Best-Kept Secrets of the 2014 NFL Draft Class
What makes for a secret in the NFL draft? These days, every prospect is chewed up and spit out by the draft machine. There is no hiding from the draft community.
That is not to say there aren't sleepers in the draft. Some prospects get far more attention than others, after all, and some still get virtually bypassed by the masses. Four months is a long time to pore over the draft, but it's also tough to go through 300-plus players.
Who are some of the draft's best-kept secrets? These players aren't necessarily off the radar, but many of them aren't in the limelight, either.
Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
The wide receiver class is a deep one, so it's no surprise that some are going relatively unnoticed.
Take Clemson's Martavis Bryant, who is liable to go in the second round—perhaps even surprising us all by crashing the first round—but heads into the home stretch of draft season with little buzz.
Bryant is one of those rare physical specimens at wide receiver. He ran the 40-yard dash at the combine in 4.42 seconds, at 6'4" and 211 pounds. It was faster than Clemson teammate Sammy Watkins', which is all the more impressive given he is three inches shorter than Bryant.
On film, Bryant sticks out as a guy with massive potential. He was buried behind DeAndre Hopkins and Watkins for much of his career at Clemson, and Watkins got much of the glory in 2013.
Bryant flashed his potential plenty of times, though, particularly as a red-zone threat. He is fast enough to burn opposing defenses deep, too, though he has plenty of work to do to refine his game.
Of course, there are plenty of fast, big receivers who have been disappointments in the NFL. Is Bryant the next Stephen Hill? Only time will tell.
Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech
The pass-rushers at the top of this class are all jockeying for position, and some of the other first-round talents will settle in behind them. Will Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu join them?
Attaochu hasn't garnered a ton of public attention, but he has certainly caught the eye of those in the draft community.
Case in point, NFL analyst Greg Cosell pegs Attaochu as a better draft pick than Auburn's Dee Ford, who projects to go higher in the draft. Like Ford, Attaochu was impressive at Georgia Tech's pro day, showing off his explosiveness by running the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds and flashing a 37.5" vertical jump, according to ESPN's Kevin Weidl.
It's a wonder Attaochu hasn't gotten more attention as a potential first-day pick, making him a first-round sleeper more than a "secret," per se.
Terrance West, RB, Towson
How does a guy who rushed for a national-record 2,509 yards and 42 touchdowns fly under the radar?
Perhaps performing in the Football Championship Subdivision has something to do with it. Towson's Terrance West isn't getting much hype, but he could well be the biggest third-day catch in the draft if he makes it that far.
He has turned some heads during the draft process, including Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's, according to USA Today's Jim Corbett:
'Once Terrance was done with his running back drills, he'd come spend an extra hour catching,' Bridgewater said. 'That's the kind of guy you want around.'
West is a one-cut, downhill runner in the mold of Green Bay Packers rookie standout Eddie Lacy. Former NFL and current IMG Academy speed coach Loren Seagrave says West could clock a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, which could help him climb into the second round.
'Terrance is the guy who really opened my eyes with his talent and work ethic,' Bridgewater told USA TODAY Sports.
Bridgewater talked about the energy West brought as one of his receivers during 90-minute throwing sessions with Weinke.
The second round sounds a bit lofty given the entire running back class is depressed in value, but the third round is a strong possibility.
Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida
Much was made of cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson out of Florida.
The starting tandem has not made the most of its opportunities this draft season, however, flopping at both the combine and Florida's pro day. Their teammate Jaylen Watkins, however, has quietly been solid. He lurks in the draft like an alligator in the Everglades.
Watkins didn't appear in many of the events, but he outshone his former Florida teammates with a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He also put up 22 reps in the 225-pound bench press, eight more than Purifoy and Roberson's combined total of 14.
The former Gator is versatile, having played safety for much of 2013. It wouldn't be surprising to see him taken before his more highly touted former teammates.
Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville
Versatility is a nice trait to have in a pass-rusher, and Marcus Smith is one of the most versatile ones in the draft. Like highly touted outside linebacker Anthony Barr, Smith is relatively new to his role as pass-rusher, per NFL.com's Mike Huguenin:
Smith measured 6-foot-3 and 258 pounds in Monday's weigh-in at the Reese's Senior Bowl, small for a defensive end in the NFL, and his pass-rush skills have led some NFL teams to think he can make the switch to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He is familiar with moving around.
