The 2011 NFL Draft Class' Most Underrated Players
There is a lot of hype out there for the top players in this year's draft.
Some guys deserve it. Others don't.
And if some are being over-hyped, it follows then that some are being overlooked; or at minimum, they are not receiving the type of recognition and value that they deserve.
Guys get overlooked in draft season, but make teams pay during the regular season.
Here are a few players that are top candidates for most underrated:
Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders and Champ Bailey were all considered the best overall athlete in their respective drafts, yet none were drafted with the number one overall pick. All three guys were considered “can’t miss,” once-in-a-lifetime type prospects.
Patrick Peterson is getting that same kind of love from the draft experts. And like Woodson, Sanders and Bailey, he is considered the top overall athlete in his draft class. Despite all the accolades, he is projected to go in the five-to-ten range of the draft.
So, let’s just repeat that in case anyone missed it. Peterson is being compared to great players like Deion Sanders, has the ability to shut down top wide receivers, and may also become a top return man in the NFL, but he will probably not be drafted number one or even number two, for that matter.
He’s not a quarterback or a defensive tackle, so he is therefore automatically bumped down a few notches, but that doesn’t make sense. In a pass-happy league, you need pass-happy cornerbacks, or in other words, guys who love to matchup with the best quarterbacks and receivers in their league and shut them down.
If teams could have a do-over, would Woodson, Sanders and Bailey still fall to past the fifth pick? Absolutely not.
And because Peterson is considered the overall best athlete and perhaps the safest pick possible—not to mention that DT and quarterback are two of the most risky selections a team can make with a top-five selection—there is no reason that Peterson should fall past Denver with the No. 2 overall selection. Yet, that will likely happen on Thursday.
The top two running backs in the draft: Mark Ingram and Mikel Leshoure
The standard way to grade prospects is to compare them to guys who have already played at the pro level. It’s not always the best method, but sometimes it can be a very valuable method of understanding talent and potential. For this year’s top running back prospects, Mark Ingram and Mikel Leshoure, lofty comparisons are amounting to diddly-squat when it comes to draft rankings and projections.
Ingram is being compared to Emmitt Smith because of his tremendous balance and vision. Mikel Leshoure has a very similar game to the Rams’ Steven Jackson. If you watch them play it’s really easy to see why they are getting such lofty comparisons.
However, Ingram is expected to go in the latter portion of the first round, although he can also slip to the top of the second, and it’s also assumed that Leshoure will go some time after Ingram.
How can two really impressive running backs receive so little hype and attention? Well, it has something to do with Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert and this year’s impressive crop of defenders.
It also is related to how NFL teams use multiple running backs instead of just using one guy exclusively. But there are still teams out there that can use a great running back, and by all accounts, Ingram and Leshoure may turn out to be two very good, if not great, players in the NFL.
So how do would-be stars like that drop to the bottom of the first or top of the second round?
Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Nate Solder looks like he could be dominant at the next level. He has a wonderful combination of great size (6'8", 314 lbs.), agility and athleticism, yet he is not considered a top-10 guy, and possibly not even a top-20 draft pick.
Drafting Solder could mean that a team will have an immediate starter, a possible Pro-Bowl caliber player, and stability at one of the most important positions in the NFL.
Solder’s game has a strong resemblance that of the Broncos’s Ryan Clady. He’s just a massive, ultra-talented guy that you can count on. And what’s the point of having a top quarterback, a top wide receiver and even a top running back, if your team lacks good tackles?
Solder has performed and tested extremely well at the combine and his pro day, so there is no reason that his name should be listed so far down the line on many mock drafts out there.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame
Highly talented and versatile tight ends are in high demand in today’s NFL. Some teams have them, but some teams don’t. What the Patriots showed everyone last year is that you can make your offense very explosive by combining great quarterback play with athletic tight ends. The Patriots drafted two tight ends last year, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and that seemed to work out pretty well for them.
The NFL is a copy-cat league, so it makes sense to go out and get someone like Kyle Rudolph, who has shown himself to be the complete package. He has great size (6'6", 259 lbs.), excellent speed and terrific hands. He can block when needed, and he can also run down the field and exploit mismatches. A terrible hamstring injury last year makes him a “risky” proposition this year, but all evidence points to him making a full recovery.
And how many offenses out there can benefit from emulating some of the things that the Patriots did so well last year? Yep, a lot. But you can’t expect to emulate the Patriots if you don’t have the requisite personnel. The problem is solved by adding Rudolph.
So that begs the question: How is it possible that Rudolph can fall into second round territory?
My guess is that this year’s draft class may contain more future stars than initially expected, and some of the top athletes are being pushed to the bottom portion of the first round for the wrong reasons.
But we will definitely find out for sure on Thursday: Will teams play it “safe” and pass on can’t miss players?
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