For more than a decade now, I have made the analysis of lesser-known, small school, and undervalued NFL draft prospects my sometimes (well, more than sometimes) obsessive avocation. Over the years, I’ve written about, championed, interviewed, chosen in mock draft, defended in arguments, and generally shouted into the wilderness about “my” guys.
How did this get started? Well, I got involved in a nearly legendary 7 round mock draft started on a now more or less defunct Steelers message board and continued each year since on SteelerFury.com, where 32 posters each become GM of a team and make trades, picks– we execute a real 256 pick NFL draft.
The level of knowledge of prospects and quality of this draft was mind-boggling to me. I had played and followed football for 40 years– I was far from a casual fan– yet the competition was fierce. One of the most exciting parts of that draft were the later rounds, where GMs presented obscure picks with glee– they had the satisfaction of drafting 7 rounds of guys that became “their” guys. On the message boards, twitter, and weekly on our podcast, we got credit or ridicule for prospects we’d championed or criticized years earlier. A badge of honor or shame, as it were.
I decided that I’d have a hard time learning the top prospects as well as others who watch way too much college football and were familiar with prospects out of high school and that my best chance was to unearth a few from the discount rack. As in life, I’m a value buy kind of guy. The great part is, much like Day 3 strategy for a team like New England, if you can hit on 1 of 3 lesser known picks as three 6th round selections, you’re a success.
My first class had Gartrell Johnson, Brice McCain, Sammie Lee Hill, and David Bruton… modest overachievers who nonetheless made NFL teams. Then came my first serious year of becoming an amateur draftnik, and with it the year that gave me some cachet: 2010. That year I screamed to the heavens the names Jared Veldheer, Emmanuel Sanders, Jimmy Graham, Alterraun Verner, Clay Harbor, Nolan Carroll, Arthur Moats, Ramon Harewood, Joe Webb, Jamar Chaney, and Junior Galette. I think their subsequent success surprised even me, although I desperately wanted the Steelers to draft Jimmy Graham and Emmanuel Sanders that year.
The next year, feeling pressure to keep the high standard, I included 2011’s James Carpenter, Rob Housler, Jordan Cameron, Kris Durham, Julius Thomas, Buster Skrine, Richard Sherman, Colin Jones, Justin Rogers, and Ricardo Lockette. 2012 brought Brandon Brooks, Casey Heyward, Doug Martin, Bruce Irvin, Lamar Holmes, Robert Turbin, Miles Burris, Josh Norman, Justin Bethel, J.R.Sweezy, Rishard Matthews, Junior Hemmingway, Markus Kuhn In 2013, Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, Brandon Williams, Benny Cunningham, Shamarko Thomas, Earl Wolff, Steve Means, Paul Worrilow, Ryan Schraeder, Eric Rogers, and Terren Jones joined the fraternity, and in 2014 Jarvis Landry, Billy Turner, Jay Bromley, Terrence Brooks, Jerick McKinnon, Justin Ellis, Marqueston Huff, Kevin Norwood, Dontae Johnson, Walt Aikens, Keith Lewis, Nevin Lawson, Ryan Carrethers, Wesley Johnson, Zach Mettenberger, Robert Herron, Jordan Zumwalt, Brandon Dixon, Zach Moore, Garrett Gilbert, T.J. Carrie, Terrence Fede, Tyler Starr, Cornelius Lucas, Zach Kerr, Brock Coyle, Eric Thomas, & Justin Britt got there.
Those who have followed my efforts have nicknamed my players members of the fictional B2B Directional State football team. A couple of years ago, they even were anointed with a mascot, the Battling Basilisks. I figure someday I’ll make T Shirts and send one to each of the selectees.
Anyway, the fraternity of B2Bers play every Sunday in the NFL– in fact, people tweet/text/email me every time one of them makes a play, good or bad. Generally, though, I secretly track their whereabouts and know of their moments before anyone lets me know… as I said, they’re my guys.
