2014 NFL Draft: The Most Overlooked Player at Every Position
The draft is a long process every year. With the draft pushed off an additional two weeks, this season allowed for even more time for added narratives and draft-board changes despite no games being played.
Through the past four months, players have been “hot and cold," seen their stock move up and down and have had sometimes drastic changes to their draft positioning based on workouts. But between the unnecessary shifting, the constant and fluctuating discussions on social media and television, and the sheer length and design of the process, some players have fallen through the cracks.
Here are the most overlooked prospects at each position in this year’s draft, including one receiver who deserves first-round consideration.
Quarterback: Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
It’s easy to hate on Logan Thomas after his struggles the past two seasons at Virginia Tech. He struggled with his ball placement, his footwork hadn’t substantially improved, and his overall confidence seemed to fade over the past two years.
But when teams draft quarterbacks after the first round, they’re looking for passers with the upside to develop into potential starters. Thomas has plenty of negatives on his scouting report, but his 6’6” size, ideal body type, strong arm and flashes on film that remind one of Cam Newton should be enough to intrigue teams in the first two rounds.
Thanks to as many as five quarterbacks linked to the first round at some point in the draft process, as well as respected passers Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger and AJ McCarron being second-round options, Thomas has been the forgotten man in the media after a lackluster Senior Bowl. But his skill set and upside could still make him a second-round target for a team that is willing to develop him.
Running Back: Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State
This running back class has long been lauded as deep but one whose value starts closer to Day 3. After the common early-round names of Carlos Hyde of Ohio State, Charles Sims of West Virginia and Tre Mason of Auburn, teams and fans alike can pick from a handful of runners to be their next best option at the position.
Isaiah Crowell was forced to transfer down to Alabama State after being kicked out of Georgia as a freshman for violation of team rules. But once he arrived at Alabama State, he stayed out of trouble and put up impressive numbers.
With a powerful base, plus balance and power as he works up and through the hole, and the vision and anticipation to make defenders miss at the second level, he has the skill set to become an NFL starter. Despite his character concerns, he’s worth a top-100 selection and may end up there on draft day.
Wide Receiver: Allen Robinson, Penn State
After declaring for the draft the day after Bill O’Brien announced he was headed to the NFL, Allen Robinson entered a deep receiver class and, for whatever reason, became quickly forgotten. The 2012 Biletnikoff Award finalist put up nearly 2,500 yards over the past two seasons in the O’Brien pro-style offense despite playing with the lackluster arm strength of Matt McGloin and true freshman Christian Hackenberg.
On film, Robinson should remind scouts of Keenan Allen thanks to his separation on deep-breaking routes and his ability to finish at the catch-point and make defenders miss with the ball in his hands.
In Mel Kiper’s most recent mock draft (subscription required), he had eight receivers in the first round but omitted Robinson. In my opinion, he’s the fourth-best receiver in this class, behind Sammy Watkins and almost on the same level as Marqise Lee of USC and Odell Beckham Jr. of LSU.
He should certainly be in the late first-round discussion, but if he falls, I have a feeling he’ll make teams regret it the same way Allen has.
Tight End: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro are the plus-athletes at the tight end position, intriguing teams with their versatility as offensive weapons and vertical pass-catching ability. Troy Niklas has the size and flashes on film, but he’s far from a finished product and doesn’t have any skill at an NFL-level yet. And Austin Seferian-Jenkins has incredible length, but there are concerns about his willingness to block and injury woes, according to Dave Siebert of Bleacher Report.
But Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz can do a bit of everything at the tight end position and may be one of the more reliable options for teams that are looking for a quick fix at the position. A plus-blocker, he can handle edge-rushers as a chip-blocker and works hard in positioning in the run game. He has soft hands and works best on underneath and mid-field routes, extending away from his frame and finishing with power. And he’s played a handful of spots on the field at Iowa, so teams can utilize some of his versatility.
He’s not the sexiest option for teams that are looking to make a splash at the position. But franchises should be as confident as I am that he’ll not only stick on a roster but allow for more offensive versatility in the run and pass game. He should be able to contribute in some fashion early in his career.
