Under the Radar 2018 NFL Draft

By | February 27, 2018

I guess in a time long, long ago, I might have labeled this a “sleeper” article. But that word has gotten too ‘cliche’ for today’s Draftniks. So until it too is worn out, I will label these players as ‘under the radar’, relatively speaking. As we head into the Combine this week, I have selected a baker’s dozen of prospects who I think may shine during workouts. Not all of them will be at the Combine (strangely so), but those who are not, will likely post some nice numbers at their Pro Days. You will have heard of most, if not all, of them, but I still feel like they deserve an extra shoutout right now.

JESSIE BATES/S/WAKE FOREST – 6’2/195 est
BATES is a bit under-publicized, in part because he’s only a Redshirt Soph who many thought would not declare for the 2018 Draft. But he’s in, and IMO will rank among the Top 10 S prospects. He’s very instinctive out on the field, and athletic in general. He certainly has room to grow in an NFL coaching situation. He really was outstanding in 2016 as a RS Frosh when he recorded 100 tackles and 5 INT’s, but he had a very solid second season in 2017 with 79 tackles, 5 PBU’s & 1 INT in 11 games. Long range, I see starter potential if he does progress under pro coaching. He will be at the Combine.

JUSTIN CRAWFORD/RB/WEST VIRGINIA – 6’0/200 est
I thought CRAWFORD would be a star this past college season, but he didn’t touch the ball enough to post huge numbers. Part of that may be due to his lack of overall size. He’s not thick and muscular enough to touch the ball 20+ times per game and take that kind of pounding. He rushed for 1,060 yards last season for 7 TD’s. He averaged a decent 5.5 ypc, but in 2016, straight out of the JC ranks, he averaged 7.3 ypc. He caught only 7 balls in 2017, but I think he shows the hands to do more. He has good, not great, speed, so his 40-time at the Combine will be closely watched. He’s able to get to the corner, but does most of his work between the tackles. I like his potential to be a No.2 RB in an NFL position group.

DAURICE FOUNTAIN/WR/NORTHERN IOWA – 6’1 5/8″/210 sh
I cannot fathom that this man is not going to be at the Combine this week. He absolutely dominated the week in St. Pete back in mid-January. I might have seen him drop one ball all week. He made dozens of leaping, extending grabs on slightly errant passes all week. Defenders could not cover him, or win jump ball throws with him. He has excellent 9 1/2″ hands and amazingly long arms of 34 1/2″. At the very least, I see him having the talent to emerge quickly as a No.2 wideout at the next level, if not a No.1 in time. Stay tuned for his Pro Day, likely on the Iowa campus. He was the most impressive performer that I saw in the 3 major All-Star Games this year. For the 2017 season, DAURICE had 66 catches for 943 yards and 12 TD catches. He may also have pro value in a Kick Returner role.

NATRELL JAMERSON/S/WISCONSIN – 5’11/200 sh
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of JAMERSON’s college career is the fact that the Badgers coaching staff took 3 years to figure out his natural position of S. 2017 was his only season as a full-time starter, and in 14 games, (13 of them Wins), he recorded 51 tackles, 10 PBU’s, & 2 INT’s. He was voted the Most Outstanding Defensive Performer in the Shrine Game. He has nice size, including 9 1/4″ hands and 32 3/8″ long arms. He shows good ball skills and solid tackling technique. He is also seldom far from the ball when plays end. He should be an important member of NFL Special Teams units, and earn a starting job in his pro career. He will be at the Combine and should post some excellent numbers within the DB groups.

SAM JONES/OG/ARIZONA STATE – 6’5/290 est
Given the coaching upheaval out in the Valley of the Sun, it was not a shock for JONES to declare his inclusion in the 2018 NFL Draft. He’s a very athletic player for an Interior OL. He needs another 10-15 lbs. and some weight work in an NFL Training room, but I do see a potential starter here. Right now his best work is in run blocking, where he is able to pull, and/or get, to second level blocks quite handily. He will need to improve in pass-pro, but I cannot see why that should be a problem. He looks to have long arms. Right now, I have him solidly in my Top 100, but watching him work out with his peers in Indy this week should be edifying.

JOHN KELLY/RB/TENNESSEE – 5’9/205 est
Given the disaster that the VOLS football program became in 2017, it was no surprise to me that KELLY came out early. I can still picture my notes on an early season game where KELLY was a one-man offensive army. He ran wild and caught almost 100+ yards of passes to boot. Despite injuries all around him, and coaching chaos in 2017, KELLY ran for 778 yards and had 37 catches for the season. Want to compare him to someone? Let’s just say that in the 2016 season he averaged 6.4 ypc, and took playing time away from a kid named ALVIN KAMARA. He will be at the Combine and I will be anxious to see what kind of workout numbers he can post. If his numbers impress, it may be very hard for NFL Personnel People to not have visions of KAMARA dancing in their heads.

