Here are some of the lesser talked about players in the upcoming NFL Draft. Their are plenty of players that could be brought up in this discussion, but these are just some of the ones I picked. Discuss others that you think are flying under the radar in the comments below. Some of these players like Rogers, Toilolo, Alford, and Armstrong could be good fits for Miami.
E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State
Weight: 238 lbs
When I watch Manuel my gut wants to call him athletic Joe Flacco. Manuel doesn’t have the full Flacco cannon, but indeed does have a big arm. What most people notice about Manuel is his athletic ability. If you turn your back to him he will take off and pick up big yardage. His combine will probably put his athleticism somewhere in between Ryan Tannehill and RG3. Manuel is a pretty good decision maker, but will force some throws he thinks his arm can make. He worked a lot from shotgun, but also excels in play action from under center. He puts nice touch on his deep balls. May be looked at by teams considering going into the read option offensive fad.
Manuel never put up superstar passing numbers for his time at Florida State, but he did put up consistent numbers. Manuel also didn’t really have great receivers at Florida State. Where as Geno Smith has Bailey and Austin, and Matt Barkley has Woods and Lee, Manuel had to do what he could with lackluster receivers. If a team is looking for a consistent passer, but doesn’t wish to pick up a quarterback in round one, E.J. Manuel would be a good choice.
Here is just a quick glimpse of his rushing statistics to give you and idea of his mobility.
Player Comparison: Joe Flacco
The comparison to Flacco may just be my brain riding the Flacco Super Bowl train, but Flacco coming out wasn’t a flawless prospect either. Manuel may just need to fall into the right system at the right time.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
Weight: 244 lbs
How is Bell going so unnoticed this year? At 6’2" and 244 lbs he screams Steven Jackson 2.0. With his size he is a punishing runner. At times he seems to look to make contact. Don’t be fooled by his size though. Bell has quick feet and lateral agility to make defenders miss. It just seemed as the season went on that Bell lost his agility. Bell is also a quality pass protector due to his size. His biggest area of concern is his ability to catch from the backfield and his overall speed and burst. Bell is considered a one cut bruiser back. If Bell has an impressive 40 at the combine he will rise up the boards.
Bell’s junior season stats just scream power workhorse. He has the ability to be a feature back in the NFL and should be. 382 touches in a year is a pretty good amount, and 12 touchdowns with 5.0 yards per carry is a nice stat line for an NFL prospect.
Player Comparison: Steven Jackson
I’m not sure who else you would compare Bell to. I mean look at him. He looks like you took Steven Jackson and put him in a Michigan State uniform. He also puts up Jackson like workhorse numbers. Some team in rounds 3-4 will pick him up and have a stud to hand the ball to for years to come.
Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee Tech
Weight: 208 lbs
Da’Rick Rogers is the most physical receiver in this draft. At one point he was Tennessee’s #1 receiver, but was kicked off the team for behavioral issues. He dominated at Tennessee Tech, just like Janoris Jenkins did last year at North Alabama. Rogers will make the catch anywhere on the field and take the hit following the catch. He is very difficult to bring down with the ball in his hands. Rogers adjusts to the football nicely and uses his body to shield the ball while making the catch. He is another player that could boost his stock at the combine. Running a fast 40 and interviewing well could do wonders for Rogers’ stock.
Cordarrelle Patterson is considered the top receiver so far in this class by "experts" such as Mike Mayock, Mel Kiper, and Todd McShay. If you’re going by stats, then why is Da’Rick Rogers #1? Keenan Allan, Justin Hunter, DeAndre Hopkins, and Quinton Patton should be considered for that #1 spot. Patterson holds that top spot due to his athleticism. Watch out for Da’Rick Rogers at the combine in late February.
Player Comparison: Brandon Marshall
I’m not saying Rogers is Marshall, but he plays similar. They are both big receivers that will use their physicality to beat corners and they also are both a little diva like. If Rogers has a good interview and a team thinks they can get past his off the field issues, Rogers could be a steal.
Levine Toilolo, TE, Stanford
Weight: 265 lbs
I considered putting Joseph Fauria from UCLA here, but I think Toilolo has more athleticism to go with his size. Toilolo is a big boy, and he uses it to his advantage. Due to his size he has good run blocking ability, but his footwork needs work. He extends and uses his strong hands to pull in misplaced balls. Has enough speed to be a seam threat and even lineup in the slot. He shows good hip flexibility and quick feet to get into placement to make tough catches. His biggest downside is that he hasn’t played that much due two Zach Ertz and last year Coby Fleener, and would have benefited from staying in school one more year. It could have been back, to back, to back years for Stanford to have a top tight end prospect.
