2015 NFL Draft: The Most Overlooked Player at Every Position

Justis Mosqueda@justisfootballFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2015

2015 NFL Draft: The Most Overlooked Player at Every Position

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    Dean Hare/Associated Press

    There are always players who retroactively make you wonder why the general manager of your team didn't take the prospect at the time. In an effort to pin down who those players are at each position, we'll look at some of the most underrated athletes in the draft.

    For the most part, there's a reason why players are massively underrated. It's because of a transfer or because a player is a late bloomer. It's because a player converted positions or because the talent around him at the college level was so good that he was overshadowed. It's because a player declared too early or, in some cases, stayed too late.

    It could be size, speed, age or weight. Some traits are overvalued every season and lead to players slipping. Richard Sherman, for example, was a receiver convert who narrowly made the Senior Bowl late in the week due to an injury to another cornerback. He was drafted in the fifth round and quickly turned into an All-Pro force.

    In the last draft class, Aaron Lynch of South Florida was a Notre Dame transfer, who after becoming a Freshman All-American, decided to move closer to home. Reshaping his body several times, he fell into the fifth round, where the San Francisco 49ers picked him up. Lynch went on to notch six sacks, mostly off the bench, which was good for the third-best mark of any rookie in 2014.

    Based on the measurables, film and backgrounds of players, here are the 10 prospects who have the highest shot of being the Sherman or Lynch of this draft class.

Quarterback: Brandon Bridge, South Alabama

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    G.M. Andrews/Associated Press

    Brandon Bridge's football career is an odd one. He played high school football in Canada, found his way to an FCS school and then transferred up to the FBS level. To say he's been a bit hard to keep track of the last few years is underselling it.

    Bridge's first stop in the United States was Alcorn State, famous for putting out quarterback Steve McNair, who was drafted third overall in 1995 to the franchise that is now the Tennessee Titans. Though at a lower-division school, Bridge was able to put up impressive film against Mississippi State in a game that put his tools out on a major college football stage.

    He has a rocket arm and amazing legs. Think of him as a better quarterback than Logan Thomas, who was drafted in the fourth round last draft, and in the Colin Kaepernick range as a prospect. After a falling out at Alcorn State, he transferred to South Alabama, a recent addition to the FBS, the highest level of college football.

    At South Alabama, he sat out a season due to transfer rules and then essentially only came in for "run packages" in 2013, since it already had its established quarterback in senior Ross Metheny. With only two years under his belt, as a freshman at Alcorn State and as a senior at South Alabama, Bridge hasn't been given the chance to develop like Kaepernick and Thomas did, who were four- and three-year starters, respectively.

Running Back: Ty Montgomery, Stanford

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    Ryan Kang/Associated Press

    Ty Montgomery is an interesting test case on why a player's final year of film is so important. Coming into the regular season, I had thought Montgomery was one of the top receivers in college football, as he assisted Kevin Hogan in making that Stanford offense run post-Andrew Luck.

    When watching and rewatching more and more of Montgomery, though, one issue kept coming up: He really only runs hard when he has the ball in his hands, not during routes. This seems odd to me, but maybe he's miscast.

    At running back, Montgomery would either have the ball—therefore, his largest knock is erasedor he's an amazing receiving threat out of the backfield. The big issue I have with the transition is his learning the nuances of the position, but he's spent plenty of time at receiver and hadn't learned small tricks of the trade, either.

    Montgomery went from a college star to borderline undraftable in a couple of months. With a position switch, though, he could become a quality player down the line. I'm thinking in the later rounds he comes off the board, but it wouldn't surprise me if, even in this running back class, he's taken in the mid-rounds.

Wide Receiver: DeAndrew White, Alabama

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    You're probably shocked. There was another receiver at Alabama not named Amari Cooper? In back-to-back seasons, DeAndrew White put up over 500 yards and four touchdowns per year with the team.

    White isn't the best receiver in the draft, but he's a safe third receiver who is consistent. According to Mock Draftable, he compares athletically to players like Lee Evans, a former first-round pick, and Antwaan Randle El, a former All-Pro pass-catcher.

    One issue with White's tape is that just so much of the passing game is dictated around Cooper. It really seemed like Lane Kiffin, Alabama's offensive coordinator, tried his best to throw the Heisman right into Cooper's hands. Because of the lack of market share of balls going toward White, his tape and numbers are limited.

