The Most Unheralded Prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft
Although it’s already to starting feel like the 2015 NFL draft has been covered ad nauseam with still more than a month to go until the event actually begins, there remain many prospects in this year’s class who have yet to get the media attention they deserve.
While there is plenty of NFL draft coverage to be found on television, radio, magazines and especially on the Internet this time of year, that coverage tends to focus primarily upon the draft’s biggest names—specifically, those who are projected first-round picks and/or play the quarterback position—and ignore many other prospects who have just as much potential to become productive players in the league.
Truly, in an era of draft coverage in which quarterbacks’ pro day throws are broken down by the frame, there are hundreds of prospects who deserve more attention than they have received. Compiling an all-inclusive list of them would be both impossible and unfit for consumption.
With that being said, the following 12 players are among those who stand out—both to me and to followers of the draft I polled on Twitter—as players who really should be getting more publicity than they have been this pre-draft season.
In an effort to choose players who are truly unheralded, players ranked within the top 100 of big boards compiled by CBSSports.com, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller and ESPN.com were eliminated from consideration.
Terrell Watson, RB, Azusa Pacific
If you haven’t heard of Terrell Watson, it’s quite possible you’ve never even heard of his school. But while his game is tough to project from playing against Division II competition at Azusa Pacific University, Watson has the qualities of a potential late-round steal at the running back position.
To garner serious NFL consideration as a Division II player, one has to have dominated his competition, but that’s exactly what Watson did. Over the course of his four-year career for the Cougars, Watson rushed for 5,756 yards and 78 touchdowns, including 2,153 yards and 29 touchdowns in his senior season alone.
Despite not being invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, Watson has continued to stand out in the pre-draft process. Watson participated in the NFL Collegiate Bowl, in which he ran for 55 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, and was named the game’s MVP.
At his pro day earlier this month, Watson continued to shine: according to CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler, Watson completed the 40-yard dash in 4.49 to 4.51 seconds, posted 23 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press and had a 35” vertical jump and 10’3” broad jump—all impressive numbers for a 6’1”, 242-pound back—in front of 15 NFL teams.
Against Division II competition, Watson’s size, strength and speed advantages clearly stood out. A tough-to-tackle runner with the measurables of a true between-the-tackles power back, Watson cuts nicely for a back of his size and is a willing blocker, though the latter is an area he will likely need to continue to improve in against bigger and faster defensive opponents.
The NFL draft annually puts running backs into the league from small schools who quickly become productive and well outperform their draft positions. Watson has the attributes to continue that trend in 2015.
Titus Davis, WR, Central Michigan
Despite being the only player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to have four consecutive seasons with at least eight receiving touchdowns, Titus Davis has received very little attention within the 2015 draft’s deep class of wide receiver prospects.
That’s partially because there is nothing physically outstanding about Davis, who measured in at 6’1” and 196 pounds and ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Mostly, though, Davis appears to be overlooked because he played at a mid-major FBS program in Central Michigan.
While Davis is not a burner, he is a savvy route runner who can get open in many different ways and rarely wastes motion. He’s not explosively quick either, but he uses his vision well in the open field and frequently bounces off contact to extend his yards after the catch.
Davis has been knocked for his lack of length, with arms that measure in at only 29.625”, but he exhibits very good ball skills, finding the football in the air and leaping up to make plays on it when necessary.
Like Antonio Brown, a fellow Central Michigan product who went in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, Davis will likely outperform his draft position. His physical ceiling is limited, but he is a polished player who still has the skills to be a dynamic No. 2 wide receiver in the right offense.
Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska
Much like Titus Davis, Nebraska’s Kenny Bell has the skills to be a starting-caliber NFL wide receiver, but is being largely overlooked as this year’s draft features a second consecutive class of deep talent at the position.
A four-year starter for the Cornhuskers, Bell caught 181 passes for 2,689 yards and 21 touchdowns in his collegiate career, all while playing in an offense that was typically run-heavy.
Bell has adequate size for an outside receiver, at 6’1” and 197 pounds, and regularly showed in his collegiate career he had strong hands and could make in-air adjustments with his body to secure tough catches.
