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. Kevin Byard has definitely joined the club, and Patrick Mahomes, Tarik Cohen, Adrian Colbert, Cooper Rush, Chase Allen, and Kenny Golladay are looking good so far.
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
for 2016 B2Bers, click here: 2016 B2B Directional State Team and for 2017 B2Bers, click here: 2017 B2B Directional State Team
Without further ado, the best of the B2Best:
B2B Directional Player of the year:
Shaquem Griffin, LB/S, Central Florida
Shaq Griffin has has so many people tell him he can’t. From his pee wee coaches to even the college coaches who recruited him– everyone took one look at the kid with one hand and said, ‘no’. The fact that he’s made it this far, has become a really inspirational person, and is on the verge of being drafted into the NFL… great story. But set all of that aside for second… this prospect is a hell of a football player.
He might be known for running 4.38 at the combine (which in itself is pretty damn impressive) but Griffin might have more outstanding plays on tape than just about anyone in this draft. In two years with UCF’s new coaching staff–who watched Griffin practice and said, ‘why are we not playing this kid?’–he accumulated 166 tackles, 33.5 TFL, 18.5 sacks, 2 INT, 10 PD, 4 FR (1 for TD), 4 FF, playing arguably out of position as an EDGE rusher. He blew up plays in the backfield, chased down QBs, covered WRs on deep routes, blocked FGs… generally created havoc for the other team, culminating in two of the best games of his career in the last two he played vs Memphis and Auburn.
Against Auburn… a quality SEC team… Griffin was easily the best player on the field. So why did he nearly not get an invite to the NFL Combine? My guess? Fear and ignorance. Because it sure wasn’t based on tape. His tape says Troy Polamalu. Now we’ll just have to see if he gets the chance to prove them wrong again.
Underappreciated Non Power 5 FBS POYs:
Austin Corbett, OL, Nevada Great awareness and agility matched with very good technique. Played guard and tackle as a starter, and some of his best was against top competition. As solid a prospect as you’ll find in this draft.
Quentin Poling, LB, Ohio
Listen to this statline: 373 tackles, 43.5 TFL, 18 sacks, 7 INT, 2 pick 6s, 15 PD, 2 FR, 5 FF. No one in college football filled up the stat sheet more than this somewhat undersized, 2-star recruit.
FCS Players Of The Year:
Siran Neal, S/CB, Jacksonville State
Siran Neal is the prototype nickel safety/CB type who can blow up plays in the backfield or play physical coverage.
Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State Supernatural ball skills for a former basketball guy but is willing and strong enough to work inline. Sensational hands and a little swagger helps.
D2 & Below Players Of The Year:
CB Michael Joseph, Dubuque (D3)(see below)
QB Luis Perez, Texas A&M-Commerce
(D2) Is the most interesting man in the world. Or at least the most interesting in D2, as the winner of the Harlon Hill POY award in that subdivision. Okay, I stole that line
from his profile. He threw for 3,326 yards and 32 TDs, leading his team to the National Championship this year. He has a great deep touch, and above-average arm ability to throw across the field.
B2B Hustle + Talent award: PJ Hall, DL, Sam Houston State The biggest athletic freak in this class. A person that large should not be able to run and move like he does. Simply demolished the FCS for 4 years, to the tune of 280 tackles, 33 Passes defensed, 36.5 sacks, 86.5 TFL, 9 FF, 4 INTs, and 14 blocked kicks. His pro day workout shall become legend: 6010, 310 lbs, 36 reps, 4.67 40, 38 VJ
B2B Adversity Award: Skai Moore, LB, South Carolina
Skai Moore had a horrible neck injury that required fusion surgery. Before that, he was viewed as a top prospect, with a knack for interceptions. He missed a year, but came back to lead the Gamecocks in tackles– something he did all four years. Even though he’s known for coverage, he holds up very well vs the run, with surprising ability to fend off blockers and make plays.
The B2B Honorary Karl Joseph Everyone Had Me As A Third Rounder But I’m Going In The 1st Award: Jessie Bates, S, Vanderbilt
Free safety types are few and far between in this draft–especially ones who are interested in hitting/tackling, and who are very good punt returners. Bates is all of that AND he’s underaged, with a lot of room to grow.
B2B Walk-On to NFL Award: Deon Yelder, TE, Louisville
Yelder was a walk on who played mostly special teams for three years, but when called upon this year to start, he had a terrific season, both as a blocker and pass protector for Lamar Jackson, but also became a trusted target in the pass game, with 52 catches for 688 yds & 7 TDs, plus a couple of carries and a TD rushing from the wildcat formation.
B2B For The Love Of The Game Award: Michael Joseph, CB, Dubuque
Whenever you hear one of those stories about a top athlete who squandered his opportunities and sandbagged his way through a handful of second chances because he might, might someday unlock his unrealized potential, just remember the guys like Michael Joseph.
He played 6 snaps in high school. He weighed less than 130lbs. He sent tapes of his 6 snaps to 20 or 30 schools and no one responded. Finally, he sent that pathetic cut up to a school with no scholarships, in Division III… and the coach was feeling a little generous and maybe spied something in the easy speed of the young man. He wasn’t even allowed to practice with the team, and there was no separate weightlifting program or fancy football facilities. He tried to keep eating, so that he could put on weight and get a chance to play, but he could barely make ends meet– he even took a job that required him to walk an hour each way, since he didn’t have a car.
But after all of that, a funny thing happened: he got bigger, he got stronger, and he became a really good player. He is an aggressive and fearless tackler/hitter, just dominated in coverage… he did everything you’d hope an NFL prospect would do down in D3. After a nearly unprecedented invite to the Senior Bowl and a good showing there, he’s going to have his name called in the NFL draft. The real one, not the one in his crazy dream version he had while sitting on the bench in High School.
B2B “Hearts & Smarts” Award: Quentin Meeks, CB/S, Stanford
A coach’s son, who was described as the most football smart player in the draft. He uses knowledge of route trees and tendencies to always be in great position. If he wanted to, he could also be a great fit at safety, with his excellent tackling skills and fearlessness about contact.
The Inaugural “If This Were 1975, I’d be a 1st Rd Pick/Borderline Too Violent For This Sport Award: Nate ‘Scooby’ Gaines, FS, Texas-San Antonio
Yeah, well, maybe he’s a targeting foul waiting to happen in this era of football, but you can’t deny he is about as good a hitter as you’ll find at FS. Despite his obvious inclination to trying to annihilate defenseless receivers and runners alike, he still managed to play the ball enough to get 8 INTs to go with all those knockouts.
NEXT PAGE––Part 2: B2B’s Underappreciated Youtube Stars — click here