NFL Draft 2011: 10 Underclassmen No One Is Talking About
It seems like everyone is leaving early these days. The 2011 NFL Draft will break the record for underclassmen selected, as sophomores and juniors from campuses all over the country are flocking to the NFL.
The prevailing culture in college athletics is to get out as soon as you can and get your big payday in the pros. Who wants to be bothered by papers and midterms anyway?
That desire is so deeply rooted in many pro prospects that the risk of the impending NFL lockout is not deterring anyone from turning pro.
If the Draft and the season run, though, there will be many unheralded rookies that find themselves in prime positions to play because their contracts are below market value for most players in the league. Although under the radar now, these rookies will become the best bargains and maybe provide the most impact down the road.
Here are 10 underclassmen who are going pro that no one is talking about.
10. Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
Smith is valuable not only as a receiver, but as a kick returner.
Unlikely to go in the first round, the 6'1", 205-pound junior from Maryland is being overlooked in a draft loaded with wide receiver talent at the top.
Smith runs a 4.3 40 and got his start as a kick returner for the Terps. His speed certainly makes him dangerous on special team, but he emerged in 2010 as a receiver, gathering 1,055 yards and 12 TDs.
He could make a team very happy in the second round as a possession receiver and kick returner.
9. Mikel LeShoure, RB, Illinois
LeShoure is reminding everyone in Champaign of Rashard Mendenhall (Photo By Chuck Rydlewski/Icon SMI).
Not one of the top backs in the class, LeShoure, a hulking 6'0", 230-pound junior, made the country notice him in when the Illini faced Northwestern.
In that game, LeShoure dragged Wildcat defenders all over the field to the tune of 330 yards and a pair of scores. It might sound funny to say of a 230-pound running back, but scouts see LeShoure as an elusive runner with quick feet, like a Warrick Dunn type.
Currently, LeShoure is rising up many draft boards, but is still low enough to go unnoticed. With a strong Pro Day and Combine, hecould be a diamond in the rough for some run-hungry team.
8. Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Harris has made strides since his freshman year when he got on the field early.
Doug Benc/Getty Images
For NFL rookies, learning by failing is a part of the game. The acclimation period can be difficult, and players find it hard to not get discouraged.
For the 5'11", 195-pound Harris, a lot of that learning by failing has already been done.
Harris was tossed into the lineup as a freshman and was abused by offenses regularly. He did not pout or get discouraged, however, and used his failures as learning experience.
His attitude is what will be most attractive to NFL teams in need of character players, but his skills are strong, too. In his sophomore year, he tied for second in the country in pass breakups, and by his junior year his stats were unspectacular because quarterbacks stopped throwing his way.
His speed, attitude, and experience are what will have him as a borderline-first round pick.
7. Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
Baldwin goes tall for a receiver at 6'5".
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At 6'5", 230, Baldwin bucks the trend of small, speedy receivers in this year's crop of wideouts.
In 2009, he became the first Pittsburgh receiver since Larry Fitzgerald to gain 1,000 yards in a season, but his junior numbers dipped due to a quarterback change.
Still, Baldwin possesses the size, strength, and speed to climb on boards as the Draft gets closer. NFL scouts are not sold on him yet with more surefire receivers above him on the board, but his potential is as great as anyone ahead of him because of his physical assets.
6. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame
Rudolph is on his way back from hamstring surgery and is hopeful to return by the Draft in April.
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Rudolph's draft stock has been a rollercoaster, starting high, dipping after injury, and slowly rising again.
Though the 6'6", 265-pound football vacuum is long considered the best tight end in this draft, the hamstring surgery is a hamper on his draft stock.
That he is not being talked about is only dependent on his recovery; if he's fully healed in time for pre-draft workouts, there will be plenty of buzz about this pass-catching force.
5. Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Williams, a junior, has big-play potential with his penchant for hard hits and strong tackling.
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It's hard to go unnoticed as a Longhorn, but the 6'1", 195-pound Williams is flying under the radar of NFL teams.
In the mold of all great cover corners, Williams barely gets thrown at, which makes for a pedestrian interception total.
He is actually falling on draft boards, but scouts have their eye on his talent and playmaking ability early in the second round.
4. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC
Despite his size, Casey wreaked havoc on offensive lines on his way to the quarterback all season.
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Watching Jurrell Casey foul up offensive plays is reminiscent of some of the recent greats at USC like Sedrick Ellis and Mike Patterson: run-stuffing linemen with great motors who can overpower center and guards on the inside.
Casey is one of those guys. He isn't the quickest at 6'1" and 305 pounds, but what he lacks in speed he makes up for in strength.
USC linemen typically do pretty well in the NFL in spite of low draft selections. Look for Casey to follow in the footsteps of his Trojan predecessors.
3. Martez Wilson, ILB, Illinois
Wilson, chasing Pryor, has the size and speed to dominate in the NFL.
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Wilson, a junior, is blessed with the physical tools of the best linebackers in the NFL. His size (6'4", 250 pounds) and speed (4.5 40) are a rare combination.
So why is he so low on draft boards?
In his first two seasons, Wilson showed no understanding of nuance or play recognition, making plays on instinct and athleticism alone.
Then, he missed the entire 2009 season with a herniated disk, which the NCAA granted a medical redshirt for.
Still, his ability is impressive. He is quick to get off of blocks, plays downhill, and has a knack for tackling in crowded spaces.
Once he can use his athleticism for something other than fixing his errors, Wilson could be a stud in the NFL.
2. Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech
Williams had a spectacular freshman season, followed up by an injury-plagued 2010.
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After a ridiculous freshman season of 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns, Williams got hurt and lost his job to starter Darren Evans.
The 5'10", 211-pound sophomore is considered a top-two or three running back in this draft, but the class is noticeably thin. Scouts have their worries about his injury struggles, wondering if he'll ever amount to anything more than an injury-prone talent that can't stay on the field.
Williams will be watched closely at workouts and at the Draft Combine, but his recent history is not helping him impress scouts.
If he can stay healthy, a first-round selection is not out of the question. His talent is undeniable.
1. Brandon Burton, CB, Utah
Since becoming a starter, Burton has been among the national leaders in pass breakups
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Burton is a deep prospect that could turn to gold for the right team.
His size (6'1", 185) is not special, but his speed (4.35) is. Offenses eventually stopped throwing toward him because of his cover skills, and he is effective on the blitz and stopping the run. These are qualities that NFL coaches love to see in potential starters.
Burton is unheralded from the Mountain West Conference, but could be every bit as good as some of the better-known players at the top.