The key to a franchise having a great draft is selecting players who wind up exceeding expectations. Obviously, this is no easy task. If a player's future NFL success was wildly apparent, the expectations would be higher to begin with.
Projecting players in the NFL is an inexact science, and every year there are plenty of players who exceed or fail to meet their expectations.
Below are three prospects with the tools to exceed their expectations.
Deone Bucannon S, Washington State:
Almost all of the buzz around safeties in this class surrounds Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor, but Washington State's Deone Bucannon deserves to be on their level.
CBS Sports' Pat Kirwan likes him but points out his underwhelming draft value, "I might consider him in the late first round, but one personnel guy told me second or third round for Bucannon."
Bucannon is a complete safety. He has the physicality to play in the box and be a credit in run defense. At 6'1" and 215 pounds, Bucannon has solid size. He can punish ball-carriers and has good form in tackling. Bucannon led the Pac-12 in tackles last season at 114.
Prior to a visit with the New England Patriots, the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe commented on his hitting power:
Deone Bucannon, one of the draft's hardest-hitting safeties, is visiting the Patriots today, per source.— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) April 16, 2014
At the same time, he has the range and instincts to handle coverage. In four years at Washington State, Bucannon hauled in 15 interceptions. That is greater than the combined total of Clinton-Dix and Pryor.
Bucannon doesn't have elite athleticism, which appears to be limiting his draft stock, but he will still be an excellent safety in the NFL.
Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Xavier Su'a-Filo will likely go in the second half of the first round or early in the second. In terms of offensive linemen, he is being overshadowed by the tackles in this class. Such is the life of a guard—he takes a back seat to the men who play on his outside shoulder.
Still, he isn't getting enough love. For instance, last year Alabama guard Chance Warmack was taken with the 10th overall pick, and it wasn't all that surprising. Yet, I haven't seen a mock that has Su'a-Filo in the top 10. For instance, three of the five first-round mocks posted by CBS don't have him going in the first, and the other two have him going No. 32 to the Seattle Seahawks.
There are plenty who believe he is a better prospect than Warmack. This comes to us from Ryan Kartje of the Orange County Register:
Two scouts told Mora that Su’a-Filo is the best guard prospect in the draft since five-time All-Pro Steve Hutchinson, who was drafted out of Michigan in 2001.
That claim might be a bit hyperbolic, but the combine and UCLA’s Pro Day did go quite well for Su’a-Filo, who’s widely believed to be a first-round pick and the top guard available.
Su’a-Filo said a few teams mentioned he even play tackle or center at the next level.
Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar didn't go quite as far back but called Su'a-Filo the best guard prospect since Stanford’s David DeCastro.
One of the things so attractive about Su'a-Filo is his nastiness. Farrar passed along this comment from the guard on nastiness and which NFL player he patterns his game after:
I watch a lot of the guys I try to pattern my game after. I watch a lot of Logan Mankins, left guard from the New England Patriots. I think Logan, he was a high draft pick, but he’s physical. He’s a bad-ass, he started from Day 1 in New England, and I love how nasty he is, something about his game that I really try to implement.
Su'a-Filo is going to be an excellent guard in the NFL for a long time.
Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh
All of a sudden, Tom Savage is getting some hype for the draft. In fact, he was he invited to the festivities. ESPN's Josina Anderson reports he declined that invitation:
Confirming that QB Tom Savage has declined an invitation to attend the NFL Draft in NY.— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) April 19, 2014
As long as Savage doesn't sneak into the first round, he is prepared to exceed expectations.
Kirwan passes along the kind of hype Savage is getting in the right circles. The NFL insider reported that "Two reliable NFL evaluators of quarterbacks pointed me to the quarterback they like the most in this draft." As Kirwan went on to explain, that QB is Tom Savage.
At 6'4, Savage has ideal size. He's not overly athletic, but he moves well in the pocket. Savage is 23, so other quarterbacks in this class will have a head start on him. He was also not spectacular last season at Pitt.
Savage was not surrounded by much talent at Pitt and played behind a poor offensive line, but he still threw for 21 touchdowns, nine interceptions and completed over 61 percent of his passes.
Savage is the prototypical pocket passer with the body to take the abuse of the NFL. He will be a productive quarterback in the NFL.