As evidenced by his performance at this year’s combine, Bell is also an explosive athlete. He ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, and also finished among the top four wideouts in the vertical jump (41.5”), broad jump (10’9”) and three-cone drill (6.66 seconds).
Bell will need to work on his route-running as he moves to the next level and would also benefit from adding bulk to his frame, but there are no significant deficiencies in his game. He has the attributes to be a No. 2 NFL wide receiver and could prove to be a Day 3 draft steal.
Jake Kumerow, WR, Wisconsin-Whitewater
Considering he is a Division III product not named Ali Marpet, it’s no surprise Jake Kumerow is flying under the radar as a prospect, largely unknown to the masses. But even though the D3 level is not usually a hotbed of professional football talent, Kumerow has a skill set that should have the attention of NFL evaluators.
Compared to most Division III players, Kumerow actually has had more opportunities for national exposure; his Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks won the national championship in three of his four years on the team. What should really make NFL teams take notice, however, is Kumerow’s combination of size, athleticism and ball skills.
Kumerow, whose height regularly stood out against lower-level competition, reportedly ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and measured in at 6’4” at Wisconsin’s pro day, according to Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal. He also reportedly completed the three-cone drill in 6.83 seconds—which would be a tremendous time for his size—according to Mickey Frigge of NFLDraftWarRoom.com.
Despite missing four games in his senior season, Kumerow caught a total of 143 passes for 2,648 yards and 33 touchdowns between his final two collegiate years. He regularly displayed sure-handedness and an ability to use his length to extend away from his body and haul in difficult receptions.
Kumerow is not likely to make big plays in the open field against NFL defenders, but he has the traits to be an intriguing situational outside receiver, especially in the red zone. Projecting his success across an enormous competition gap is uncertain, but his physical attributes, NFL bloodlines and all-around skill set should all improve his chances of a draft selection, which he is worthy of being.
Mitch Morse, OL, Missouri
Experienced, versatile, athletically and fundamentally sound, Mitch Morse has the crucial qualities NFL teams look for in offensive line prospects, and should be generating more attention in the run-up to this year’s draft.
A three-year starter at Missouri who played three different positions—left tackle, right tackle and center—Morse has the ability to play anywhere along an offensive line, and actually projects best to the next level as a guard.
Morse moves his feet well, as evidenced by his performance at the combine, where he completed the 40-yard dash in 5.14 seconds, the 3-cone drill in 7.60 seconds and the 20-yard shuttle in 4.50 seconds.
He is more of a finesse player than a power player, but he should have enough strength to make the move inside to guard. He finished second among all offensive linemen at the combine with 36 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press.
The biggest question with Morse—and the reason he is being projected as a guard, not a tackle—is his size. With 32.25” arms, Morse lacks the length desired in an offensive tackle and could have problems against NFL edge-rushers. He should be able to make the transition inside, but he will need to continue working to fully exert his strength on his opponents.
In addition to his high-quality on-field play, Morse also thrived off the field at Missouri—both in the classroom and in the community—and was a candidate for the 2014 Senior CLASS Award. All in all, Morse is a player NFL teams should want on their rosters, and he projects as a perfect backup because of his capability to spot start both inside and outside if needed.
Marcus Rush, DE/OLB, Michigan State
If I had to pick one player on this list as the singular most unheralded player in the 2015 NFL draft class, Marcus Rush would be my choice. A consistently productive player with a well-rounded skill set who played for one of college football’s best programs over the past four years, Rush is an unusually underrated prospect who deserves far more credibility than he is getting.
Rush, who started a record-setting 53 games at Michigan State, combines quickness off the snap with good hand skills and pass-rushing moves to go along with a relentless motor. Both a disciplined player and a disruptor for the Spartans, Rush accumulated 163 total tackles, 37.5 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in his collegiate career.
One of the biggest snubs from this year’s combine, Rush more than made up for it at Michigan State’s pro day. His three-cone drill time of 6.73 seconds would have been the fastest among all defensive linemen in Indianapolis, according to MSUSpartans.com, and his 60-yard shuttle (11.49 seconds), 40-yard dash (4.68 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.22 seconds) times were also outstanding numbers.