    That's why he's underrated. Teams don't need to invest big draft picks in receivers in today's NFL where spacing matters so much. What they need more is consistency from snap to snap. Both Super Bowl teams, the Patriots and Seahawks, are good examples of teams who build their wideout unit in that way. White can be that third receiver for a team to trust on a week-by-week basis.

Tight End: Wes Saxton, South Alabama

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    G.M. Andrews/Associated Press

    This is the second time a South Alabama Jaguar has been featured in this article. Wes Saxton, a teammate of Brandon Bridge, also is being undervalued at this point. Unlike Bridge, though, Saxton has been known for his on-field play for more than just last season.

    In fact, most of Saxton's value comes from what he showed in 2013, when he caught 50 balls for 635 yards, big numbers for a tight end at the college level. With that being said, he was unable to get into the end zone through the air the last two years.

    The best way to describe Saxton, the junior college transfer, is as a "move tight end." He's not going to be the in-line player who notches big marks in the red zone and in the run game; rather, he's an "in between the 20s" type of player on the shorter side of the position.

    According to Mock Draftable, he had a nice combine too. In Indianapolis, he scored in the top quarter of tight ends in the 40-yard dash, the 10-yard split, the vertical jump and the broad jump. The site also compared him to the likes of Dallas Clark, a former Pro Bowler.

Offensive Line: Cameron Clear, Texas A&M

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Have you ever heard of Cameron Clear of Texas A&M? No? There's a good reason: He wasn't an offensive lineman in college.

    Clear first arrived in the college football world as a tight end for the Tennessee Volunteers, but after he was charged with felony theft, he was sent packing. Moving first to Arizona Western and then to Texas A&M, he worked on his craft as a blocking tight end. He did so well that he's being considered an offensive tackle prospect at the next level.

    This shouldn't be surprising, as some of the top prospects at the position are more lean than NFL-ready. For example, Florida's D.J. Humphries had the frame of a tight end last season, but he showed the movement skills that can make NFL teams drool. Clear has the potential to do the same, if he gets his weight up like Humphries, who was up to 307 pounds at the combine.

    Clear, on the other hand, was listed at 277 pounds by Texas A&M's athletics site, and he measured in at Indianapolis at the same weight. Can he add more to his frame while sustaining his movement talent? If he can do that, and if teams can get over a potential character red flag due to the Tennessee theft, then he might be a massive steal on Day 3.

Defensive Line: Travis Raciti, San Jose State

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    ANDY KING/Associated Press

    On the defensive line, Travis Raciti is the most underrated prospect in the land. Part of Raciti's projection might hang on how the NFL values his specific defensive line spot, though. A 5-technique defensive end is one which mostly only appears in a true 3-4 defense. Instead of penetrating, the 5-technique "two-gaps" and is a run-first defender.

    With the way the NFL has swung, especially with the concept of hybrid defenses, finding a "true 3-4" is rough. Some of the teams that still continue to put out high reps of the formation are Philadelphia, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Raciti would be a great match in those spots, as he's a long player who probably doesn't have the juice in his legs to be a one-gap penetrator.

    When looking at Raciti's 6'4", 288-pound frame, you begin to wonder if he's an offensive or defensive player. He's so long and lean that you believe you're looking at an offensive tackle, not an interior defensive player. The same could be said of a prospect like Arik Armstead of Oregon, another 5-technique who is projected to go in the first half of the first round, whereas Raciti is being looked at as a Day 3 prospect.

    If a team misses out on the early run for 5-techniques, I would suggest waiting a bit and winning the Raciti sweepstakes. He's a good, sound run defender who can play base reps in the NFL for a 3-4 team. He's comparable to a player like Brent Urban, who was drafted in the fourth round last season despite a lingering injury. Raciti might be there in the late rounds, providing more value in draft assets, and health, than Urban.

Edge-Rusher: Marcus Rush, Michigan State

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    There might only be a few players whose game I believe in more than the general consensus past the point that I do with Marcus Rush of Michigan State. A four-year contributor for the Spartans, he was a four-time Big Ten Honorable Mention player. Shilique Calhoun, the then-junior defensive end, was receiving first-round hype last season, but Rush was clearly the better pass-rusher from the boundary end position.

    Rush has the ability to bend the edge, and he's one of the best run defenders I have seen for his 6'1"-and-change frame. His hand usage is also good. The best way I can describe him is as Vic Beasley if Beasley were to give up his amazing closing speed for top-notch run-defense skills.