Listen to the latest SteelerFury podcast, Steeler draft edition here:
Without further ado, the B2B Directional State Class of 2015:
B2B Directional State Player of the Year: Ryan Delaire, Towson (6041, 256)
Ex-Edge rusher Ryan Riddle said this week that the #1 attribute for edge rushers is closing speed. Others talk about bend and ankle flexion. Delaire’s last two steps to the prey are reminiscent of a jaguar taking down an antelope and his ability to bend the corner is second to none in this class. No other edge prospect in this draft has his combination of classic edge rusher traits: play speed, ability to finish, ability to bend the edge, ferocious tackler, ball skills in coverage , backside pursuit, desire/motor, elite athleticism. A fun highlight reel player who showed well vs. bigger competition including WVU, & Michigan. UPDATE: Delaire showed well in TB but ultimately got cut and signed with the Redskins’ practice squad. A work in progress.
Will Schwarz, Saginaw Valley State
DE Tory Slater, West Georgia (6040 275)
Country strong, aggressive and agile. Huge and raw, but with size and motor you can’t teach. UPDATE: Had a hamstring injury from minicamp and went from PUP to cut for now.
Speaking of country strong, Williams is an old school NT in a new school world. I suppose the trend in the NFL is taller NTs or more versatile DTs but Williams is oddly overlooked in this class, despite having some VInce Wilfork/Casey Hampton like moments on tape. Had a couple issues off the field a few years ago… add it all up and he’s an afterthought, despite a lot of talent at a position most don’t appreciate. UPDATE: Was fabulous in Bears preseason week 4, nearly week 1 starter because of injury… practice squad.
DE David Irving, Iowa State (6073, 273)
A couple of incidents off the field trashed his career at Iowa State just as it was getting started… but what a start it was. Irving was just too fast and too long for most OL he faced. If he had stayed out of trouble, he would be not just more experienced but more coached– probably a high draft pick in this class. UPDATE: Practice squad for Chiefs– showed well but stacked roster.
He looks a little like a guy who grabs the whole team and then throws each one out until he finds the one with the ball. Not much competition at that level for a freakish athlete like him but his desire and size/speed is evident.
DE Martin Ifedi, Memphis UPDATE: Cut by Rams
SS Jaquiski Tartt, Samford (6013, 221)
Maybe it’s his jersey number but watching him immediately made me think of Steve Atwater. He runs sideline to sideline and hits guys into the team bench. He can also cover and take away the football. Can a Steve Atwater type safety work in today’s NFL? I think so.
A real NFL style DB… can play deep high, in the box, cover the slot vs WRs and TEs. Creates turnovers with quick hands and anticipation. UPDATE: 5th round pick for Miami, practice squad.
Cleans up behind the D… does whatever his team needs him to do to stop the play. In the box, deep half, one on one off the line… he can do it all. UPDATE: 4th Rd pick, excelling on STs, made Indy’s 53.
Big hitter who is always around the football. My thought watching him was: I would love to have a guy like this on my team UPDATE: UDFA made Miami’s 53.
CB Steven Nelson, Oregon State (5101, 197)
The best CB no one talks about. Not the biggest, nor the smallest… he wins with a terrific and advanced understanding of technique. Watch his game vs Jaelen Strong, where he continually directed Strong to the sideline and left him no room to catch the football. It’s like a Jedi mind trick. Nelson can step in to a team that plays off-man coverage and contribute immediately while he continues to learn the game. UPDATE: Made KC’s 53.
His “stick a foot in the ground” and attack throws/the catch is as good as anyone in this draft. Going to face much better competition at the next level, but he’s long, with good speed. UPDATE: At least BAL drafted a CB in Rd 4 who made it onto their 53.
Consider me on the Lippett as football player train. I’m one who thinks his ideal fit is as a CB… although he could contribute on offense as well. UPDATE: 5th Rd pick made the Dolphins as a CB.
CB SaQwan Edwards, New Mexico UPDATE: OAK practice squad.
CB Craig Mager, West Texas State UPDATE: 3rd Rd pick made the Chargers’ 53.
QB Trevor Siemian, Northwestern(6027, 220)
Sometimes guys get hurt early in senior season and become an afterthought by the time the draft rolls around. Trevor Siemian was money before injury in 2014, including a gutsy 43-40 OT win vs Notre Dame. UPDATE: 7th Rd pick was stellar in preseason, made 53, challenging to be Manning’s top backup.
36″ arms and movement skills to get to the second level or win to the edge. A big part of a terrific passing offense and dominant rushing game. UPDATE: Cut by Buffalo.
