2014 NFL Draft: An Early Look at Under-the-Radar Gems
With the college football season officially over, it’s time to dive headfirst into 2014’s hidden gems of the NFL draft.
To prepare, I resorted to the knowledgeable fellows from the Twitter-draft community, asking around for suggestions of some must-see draft prospects who happen to be either lesser known or undervalued by most experts.
I had my work cut out for me when I received over 50 names of prospects from all around the country. Some of these NFL hopefuls have been major duds in college while others flashed major star potential.
The following list details some of my favorites of the bunch in no particular order.
OLB Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State
Weight: 250 pounds
Key Stat: Finished the 2013 season with 12 sacks.
Scouting Report: Shaquil Barrett displays nice hands when using his swipe move to get the blocker’s hands off of his chest. He also has decent push on bull rushes but it’s not necessarily a strength of this pass-rush specialist. Neither is Barrett’s rather unusually slow get-off. I’ve always said that a rusher’s get-off is an overvalued trait. Keep in mind that a fast get-off and overall quickness are not necessarily the same. Barrett happens to possess incredible quickness, but opts to slow-read his lineman. This kid has an amazing dip move to get around the corner. His film clearly has shown a knack for rushing the passer, as evidenced by his 12 sacks in 2013.
Against the run, Barrett is strong in taking on blocks and is violent at the point of attack. He can either anchor in against blockers or utilize impressive instincts to penetrate into the backfield, which he does with regularity. He’s a solid tackler overall, but may not be drafted until the later rounds because of his short frame for an edge-rusher.
His best rush moves are the hand swipe and a dip then wrap-around. One of the more rare qualities about this prospect that generally goes overlooked is his awareness not to run himself out of a play. Most rushers end up running way too deep when turning the corner to the quarterback, Barrett never does this, which always keeps him alive and in the play while closing any escape lanes for the QB to leave the pocket.
WR Allen Robinson, Penn State
Weight: 210 pounds
Key Stat: Had over 2,400 receiving yards and 17 total touchdowns over the last two seasons.
Scouting Report: Allen Robinson has some incredibly nifty moves in tight spaces, especially for a guy of his size. He shows good anticipation for avoiding defenders as well, making him one of the most dangerous receivers after the catch I’ve scouted in years. Nice speed and quickness are major assets for Robinson, giving him the ability to separate from defenders. The more tape I watched of No. 8, the more I could see elements of Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant in him.
He also runs nice, crisp routes with great change of direction while utilizing his big body to shield the ball from defenders. Occasionally, he will drop a ball in traffic, but is undoubtedly consistent with his abilities after the catch.
His blocking was not spectacular by any mean,s but he proved to be serviceable in that department.
I’d be surprised if this talented young star falls out of the top-40 selections this May.
TE Rob Blanchflower, UMass
Weight: 259 pounds
Key Stat: Totaled 70 catches in 15 collegiate games.
Scouting Report: Tight end Rob Blanchflower jumps off the screen for his grit and stature. It’s clear that this UMass product is equipped with great NFL size and long strides that cover a ton of ground in a hurry.
If there’s a coach or general manager looking for solid blocking and endless tenacity, Blanchflower should be near the top of a very short list. He also has decent speed for a guy who is nearly 260 pounds.
Overall he has a solid set of skills for a tight end. He’s explosive off the ball, but needs vast improvement in his route running, specifically coming in and out of breaks. His pluses are that he catches well with his hands, even when contested by defenders. He can also take a hit. As mentioned earlier, his effort stands out the most on tape.
Keep an eye on this kid. He is sure to make an impact on whatever NFL roster he ends up on.
TE Gator Hoskins, Marshall
Weight: 244 pounds
Key Stat: Tallied 25 touchdown catches over the last two seasons.
Scouting Report: Marshall tight end Gator Hoskins is truly an interesting prospect. I’m not sure he has the size to be a true NFL tight end, but he certainly has a knack for getting open and does some nice things after catch.
This kid is a smooth, fast athlete who can play extended out into the slot. This makes him an ideal candidate for teams who like to spread out their personnel to create space, similar to what the Eagles love to do. However, because he played in a spread-type offense, Hoskins doesn't have much experience with his hand in the dirt.
Hoskins runs solid routes for a bigger guy and can make the contested catch. Keep in mind that he is far from a “wow” blocker, but can put his body in front of a guy for wall-off blocks. His impressive moves after the catch are all part of the good effort he gives with the ball in his hand. This is what you look for in a difference-maker.
Hoskins is a reliable target with worthy hands who can be trusted to get open frequently.