    The largest issue with Rush is his age. Born in 1991, he's essentially a year younger than Robert Quinn, who was drafted in the 2011 draft. If you're taking Rush, you're accepting that he's pretty much all he's going to evolve into at the next level already.

    Rush can be a solid third pass-rusher for a team, potentially even pushing for a starting gig in his first year. On film, he's around a third-round selection, but he's a player whose name has been uttered sparingly during this whole process. He might even go undrafted.

Linebacker: Mike Hull, Penn State

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Penn State putting another linebacker into the NFL seems like a yearly event at this point. Linebacker U, as some call it, crafted a nice one for the 2015 class. Mike Hull, at 6'0", is on the shorter side of the measuring stick, but he has enough talent to make up for the lack of length.

    Chris Borland, who has since retired, was a good example of why height and reach only matter so much at the off-the-ball linebacker positions. Coming off the bench, Borland was able to make 107 tackles in place of injured San Francisco 49ers linebackers in his rookie season. It wouldn't surprise me if Hull is this year's Borland.

    On top of high-effort film, Hull also translated well at the combine, where he ranked in the top 5 percent at the bench press of outside linebackers in the event, according to Mock Draftable. He also scored in the top fifth in both of the major agility drills, the three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle, prompting a Dhani Jones comparison. Jones was a sixth-round pick who kept his foot in the door of the league for more than a decade.

    Hull should come off the board in the second or third round, right about where Borland did, but the undervaluing of the position, complied with his height, might scare teams. If he does go late, expect him to emulate the type of career that Jones had, forcing 31 teams to regret their draft-day decisions.

Cornerback: Jacoby Glenn, Central Florida

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Over the last offseason, the market for cornerbacks has been a bit crazy. You can make the case that Byron Maxwell, formerly of the Seahawks, played next to the best strong safety, the best free safety and the best cornerback in football. After one year as a full-time starter, Maxwell earned a deal worth over $60 million with the Philadelphia Eagles.

    When you're talking about that as the bar for the market for young, relatively unproven players, it's hard to find value. It's almost like the market for quarterback, where you have to burn massive assets to acquire a player, because there aren't too many even considered average. When you throw in the fact that NFL teams seem to want to get longer, somewhat emulating the Seattle defensive backfield, then the nearly impossible question is: Who is a long, underrated cornerback?

    Quietly, one played at Central Florida. After only three years, one being a redshirt season, Jacoby Glenn declared early for the NFL draft. Last season, he was the American Athletic Conference's Defensive Player of the Year and was a second-team All-American. At 6'0", it seems crazy that a player like him can slip through the cracks, barely entering the discussion throughout the process.

    In an ideal situation, Glenn is drafted to play a press-man scheme in a Cover 2 defense. He might need help over top due to his 4.64 40-yard dash, but he has length. Cornerback is a recovery position, where the athletes lined up across from the defenders are, for the most part, better physical specimens. You either need speed or length for recovery when you "lose" early in downs, and Glenn can provide length from the start.

Safety: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The game for safeties has become much harder over the years. Because the NFL has become more wide-open, more of the bodies that used to be safeties are now slot cornerbacks. Because the game has swung more toward the passing game than the running game, box safeties are now out of the question. Because of the targeting rule, it's now harder for safeties to play unrestricted across the middle.

    I'm not sure any of those changes are poor for the sport, but it's a new life that the safeties in the past didn't have to live in. My suggestion would be to convert more slot cornerbacks to free safety, if they have skills that translate. Boundary cornerbacks are now getting longer and longer after Seattle kick-started its defense with length.

    If small cornerbacks aren't wanted outside, instead of moving them inside, where they are role players, I would move more of them to safety, where the league might be the weakest at any position, so those talents could play base defense. Certain traits need to be there, though. Ball skills, closing speed and the ability to read the quarterback would be my top three traits when looking at a single-high free safety.

    At Oregon, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu played a lot of off coverage, reading the eyes of the quarterbacks he faced, and displayed amazing closing speed and ball skills. His interception against Michigan State looked like a play that Earl Thomas makes on Sundays. After an ACL injury stripped him from an offseason of running combine drills, Ekpre-Olomu's stock has slipped.

    Standing at 5'9", it's hard to say he's going to get a shot at boundary cornerback, especially with the injury lingering, even after three first-team All-Pac-12 seasons. If he would have declared last year, Ekpre-Olomu might have been the top cornerback off the board. This season, he should be the top safety off the board, but he's more likely to go on Day 3.

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