2014 NFL Draft: Michael Sam and 10 Players We Haven't Heard Enough About
After hearing about Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney all season, it's time to start hearing about the lesser-named players in the 2014 NFL draft. Of those guys, Missouri's Michael Sam is a headliner for the guys who don't get enough recognition.
These are the Rodney Dangerfields of the draft. They just don't get any respect. Follow along for the 10 best players who we haven't heard enough about.
Arizona State RB Marion Grice
2013 Stats: 6 Games Played, 90 Carries, 395 Yards, 10 Touchdowns, 29 Catches, 265 Yards, 5 Touchdowns, 10 Kick Returns, 227 Yards
Marion Grice is one of the best all-around backs in college football. The Arizona State Sun Devil is a 6'0", 207-pound back who creates his own opportunities by using his top-tier vision and balance to find the best lanes to run through.
He's not the fastest and, despite having solid size, he's not the strongest. He makes his bones by being an intelligent all-around back who can contribute right away to any team's offense. He also has experience in pass protection and can contribute in the NFL as a rookie third-down back.
It's always tough to project a talented back like Grice, as he could go late in the first round. It's possible that NFL teams could be stupid and let him slip to the sixth round like they did with Andre Ellington in the 2013 draft.
Colorado State LB Shaquil Barrett
2013 Stats: 6 Games Played, 42 Tackles, 12.5 Tackles for Loss, 6.5 Sacks, 2 QB Hurries, 2 Fumbles Forced, 2 Pass Deflections, 2 Blocked Kicks
Linebackers who are 6'2", 255 pounds and can set the edge and get after the quarterback are tough to find. Finding one with elite pass-rushing skills like Colorado State's Shaquil Barrett is even tougher because of how rare they are.
The senior from Baltimore, Md., had a great day against the Alabama offensive line when they played earlier in the year, earning 1.5 sacks and a quarterback hurry against arguably the best offensive line in college football.
If he can continue the torrid pace he's on, he should have no trouble turning some NFL heads and earning his way to a selection in the first three rounds come May 2014.
Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro
2013 Stats: 6 Games Played, 47 Catches, 606 Yards, 1 Touchdown
When it comes to tight ends, it's tough to find someone who is truly a game changer and can win one-on-one battles effectively. It's even tougher to find someone who understands how to box guys out like it's a basketball game the same way Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez do.
Jace Amaro from Texas Tech is an ideal pro prospect with his 6'5", 260-pound size and his ability to line up everywhere in a formation to create mismatches. With the success that Graham and Gonzalez have had, teams love bringing in guys who have basketball backgrounds like Amaro.
Amaro can win in many ways, but the biggest hole in his game comes from his blocking. The top-tier tight end needs to get more effective at setting the edge and creating rushing lanes. But, that can be taught once he gets to the league, as he's showing that he's easily worth a first-round pick as a receiver.
Oregon DL Taylor Hart
2013 Stats: 6 Games Played, 25 Tackles, 2.0 Tackles for Loss, 2.0 Sacks, 1 QB Hurry, 2 Fumbles Forced, 2 Pass Deflections
With the rise in multiple defensive fronts and the love for players who can play either a 3-4 defensive end or a 4-3 defensive tackle role, Oregon's Taylor Hart stands out as someone who can create penetration and take on double-teams to open up opportunities for the rest of the defense.
He checks in at 6'6", 287 pounds and has long arms that he uses to get past offensive linemen. He's extremely quick off the snap, and one of his biggest assets is the ability to finish a quarterback when flushed in his direction.
He does all this by being one of the best in college football at creating interior pressure. Don't be surprised that he can bend around the edge, though. His all-around game gives him a shot at going in the first or second round come May.
Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks
2013 Stats: 6 Games Played, 63 Catches, 944 Yards, 11 Touchdowns, 16 Carries, 106 Yards, 1 Touchdown, 7 Punt Returns, -2 Yards
If someone was to ask who the leading receiver in college football is, names like Mike Evans from Texas A&M, Sammy Watkins from Clemson and Tevin Reese from Baylor would be three names that would pop out quickly.
And in all honesty, no one would even think that it's Brandin Cooks from Oregon State. However, the junior speedster is averaging the most yards per game by over 21.5 yards each week. He also leads the college ranks in catches and touchdowns.
While he's a speedster with 13 catches of over 25 yards, Cooks has the ability to be the top receiver in an offense. He's a true No. 1, and while he may not go early in the draft, he has a long-term potential of a guy like DeSean Jackson.
