It’s that time of year: the release of my annual 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, and Jarvis Landry.
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.
I’m not sure what Kalan Reed did to deserve almost utter lack of attention in this draft class. I can’t find anything wrong with his game. I honestly believe this is all about being a lightly regarded prospect coming out of high school, and then playing at Southern Miss instead of Oklahoma. He has decent size (5111 192), great anticipation and ball skills, he sacrifices his body to support on run plays and balls caught underneath him, and he jumps off the tape. In one game I watched he basically made a great play on 4 or 5 plays in a row to begin the game. The announcers, “annnnd, there’s Kalan Reed again!” It’s not as if he’s unathletic; Reed ran a 4.38 and jumped a 41.5 inch vertical at his pro day… I MEAN, COME ON. I think he might be a top 5 CB in this draft, when all is said and done.
Underrated Power 5 player of the year:
Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia
Although this column is renown for extolling the virtues of small school and non-power 5 prospects, I reserve the right to include a guy who I think is a top 15 talent in the draft– at least– and who is still being talked about as available in Rd 3 by multiple, mainstream outlets. One look at the film and you see the best safety prospect since 2010– one who is laughably underrated compared to the safeties taken in Rd 1 since then. He is a huge hitter who knocks ballcarriers backwards, his play recognition and reaction is elite, he covered the best route-running WR in the draft man-on-man in the slot (Sterling Shepherd) and shut him off, and he covers the deep half all the way to the sideline (see top 5 youtube clips section below). That describes Earl Thomas or Troy Polamalu, and only a now-nearly-complete ACL injury possibly holds him down lower than that. Best player I watched on tape this year.
Underappreciated Non Power 5 FBS POY:
QB Matt Johnson… Bowling Green
He’s a little bigger than Russell Wilson and basically the same size as Drew Brees. Sometimes he gets a little sidearm-y. He had a broken hip in 2014. His offense was a little gimmicky. There, that’s about it for bad news. The good? He threw for almost 5,000 yards (more than Jared Goff), 46 TDs and only 8 INTs, with 67.3 % completions– while throwing 20 TDs of over 30 yards in the air. I don’t care what size you are, if you complete 67+% of your passes when you throw downfield as much as this guy, you are a legit NFL prospect. And, they’re not just complete– he drops it in a bucket downfield, even under pressure and with his feet not set. Not every team values the incredible deep ball accuracy Johnson has, but someone like Arizona or Pittsburgh could at minimum develop him as a career backup, capable of entering a game and making plays.
FCS Players Of The Year: Javon Hargrave & Tyrone Holmes
Javon Hargrave plays in a football conference more famous for its marching bands and dance crews. He would have had scholarship to Clemson or a handful of SEC schools, except he missed qualifying with the NCAA clearinghouse by less than a percentage point on his last high school exam. Instead of hanging his head, he just went down the road to South Carolina State and became a MEAC legend. Not only was he dominant, he even raised his game in big moments, including coming in to the game where he was too injured to start vs. #14 ranked division rival Bethune-Cookman, and almost single handedly leading his team from behind to victory with 11 tackles, including 6 sacks.
Speaking of sacks, Tyrone Holmes had more of them this year than anyone: 18. It’s hard not to like a kid replacing a 17 sack guy, then going out and bettering his sack production. Looks and feels like an NFL diamond in the rough.
D2/D3 Player Of The Year:
Justin Zimmer, Ferris State
After a dominant season as a 245 DE in D2, one of his coaches convinced him that his NFL future was as a DT, so Zimmer put on 50 solid lbs since then. Even with the extra weight, he still tested like an elite, freak edge rusher: a 1.69 10yd split and 7.09 3 cone at 6’2″ 295 is rarified air. His explosion numbers were at the highest level but basically only former Olympian Lawrence Okoye and some guy named J.J. Watt had more agility with the same or similar power… and Watt tested at 15lbs lighter. Basically, he’s Aaron Donald-ish, if Aaron Donald was more of an athletic freak. On top of that, Zimmer did what you’d expect at D2: he dominated. Whether he can translate that to an NFL opportunity remains to be seen but he ought to be able to win at least a STs job with his athletic skills.
