2017 NFL Draft: Unheralded Prospects Opening Eyes at Pro Days

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystMarch 29, 2017

2017 NFL Draft: Unheralded Prospects Opening Eyes at Pro Days

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Pro days are the last chance for NFL hopefuls to catch a team's eye.

    Every step of the draft process is an opportunity for lesser-known prospects to make a name for themselves. Without fail, a few take advantage. 

    This year multiple prospects already established themselves after little fanfare during the regular season. Florida Atlantic's Trey Hendrickson dominated at the East-West Shrine Game. Villanova's Tanoh Kpassagnon stole the show at the Senior Bowl. Temple's Haason Reddick made his case at the NFL combine to be the first linebacker selected in April. 

    Those are three obvious examples from the biggest draft events. Although, not every individual gets to participate in those pre-draft festivities. Some have to wait until their pro days for teams to see if they measure up to NFL standards. 

    Inevitably, less-heralded prospects shine in a familiar setting alongside highly regarded teammates, which forces scouts and decision-makers into double-takes due to their pro-day performances. 

    Some prospects come so far off the radar, like Western Oregon tight end Andy Avgi, teams scramble to find more information about the young man and review his in-season performance. Most of these prospects aren't perfect, but they're talented. 

    Only eight more days of full workouts are scheduled. Here are the top pro-day performances among less-discussed prospects so far.

QB Taysom Hill, Brigham Young

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    It's impossible to root against BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. 

    What he's been asked to overcome is astounding. Hill suffered four season-ending injuries during his time in Provo, Utah, which included a knee injury, broken leg, a Lisfranc fracture and an hyperextended elbow. 

    Even so, the Idaho native finished his career with 6,929 passing yards and his 2,815 rushing yards rank fifth in the school's history. He added 75 total touchdowns and ran for more scores than any other BYU quarterback. 

    Hill's talent is undeniable. Since he entered the collegiate ranks in 2012, he was one of the college football's most dynamic quarterbacks. His body simply let him down. 

    At BYU's pro day, Hill showed exactly how athletic he is with a 4.44-second 40-yard dash and 38.5-inch vertical, per Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman. Both measurements easily eclipsed the top marks for quarterbacks at the NFL combine. According to the Desert News' Dick Harmon, the 6'2", 235-pound signal-caller finished his workout by going through running back, tight end and wide receiver drills. 

    Aside from his injury history, age is a factor in the BYU product's evaluation. The William V. Campbell Trophy finalist will turn 27 years old this summer. Being an older prospect with injuries is a difficult combination to overcome. Hill's talent, though, is worthy of consideration, whether a team wants to try him at quarterback or make a position switch.

WR Francis Owusu, Stanford

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    Wide receiver Francis Owusu will be remembered for two things during his Stanford Cardinal career.

    First, Owusu made one of the best catches in recent college football history with his 41-yard touchdown reception pinned against the back of a defender during the 2015 meeting with the UCLA Bruins. Second, the younger Owusu lived in the shadow of his brother, Chris, and never lived up to expectations after coming to Stanford as a four-star recruit. 

    In 50 games, the talented receiver only managed 34 receptions for 482 yards and three touchdowns. A lack of production is due, in part, to Stanford's run-first schemewhich isn't viewed as a negative. 

    "[NFL teams] definitely like that we come from a pro-style offense," teammate Michael Rector, per the San Jose Mercury News' Vytas Mazeika. "They like how it translates, all the tests we take—football knowledge-wise. I think we're pretty ahead of the game there coming out of Stanford."

    Owusu's physical potential is obvious, though. Even at a pro day dominated by two top prospects in Solomon Thomas and Christian McCaffrey, Owusu was just as impressive. 

    At 6'3" and 221 pounds, the wide receiver completed a 39-inch vertical jump, 10'7" broad jump and ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash, per Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline. No receiver at that size ran as fast during the NFL combine, only Georgia State's Robert Davis, at 219 pounds, posted better jump numbers. Scouts came away impressed with Owusu's position workout, too. 