Not exactly an original discovery, but I am a big fan of Marpet’s technique– compared to more highly touted OL prospects, he showed off more advanced 1 on 1 skill at the Senior Bowl, inside and on the edge. Oh, and he was the 2nd best athletic testing OL in the draft. UPDATE: 2nd Rd pick is starting at LG for TB.
Played LT in college despite classic IOL stubby build. Garnered some attention in McNeese’s near upset of Nebraska, where he completely dominated the Nebraska edge guys he faced. If you had a computer put together an ideal NFL Center, he would look and play like Everett. UPDATE: Cut by TB.
If you like your centers brainy and athletic enough to play ZBS or pull to the edge, Easton is your man. No offense intended to the Ivy League, but the level of competition is closer to D3 than the SEC… but Easton was like a pancake machine. Everything he hits goes down. Top SPARQ OL in the draft. UPDATE: Traded from Ravens to 49ers, made 53.
OG/OC Chad Hamilton, Coastal Carolina UPDATE: Retired from football during Bears camp because of nagging injuries.
WR Cameron Meredith, Illinois State (6033, 207)
He has size/speed combination that says NFL starter. Quickness in and out of breaks and adjustment to football in the air. Good hands and can win in both tough, inside game and over the top. Tested in the 88.8th percentile for NFL WRs athletically and he can play. UPDATE: UDFA made Bears’ 53. Great preseason.
A slightly smallerTerrell Owens-style player– with the accompanying flair– who can win in the small ball, catch and run game, and also win down the field. I can’t for the life of me figure out why his career wasn’t more successful. There is some inconsistency to his game at the catch point– sometimes spectacular and sometimes timid– and he was up and down through out his 4 years, but those are really the only bad things I can say about him. A lot of what college CBs did to defend him will be illegal at the next level, and allowed to run free, he’s as good as almost any WR in this draft class. UPDATE: Led the Bills is receiving yardage, TDs in preseason… still cut.
WR (possession types)
Devante Davis, UNLV (6027, 220) Uses his body to shield defenders in the middle and can win down the field. Great hands. Not the most dynamic but he can succeed at the next level on size/speed. If he works at his craft, has the skill to be a solid starter. UPDATE: Cut by Philly after he failed to stand out in practices/OTAs.
Another fun guy to watch on tape. He’s not what you’d call NFL fast but he has an unbelievable knack for turning a 5 yard gain into 20 or 40 or however far it is to the end zone. Has sort of a Hines Ward knack for being faster than timed when it counts and doing whatever it takes to get home. As Gil Brandt said, Davis needs to play closer to 211, where his already special elusiveness would have the added benefit of speed… could be a special returner and catch and run WR. UPDATE: Davis went through OTAs with 49ers but something caused him to miss the mandatory minicamp in June and he was unceremoniously waived.
WR Deandre Carter, Sacramento State (5084, 185)
Ok, so this is in my top 5 or 6 most enjoyable prospect tape ever. Not only is he a talented receiver and good blocker from the HBack position, he is a 256lb punt returner. Has to be seen to be believed. He runs 4.49 at 6’3, 256 and catches everything. UPDATE: Giants practice squad.
TE/WR Neal Sterling, Monmouth (6033, 238) A giant WR who played in a running offense. Dedicated blocker already and the team’s go-to receiver. UPDATE: Jags practice squad.
TE Brian Parker, Albany UPDATE: UDFA made KC 53.
Le’veon Bell clone. He shares Bell’s versatility, lanky build, and skill at sifting through traffic. He can split out wide and run WR routes, or make a short yardage power run. He may not have Bell’s ceiling as an All-Pro but he fits the NFL game to a T. UPDATE: Stud. Preseason debut was awesome. Made Cards 53, may start.
FCS RB this year was crazy stacked. At least 4 will likely be drafted and at least two juniors were draftable prospects worth getting excited about. Zenner is a white guy skill player, which I think is why he got tagged with the dreaded FB label. He is nothing of the sort, as his performances vs. Nebraska & Missouri demonstrated. In both those games, defenders routinely misjudged Zenner’s speed and took bad angles. That tells me he has more game speed than you’d think by looking at him on paper or even sizing him up on the field. UPDATE: Stud. UDFA made Detroit roster as RB/KR.
RB John Crockett, North Dakota State UPDATE: Green Bay practice squad.