Those times might have been a bit generous compared to what his official numbers would have been at the combine, but nonetheless show the caliber of athlete Rush is, who also posted a 34” vertical jump, 9’9” broad jump and 24 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press.
Experienced, technically sound and athletic, Rush checks virtually every box except for size. Having measured in at only 6’2” and 243 pounds at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, according to Optimum Scouting’s Eric Galko, Rush is small for a defensive end, though he does not have any experience playing linebacker.
Whether that will allow Rush to play consistently against the NFL is uncertain, but that’s also no reason Rush should be ignored as a prospect. He reportedly bulked up to 249 pounds for his pro day, according to WalterFootball.com’s Tony Pauline, and should at least be able to carve out a role for himself as a rotational 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker.
Shaquille Riddick, DE/OLB, West Virginia
As mentioned in the intro, I widened my considerations for this list by posing the following question on Twitter: “who do you think are the most unheralded prospects in this year's class?” The only player to be named by three different respondents was West Virginia defensive end Shaquille Riddick.
After transferring from Gardner-Webb prior to his senior season, Riddick did not quite emerge as a consistent defensive force in his lone season as a Football Bowl Subdivision player at West Virginia. With that being said, there is reason to believe Riddick could develop into an impactful NFL edge player.
Riddick possesses the combination of burst and length that makes scouts salivate over a prospective pass-rusher. His athletic potential was on full display at West Virginia’s pro day, where he measured in at 6’6” and 244 pounds, ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash and a 6.67-second three-cone drill, went 36” in the vertical jump and posted a 10’4” broad jump, according to Michael Carvelli of BlueGoldNews.com.
To take full advantage of his frame and be able to hold up consistently as a run defender, Riddick needs to be able to bulk up without losing athleticism in the process. To be a regularly disruptive pass-rusher rather than a flash player, he needs to be able to do more with his hands than he currently does.
Riddick is very much a project, but he has uncoachable physical traits, which should make him a solid Day 3 draft selection. With proper coaching in the right system, Riddick has the ability to become a dynamic 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker—even if only as a situational pass-rusher—as he gains experience.
Xavier Williams, DT, Northern Iowa
My personal choice for being the No. 1 snub from this year’s combine, Xavier Williams is a large, explosive defensive tackle whose combination of size, burst and power gives him the potential to be highly disruptive on an NFL interior defensive line.
Given he did not get an invite to Indianapolis, it’s evident Williams is not as highly regarded as he should be. Quick off the snap, strong at the point of attack and big—he measured in at 6’2” and 325 pounds at the East-West Shrine Game, according to Optimum Scouting’s Eric Galko—Williams has the ability to play multiple spots along an NFL defensive line.
Like a number of other prospects on this list, Williams’ collegiate production will be called into question because he played against a lower-level of competition at Northern Iowa, a Football Championship Subdivision school. Nonetheless, his senior-season totals of 93 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and eight sacks are all very impressive numbers for a defensive tackle.
Williams’ pro day at UNI, which is happening Tuesday, will be an important factor for his draft stock because of his absence from the combine. But it has been evident, both in his collegiate tape and in a dominant week at the Shrine Game, that Williams has a set of physical tools that will enable him to continue to be a difference-maker at the next level.
His technique will still need some seasoning as he makes the jump to the league, but unless he bombs his pro day, Williams deserves to be the first player drafted among those left off the combine invitation list. He could play either defensive tackle spot in a 4-3 front, while he could also project as either a nose tackle or defensive end for a 3-4 scheme.
Tyeler Davison, DT, Fresno State
One of the most well-rounded defensive tackle prospects in this year’s draft class, Tyeler Davison had a productive career at Fresno State, was a standout of this year’s East-West Shrine Game and has an all-around skill set that should garner top-100-pick consideration.
While Davison does not have tremendous explosiveness or any one outstanding trait, he moves well for a man of his size (6’2”, 316 lbs). While he possesses the strength to overpower an opponent in a phone booth, he also has the lateral foot skills to cover ground and make plays all along the line of scrimmage.
