2012 NFL Draft: The 10 Most Underrated Prospects

Danny Flynn@FlynnceptionSenior Analyst IOctober 28, 2011

2012 NFL Draft: The 10 Most Underrated Prospects

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    When it comes to the 2012 NFL Draft, we already know all about the big name prospects like Stanford QB Andrew Luck, Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon, Alabama RB Trent Richardson, North Carolina DE Quinton Coples and USC OT Matt Kalil, but there are a few players that are still flying under the radar and aren’t getting their proper due.

    Here’s a look at ten prospects for the 2012 NFL draft that deserve some more love.

QB Nick Foles, Arizona

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    Not many quarterbacks can start off their senior season with a 2-5 record and still be considered a first-round caliber talent, but if there’s one player who you absolutely can’t blame Arizona’s slow start on, it’s Nick Foles.

    Foles has actually been one of the best quarterbacks in the country, completing 71 percent of his passes for over 2,500 yards, and he’s got a stellar 18-5 TD-INT ratio.

    It just so happens that he doesn't have any kind of rushing attack to help him out.

    The 6’5’’, 240-pound senior is one of those quarterbacks who has dealt with bouts of inconsistency throughout his career, yet his raw talent has always shown through.

    Foles can make all the throws that you need to make at the next level, and if Arizona can rebound and perform better as a team, his stock should only continue to climb.

    The Big Four—Andrew Luck, Landry Jones, Matt Barkley and Robert Griffin III—are getting all the attention, but Foles is the type of second level quarterback prospect that an NFL team could fall in love with.

DT Kawann Short, Purdue

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    Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy and Nebraska’s Jared Crick are widely regarded as the Big Ten’s top two defensive tackle prospects, but one player who has been making a name for himself this year is Purdue’s Kawann Short.

    With star DE Ryan Kerrigan now in the NFL, Short has stepped up and been a dominant force for the Boilermakers, racking up 3.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.

    The 6’3’’, 310-pound junior has a terrific combination of power and quickness, and he could be a great fit as a 3-technique tackle in a 4-3 system in the NFL.

WR Kendall Wright, Baylor

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    Speed, speed, speed!

    That’s what Kendall Wright is all about.

    Wright, a former high school track star, is one of the fastest players in the country, and he should light up stopwatches in postseason workouts

    The 5’10’’, 190-pound senior isn’t just a track star playing football either, and he’s got the career production to back that up.

    Wright led Baylor in receiving in each of his first three seasons, and he’s on track to have his best year yet in 2011.

    The speedy wideout has already caught 55 passes for 757 yards and 9 TDs.

    He’s been vastly overshadowed by the emergence of breakout star quarterback Robert Griffin III, but when draft time rolls around, Wright should be in the mix to be a first or second-round receiver.

    Scouts will love his potential to be a dangerous deep threat, and they're sure to appreciate the fact that he can line up on the outside or in the slot and still be equally explosive.

DE Whitney Mercilus, Illinois

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    Illinois produced a surprise first-round defensive linemen last season with DT Corey Liuget, and the Illini may do it once again this year with DE Whitney Mercilus.

    Mercilus has enjoyed a marvelous breakout junior campaign, and has made a living in opponent’s backfields all season long. The 6’4’’, 265-pound super pass-rusher currently leads the country with 10 sacks, and he’s already posted 15 tackles for loss.

    Mercilus has really made a name for himself this year, and if he can keep it up, he could follow a similar path to his former teammate Liuget and end up in the first round of the 2012 draft—if he decides to come out.

LB Chase Thomas, Stanford

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    When Shayne Skov went down with a season-ending injury against Arizona back in Week 3, the Cardinal defense needed someone to immediately step up and become a leader, and LB Chase Thomas was more than glad to fill that role. 

    Thomas has been Stanford's key defender this year, as he's made his presence felt in opponent's backfields, racking up 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. 

