Ever watch the NFL combine and say, "I've never heard of this guy."? Every year there are a number of players that only die hard fans give recognition to until weeks before the draft approaches. Sometimes, these players even get selected in the first round.
Every year has a surprise, such as Tyson Alualu last year, and this year will be no different. Here is a list of ten guys not many people are throwing into the conversation, but deserve some recognition as we approach the NFL combine.
Jon Baldwin isn't completely under the radar, but for being one of the top receivers in the country, he certainly isn't a high school name. Baldwin stands at 6'5, 230 pounds. Not only does he have ideal size, he has impressive speed.
Baldwin has serious maturity issues that will likely make many pro scouts shy away from selecting him, but so did Randy Moss. Baldwin is a great talent. If he can harness his abilities and take the selfishness out of his game, he could be a great player in the NFL.
Unfortunately for Baldwin, he is in a draft class that features Julio Jones and A.J. Green. While I don't think we see a Darrius Heyward Bey moment in this year's draft, a team could fall in love with his speed and Plaxico Burress frame.
Colin Kaepernick doesn't present the dual threat Cam Newton does. He doesn't have Ryan Mallett's size. He can't fit into virtually every offense, as Blaine Gabbert can. Even so, Kaepernick presents a tremendous amount of upside.
Kaepernick ran the piston at Nevada. His mobility is grossly underrated. He has the ability to throw on the run and has an above average arm for a mobile quarterback. Kaepernick probably won't be a first round quarterback, but if he gets in the right system, he could be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
It's going to take a great quarterback coach, but never underestimate the value of a quarterback who can run, throw, and lead his team to victory. See Tebow, Tim.
Brandon Harris is another guy who is going to explode onto the scene after the combine. In the 2011 draft, it is interesting that Prince Amukamara is viewed as the dark horse. Harris doesn't have the polish of Patrick Peterson or Amukamara, but he has dominant speed and an explosive burst.
His athleticism competes with any corner in the draft. Not only does Harris have great straight line speed, his lateral mobility is unparalleled. Though Harris will dominate in the 40, the drill itself is not as important to his stock as the drills that showcase his hip flexibility and closing speed. Harris needs some work, but don't be surprised to find him selected on day two.
Overall, this year's stock of running backs appears weak on the surface. Teams will probably fall in love with Mark Ingram's vision and SEC running style, but over on the West Coast, Shane Vereen was dominant in the PAC-10.
Vereen has the quickness and breakaway speed that is lacking from this draft class. He is a complete running back, but will probably serve as a change of pace running back initially. Vereen is going to turn heads with his speed, and teams won't be disappointed with the tape, as he posted above a five YPC average in college.
It sounds crazy now, but Stephen Paea could be the safest defensive tackle prospect in the draft. He has the size to fit into either the 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. Paea is relentless and saw a great amount of success at Oregon State.
His unselfish play and high motor are going to make him an appealing prospect. Teams are always looking for a guy who can anchor their line. Paea could be that guy. Nick Fairley is an intriguing prospect, but he simply didn't produce as consistently as Paea did. One great year is going to be enough to propel Fairley to the top of the draft, but Paea is presents great value in later rounds.
Let's stay at defensive tackle for a moment. Marvin Austin was one of the most dominant players in the explosive front seven North Carolina presented before all of the suspension hit. Robert Quinn has seemingly made scouts overlook the suspension, but Austin's stock has plummeted.
Austin is a mammoth DT. At 6'3 and over 300 pounds, he has great size for the position. His athleticism and production would easily make him a top defensive tackle in many other draft classes. Austin could fall to third round or worse, but he has a solid chance at being a solid prospect in the NFL.
Stefen Wisniewski is one of the top interior line prospects in the draft. Mike Pouncey is the most attractive pick and will likely be selected first amongst interior linemen, but Wisniewski could find himself being selected early on day two, if not late in the first round.
He is a true plug and play lineman. He is refined and athletic enough to fit in any style of offense. If Wisniewski slips past the first round, he is going to be a steal. Mike Iupati shot up draft boards around this time. Wisniewski doesn't have the talent Iupati presented, but the rise in stock could be similar.
Jimmy Smith is one of the most talented guys you've probably never heard of. At 6'2, he has elite size for a corner. He has the speed and hip fluidity to be a solid cover corner, but would be ideal in a defense that required bump and run coverage.
Smith is another one of those guys who could make a serious climb as draft day approaches. He might not even be one of the top five corners drafted, but Smith will be a household name when his NFL career is all said and done.
Kristofer O'Dowd seems like he has been in college football for the past decade. O'Dowd has been the centerpiece of a dominant USC line since he entered the lineup. O'Dowd is 6'5, 300 pounds. He is huge for a center, but it doesn't take away from his abilities when he gets in space.
O'Dowd probably won't be the first center selected, but he is going to be a staple for the offensive line who drafts him. O'Dowd is the complete package. The size, athleticism, attitude, and leadership qualities will make him a great center in the NFL one day.