Scout's Report: The Most Underrated Prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft Class

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterMarch 22, 2018

Scout's Report: The Most Underrated Prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft Class

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    Last month, I wrote a piece on the most overrated prospects in the 2018 draft based on my conversations with NFL scouts and executives. That article was so fun and eye-opening that it only made sense to come back around and do the companion piece—who are the most underrated prospects? 

    With the scouting combine done and pro days heating up, now is a good time to get a look at which players are underrated by the media and fans in the eyes of NFL decision-makers. So I asked, "Who are the most underrated players?" and followed up with a round projection from each responding person. You'll see those below.

    A reminder on the overrated from before the combine: Michael Gallup (WR, Colorado State); Marcus Davenport (EDGE, UTSA); Courtland Sutton (WR, SMU); Sam Hubbard (EDGE, Ohio State); Derrick Nnadi (DT, FSU); Mason Rudolph (QB, Oklahoma State); Desmond Harrison (OT, West Georgia); Kalen Ballage (RB, Arizona State); Connor Williams (OT, Texas); and Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma). 

Luke Falk, Quarterback, Washington State

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Scout's Quote: "I get health and scheme concerns, but he might be the smartest quarterback in this class. Those guys have a way of working out."

    Falk has received excellent reviews from NFL personnel I've spoken with. Yes, he's coming from a Mike Leach spread system, but the feeling is he's intelligent enough to handle the transition from that scheme to a more pro-style setup.

    This is a deep quarterback class, and teams I've spoken to have Falk ranked anywhere from No. 5 to No. 8 overall at the position. Given his size (6'4", 225 lbs), accuracy, football IQ and quick release, Falk looks like an ideal fit in a West Coast style of play. My comparison for him has been the Michigan State version of Kirk Cousins.

    Draft Projection: Round 2

Nathan Shepherd, DL, Fort Hays State

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Scout's Quote: "This kid tore up the Senior Bowl, tore up the combine and he's going to start in the league. And he's still getting better."

    Nathan Shepherd was an MIAA stud who earned Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 and an invite to the Senior Bowl. While in Mobile, Alabama, he improved his draft stock by showing he belonged with the players from the Power Five conferences. 

    Shepherd is a versatile defender with the body (6'5", 315 lbs) and skills to play multiple alignments along the defensive line. He is a bit raw but has shown at events like the Senior Bowl and combine that he can be coached up and developed. 

    Draft Projection: Round 3

Jamarco Jones, OT, Ohio State

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Scout's Quote: "Why [Jamarco Jones] doesn't get more love, I'll never understand. He has as much upside as any tackle in this draft."

    Ohio State's left tackle has been oddly under the radar throughout the draft process. That could be because he declined a Senior Bowl invite and has been working with LeCharles Bentley in the Arizona desert instead of showing up at a more populated predraft camp. But Jones' tape is nice, showing a solid tackle with the athleticism to transition to the NFL.

    Jones won't get the love of others because of the Ohio State scheme, but there are few true pro-style offenses anymore. Coming from head coach Urban Meyer's offense isn't that different than coming out of Oklahoma or USC these days.

    Draft Projection: Round 2

Rasheem Green, DL, USC

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Scout's Quote: "In a weak defensive line class, he could rise. I get a Richard Seymour feel here."

    I disagree with the scout that this is a weak defensive line class. It's not a particularly strong draft at the top of the position group, but the depth is very good. Green is part of that group and could definitely see himself rise on draft weekend thanks to his athleticism, team needs and the lack of elite players at defensive tackle.

    A Richard Seymour comparison is rich, but Green does have that tall (6'5", 275 lbs) and athletic frame. He's a natural fit as a 3-4 defensive end and might even be able to play strong-side defensive end in a 4-3 front. It wouldn't be the wildest thing in the world for the New England Patriots to target Green with one of their first two picks.

    Draft Projection: Round 2

Darius Leonard, LB, South Carolina State

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Scout's Quote: "This guy has gained 20 pounds of muscle from what he was listed at...he's fast...he's strong...he's smart. We like him a lot."

    Darius Leonard was low on my list of linebackers until I got my hands on updated film from the 2017 season. As a 213-pound linebacker (his listed size), I just didn't see him making a stand in the NFL. But, as the scout mentioned, Leonard has rebuilt his frame in college and is now a stout, stacked linebacker prospect.

    Leonard will always be a best fit in a 4-3 weak-side role, but his tape and tools tell me he can play 3-4 inside linebacker too. I could see Titans head coach Mike Vrabel liking him in Tennessee if he's available.

    Draft Projection: Round 2-3

Fred Warner, LB, BYU

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Scout's Quote: "I wish [Fred Warner] got more love. We liked him more than [Malik Jefferson from Texas]."

    I'm going to pump the brakes on any talk that Warner is a better prospect than Jefferson, but I included that quote because it's important to note how differently some scouts see the same player.

    Warner, like Jefferson, moves very well for a linebacker and could excel in coverage at the next level. He didn't time as well at the combine (4.64 40-yard dash) as expected, but he did show the explosive traits in his vertical jump (38 ½") that you see on film.

    Draft Projection: Round 4

Parry Nickerson, CB, Tulane

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Scout's Quote: "If you want to talk truly underrated, the corner from Tulane is a guy that isn't getting enough hype right now."

    The scout is right—no one has been talking about Parry Nickerson, but the senior is a nice prospect for the slot cornerback position. After running a 4.32 40-yard dash at the combine, there should have been more buzz for him, but Nickerson remains under the radar. That might be due to his smaller frame (5'10", 182 lbs) that was well below his listed size of 6'0" for the Green Wave. 

    Nickerson does project best as a nickel or slot cornerback, but his speed could be an awesome asset there, where he'd match up against smaller, faster receivers. 

    Draft Projection: Round 4

Jessie Bates, FS, Wake Forest

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Scout's Quote: "Here's my hot take—[Jessie] Bates is a better prospect than Derwin [James]. He's a good athlete, great in coverage and very versatile."

    That is a hot take, but Bates is a very good coverage safety and has the athleticism to match up in man situations. That could make him a better fit for some squads. The biggest issue I've heard from teams is that Bates throws around his body and sacrifices himself as a tackler.

    Teams like the Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs could all look at the junior prospect.

    Draft Projection: Round 2

DJ Chark, WR, LSU

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    Scout's Quote: "Bank on this—he'll be better in the pros than he was in college with that s--tty quarterback and offensive system."

    Well...those are strong words from an NFL scout, but it's an opinion I've heard often about LSU's DJ Chark. When you wear No. 7 at LSU, it's hard to be considered overlooked, but that's what's happening with Chark. His performance at the combine (4.34 40-yard dash, 40" vertical) has opened eyes.

    Chark could jump over bigger names like James Washington, Courtland Sutton and Christian Kirk. I wouldn't be surprised if he's a top-40 selection.

    Draft Projection: Round 1-2

Kemoko Turay, EDGE, Rutgers

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    Scout's Quote: "Guys that big [6'5", 252 lbs] and that fast [4.65 40] don't fall in the draft."

    Kemoko Turay was a top-50 prospect on my futures list before the 2016 season but fell off the map because of two shoulder surgeries. Once he was healthy and back on the field this past season, Turay reminded folks why he was such a top prospect previously.

    Injuries can derail a player's stock, and how Turay looked in medical examinations at the combine will ultimately affect his draft position. But this is a top-100 player on my board.

    Draft Projection: Round 3