It’s that time again: I release my annual list of undervalued draft sleepers and smaller school prospects who deserve more attention in the NFL draft.
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. Over the years, I’ve missed on a few (Hello, Gantrell Johnson!) but hit on a few very unexpected home runs, too.
Here’s a few past B2Bers, more or less the B2B Hall Of Fame:
Jared Veldheer, Richard Sherman, Carlos Dunlap, Emmanuel Sanders, Jimmy Graham, Josh Norman, Alterraun Verner, Junior Galette, Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas, Buster Skrine, Doug Martin, Bruce Irvin, Robert Turbin, J.R.Sweezy, Jamie Collins, Brandon Williams, Paul Worrilow, Jarvis Landry, Javon Hargrave, George Fant, Malcolm Mitchell, Karl Joseph, and Jatavis Brown.
In general, I tend to favor potential in players who seem to have the football personality to make the jump to actualization of that talent. Give me a guy with heart, football smarts, and athletic ability and shame on you if you can’t figure out how to make him a player.
For some background on how I got started with this and a list of 2015’s B2Bers, click here: 2015 B2B Directional State Team
and for 2016 B2Bers, click here: 2016 B2B Directional State Team
Without further ado, the best of the B2Best:
B2B Directional Player of the year: Robert Tonyan, Jr., Indiana State
The former All-Indiana high school basketball player and Star QB turned WR turned 240lb TE has the best hands in the draft I’ve seen. He catches it around, over, under, past, and on top of defenders with one hand or two. Just elite ball skills. He has size, speed, a chirpy attitude that screams New England Patriots and, despite some woefully inconsistent QB play and an offense that didn’t feature him enough, still excelled. In his three TD game at Minnesota, he sure looked like a player that belonged in a higher league… like the NFL.
Antonio Garcia will be undervalued in the draft because he played in the Sun Belt, but his 2016 performance vs Clemson nearly led his team to a massive upset over the eventual National Champs– the 34-point underdog Trojans were a couple of poor QB plays away from winning in a 24-30 game. In that game Garcia showed an impressive array of fluid movement, strong punch, and mirroring– he dominated an excellent series of DL and edge players on his side of the field.
If Brandon Wilson played at Michigan, he would have been a Heisman candidate. His production as a multi-position tool on defense keyed two years of defensive success for the Cougars– he effectively played outside CB, slot CB, safety, and even LB at times. He also made a name for himself with a tremendous missed FG return from as far in the back of the end zone as you can go without being out of bounds. He also answered the call when the Cougars’ top RBs were all injured before a critical conference game vs Navy– despite never practicing at the position before that week, he ran for 111 yds and 3 TDs. Multiple TDs on defense, STs, and offense, plus 4.3 speed.
Because of his size (5063, 179), Tarik Cohen will get the obvious Darren Sproles comparisons, but on film he’s more a Barry Sanders Home Run hitter. The quote of the year was Mike Mayock’s on Cohen, “He tries to turn every play into a punt return”– that’s pretty much it. However, even within structure, Cohen is able to find small creases, take away defender’s angles, and use surprising leg drive power to carry defenders. He also shows surprising hands and catch radius– every catch he makes in space is a threat to go the distance. If he can adapt to KR/PR skills, he can play in the NFL for a long time.
Chase Allen is a throwback, sideline to sideline, classic Middle Linebacker. In two words: Football Player. His anticipation and ability to range through debris on his way to the ball is NFL-worthy. You want to knock him for his LOC, but the more you watch, the more impossible it is not to love.
Krishawn Hogan might have been relegated to playing NAIA football while working two jobs, but it was certainly worthwhile. He is tremendous run after the catch prospect, with basically the most size/speed/athleticism combo of any receiver in the draft– and an incredible nose for the end zone. He ran deep routes, took slants to the house, and even had 25 rushing touchdowns to go with his 42 receiving TDs.