Smith was a high school quarterback in Columbus, Ga., but didn't project as a college quarterback. He was 6-3 and 210 pounds when he signed with Louisville and was a linebacker as a true freshman with the Cardinals in 2010. He moved to end the next spring and had a combined 9.5 sacks in 2011 and '12, when he still was learning the intricacies of the position.
Smith wound up with 14.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss in 2013, great numbers for the former Cardinal. He could shoot up in the draft rather quickly with pass-rushers at a premium.
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Another wide receiver lost in the shuffle, Paul Richardson comes into the draft even more under the radar than Martavis Bryant. Consequently, the odds that he will be taken in the first round are much lower, but Richardson will likely be a second-day snag.
The 6'0", 175-pound receiver out of Colorado blazed at the combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. Of course, the fact he only weighed in at 175 pounds is a concern for him at the next level.
His speed is what helped him average an incredible 41.8 yards per touchdown catch with the Buffaloes, and it's what will draw attention from NFL teams sooner than later in the draft.
David Fales, Quarterback, San Jose State
How could a quarterback who had some hype behind him entering draft season be considered a secret? Well, he's not, but David Fales has certainly fallen off the casual fan's map in recent months.
Fales had a pretty good Senior Bowl, but the attention has since shifted to hand-wringing over draft stock for top guys such as Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles. Other quarterbacks have recently caught the hype bug, most notably Tom Savage and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Small-school, size and arm-strength fears have been a bit of a drag on his draft stock, but he dispelled some of that at San Jose State's pro day, per Jimmy Durkin of the San Jose Mercury News:
The biggest question dogging Fales has been his arm strength, and he seemed to have a little extra life on his throws.
'Everyone's going to be a critic and has to analyze something,' Fales said. 'I know what I need to work on and my strengths and weaknesses. I'll always be working on everything.'
One of the incompletions was a go route that sailed 60-65 yards in the air but went off the hands of receiver Chandler Jones, who seemed surprised by how far the ball traveled.
'I definitely can tell he's been working,' Jones said of Fales. 'He's got a lot more zip on it. The ball's really getting there.'
There isn't much Fales can do about his size at 6'2" and 212 pounds, but he is a hard worker who could sneak into the second day if a team wants a solid backup with potential.
Billy Turner, OT, North Dakota State
If you want finesse at offensive tackle, North Dakota State's Billy Turner isn't your man.
On the contrary, Turner is quite possibly one of the meanest prospects in the draft. Maybe it's because he wasn't recruited by any FBS schools. Instead, he anchored the offensive line for two-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State.
Turner isn't likely falling terribly far out of the second round if he doesn't get drafted in the top 64. He could be a quality day-one starter in the NFL.
DJ Adams, RB, Portland State
As late-round prospects go, DJ Adams is one of the biggest sleepers at running back.
The Portland State product was once a Maryland Terrapin, transferring from the FBS school because of a perplexing lack of playing time, per The Washington Post's Eric Prisbell. Maryland's loss was Portland State's gain.
Adams rushed for 2,567 yards and 31 touchdowns for the Vikings over the past two seasons, and he had a fantastic senior season that culminated in a two-touchdown performance at the Medal of Honor Bowl this past January, leading his team to a 20-3 victory.
Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
He might not be flying under the radar these days, but cornerback Pierre Desir still has plenty of climbing to do.
How many of you heard of Lindenwood before Desir broke through in recent months? He figures to be the first Lindenwood alumnus ever to be drafted in the NFL. When he does get taken, a big reason why is his nice combination of size and speed, per NFL.com's Mike Huguenin:
Desir is a 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback from Lindenwood University, a Division II school in St. Charles, Mo., a St. Louis suburb. That size has increased Desir's draft stock, and NFL scouts have been able to see Desir up close and personal this week at the Reese's Senior Bowl.
Early in Senior Bowl week, NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock said the rise in 'big-bodied wide receivers' in the NFL has teams looking for 'longer body frames' in their corners. He said some teams are willing to use corners who are 'a little less quick-footed and explosive' as long as they are big.
Coming out of an FCS school puts prospects behind the eightball, but Desir has skillfully navigated his way around it on tape and through draft season. There is a good chance he will go much higher than initially expected.
All NFL combine results courtesy of NFL.com.