B2B Hustle + Talent award:
EDGE Roy Robertson-Harris, UTEP
I guess the word on the street is that Robertson-Harris only really came on in his senior season. But, c’mon! If he were only viewed as a big guy who hustles, you could justify a day 3 pick on him– the cutups all feature plays where the 266lb lineman chased ballcarriers 30-60 yards downfield and caught them. But, then, he tested like a freak athlete on top of that. The reason for his overlooked status is obvious when you watch tape: he was the team’s top DL, so they used him much more on the interior than he would ever be used in the NFL. He’s a beautiful edge defender– stout holding the point, even vs double teams, quick laterally to find gaps, bend and agility to turn the edge. I love this player and, in a draft with few outlier edge prospects worth drafting at their expected draft slots, he’s the best value.
B2B Adversity Award:
CB Cheatham Norrils, Toledo
Lost an entire season with a mystery illness that nearly cost him his life but rebounded to help lead Toledo to one of its best seasons in history. His first game back, he played the game of his life in the Rockets’ upset win over Houston– that alone should have catapulted him into the draft spotlight. He has size, tested well– yet there’s buzz about turning him into a SS. Go figure.
B2B “Hearts & Smarts” Award:
Off-Ball LB Jatavis Brown, Akron
Brown is near the top of every meaningful defensive statistic: tackles, sacks, TFL, forced fumbles… he’s fast, athletic, team captain. Why is there no love for this college football star? Sure, there is some doubt about what his NFL position is but the guy can pretty much do it all. You could invent a position for him and he’d be sensational. Give me 11 football players like this guy and I’d win an awful lot of football games.
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 2016 draft season:
DE Roy Robertson-Harris runs down NMState RB
S Karl Joseph covers 2/3 field to hit OK WR
CB Kalan Reed one-handed, flying INT vs Charlotte
WR Casey Martin, Southern Mississippi turns 1on1s into twister, makes effortless, stupid-great 1 handed catch:
THE MAIN EVENT If you’re looking for last-minute, below market draft prospects— here’s your menu, the underrated and overlooked 2016 B2B Directional State Battling Basilisks:
QB Matt Johnson… Bowling Green (see above)
QB Jacob Houseman, Chattanooga has a nice combination of mobility and accuracy. He also has a classic QB demeanor and leadership skills.
QB Jacob Russell, Campbellsville was mentioned by noted QB guru George Whitfield as a name worthy of mentioning in terms of sleeper QB prospects with size and arm talent. Russell started as a walk-on at Kentucky, then moved to Eastern Kentucky, finally went to Campbellsville to get a chance to play and further his NFL dream. He looks the part and can make every throw. The step up in competition is a big barrier but I’d give him an opportunity.
RB Darius Jackson, Eastern Michigan reminds me of former Seahawks RB Robert Turbin. He is solidly built, has quick feet when picking a hole, and has breakaway speed when he gets into the secondary.
RB Tyler Ervin, San Jose State plays bigger than his measured 5’10” 192lbs. He has the quicks and the ability to find daylight of a scat back but offers more as a pass blocker and receiver.
RB Jhurell Pressley, New Mexico
RB Rahman Lee, Glenville State (D2)
Lee has shake and bake for days. A little undersized but has the necessary evasiveness. Ran for 412 yards… IN ONE GAME.
FB/RB: Devon Johnson, Marshall is a big, fast, non-nonsense runner, who overpowers at the LOS and runs away in the secondary. Has a nose for the EZ– just becomes single-minded in that pursuit.
OL Tyler Johnstone, Oregon is probably destined to be an NFL OT or OG on a team that runs ZBS. Moves well for his size and is good at walling off defenders. If not for injuries, would be more touted.