Adam Shaheen’s story is becoming well-known; he was a scrawny basketball player whose only scholarship offer was to D2 Pitt-Johnstown. After a couple of years of basketball, he and his father made the outrageous decision to scrap basketball and switch schools so that “he could pursue the NFL”– this for a player who was nowhere near being on the NFL radar in any way! He transformed himself into a D2 star at receiving TE– he ran around, past, and through DBs and LBs. After declaring early– just a Junior (!)– he got the NFL attention that pretty much only he and his father believed he would get, and now– without ever playing a snap vs an NFL prospect, he’s talked about as a possible 2nd round selection in this year’s draft.
B2B Hustle + Talent award: Adrian Colbert, CB, Miami (FL)
Cutrer’s story is so crazy that I almost don’t know where to begin. His father has been incarcerated for his entire life. When Katrina hit his hometown of New Orleans, the water rose to his front door so fast that he barely escaped, wading through floating dead bodies to make it onto a bridge on ramp. The storm left him, his brothers, and his mother homeless and without any belongings. Cutrer was 11 years old and living on the street. He went to high school while still homeless and became enough of a football star that LSU offered him a scholarship. Unfortunately, his living situation hadn’t helped his academics, and he couldn’t qualify to enroll at LSU. Disappointed, he enrolled at a Junior college, where he famously cried when hea and his teammates were given Chik-Fil-A sandwiches– it was just a sandwich to the other players, but it was a life event for the homeless kid. While in JuCo, Jeremy’s older brother was killed back in New Orleans and he he tried again to enroll at LSU, to no avail. After his second year of JuCo, he decided to take off from football’s spring practices to study and work on qualifying one last time. He still wasn’t able to manage LSU, but did enroll at Middle Tennessee State. During his time there, he’s shown he has the talent to play the game and catch the attention of the NFL– all while still homeless. He moves around, sleeps on couches, eats only what he gets as part of his stipend– the major criticism of him as a prospect that he can’t keep weight on is insane, when you consider the context of a kid with nothing but a dream and a hunger to play the game.
The B2B Honorary Karl Joseph Everyone Had Me As A Third Rounder But I’m Going In The Top 15 Award: Patrick Mahomes II
Much like Cutrer, this once 5-star recruit couldn’t qualify to fulfill his scholarship to Texas A&M, and Miami stepped in with another scholarship offer and a promise to make it work academically– only, after he moved to Miami and enrolled, they told him he couldn’t qualify immediately. After a year of couch-surfing and trying to meet requirements, he was told they couldn’t take him, so he went back to Houston and was out of football. In 2014, he got into his Hometown Texas Southern and enjoyed one of the great athletic seasons you could have, with an all-conference selection and 11TDs in football and then the Conference Player of The Year and NBA prospect talk in basketball. In 2016, the football coaching staff got replaced, and the head coach (who’d just survived his own domestic violence incident that cost him his job at Pitt) let Griffin know that the team was going to de-emphasize him as a target and go to more of a run-based attack, seemingly as punishment for missing spring practice for basketball). Then, when Griffin was late to a meeting in the fall, the coach (surely to take focus away from his own bad discipline) decided to be a hardass disciplinarian and suspended Griffin for the entire season. Griffin started the basketball year, but decided that football was his future and he left the basketball team to train for the draft. As luck would have it, he injured himself in training a couple of days before his pro day event and killed whatever momentum he once had. He might be star-crossed, but he’s also the exact height, weight, and 40-yard speed of Ladarius Green with better ball skills… chances are we haven’t heard the last of him.
No weightlifting program, no school resources, no scholarship… no problem. Despite the no-frills football program at a program whose most successful NFL alumnus is kicker Billy Cundiff, Saubert learned some of the best route-running skills in the class, especially for a player his size. He had his ups and downs in postseason all-star action, but consider what he could become once he matriculates into an NFL-level strength/conditioning/nutrition program– it’ll be like being on scholarship for the first time!
