All eyes are on the first round of this year’s NFL draft. As previous drafts have shown, teams that are able to intelligently navigate through the later rounds usually end up being big winners on draft day. So much attention gets placed on the first round, but a team can become a contender overnight with smart selections made in the late rounds and free agency.
This list focuses on quality players projected to be chosen on day three or fall to free agency, who just might prove to be something special in the future.
Justin Boren is an undersized offensive lineman who has not reached his full potential. At 6’3”, 309 lbs, he is not the behemoth that most NFL teams covet. He was a high school All-American that was highly recruited. He first attended the University of Michigan, but wisely transferred to Ohio State with the coming of Rich Rodriguez.
Having switched systems, Boren has not had the best opportunity to develop. He is a raw talent waiting for the guidance of the right offensive line coach. He has experience playing center and guard, and has the potential to become a solid guard in the NFL.
Lee Ziemba had a lot of positive airtime during the national title game, but looked disappointing at this year’s NFL combine. Ziemba is a monster at 6’6”, 317 lbs, but put up poor numbers at the combine. One would think that someone of his stature could exceed 20 reps in the bench press evaluation, but they would be wrong. He looked weak and slow for an offensive tackle.
If Ziemba can get his act together and get focused on improving his strength and conditioning, he could be a major weapon. He is only 21 years of age and is an All-American. He is a natural football player, now he just needs to put in the work.
Tori Gurley made the right move by entering the draft after his sophomore year. He redshirted his first year, and at 23 going on 24 years old, isn’t getting any younger. Gurley is another raw player who has fallen short of expectations. He only had 465 yards receiving last year and has yet to prove himself to be a dominant receiver.
What Gurley has going for him is that he is a huge target with some solid speed. If he can learn to run routes, he will be major threat to any defensive back. At 6’4” he can catch passes over almost any corner in the league.
Armon Binns is the most underrated wide receiver in the entire draft. Many experts have Binns dropping to the sixth round, but I don’t know why. Binns is a lengthy receiver with good hands and decent speed. While he is not a deep threat, he is a great possession receiver capable of making big plays.
A big knock on Binns is that he needs to learn how to be a better route runner. This will come with the tutelage of a good receivers coach. You can’t teach the natural physical gifts that Armon Binns possesses.
Jimmy Young is similar to Armon Binns. He lacks the depth in his game to be a deep threat, but is a very solid possession receiver. Unlike Binns, Young is not coming off a strong season. TCU had a dream season, but Young’s individual numbers were modest. Actually, Young has put up mediocre numbers two years in a row. Young had 486 receiving yards this year and 517 yards the year before.
However, Young looked great as a sophomore, putting up 988 yards receiving. He has talent and potential. A team needing a complementary slot receiver should take a look at Young. He is a reliable player who is capable of making clutch plays.
Mark Dell produced consistent numbers throughout his four-year career at Michigan State, but he never obtained a 1,000-yard season. He has average speed for a receiver and won’t win races against elite NFL defensive backs.
While Mark Dell lacks speed, he is a very skilled receiver. Dell runs crisp routes and has a strong work ethic. He is also capable of dominating games. Look at his performances against Northwestern and Purdue this year.
As a group, the quarterbacks in this year’s draft lack depth. That should make it easier for experts to accurately evaluate the talent at this position, but that has not been the case. While everybody is praising Blaine Gabbert, no one has mentioned Scott Tolzien. Tolzien is a pure pocket passer who doesn’t have the flashy physicality that NFL teams desire. What Tolzien lacks in athleticism, he more than makes up for in accuracy.
Scott Tolzien won the Johnny Unitas Gold Arm Award because he was second in completion percentage not only in the Big Ten, but in all of Division I-FBS football. He has a better touchdown to interception ratio than Blaine Gabbert and won bigger games than him. He would be a great fit for an NFL team lacking depth at the quarterback position like the Bears or Packers. He is an intelligent quarterback with pinpoint precision. Scott Tolzien will surprise a lot of people.
Helu Jr. isn’t exactly flying under the radar, but he is underappreciated and underrated. Helu Jr. is a bit of an upright runner, and at times, he lacks downfield vision and awareness. I can’t say anything else negative about him.
Helu Jr. garnered a lot of attention at the combine. He is a big back with speed. At the NFL combine he ran a 4.4 40. He proved at the combine that he is athletic, but scouts should have been paying attention to him long before the combine. During his time at the University of Nebraska, Helu Jr. had two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He has always been a productive back. During Helu's senior year, Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead ate up some of his carries, but he still had a very good season.
Roy Helu Jr. will most likely be a fifth-round pick, but I think that he has second-round talent. He will be a weapon early on in his NFL career.
Dane Sanzenbacher looks like a very bland receiver. For a receiver, Sanzenbacher is average in height, weight, speed and athleticism. In Dane’s case, looks can be deceiving.
Dane Sanzenbacher is a good, solid receiver. Like others on this list, he is not a deep threat, but he’s a very good possession receiver. He reminds me a lot of Jordan Shipley in that he is an average looking guy with big play ability.
Noel Devine is not getting the credit that he deserves because of his size. He is only 5’8” and 178 lbs. There have been many running backs who have fallen in the draft because they lack size, and he is going to be one of them. But Noel Devine has something that these other backs didn’t, lightning speed.
Devine hasn’t been able to put his full skill set on display because he is injured. But when Devine is healthy, he is one of the fastest running backs in all of college football. Devine had a very good college career, with two 1,000-yard seasons. He wasn’t able to put up monster numbers this year because of a toe injury, but he still had a productive season. Devine is severely underrated and is going to make a good NFL player. Keep your eye on him.