As stated before, Toilolo doesn’t have great stats due to playing behind Fleener and Ertz. One more year at Stanford and he could have put up his own big season. Toilolo could be a starter at the NFL level.
Player Comparison: Marcedes Lewis
I wanted to compare Toilolo to Fleener or Ertz due to his athletic ability, but that is being a product of the same school/system. Lewis has a similar build and has the blocking ability, but isn’t nearly as athletic as Toilolo. Toilolo is a poor man’s Ertz this year.
Here is a link to a video of Toilolo: http://youtu.be/AicP8Q_XzvM
Brian Winters, OT, Kent State
Weight: 294 lbs
Winters is a nasty blocker and teams are going to love that. Very good anchor and uses his legs to sustain his ground. Has a wide base and drops his hips in pass protection. Good combo blocker who seals and peels off to the next level well. Winters best quality is his athleticism. He will fit into a zone blocking scheme really well at the next level.
Player Comparison: Tyson Clabo
Visually he reminds me of Richie Incognito, but play wise he reminds me of Tyson Clabo. He shows a quick step off the line and gets his arms ready for the initial punch. Quick feet and his athleticism will make him an intriguing prospect for zone blocking teams.
Quanterus Smith, DE, Western Kentucky
Weight: 251 lbs
Three sacks agains the defending champs that kept Notre Dame’s defense in check for the whole National Championship. Smith made D.J. Fluker look like a human turnstile at times, and Fluker is Mike Mayock’s 4th rated tackle in this year’s class. Smith has natural pass rushing ability, but needs help on his technique and move setup. Smith isn’t a one-year-wonder either. Prior to his 12.5 sack senior campaign he racked up 7.5 sacks in his junior year. The question is his torn ACL that occurred in November.
Those are some good numbers for a player that only started to get real playing time in 2011. He is raw, but his potential is higher than his risk around rounds 4-5. Sun Belt conference may be his big question along with his ACL.
Player Comparison: Jason Taylor
Jason Taylor is retired, but Smith has a lot of resemblance to the fringe Hall of Famer. They both come from small college conferences, display natural pass rushing ability, and are raw coming out.
Zaviar Gooden, LB, Missouri
Weight: 230 lbs
The NFL is getting faster and we are now seeing more athletic linebackers than big enforcers. Gooden is exactly that. He is this years Zach Brown. He initially went to Missouri to play safety after playing safety and running back in high school. He is a sideline to sideline player because of his speed and is a very good tackler. He will get overpowered by bigger tight ends and linemen.
Gooden doesn’t have the most impressive stat line, but he shows the potential. If he comes into the combine and shows his speed and fluidity, some teams will fall in love with his athleticism just like Zach Brown.
Player Comparison: Zach Brown
Zach Brown came in to the combine and lit it up, and I expect Gooden to do the same thing. Gooden will make one GM look really good down the line.
Robert Alford, CB, Southeastern Louisiana
Weight: 185 lbs
One of the more physical corners in this year’s draft, Alford shows good upper body strength to press receivers outside. Competitive at the line and downfield, even against bigger receivers for jump balls. Alford has good speed and acceleration to keep with receivers in man coverage. Needs to work on consistency of tackles. Alford also brings a great kick returner to the field. The North team at the Senior Bowl found that out quickly.
Alford has a good amount of interceptions for his three years of play. He defiantly needs more work in his tackling abilities. Good press man off the line.
Player Comparison: Chris Houston
Chris Houston isn’t a superstar, but he is a solid starter. That is what Alford is projected to be. Like Houston, Alford is a good man coverage corner. Alford is quick like Houston, but is stronger and will put up more of a fight at the line of scrimmage.
Ray Ray Armstrong, S, Miami
Weight: 227 lbs
Armstrong could be a major draft steal this spring. Armstrong was considered one of college’s top safeties in 2010-2011, but was kicked off the Miami squad after talking with a booster about money. If Armstrong came in an posted a season like 2010 for his senior year he may have been the top safety on the board. He is a strong tackler who stops ball carriers in their tracks, shows good zone coverage and ball skills to make plays on the ball, and he has good awareness of who his responsibility is in and out of his zone. Sometimes he leaves his feet on tackles and misses, but his overall biggest question is his off the field problems.
2010 was a very good year for Armstrong. His production dropped off in 2011, but was showing promise of a strong 2012 season until he was booted from the team.
Player Comparison: Taylor Mays
The biggest comparisons between Armstrong and Mays are size and tackling ability. They both are around the 6’3" 230 lbs range and can lay the wood. Mays is faster and a little more athletic, but Armstrong is better in coverage and has better ball skills.