B2B “Hearts & Smarts” Award: Cooper Rush, QB, Central Michigan
A star-student in Actuarian Sciences (fascinating if you are interested in the insurance industry or infant mortality among babies born to athiests who live in Iceland) and possessing brilliance in reading and understanding defenses, it’s his passion for the game and desire to make pays when the game is on the line that make him a special player. Within the span of 9 months, he threw for two miracle finish plays– one to cap an unbelievable comeback in the Bahamas Bowl and one to win on an untimed down vs Oklahoma State that shouldn’t have counted. Despite limitations in arm strength, his knowledge and heart as a football player makes him a candidate to be a Ryan Fitzpatrick type career backup and spot starter in the NFL.
For those of you, like me, who dig through hours of video to evaluate potential talent, know that there’s nothing like a clip that sticks in your mind. Every year, I have my favorite moments on tape; here are my 5 favorites from the 2017 draft season:
1. Adrian Colbert stops ND 4th down screen:
2. Patrick Mahomes doing anything:
3. Robert Tonyan, Jr. deploys go-go gadget arm:
4. Pita Taumeopenu is speed rush porn:
5. Noah Brown TD #3 vs Oklahoma:
6. Tarik Cohen fumble recovery:
7. Brandon Wilson FG return vs Oklahoma:
THE MAIN EVENT If you’re looking for last-minute, below market draft prospects— here’s your menu. The underrated, undervalued, & overlooked 2016 B2B Directional State Battling Basilisks:
QB Seth Russell, Baylor will stand in and take a hit, has excellent accuracy– lost in the shuffle because of two injuries, now healed
QB Cooper Rush, Central Michigan (see above)
QB Jack Nelson, Winona State has great size and some arm talent
QB Kyle Sloter, Northern Colorado transfer from Southern Miss is a mobile, high accuracy thrower
RB Tarik Cohen, NC A&T (see above)
RB Chris Carson, Oklahoma State a terrific athlete, with NFL ability as a runner and pass catcher. Flew beneath the radar in a conference not known for defense, but last two games of his career, he stood out vs ranked teams Oklahoma & Colorado (6.6 YPC, 2 TDs)
RB DeAngelo Henderson, Coastal Carolina bowling ball with surprising pass catching skills. Finds small creases, pushes the pile, has some long speed
RB Joe Williams, Utah A very Willie Parker-like toolbox. Can hit the home run against anyone. Lacks Parker’s top gear but hits the hole and goes far.
RB Aaron Jones, UTEP a young, all-around back who is just scratching the surface. Outstanding athlete who will be a better pro than college player.
WR Kenny Golladay, Northern Illinois size and speed receiver whose physicality will be right at home in the NFL game
WR Carlos Henderson, Louisiana Tech versatile chess piece, whose intermediate and deep ability is overshadowed by possession and YAC skills
TE Derrick Griffin, Texas Southern (see above)
TE Phazahn Odom, Fordham he’s 6’8″ with long arms and has the fluidity of a WR. If route-running and blocking leverage skills are improved, he can be a mismatch in the NFL.
TE Eric Saubert, Drake (see above)
TE Andy Avgi, Western Oregon a 270lb TE with a former basketball player’s vertical, agility, and ball skills. He’s probably a candidate to become an NFL left tackle, but it would be a shame to waste his soft hands and talents as a receiver
TE Jonnu Smith, Florida International his quickness hearkens back to what made Antonio Gates unstoppable. Great runner after the catch.
TE Gerald Everett, South Alabama Has the Jordan Reed esque skills as an H-Back/big WR. A weapon for the right team.
OL Antonio Garcia, Troy (see above)
OL Zack Johnson, NDSU phone booth mauler and good pass protector who can succeed as RG in a power run game. Nasty finisher.
OL Jylan Ware, Alabama State long, fluid athlete with great feet and mobility. Quick off the ball. With work adjusting to higher level of comp, has ability to play LT and pretty much everywhere along the line.
