2015 NFL Draft: The Most Overlooked Player at Every Position
The NFL draft is an imperfect process that may be considered more of an art than a science. Each year, NFL scouts, general managers and media analysts can count on both fingers how many prospects they either overlooked or overvalued. This is all just a natural part of scouting.
In this article, we’ll take a look at each position to determine which prospect is not getting enough attention. For those of you looking for some potential draft steals in those later rounds, this is a list you won’t want to miss.
Quarterback: Garrett Grayson, Colorado State
To say Garrett Grayson doesn’t have the strongest arm in the draft class would be an understatement. This is perhaps his biggest concern outside of his slender frame and short arms.
When comparing his arm talent to NFL quarterbacks, Grayson just gets by. His throws can get where he wants them to go, but they lack zip. This means Grayson will have to be amazing in terms of anticipation in order to hit players in tight windows and avoid NFL DBs' quick reactions.
Grayson would thrive in an offensive system built off the short passing game and timing patterns.
Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net (via WaterFootball.com) thinks Denver would be a great fit:
The team that seems to be highest on Grayson is the hometown Denver Broncos. The feeling is Grayson is the most capable of running the system that (Broncos new head coach) Gary Kubiak will employ in Denver; a system similar to the one Grayson ran at Colorado State.
He also has the arm strength to get the ball through the cutting winds that often blow through the Mile High City.
The big question I have about that quote is whether or not Grayson does have the arm strength to push through those mile-high winds.
His accuracy is impressive, and he displays the poise and intangibles to hold a starting job at the next level. However, with his limited physical skills, Grayson is a guy who will have to overachieve just to be an average starter. With that said, we shouldn’t expect him to become a dominant quarterback. His ceiling peaks right around “capable.”
Running Back: Josh Robinson, Mississippi State
It’s not a complete surprise that an undersized running back who isn’t very fast or overly athletic continues to be overlooked. At the combine, Josh Robinson ran his 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, but he then ran a 4.61 at his pro day.
Robinson is not just a guy people should be paying more attention to, but he is also one of my favorite prospects to watch from this draft class.
He runs like a bowling ball knocking over pins by using a combination of low center of gravity, effort and functional strength, all in perfect harmony. His specialty as a runner is breaking through arm tackles, while using good vision to find open lanes.
Though he may be short and not overly fast, this guy understands the game and plays it with heart, vision and passion.
In addition to his ability to shed would-be-tacklers like a rhinoceros fleeing a pack of lions, Robinson is also an accomplished receiving weapon. In 2014, only two running backs in the SEC had more rushing and receiving yards than Robinson's 1,573. That year was his only season as Mississippi State's feature back.
I could easily see him having a career arc similar to what’s happening with C.J. Anderson of the Denver Broncos.
Wide Receiver: Justin Hardy, East Carolina University
Amid a wide receiver class loaded with giants, it’s understandable that a guy who is less than 6 feet tall would fail to get proper recognition. Nevertheless, as a former walk-on at East Carolina, Justin Hardy is used to not getting the respect he deserves.
Over the course of 49 games at ECU, Justin Hardy managed to break the NCAA’s all-time receiving record by hauling in 387 passes for 4,541 yards and 35 touchdowns.
Hardy (5’10”, 192 lbs) is not overly big, and he’s much quicker than he is fast, but his production at the collegiate level is hard to overlook. Breaking in and out of his routes and incredible body control are where he succeeds. He also displays reliable hands and strong will after the catch that reminds me some of Steve Smith in Baltimore.
It appears Hardy will once again be undervalued by those who control his fate, but if the trend continues in his life, he will be having the last laugh at every team who willingly passed him up because he was too small and too slow to thrive in the NFL.
Tight End: Blake Bell, Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s Blake Bell is an unfinished product who might have turned away some analysts because they saw him without his finished coat on.
The former quarterback at Oklahoma shows good intelligence and reliable hands packaged in a prototype body for the tight end position, at 6'6", 252 pounds. Despite his massive size, his short-area quickness is elite. At the combine, he was one of the most impressive prospects, showing off a 6.85 three-cone-drill time. It’s worth noting that he was the only tight end at the combine to run his three-cone under seven seconds.
Bell’s skill to drop his hips into his breaks coupled with his size and athleticism make him one of the more promising tight ends in terms of route-runners capable of creating separation.
Bell is also one of the better tight ends in this draft at keeping his balance. He will also power through arm tacklers and bounce off contact.