Clemson DE Vic Beasley
2013 Stats: 6 Games Played, 20 Tackles, 12.0 Tackles for Loss, 9.0 Sacks, 2 QB Hurries, 2 Fumbles Forced, 1 Fumble Recovered, 5 Pass Deflections, 1 Defensive Touchdown
Vic Beasley has been the best pass-rusher in the ACC for the past year-and-a-half, recording 17 sacks over his last nine games. The 6'2", 235-pound defensive end projects to linebacker in the pros, unless he can gain some weight and get to the 255-pound area.
He's very similar in how he rushes to Dwight Freeney or Elvis Dumervil. He wins with speed moves, great hands and the ability to convert his speed to power. However, he could really use the extra bulk in the run game.
He has trouble setting the edge against some of the top left tackles out there and can get pushed out of plays easily. Once he can anchor against the run better, he could project into the top 15 in the draft. However, for now, he's a first-round talent.
Wyoming QB Brett Smith
2013 Stats: 6 Games Played, 160-of-250 (64.0 percent), 1,854 Yards, 15 Touchdowns, 4 Interceptions, 59 Carries, 420 Yards, 3 Touchdowns
There's a glut of talent at the quarterback position in this year's draft. However, the guy who is arguably the second-best prospect behind Teddy Bridgewater isn't Johnny Manziel or UCLA's Brett Hundley. It's Brett Smith from the Mountain West Conference's Wyoming.
Questions about competition and talent on his own team will be there. Nonetheless, he can make all of the throws needed to be a pro quarterback. He's got one of the strongest arms in the country, and at 6'3", 206 pounds, he has an almost ideal professional frame.
Add in the wheels and mobility to avoid the constant pressure he has been facing all season, and Smith has all the tools to be a great professional quarterback. Smith could go as high as the top 10 if he has a great showing in offseason workouts and finishes this season with insane numbers.
Maryland CB Dexter McDougle
2013 Stats: 3 Games Played, 14 Tackles, 3 Interceptions, 2 Pass Deflections, 1 Defensive Touchdown
Three games into this season, Dexter McDougle looked like someone who was going to springboard his stock from a midround pick to a first-rounder. Unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season according to Jeff Barker of The Baltimore Sun.
The loss of the star cornerback will be tough for the Terrapins, and McDougle won't be able to get a full season in right before he is going into the draft. He showed top-level coverage skills and is one of the fastest players on the field.
He also showed some ball skills that he hadn't in previous years. Once he gets his shoulder healthy, he should be in line to test well at the combine and be 100 percent for his rookie camps. If he goes in the top three rounds, no one should be shocked as he's got long-term lockdown potential.
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
2013 Stats: 6 Games Played, 90 Carries, 870 Yards, 8 Touchdowns, 1 Catch, 5 Yards
Say hello to the best pure running back in all of college football. His name is Melvin Gordon. At 6'1", 207 pounds, the redshirt sophomore has great NFL size and adds breakaway speed to that, which has allowed him to gash defenses this season.
In his worst game of the year, he still had 15 carries for 74 yards and a 4.93 yards-per-carry average. When that is his worst game—and it's against the No. 4-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes—Gordon is showing that he's a top-tier talent.
When a guy is the best back in the country on his worst day, he's easily worth a first-round pick. Being a running back, he should end up going lower than expected, but don't be surprised if he goes in the middle of the first when all is said and done.
Missouri DE/LB Michael Sam
2013 Stats: 6 Games Played, 23 Tackles, 10.0 Tackles for Loss, 6.0 Sacks, 1 Fumble Forced, 1 Fumble Recovered, 1 Pass Deflection, 1 Defensive Touchdown
When it comes to underrated players around college football and their draft projection, Michael Sam takes the cake. He's a 6'2", 255-pound defensive end for the Missouri Tigers. However, he projects well as a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 defensive end in the NFL.
Sam has great burst off the line, and despite his size he looks to have more length than what is expected from a guy who's only 6'2". His true strength comes from his pass-rushing abilities. He can put a left tackle on his heels and force a quarterback to make bad decisions early in a play.
Also, his frame would allow him to gain more weight and become a Charles Johnson-type of player long term if he played in a 4-3. If the draft was held today, Sam could end up as a legitimate second- or third-round pick for a team that needs a legitimate pass-rusher.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.