shaquelle Evans.

    That’s not to say he should be among the top receivers drafted this year. While there are a number of wideouts worthy of a top-100 selection, Evans’ draft stock is more touchy. At UCLA, he was an inconsistent performer with a motor that seemingly ran hot and cold. He needs to develop as a route-runner and has had some issues with concentration drops.

    That said, Evans has the talent to be a great playmaker when he is on top of his game. He is a big, athletic wideout who can make plays on the ball downfield and makes up for his drops with spectacular catches.

    At the very least, Evans isn’t a player who should be an undrafted free agent. His physical potential makes him worth taking a chance on as a Day 3 draft choice.

TE: Rob Blanchflower, Massachusetts

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    The University of Massachusetts isn’t exactly a hotbed of NFL talent, but Rob Blanchflower is one Minuteman whose skill set shouldn’t be ignored in the draft.

    He isn’t a spectacular athlete, but he has the potential to be one of the best traditional in-line tight ends out of this year’s draft class. At 6’4” and 256 pounds, Blanchflower uses his size to his advantage as both a receiver and a blocker.

    Even when he is covered, he can still make catches by posting up with his frame and utilizing his strong hands through contact. He doesn’t go down easily, often running through contact and forcing defenders to wrap him up and drive him down to the ground.

    A solid blocker who can line up both on the line and in the backfield, Blanchflower can be a three-down asset to an NFL offense. He has enough athleticism to extend plays with the ball in his hands, and his size enables him to create mismatches versus smaller defenders.

    Unfortunately, a sports hernia injury ended his senior season prematurely and kept him out of all-star games, the NFL Scouting Combine and UMass’ pro day. That injury hurts his chances of being drafted, but he could end up being a late-round steal for a team that can utilize size at the tight end position.

OT: James Hurst, North Carolina

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    Gerry Broome

    James Hurst was being overlooked even before he broke his left fibula in the Belk Bowl Dec. 28. While that injury hurt his stock for May’s draft, it could enable a team to land great value on a potential starter at offensive tackle.

    As he plays a position that is relatively deep in this year’s draft, Hurst has been overshadowed by some of his peers with more impressive physical tools. He has decent size at 6’5” and 296 pounds, but he isn’t a particularly explosive or overpowering player.

    That said, Hurst showed consistency, stability and, until his injury, durability as a four-year starter at North Carolina. He probably wouldn’t have stood out at the combine even if he was healthy, but he is a technically efficient player who moves fluidly with clean footwork.

    He hasn’t gotten much attention all year, but Hurst deserves top-100 consideration if he checks out as healthy. He was able to participate in UNC’s pro day in March, which likely eased the concerns teams might have had about his injury.

    He should be able to quickly adjust mentally to an NFL offensive line. As a mid-round choice, Hurst would be a great selection as a swing backup tackle who could develop into a starting role on either side of the line.

G: Trai Turner, LSU

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Trai Turner has received more attention than most of the other players on this list, but the LSU guard still deserves more buzz than he’s getting.

    An athletic, strong, 6’3” and 310-pound interior offensive lineman, Turner could end up being one of the first few guards selected in this year’s draft.

    He has all the physical tools to be an excellent NFL guard, and his play is better than he gets credit for. He’s not the most overpowering or laterally quick guard, but he’s a stone wall who consistently locks down his opponents once he gets his hands on them.

    Turner's play certainly still has room to develop, but he enters the draft at just 20 years old. While some believe he should have returned for another year of college rather than declare as a redshirt sophomore, NFL teams should see plenty of promise and potential to work with.

    Outside of Xavier Su’a-Filo, the draft board for guards looks very much uncertain, and it shouldn’t come as a shock if Turner factors in near the top of the group.

C: Jonotthan Harrison, Florida

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    A lack of depth in this year’s center class leaves the door open for some overlooked talents to work their way into the draft’s later rounds. One such prospect could be Florida’s Jonotthan Harrison, a fluid athlete with the potential to eventually develop into a starting-caliber player.

    Harrison’s positional versatility at the next level might be somewhat limited at just 6’3” and 304 pounds, but he has experience playing left guard as well as center. He isn’t a player who dominates his opponents with power, but he has the functional strength to hold his own up the middle.

    The Gators center plays with very good knee bend, typically holds leverage effectively and can cover ground well as a pull-blocker. He isn’t particularly explosive off the snap, but his experience at the position is an asset over other offensive linemen that teams might look to convert inside to center.

    Once the top centers are off the board, teams will have to do some deep digging to find talent at the position in this year’s draft. As a likely late-round draft selection, Harrison has potential to be a hidden gem.

DE: Ethan Westbrooks, West Texas A&M

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    Jim Cowsert

    It’s not easy for a Division II player to make a name for himself as an NFL draft prospect, but Ethan Westbrooks is a name that teams should know as a small-school sleeper talent at defensive end.

    While it came against a significantly lower level of competition, Westbrooks exhibited dominance with 47.5 tackles for loss (26.5 sacks) in just two seasons at West Texas A&M. His athletic advantages might not translate to the NFL, but he combines a quick first step with strong measurables and solid pass-rushing moves.

    As a small-school prospect with a seemingly hot and cold motor, Westbrooks is likely to still be available in the late rounds of the draft, but his potential should be intriguing to NFL teams.