KYLE LAULETTA/QB/RICHMOND – 6’3/217 sr
Despite the presence of MAYFIELD and ALLEN in Mobile, there was plenty of room for LAULETTA to garner attention from pro evaluators. My guess is that CFL scouts were anxious to see the smaller school standout ply his wares against top D1 QB’s. But to their chagrin, he showed too well to have any chance of their fighting for him as a CFL Rookie. LAULETTA looked like a man at the weigh-in, and by Wednesday’s practice a buzz was building. Then he looked impressive in the actual game, winning the MVP Award. Now the train is picking up momentum, with the chance this week at the Combine to push himself into a Round 2/3 draft slot. He passed all eye tests in Mobile, with an accurate big arm and some nice decision making in game action. His 9 5/8″ hand size didn’t hurt him any either. His career passing stats at Richmond include a career completion percentage of 64.9%. Watch him carefully at the Combine, because he is now getting some comparison talk to JIMMY GAROPPOLO, who blew career options wide open at the Senior Bowl not all that long ago.

JEREMY REAVES/S/SOUTH ALABAMA 5’11/204 sr
Here I go again. After being named Defensive Player of the Game at the Senior Bowl, I cannot (once again) believe REAVES is not a Combine Invitee. There is only one black mark on his resume’, and that is a matter of having tiny hands (7 3/4″). But that clearly does not prevent him from being an impact player. In 12 games this past season for USA, he recorded 104 tackles. He also broke up 8 passes and intercepted 3 others. He has decent size and is quick to the ball. He also is fearless at throwing himself into ball carriers. In his 3 seasons with USA, he had 8 career INT’s. He does not fit the cookie cutter criteria of an NFL S, but he sure as hell does everything expected of a pro S.

COLE REYES/S/NORTH DAKOTA – 6’1/216 sh
REYES had the misfortune to suffer from injuries for much of his senior season. But if you go back to 2016 when he was healthy, he recorded 10 tackles in 10 games, including 8 PBU’s & 3 INT’s. COLE was at this year’s Shrine Game and really looked the part during the entire week. The West secondary unit was one of the most high spirited and productive groups I have ever seen at a Star game. He has big hands (9 3/4″), and made several INT’s during the practice week. Watch carefully for some Pro Day numbers on him. He looked like a fast defender to me in practices. Despite his work at the Shrine venue, he too, was not invited to the Combine.

NATHAN SHEPHERD/DT/FT. HAYS STATE – 6’4/310 sr
Meet one of the early stars of Senior Bowl week in Mobile. He impressed from the weigh-in on, right up until the time that he was diagnosed with a broken hand after Wednesday’s practice session. Up until that time, he was virtually unblockable for the North OL in drill work. He showed a very impressive combination of strength and quickness off the snap. In his 2016 season, he recorded 38 tackles, with 12.5 TFL and 4 sacks. He comes equipped with 10″ hand size and 33″ long arms. He looks to me like a very attractive anchor for a base 4-3 DL. I think his talent would be wasted as a Nose in a 3-4 scheme, however.

ZACH SIELER/DE/FERRIS STATE – 6’5/290 est
Not too many guys coming out of lower levels of play leave school early. SIELER is doing just that, and after watching game tape of him, I can see why. Much of the time he looks like a man playing amongst boys, which is exactly what you want to see below D1. In 2017, SIELER played in 13 games and recorded 79 Tackles, 21 of them TFL. That number included 7 sacks. In 2016 as a sophomore, he had 19.5 sacks on the season. Once again, a dominant player who wasn’t interesting enough to warrant an invite to the Combine. What in the hell are those guys thinking?!

KA’RAUN WHITE/WR/WEST VIRGINIA – 6’1/199 est
This non-invitee is the younger brother of BEARS oft-injured WR KEVIN WHITE, who was a First Rounder 3 years ago. KA’RAUN had an impressive senior season for the Mountaineers, with 61 catches for 1,004 yards and 12 TD’s. For you math-challenged readers, that figures out to 16.5 ypc. From games I watched, he is a legit deep threat with long distance speed. He was also a Big-12 All-Academic 2nd Teamer. He is scheduled to attend the Combine, and I expect him to post some very good numbers in speed and quickness drills. Another brother, KYZIR WHITE/S, is also scheduled to be in Indy. I was disappointed and shocked that KA’RAUN was not at any All-Star games in January.

CEDRICK WILSON/WR/BOISE STATE – 6’2/195 sr
The JC graduate has really excelled for the Broncos the past two seasons. His size to speed ratio looks excellent on tape. He was at the Senior Bowl, where he handled his business well, though he did not star. He is a good hands-catcher, with 9 3/4″ size. His 40-time in Indy is sure to be carefully scrutinized, but I would point out that his long legs help him pull away from defenders when sent long. WILSON still looks like a Top 100 draftee to me, going into the Combine. The sure-handed receiver grabbed 83 catches in 2017 for 1,511 yards and 7 TD’s. That’s 18.2 yards/catch folks! He also shows Kickoff Return potential as well.

I’ve got guys ranging from Round 2 thru 7 on this list. Their commonality is based on being very productive and/or athletic, and looking to me to be good players for the NFL!
Not much going on here in terms of codes, but following hgt/wgt numbers are 3 abbreviations you should understand: est = estimate; sr = Senior Bowl; sh = Shrine Game. National Scouting does official weigh-in numbers at the All-Star Games. I always find it interesting when the Combine numbers vary greatly from the Star game numbers.

Cheers

Pigskin