OL Jerry Ugokwe, William & Mary a massive Nigerian nightmare for edge rushers, with 35 and 3/8″ arms and 10 3/8″ hands. A developmental project, to be sure, with only 3 years at the position.
OL Collin Buchanan, Miami (OH) position flexible contributor, how gets the job done at RT, built like a mobile guard.
OL Storm Norton, Toledo has all the tools to be an NFL LT. Inconsistent as a run blocker, but when he gets it right, demolishes defenders.
OL Avery Gennesey, Texas A&M maybe a little less length than the norms for LTs, but has the skillset of a quality OT.
DL Grover Stewart, Albany State Planet theory freak whose measurables and testing look like Haloti Ngata after a better conditioning program. First step advantage at his LOC is otherworldly.
DL Collin Bevins, NW Missouri State Transfer from Iowa State, he terrorized Division II with talent that looks an awful lot like a genetically improved Aaron Smith.
DL Glen Antoine, Idaho 337lb man with a 30″ vertical, 8’7″ broad jump, and a 4.77 Short Shuttle. He was nearly unblockable at times for a surprising Vandals team.
EDGE Chris Odom, Arkansas State dominated OTs at FCS level
EDGE J.T. Jones, Miami (OH) unheralded but excellent edge player, who also tested like an elite pass rusher
LB Elijah Lee, Kansas State underrated defender who is involved in majority of plays for a (rare) good defense in Big 12
LB Javancy Jones, Jackson State run and hit things LB, who can give you edge snaps and strongside Off-ball LB snaps
LB Keion Adams, Western Michigan speed burst off the ball is excellent, probably best suited to be off-ball and be free to make plays with his speed
CB Brian Allen, Utah has incredible size/length for the position. Still learning after position switch from WR. Long arms and quality footspeed put him position to make a ton of play on the football. Loves to hit– once he learns nuances of route anticipation and tackling technique, he has no limit to potential success.
CB Howard Wilson, Houston only one season starting for talented secondary, but he made a ton of plays as the team’s go-to CB. Has shiftiness to play the slot, but also length to play outside.
CB Shaquill Griffin, Central Florida very straightline fast and great in run support. A good football player with high character– reminds of Ike Taylor
CB Adrian Colbert, Miami (FL) (see above)
CB D.J. Killings, Central Florida overshadowed by his running mate Griffin, Killings covers like a blanket, has good skills playing the ball and receiver’s pocket. Had excellent workout at pro day and will be a steal.
CB Joshua Holsey, Auburn A little undersized, but played great in toughest conference. Great athlete who knows how to play.
CB Brandon Wilson, Houston (see above)
CB Damontae Kazee, San Diego State Aggressive, human missile on plays in front of him, good instincts make up for good, not great quickness
S Tedric Thompson, Colorado An unbelievable ballhawk, with 7 interceptions and 16 pass breakups… in just this past season! Can cover with 1 on 1 responsibilities in front of him and has range to go sideline to sideline on the deep ball. Has a chance to be the next Ed Reed eraser.
S David Jones, Richmond great size and speed- hits like a safety but with CB coverage and ball skills. All over the field for his defense.
S Xavier Woods, Louisiana Tech another versatile safety who was a leader on his team. Playmaker wherever he lines up.
S Lorenzo Jerome, St. Francis another ball hawk, whose anticipation and route recognition allows him to feast on poor throws
QB Wes Lunt, Illinois
QB/WR/RS Greg Ward, Jr., Houston
FB Tyler McCloskey, Houston
WR Brian Brown, Richmond
WR Noel Thomas, Connecticut
TE Tyrone Swoopes, Texas
TE Mason Shreck, Buffalo
TE Jason Croom, Tennessee
OL Ethan Cooper, Indiana (PA)
DL Cameron Malveaux, Houston
DL Isaac Rochell, Notre Dame
DL Winston Craig, Richmond
EDGE Caleb Kidder, Montana
LB Austin Calitro, Villanova