    If Westbrooks receives effective development from an NFL coaching staff and puts his full effort into succeeding at the next level, he could be a Day 3 steal, at least for his situational pass-rushing ability.

DT: Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech

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    Michael Conroy

    The competition to be a Day 3 selection as a defensive tackle appears to be steep, which means there is no shortage of talented prospects being overlooked. One such player is Texas Tech’s Kerry Hyder, a skilled 3-technique penetrator who could make a team happy as a late-round selection.

    Hyder is an undersized defensive tackle at just 6’2” and 290 pounds, but he has very good movement skills. While he can use his quickness and hand skills to create disruption off the snap, he also has unusually impressive range to cover ground and make plays off the line of scrimmage.

    Although he’s not an overpowering interior lineman, Hyder typically holds his own well even against bigger blockers. NFL power running offenses will surely put Hyder to the test, but his well-rounded game should enable him to make an impact against both passing and running plays.

    Some teams might be scared away by his size, but Hyder’s production, athleticism and effort shouldn’t be ignored, especially if he is still available in the sixth or seventh round of the draft.

OLB: Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State

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    Jack Dempsey

    Shaquil Barrett had a standout senior season in which he recorded 20.5 tackles for loss, but he failed to receive an invite to this year’s NFL Scouting Combine.

    Barrett has been overlooked throughout the draft process, but he has the tools to succeed at the next level. He might not have the length and pass-rushing moves to be an NFL sack artist, but he has been a productive pass-rusher, while his strength actually comes in playing the run.

    The Colorado State product doesn’t have tremendous athletic range, but he takes good angles in pursuit and is a strong tackler. While he will need to flow more effectively around the edge for sustained NFL success, he fires off the snap with a quick first step and is good at attacking lanes to the backfield.

    Having lined up everywhere from defensive tackle to middle linebacker at Colorado State, Barrett is a flexible edge defender who projects adequately to either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, though his best fit would likely come as a 4-3 strong-side linebacker.

    Despite the lack of credit he has received in the pre-draft process, Barrett could prove to be a very valuable Day 3 draft pick for defensive and special teams rotations.

ILB: Avery Williamson, Kentucky

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    Even after a highly productive career at an SEC school, Kentucky’s Avery Williamson hasn’t generated much national attention.

    NFL teams should be giving Williamson a closer look. A well-rounded linebacker who was consistently around the football for the Wildcats, he could end up rising into the middle rounds of the draft.

    A strong tackler, Williamson has the athleticism to make plays across a wide range. He moves well to work his way into running lanes and can also drop back into coverage capably.

    At 6’1” and 246 pounds, Williamson doesn’t have great size, but he also typically doesn’t get pushed around by blockers. He uses his hands and burst well to knife through blocks and is at his best when he is on the attack.

    Williamson shouldn’t be viewed as a “thumper” middle linebacker, but he has the versatility to play a number of linebacker spots between schemes. At the least, he should be a strong rotational player as long as he can make a positive impact on special teams.

CB: Walt Aikens, Liberty

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    Despite an impressive showing throughout his week at the Senior Bowl, Walt Aikens is flying very much under the radar as a small-school product who failed to receive a combine invite.

    That said, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t have real interest around the league. As the league trends toward bigger cornerbacks, the potential is high for a 6’1”, 205-pound, physical and aggressive defensive back like Aikens to succeed.

    He doesn’t exhibit great foot skills or hip fluidity, so the combine might not have helped him too much. He’s an adequate athlete nonetheless, and he has good ball skills, uses his hands well in man coverage and is strong in run support.

    Dismissed from Illinois in 2010 following a misdemeanor theft conviction, Aikens will have to convince NFL teams that his character is not a concern. If he can do that, however, he could vault ahead of many bigger-name cornerbacks and end up being selected in the draft’s middle rounds.

S: Daniel Sorensen, BYU

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    Michael Conroy

    At a position where the current demand seems to outweigh the supply, the potential is high for less heralded prospects to rise up the draft board. BYU’s Daniel Sorensen is one example who hasn’t received much pre-draft attention but could end up emerging as an early Day 3 draft selection.

    Sorensen has tremendous ball skills and, as he proved at this year’s combine, great change-of-direction quickness. His 4.67-second 40-yard dash speed limits his ability to play in deep coverage, but he has good size at 6’1” and 205 pounds.

    The BYU product also needs to improve on his tackling, but he’s a skilled enough playmaker to at least earn a role as a third safety at the next level.

    Sorensen will need to prove that he can contribute on special teams, but there’s no reason to think he can’t excel there. That potential could push him ahead of some of his competition at safety and possibly make him a mid-round draft choice.

K: Nate Freese, Boston College

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    Although Nate Freese made every field goal he attempted in his senior season at Boston College, he was not one of the four placekickers invited to this year’s NFL Scouting Combine.

    While kicking opportunities can be hard to come by, Freese has the potential to win a job if he gets a shot. He has consistent accuracy, even when kicking from long distance, and has also shown his leg on kickoffs. He ranked sixth in the FBS in 2013 with an average of 64.16 yards per kickoff.

    Although Freese didn’t get the opportunity to work out for NFL scouts in Indianapolis, he took advantage of his chance at Boston College’s pro day, making every field goal he attempted.

    Freese has a small body, but that doesn’t mean he can’t generate power. He deserves as much consideration as any kicker in this year’s draft.

     

    All measurables courtesy of NFL.com.

    Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

    Follow @Dan_Hope

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