Of all the FBS tight ends in this draft, Bell is tops in career points (168).
When it comes to blocking, he possesses the size and strength to be a capable blocker, but you can see he doesn’t love that role.
It’s not hard to see this guy developing into an NFL starter at the tight end position in the next few years. He just needs to add a few more coats of finish first.
Offensive Tackle: Donovan Smith, Penn State
I’ve watched a lot of tape of offensive tackles from this draft class, and so far the most impressive and dominant tape I’ve watched came from Penn State’s Donovan Smith.
Keep in mind, I have seen Smith get beat rather painfully by smaller, more clever rushers such as Michigan State’s Marcus Rush, and he is far from a perfect player. But Smith still manages to check off more boxes of key traits than any other offensive lineman I’ve seen this year.
Smith is projected to be drafted in the third or fourth round this year, according to CBSSports.com. However, that is exactly why this guy is being overlooked, though he isn’t without some favorable reviews by a few league representatives.
Apparently Smith impressed numerous scouts and NFL personnel during his week at the Senior Bowl.
This is where I was first exposed to him as a prospect and was really impressed with the power he had in his arms and his footwork for such a big frame. He constantly looked like one of the best blockers during one-on-one pass-protection drills. He has the polish of 31 career starts, despite leaving school early for the draft.
Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage named him a "starting five" member of the offensive line.
"He came in at 341 pounds, but he flashed the foot agility to play left tackle in the NFL," Savage said in a video at SeniorBowl.com. "I think he has future starter written all over him, and he definitely elevated his draft stock here in Mobile during the week."
Against Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, Smith showed off his impressive array of abilities while completely destroying one of the most highly-touted edge rushers in this draft class. This is partly why I think he has the potential to become a future Pro Bowler.
I cannot overstate how rare it is to find a skilled blocker who actually puts in the effort to finish his blocks and play snap to whistle. Smith does that.
Smith also happens to be one of the most physically gifted offensive tackles in this class. Using my system that ranks athletic measurables of a prospect, Donovan ranks sixth among the offensive tackles in 2014.
Interior Offensive Lineman: Shaquille Mason, Georgia Tech
One of the things I value most when studying tape of offensive linemen is effort. It's the source from which all other elite traits can manifest themselves on a football field. This is especially true in the trenches.
The sole purpose of an offensive lineman is to get in the opponent’s way. Trying to set yourself apart from the crowd in this venture requires that added spark of desire and physicality. This is what Shaq Mason brings to the table. But that’s just the beginning.
Mason was also one of the few prospects in this draft class to run a sub-five-second 40-yard dash while weighing over 300 pounds. This means he can really move for a big man, and it shows up on tape when he pulls around the corner as the lead blocker in Georgia Tech’s complex running game.
Of all the interior offensive linemen in this draft, only Ali Marpet, Cameron Erving and Jarvis Harrison have better multidirectional speed/weight scores.
Mason likely projects as a guard at the next level, but he could slide down to play center if a team needed him to.
Edge-Rusher: Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington
Hau’oli Kikaha finally had his pro day, and his numbers were far from impressive. According to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net, several teams had already pulled him off their boards long before he ran his 40-yard dash in the 4.9-second range.
Kikaha missed time during his collegiate career with two separate ACL injuries to his left knee. This injury history is concerning for teams because it indicates a potential weakness in his knee ligaments. This doesn’t pair well with an average athlete who also happens to be undersized.
It’s safe to say the predraft process hasn’t been too kind to Kikaha as he has likely ruined any remaining hope for being a first-day selection. At this point, the middle rounds are more likely where he will fall.
If you ask me, this is setting the scene for some team to get an absolute steal in the third round.
Kikaha wins with his mental game and effort. His instincts and timing as a pass-rusher are incredible. His martial arts background has helped him to become one of the most creative and effective pass-rushers in this draft.
While at Washington, he finished his career as the school’s all-time career sack leader with 36 sacks, 32 of those coming in his last two seasons alone. Effort and rare technical skills are why his rushing abilities will help him find success at the next level.
Defensive Tackle: Bobby Richardson, Indiana
In a pro day recap, NFL media senior analyst Gil Brandt suggested Bobby Richardson might be a good candidate to convert to an offensive lineman.
Not only did this suggestion completely throw me off but it also provided some perspective on just how overlooked Bobby Richardson is.