    The 6'4'', 240-pound junior is a much better prospect than Thomas Keiser was last year, and he's having the type of eye-opening campaign that could force him to think about making the jump to the NFL after this season. 

    Thomas would be a perfect fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, and he's got all the tools you look for in an NFL rush-linebacker. 

RB Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati

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    This year’s senior running back class is very weak after so many early departures for the 2011 draft, but there are a few seniors like Boise State’s Doug Martin and Texas A&M’s Cyrus Gray that are worth a look.

    In my opinion, though, the best senior back is Cincinnati’s Isaiah Pead.

    Pead, who possesses track speed, is one of the fastest backs in the country, and he’s used that elusiveness to torch defenses since his sophomore year.

    The 5’11’’, 200-pound senior is averaging a whopping 6.5 yards per carry for his career, and he’s enjoying his best season yet this year.

    Pead has rushed for over 700 yards and scored 10 TDs this season, and he’s shown that he can be a valuable third down, speed-back option in an NFL backfield.

WR Rueben Randle, LSU

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    Justin Blackmon and Alshon Jeffery are the clear-cut top two underclassmen wide receivers, but outside of them, there really is no other definitive first-round prospects yet.

    There’s a second tier of guys, like Rutgers’ Mohamed Sanu, Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill, Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton and Toledo’s Eric Page, that are making some noise, but one of the junior receivers to really watch is LSU’s Rueben Randle.

    Randle, a former 5-star recruit, struggled to live up to his high school hype in his first two seasons, but now that he’s gotten some consistent play at quarterback, he’s starting to reach his enormous potential.

    Randle has already matched his receptions total from last season with 33 catches, and he’s managed to haul in an SEC-leading seven touchdowns.

    The 6’4’’, 205-pound junior has an NFL body and a combo of size, hands and speed that will really intrigue scouts.

S Antonio Allen, South Carolina

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    All-SEC cornerback Stephon Gilmore was supposed to be the star of the South Carolina secondary this season, but he’s been overshadowed by safety Antonio Allen, who has enjoyed a breakout senior year.

    Allen, who mans the hybrid “Spur” position, is the team leader in tackles with 60 stops, and he’s already picked off three passes and scooped up two fumbles, returning one of each for a touchdown.

    The 6’2’’, 200-pound senior has impressive athleticism and quickness for his size, and he’s proven that he has great instincts and a nose for the ball.

    In what’s shaping up to be a very weak safety class, Allen has a chance to really make a name for himself and rise up draft boards if he continues at his current pace.

LB Emmanuel Acho, Texas

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    Emmanuel Acho has been the most consistent player on a very talented Texas defense, and although his teammate, Keenan Robinson, received more publicity in the offseason, he’s looked like the better prospect so far this year.

    This season, Acho, the younger brother of Sam Acho, who was taken in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft, has led the Longhorns with 58 total tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks.

    The 6’2’’, 245-pound junior has shown off the type of explosiveness reminiscent of former Texas star Sergio Kindle, and he’s got the type of intangibles, instincts and physical makeup to be a terrific 4-3 strongside linebacker at the next level.

OG Kelvin Beachum, SMU

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    Offensive Linemen aren’t true glamor players, so unless you’re one of this year’s top prospects, like Matt Kalil, Riley Reiff, David DeCastro or Jonathan Martin, you’re not going to get a whole lot of attention.

    It also definitely doesn’t help if you play for an off-the-radar school like Southern Methodist’s Kelvin Beachum does.

    Beachum has been a mainstay at left tackle on the Mustangs’ line since his freshman year, starting every single game of his career, but he projects best to guard in the NFL.

    The 6’3’’, 305-pound senior has proven that he has the athleticism to handle quicker pass-rushers on the outside, but his best attributes are his power and his strength, which he always finds a way to take advantage of in the running game, and they would be best utilized inside in the pros.

    This year’s guard class isn’t particularly deep, and there’s a chance that Beachum could really work his way up the ladder with strong showings in postseason all-star games and workouts.