Davison is also very good with his hands. He has a ferocious swim move but is also able to vary up his pass-rushing techniques to keep blockers guessing. He won’t blow by many NFL offensive linemen off the snap, but he won’t necessarily need to be able to.
Over the course of his four-year career at Fresno State, Davison recorded 159 total tackles, including 27.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. He showed the ability to create disruption in the backfield, all the while typically holding his ground solidly at the point of attack.
Davison might not have huge upside, but he should be able to contribute immediately to an interior defensive line rotation. He is well suited for a 4-3 defensive scheme, in which he has the potential to play as either a 1-technique nose tackle or as a 3-technique penetrator.
Derrick Lott, DT, Tennessee-Chattanooga
The largest player to run a sub-five-second 40-yard dash at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, Derrick Lott dominated his competition at Tennessee-Chattanooga and possesses the physical traits to continue to be a force on an NFL defensive line.
For a 6’4”, 314-pound defensive tackle with 33.625” arms, Lott is a terrific athlete. He accelerates quickly for an interior lineman, and also shows he is nimble enough to make plays all along the line of scrimmage and in pursuit.
Lott, who posted 30 repetitions of 225 pounds in the combine bench press in spite of his long arms, also has imposing power. He could stand to improve at the point of attack and develop more hand skills, but he was regularly double-teamed in college and can win as a bull-rusher.
The level of competition Lott played against in the Football Championship Subdivision could hurt his draft stock. So too could his age, as the Georgia transfer is set to be 25 years old before the start of the 2015 season.
Lott’s tools, however, are among the best of all defensive linemen in this year’s draft class. Even with a significant leap in competition ahead of him, Lott could be immediately productive as a rotational player in a 4-3 defense, and has the potential to develop into a three-down difference-maker.
Hayes Pullard, LB, USC
Because physical tools and big-play potential garner more recognition in the NFL draft process than consistency of production, Hayes Pullard is not widely viewed as a top prospect. But while Pullard is not a big, explosive, hard-hitter in the middle, he could easily end up one of the best linebackers from the 2015 draft class.
Pullard recorded a whopping 377 total tackles, including 25.5 tackles for loss, in his four-year USC career. He also recorded 20 passes defensed, including three interceptions, along with three forced fumbles.
Well-rounded as an off-ball linebacker prospect, Pullard should be a three-down player for an NFL defense. Against the run, Pullard fills running lanes nicely and is a sound tackler. He also exhibits the hip fluidity and body positioning to have success dropping back as a coverage linebacker.
Pullard does stand out in regards to size or athleticism, but he is also not deficient in either area. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Pullard measured in at 6’0” and 240 pounds and ran a 4.78-second 40-yard dash.
A fundamentally sound player who was a four-year starter for the Trojans, Pullard should be able to step in and contribute right away on an NFL defense, either as a weak-side linebacker for a 4-3 team or as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Bryce Hager, LB, Baylor
Even after a terrific senior season, a solid week at the East-West Shrine Game and a strong performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, Baylor’s Bryce Hager has still yet to garner widespread consideration as one of the top inside linebacker prospects in this year’s draft class.
An evident leader on the Baylor defense, Hager bounced back from an injury-plagued junior year to rack up 114 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and an interception in his senior year.
Hager exhibits terrific instincts and the range to make plays all over the field. He takes good angles to the ball and is a solid tackler.
Undersold as an athlete, Hager proved his movement skills at the combine by running a 4.60-second 40-yard dash and posting solid numbers across the board in the event’s measurable drills.
The biggest question with Hager, which hurts his perception in comparison to the top inside linebackers in the class, is his size. At 6’1” and only 234 pounds, Hager is not much of a downhill thumper and could have trouble getting off of blockers at the next level.
With that being said, Hager still has the potential to be a three-down NFL linebacker, as he can be productive in pursuit against the run while he is also adequate in coverage. Best suited to be a 3-4 inside linebacker or 4-3 weak-side linebacker, Hager should be able to contribute right away to his NFL team on both defense and special teams.
All NFL Scouting Combine results courtesy of NFL.com.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.