WR Cody Latimer, Indiana
Weight: 215 pounds
Key Stat: Had nearly 2,000 receiving yards while averaging over 15 yards per catch over the last two seasons.
Scouting Report: This All-Conference junior wide receiver out of the University of Indiana has flashed some impressive athletic ability. Cody Latimer possesses breakaway speed and is one of the more explosive receivers I’ve scouted over the years.
He has a great NFL frame and an overall build that should create a ton of mismatches at the next level. Alongside his coveted stature, Latimer makes some amazing catches and has shown very impressive hands in my tape study. This talented athlete is a former basketball player who apparently got into football because his mother told him to, according to Chris Goff of Indysportslegends.com.
When you watch tape of this kid, you’re sure to fall in love with his effort as a blocker. Why? Because there’s a real nasty streak in the way he goes about his blocking that you rarely see from those diva wide receivers.
So if you’re wondering just how impressed I am with Latimer, allow me to put it to you this way: I think this kid would be a steal if drafted in the second round. Simply put, this guy is going to shine on Sundays.
CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
Weight: 220 pounds
Key Stat: Tallied four interceptions in 2013.
Scouting Report: Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste is exactly the type of player the Seahawks take a real close look at. With a 6’3” 220-pound frame and experience as a wide receiver, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll may be licking his chops at the idea of replenishing his freakish secondary.
With that said, Jean-Baptiste is an unfinished project whose film revealed him to be inconsistent all around, yet loaded with outstanding potential.
He did get burned by a double move against Penn State wideout Allen Robinson, who was mentioned earlier. In fact, he gave up a few big plays against Robinson in that game which did not bode well for his overall grade.
One major question regarding his overall potential will be centered on his speed. I’m not seeing ideal quickness from Jean-Baptiste on tape. He does break on the ball nicely and shows some good man-cover skills, but he most certainly has proven numerous times that he can be beat. In addition, he struggles with arm tackles at times.
Something to get extremely excited about is his long, thick frame, which he carries very nicely. In fact, I believe he has the ideal NFL body type for a star cornerback. His lanky limbs do not appear to hinder his ability to change directions, which is generally the concern surrounding taller corners.
Overall, I’d say Jean-Baptiste does some impressive things, but then makes some bad plays. This guy shows a ton of potential.
RB Terrance West, Towson
Weight: 223 pounds
Key Stat: Rushed for 2,509 yards and 41 touchdowns while averaging 6.1 yards per carry in 2013.
Scouting Report: Running back Terrance West is shifty and stocky, but a powerful runner with thick legs and amazing vision. He runs with good power, but can also break ankles at the same time.
West does lack top-end speed for Sunday, but seems to be capable of carrying a full load while yielding positive rushing yards consistently. West has impressive vision, which he takes advantage of with an incredibly quick jump cut. That may be his greatest asset, and he is not afraid to turn a negative play into a home run by reversing fields or running backwards like Barry Sanders.
One of his better weapons is a nice stiff-arm that he times perfectly to keep defenders at bay. West runs hard and keeps those thick legs churning for four quarters while never showing wear or fatigue. Scouts love that this kid always falls forward.
Time will tell whether his abilities can carry over to the next level or if his success was the result of sub-level competition in college.
OL Joel Bitonio, Nevada
Weight: 315 pounds
Key Stat: Started 38 consecutive games.
Scouting Report: Joel Bitonio played left tackle during his time at Nevada where one of his biggest assets would have to be the non-stop effort he exuded each and every play.
When watching tape of offensive linemen, it can get incredibly frustrating watching these heavy-bodied hogs jogging around the field doing nothing except looking for someone to block. This is not the case with Bitonio. His leg drive seems exhaustive at times, which is a great indicator that he knows how to finish his blocks.
The Nevada product needs a quicker kick-step if he is to remain as a tackle at the next level, but will likely be moved to offensive guard. He lines up his targets well, but lacks ideal foot speed. Furthermore, he telegraphs his cut blocks too often, but did manage to have some success cutting UCLA's top prospect Anthony Barr several times.
Speaking of Barr, Bitonio beat up on Barr a few times in their head-to-head matchups. I’d say the lesser-known prospect had the better day overall.
Some of the bigger concerns about Bitonio, aside from his quickness, involve his core strength. Bitonio gets bent back too often in his torso. He also may have shorter-than-ideal arms and tends to blow his assignments from time to time.
Keep a close eye on this kid in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 25, as he has been invited to the Senior Bowl.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player who currently writes for Bleacher Report.
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