    Certain prospects are viewed as having better potential at the professional level than the collegiate ranks due to their circumstances. Owusu is one of those individuals.

WR DeAngelo Yancey, Purdue

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    Purdue's DeAngelo Yancey has been overlooked during the draft process for multiple reasons. The wide receiver was stuck on a bad team with poor quarterback play, he didn't produce at a level commensurate with his contemporaries and questions about his athleticism plagued him. 

    The 6'2", 220-pound target played well despite his circumstances by leading the Boilermakers in receiving yards each of the last two seasons. Can he separate from defensive backs at the next level, though?

    "[He] has to play down the field because he's not going to get open underneath," an AFC scout told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein. 

    At Purdue's pro day, Yancey put some of those concerns to rest. The wide receiver ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dashper the Pharos-Tribune's Mike DeFabo. He also completed 21 reps on bench, a 35.5-inch vertical jump and a 10'1" broad jump. 

    "I knew I was going to come out and run fast," Yancey told DeFabo. "But I don't think any of the scouts knew."

    Despite his status as a late-round or undrafted wide receiver, the Purdue product is drawing plenty of interest around the league. According to the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson, Yancey will visit the Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans with another scheduled workout for the New England Patriots 

OT Andreas Knappe, Connecticut

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    A prospect doesn't even need to provide a complete pro-day workout to pique the NFL's interest.  

    Connecticut offensive tackle Andreas Knappe needed to cut his pro-day experience short after he suffered a tweaked hamstring. Prior to the injury, the 6'8", 311-pound blocker posted a 5.25-second 40-yard dash, 30-inch vertical and 8'10" broad jump, per NFL Media's Gil Brandt. 

    "I think what I got to do today was good," Knappe told the Daily Campus' Dan Madigan. "I think I showcased that I can move and I can jump. Some of the critiques have been that I can't."

    Knappe's size and potential provide an interesting combination in a talent-deficient offensive tackle class. The native of Denmark didn't start to play football until he was 18 years old. Instead, he trained to become an Olympic-level archer before growing tired of the sport. 

    At UConn, the European import started 32 straight contests at right tackle and improved during each season. As a senior, the 25-year-old blocker graded as the draft class' fifth-best right tackle, according to Pro Football Focus.

    He's still learning the position, yet he's a tenacious blocker with tremendous length and the potential to start at the professional level if his skills are further developed. 

    "His upside is off the charts," former UConn head coach Bob Diaco told the Hartford Courant's Mike Anthony in September.

DT Josh Augusta, Missouri

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    David Stephenson/Associated Press

    Missouri defensive tackle Josh Augusta is a massive man. But he's less massive today than he was during the 2016 campaign. 

    The defensive lineman weighed 390 pounds during the season. He tipped the scales at 347 pounds during Missouri's pro day. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Dave Matter, Augusta was diagnosed with a thyroid problem in January. 

    At 347 pounds, Augusta provided his impression of the unstoppable Juggernaut when he ran a 4.95-second 40-yard dash at Missouri's pro day, according to Jefferson City News Tribune's Andrew Hodgson. The Columbia Tribune's Blake Toppmeyer reported the lineman ran a more realistic 5.26 40-yard dash. 

    Considering the fact the 331-pound Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, 334-pound Damien Mama, 343-pound David Sharpe and 353-pound Zach Banner couldn't crack the 5.44 barrier at the NFL combine, those are great numbers either way. Due to the big man's athleticism, Missouri even used him as a short-yardage fullback. 

    The Illinois native only played 48.8 percent of the defensive snaps over the last two seasons as part of Missouri's defensive line rotation, yet he proved to be a consistent presence against the run. Augusta received positive run grades from Pro Football Focus in each of the campaigns.

    With Augusta's size, improved conditioning, natural athleticism and ability to defend the run, he fits a specific role within an NFL defense as nose tackle or 1-technique.

DT Samson Kafovalu, Colorado

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The Colorado Buffaloes rebuilt their football program on the back of a strong defenses. Five defenders are expected to be drafted, and a potential sixth emerged at the program's pro day. 