OL Rees Odihambo Boise State An injury also derailed Odihambo’s career trajectory. If healthy, he’s versatile and could be a very good guard.
OL Stephane Nembot, Colorado is all arms and legs but he is a big guy who can move. The kind of clay for a great OL coach to turn into gold.
OL Anthony Fabiano, Harvard
OL Dominique Robertson, West Georgia is mammoth and a dancing bear type. If he can hold up as a RT vs the increasingly popular speed rushers on that side, he has plus skills.
OL Brandon Shell, South Carolina
OL Arturo Uzdavinis, Tulane has enormous size and quick feet. Very raw but, even so, difficult for defenders to get by the gatekeeper.
TE (3): Rico Gathers, Baylor (see above)
TE Temarrick Hemingway, South Carolina State has one trick- a return route that gets him open, time and time again. Teams must have known it was coming… they still had no answer.
TE/OL George Fant, Western Ky is, like Gathers, a basketball convert with great size and speed for a big man. He’s almost 300lbs, so a switch to LT might be a possibility.
WR Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia is a former defensive back who approaches playing WR with that mindset. I can’t watch him and not think of Hines Ward when he was at Georgia.
WR/RS Deandre Reaves, Marshall
He led the nation in return TDs with 4 and he made some big contributions as a slot WR. Not the biggest, but he mostly suffers from the changes to the NFL game which decrease the value of return specialists. Still, it’s head-scratching that he’s not at least in the draftable conversation, especially in a weak WR class.
WR/RS Casey Martin, Southern Mississippi
Okay, once you’ve seen Wes Welker and Julian Edelman and the like be nearly uncoverable on routes from the slot, the temptation is to think that any undersized, quick guy with incredible hands is “The Next Wes Welker”. Well, this guy make a pretty convincing argument in 2015. 80 catches for 925 yards and 7 TDs. For a 5’9″ 180lb slot guy with solid NFL prospect Michael Thomas grabbing 71 for 1391 and 14TDs on the other side
Mike Thomas, Southern Mississippi plays with consistent effort and will not be outworked. He looks too big and too fast for most defenders. A TD machine.
WR Ricardo Louis, Auburn suffered through some terrible QB play… and, yet, all he did was put up big plays.
WR Mitch Matthews, BYU
They keep saying it’s a weak WR class but I think they’re ignoring the middle and late part of the group. Speaking of those guys, what has Mitch Matthews done wrong? He’s slightly older than a redshirt senior but he was the go-to guy who made a ton of plays for his offense (always a good sign for projecting WRs), he is amongst the fastest big WRs in the entire class (an impressive 4.49 @ 6′ 5.625″), and he has great hands and leaping ability.
WR Reece Horn, Indianapolis worked as an intern for the Indianapolis Colts, never told them he was a star in D2. Dominated small school competition but has some skills and size.
WR Jamaal James, Montana
WR Moritz Boehringer, German Football League may have played against one step above high school talent but he obviously has the raw tools, size, and speed to merit a shot. Will he pick up the finer points? Worth a try.
WR Andy Jones, Jacksonville
WR Keyaris Garrett, Tulsa
DL Javon Hargrave, South Carolina State
DL Greg Milhouse, Campbell
DL David Onyemata, Manitoba A planet theory guy: no one that big and agile and explosive should be left without an NFL opportunity… even if he’s raw and Canadian.
DL Joel Heath… Michigan State
DL Justin Zimmer… Ferris State (see above)
DL Ronald Blair, Appalaichan State
EDGE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
Tapper played out of position as an interior player in 2015 but, prior to that, got opportunities as an edge player and looked extremely dynamic in that role. All that interior play has honed his run stopping skills– he holds the point against double teams as well as any edge rusher in this draft class– and that alone will give him an opportunity to play right away. Seen as a late Day 2 draftee, he would be outstanding value.