Offensive Line: Billy Turner, North Dakota State
A mauling, power run-blocker, Billy Turner was a monster at the FCS level and one of the key reasons for North Dakota State’s offensive success. However, level of competition concerns and struggles during the Senior Bowl practice week may have made teams a little uneasy about his transition to the pros.
While he won’t be suited for either tackle spot in the NFL for now, due to his struggles in his kick slide, he should be able to provide ample push in the run game, utilizing his awesome hand strength and thick upper half to pave the way for running backs.
And for the future, many of his issues seem coachable. He wasn’t asked to do a lot of natural kick slides in college, and his struggles during the Senior Bowl appeared more fundamental footwork concerns as opposed to athletic limitations. He may not be the immediate fix that some teams are seeking early in the draft, but the team that takes the time to develop him could see its risk rewarded once he’s NFL-ready.
Defensive Line: Caraun Reid, Princeton
Hailing from the Ivy League, it’s tough for any small-school player to make waves on the national scene. However, after Caraun Reid had a strong Senior Bowl, those in the media seemed to take note of the Princeton product. They saw that his versatility and interior pass-rush ability could be among the best in this class.
On film, the Tigers used Reid across the line. Anywhere from nose tackle to playing on the edge, he was able to force double-teams the past two seasons and still produce to keep NFL eyes on him.
Best suited for a 3-technique spot in the NFL, Reid could fit in a 3-4 defense as a 5-technique as well as offer situational versatility for both defensive schemes. Despite hailing from an FCS program, he is NFL-ready and has a skill set that teams covet in today’s NFL, where interior pressure can drastically affect a team’s passing offense.
Linebacker: Kyle Van Noy, BYU
After Kyle Van Noy played at a national award-level as a junior, the loss of Ezekiel Ansah and a change in his responsibilities pushed him aside in the discussion of the top linebackers in college football.
But he offers more versatility than most linebackers who enter the draft. While he’s not an elite pass-rusher, the coveted role at the position nowadays, he’s polished in his pursuit to the quarterback and finishes tackles when working inside and out.
Lining up at all three linebacker spots and defensive end throughout his career, Van Noy has showed off the talent to rush the passer, finish in run support, attack runners on the edge and play in both man and short-area zone coverage.
He may not be flashy all the time, but he has all the tools to play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense and fill multiple roles. It’s rare for a linebacker to offer both versatility and NFL-readiness. On draft day, when teams need to decide between a high-risk prospect and a guy like Van Noy—whom they’re confident won’t get them fired—I have a hunch someone in the top 40 will happily select him.
Cornerback: Walt Aikens, Liberty
Every year, a handful of small-school cornerbacks intrigue teams and rise throughout the process. While Pierre Desir of Lindenwood has gotten his fair share of national attention, Liberty’s Walt Aikens hasn’t been so lucky.
The former Illinois transfer, Aikens displayed fluid hips, quick feet as he transitioned vertically and the physicality while extended to deal with bigger-bodied vertical threats in college. He still needs footwork, hand placement and overall positioning work, but based on his performance at the Senior Bowl, some minor improvements in that area could make a world of difference.
While he won’t be in the first-round discussion, he has the talent to potentially be a late second-round option for a team to capitalize on this quality early-round cornerback class.
Safety: Dion Bailey, USC
A down season this past year has seemingly made most of the USC Trojans in this draft a bit forgotten. However, despite the early-season struggles, the team (defense especially) played at a high level and showcased the immense talent on the roster.
A former linebacker covert who moved to safety this season, Dion Bailey is less of a ‘tweener and more of a developed safety who can finish plays in the box like a linebacker. Best suited for a strong safety role that can capitalize on his explosiveness in run support and positioning in mid-field coverage, he could be one of the best safeties in this class when we look back.
In what I consider to be a lackluster safety class as a whole, Bailey stands out as an athletic option to fill a strong safety role early in his NFL career. He’s earned a second-round grade from me, and if he goes any later than that, the team that scoops him up will quickly realize his value.
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