    Samson Kafovalu developed from a 260-pound defensive end into a 299-pound defensive tackle. As a senior, the one-year starter accumulated 48 total tackles and tied for third on the team with 10 quarterback pressures. His 15 defensive stops tied for 13 overall among this year's defensive interior class, per Pro Football Focus

    After an outstanding 2016 campaign, the California native put together an even better pro-day performance. His 33 reps on bench and 32.5-inch vertical jump bested or tied the top defensive tackles at the NFL combine. The interior defender also posted a 5.16-second 40-yard dash, 4.57-second short shuttle and 7.65-second three-cone drill, per BuffZone's Brian Howell. 

    Although, Kafovalu's history may scare some teams away from considering him a draftable prospect. 

    In April, he was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice after being heavily intoxicated at a local saloon. It was his third run-in with the law during his time on campus, and head coach Mike MacIntyre handed down an indefinite suspension. Eventually, Kafovalu earned his way back onto the team after a heart-to-heart with his coach and became a vital part of its success. 

    "[He's] almost like a huge tree trunk that they can't even move," MacIntyre said in December, per Howell. "It's really helped us. He's played really well and it's been fun to watch him play."

LB Calvin Munson, San Diego State

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    Calvin Munson (right).
    Calvin Munson (right).Eric Jamison/Associated Press

    If asked to name college football best linebackers during the past two seasons, names such as Alabama's Reuben Foster, Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham, Northwestern's Anthony Walker and Clemson's Ben Boulware immediately come to mind. 

    San Diego State's Calvin Munson performed as well or better than those named yet doesn't receive nearly as much attention. Munson is one of the most complete linebackers in this year's draft. 

    The three-year starter accumulated 296 total tackles, 36.5 tackles for loss and 18 sacks over that period. No linebacker received a better overall grade during the past two seasons from Pro Football Focus. Munson posted positive grades as a run defender, pass-rusher and in coverage. 

    Despite Munson's production and high level of play, his athleticism, particularly his lateral agility, was questioned throughout the draft process. 

    At San Diego State's pro day, the 6'1", 245-pound defender ran a 4.68-second 40-yard dash, posted a 32-inch vertical jump, leaped 9'9" in the broad jump and excelled during linebacker drills, per Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline. Those numbers are as good as those posted by the previously mentioned linebackers. 

    Munson has always been a standout athlete. The St. Louis Cardinals selected the two-sport star in the 31st round of the 2013 MLB draft. While being drafted won't be a new experience for Munson, he'll be ready to answer the call this time.

CB Brandon Wilson, Houston

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    George Bridges/Associated Press

    Like every other NFL hopeful, Houston's Brandon Wilson has no clue where he'll play next year. It goes a little deeper for Wilson, though. The Louisiana native doesn't even know what position he'll play. He could find himself on either side of the ball. During his collegiate career, Wilson played defensive back, running back and returned kicks. 

    "Like they say, the more you can do the better," Wilson said after Houston's pro day, per the Houston Chronicle's Joseph Duarte. "Some teams want me to play defense. Some teams want me to play offense."

    "I can play anything. Whatever you want me to play, I'll play it."

    During the 2015 regular season, Wilson was forced to play running back against the Navy Midshipmen due to a glut of injuries. He rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns to help the Cougars clinch a division title. A week later, he carried the ball 11 times for 70 more yards. 

    Cornerback is Wilson's natural position, but his versatility increases his chances of being drafted since he hasn't graded particularly well in pass coverage, per Pro Football Focus

    Wilson's workout numbers at Houston's pro day certainly caught everyone's attention. According to Duarte, the 5'10", 198-pound defensive back ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash, completed 24 reps on bench and posted a 41-inch vertical. His efforts in the vertical jump and bench press bettered every cornerback at the combine, while the 40-yard dash tied for third overall. 

    It doesn't matter what position Wilson plays, a team needs to make room for this exceptional athlete.