EDGE Bronson Kaufusi, BYU can play 3-4DE, 4-3DE, and 3-4OLB, giving him unparalleled position/scheme flexibility. He bends the edge extremely well for a bigger edge player and knows how to close the deal when the QB gets in his vicinity.
EDGE Roy Robertson-Harris UTEP (see above)
EDGE David Perkins, Illinois State is a former Ohio State player who tested like an elite outlier at the most outlier of positions. Was tasked to do more spy/contain and Off-Ball type role but showed great bend and explosion off the edge. Has the classic hunter pursuit drive that not every great athlete has.
EDGE Jonathan Woodard, Central Arkansas
EDGE Tyrone Holmes, Montana
EDGE Mike Rose, North Carolina State might have had the best single game of any power 5 edge rusher vs Wake Forest. Just watch:
Off-Ball LB Elandon Roberts, Houston The heart and soul of one of the best defenses in the FBS. There was zero doubt that he was THE MAN on that team, despite NFL talent at multiple DB and DL. He plays the position the way you’d want your inside LB to play on any team.
Off-Ball LB Mike Stojkovic, Robert Morris is a transfer from North Texas who switched from an active OLB to MLB and was a terror for the Colonials’ opponents.
Off-Ball LB Jatavis Brown, Akron (see above)
Off-Ball LB Larry Butler III, Southern Nazarene was a top recruit out of high school, who took the long road to NFL prospect. Has the size and speed worthy of a late selection or invite as a UDFA.
Off-Ball LB Antwione Williams, Georgia Southern Big, bad, and in the middle of everything. Had a huge game vs top competition (Georgia).
CB Kalan Reed, Southern Mississippi (see above)
CB Cheatham Norris, Toledo (see above)
CB Rashard Robinson, LSU had some maturity issues that cost him his spot on the LSU football team. He seems to have grown a little– enough that his former coaches welcomed him back for the team’s pro day. On the field, Robinson had some great battles with SEC stalwarts Sammie Coates and Mike Evans, holding his own against those difficult matches.
CB Mike Jordan, Missouri Western A real nose for the football, with over 60 pass breakups in his career.
CB Deandre Elliott, Colorado State smooth and agile cover skills, with good length and tools.
CB Ryan Smith, North Carolina Central a dynamic, fast athlete who is raw but check off all the boxes of build and tools.
CB Deandre Elliott, Colorado State Nobody really pays attention to the poor kids who play in the Rocky Mountain time zone, especially at an off-brand school. Elliott has it all: size, length, 1 on 1 coverage ability for days, speed.
CB Cre’Von Leblanc, Florida Atlantic
S Karl Joseph, WVU (see above)
S Deon Bush… Miami (FL)
S Kevin Byard, Middle Tennessee played well vs best competition. For a bigger (215lbs) safety, has great range to go with his LB style play near the LOS.
S Trae Elston… Mississippi
S Will Parks, Arizona Versatile S/LB hybrid who has gotten lost in the draft shuffle. Some team will immediately benefit from his ST contributions and, if they find ways to use him, he can thrive.
ATH: Tre Roberson, Illinois State The Indiana transfer- Randel-El 2.0 is not especially QB sized for the NFL; he’s built like a slot receiver. But, truthfully, when he wasn’t playing with a broken thumb, he was a very accurate and gutsy winner with a good arm and wheels to make plays. Perhaps his future is as a slot WR and return specialist but he has the talent and personality to make noise anywhere he gets a chance.
P Will Monday, Duke basically had half his punts downed inside the 20 this season… and once led ACC in gross punting average as well.
K Zach Matics, Appalachian State big leg– was nailing 60+ yards at his pro day– and enough accuracy to give him a shot at a notoriously difficult position to project from college to NFL.
2 thoughts on “2016 B2B Directional State: Undervalued & Overlooked NFL prospects”
How r the Steelers not even inviting Mike Stojkovic to mini camp ? He is a tackling machine in their backyard. Just give him a look. They won’t regret it