After USC’s Leonard Williams and maybe Danny Shelton from Washington, there’s no interior defensive lineman prospect who I’d rather have than Richardson.
He is a bit light for a defensive tackle at 283 pounds, but he has incredible length (nearly 35-inch arms) and quickness. In the era of pass-first offenses, Richardson is a guy who can have a tremendous impact on passing downs. He displays the physical skills and instincts to penetrate NFL backfields.
While at Indiana, Richardson led all draft-eligible, FBS interior defensive linemen in career solo tackles with 136.
According to CBSSports.com's prospect rankings, Richardson is not even expected to be drafted.
I can’t say where he’ll be drafted, if at all, but I can say that everything I’ve seen suggest he is a top prospect.
Non-Rush Linebacker: Ben Heeney, Kansas
If you’re looking for a sideline-to-sideline player who flies around the field and is an instinctual player, Ben Heeney might be the second-best in this class behind Eric Kendricks.
In addition to his tape, Heeney also proved he was the fastest prospect per pound at the combine when averaging out his 40-yard-dash (4.59), short-shuttle (4.00) and three-cone (6.68) times while factoring in his 231 pounds. This gives you a better idea of a player's true football speed rather than just focusing on a 40-yard dash.
This guy can run you over with power despite being somewhat undersized. He can also force turnovers with good ball skills and awareness, cover downfield—and chase down some of the quickest athletes in the country. He plays with a rare combination of effort and athleticism that will make him a solid starter at the next level.
So why is he overlooked?
Ben Heeney's NFL.com player profile includes a quote from an NFC area scout which reads: "I'm not saying he doesn't have instincts or work hard, but he guesses way too much. He's always around the ball, but he's also missing too many tackles to play in our league."
Heeney does have a propensity for missing tackles. But that's a correctable issue brought about by one of his greatest strengths—flying around the field like a madman, which is also what puts him in position to make so many plays.
The former Kansas linebacker has made far more tackles than he's missed throughout his career. Out of all the FBS prospects from this class, regardless of position, only four players (Eric Kendricks, Denzel Perryman, Clayton Geathers and Derron Smith) had more career solo tackles than Heeney's 218.
Basically, Heeney is so darn fast that he still hasn't completely learned how to control himself in space. He needs to learn how to throttle down some before engaging in the tackle. This is an issue I would love to take on as a coach.
Cornerback: Bobby McCain, Memphis
Bobby McCain is an undersized cornerback from a smallish school in a draft class that features some of the most talented and lengthy pass-catchers in a long time. At the combine he measured in at just 5’9” and 195 pounds. When you add those factors up, it makes it hard for any team to justify McCain as a high draft pick.
However, the undersized cornerback grades out as having the third-best physical tools of his positional group this year. He dominated in the three-cone drill (6.80 seconds), short shuttle (3.82 seconds) and vertical jump (36 inches).
At this point it should go without saying that having impressive athletic numbers doesn’t make one a good football player. In McCain’s case, he also displays similar playmaking skills to former LSU Tiger Tyrann Mathieu, who was also undersized.
While at Memphis, he led all FBS cornerbacks in touchdowns with five. He also finished second in that group in career interceptions with 12.
Despite his diminutive stature, his tape shows an aggressive, tough and savvy cornerback with solid tackling ability and impressive ball-hawking talents.
Safety: Clayton Geathers, Central Florida
Clayton Geathers is a name not many people have heard of. But the safety out of Central Florida is looking like the front-runner for being named as my top-rated safety in this draft.
According to CBSSports.com's prospect rankings, Geathers is being projected to go in the fourth or fifth round of this year’s draft. But if you ask me, this guy is being extremely overlooked.
On film Geathers shows up as an aggressive, tough, hard-hitting, strong safety who is also fast enough and instinctual enough to cover receivers and make impressive plays on the ball.
One of the big weaknesses with Geathers is that he is inconsistent as a tackler, but that’s more of an issue of poor angles and sloppy technique than effort or physicality.
In fact, Geathers and Alabama’s Landon Collins are my two most physical safeties from this draft class.
Geathers also finished second among safeties in career passes broken up (30), as well as first in tackles for a loss (19) and career solo tackles (227).
He also has great size at 6’2”, 218 lbs and led all safeties but one in bench reps with 22.
If a team is looking for a solid, strong athlete with intimidation and high effort from the safety position, Clayton is certainly worth taking a good luck.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player who writes for Bleacher Report.