Last week in this space, I unveiled the All-Overrated Prospect Team and the All-Overrated Second Team. Those were dedicated to Christian Ponder, who will for generations of Vikings fans to come embody the dangers of wishful front office thinking.
Today’s All-Underrated Prospect Team, then, is dedicated to a prospect Minnesota drafted on Day 3 last year. This player had durability questions, off-the-field concerns and the following dismissive evaluations from CBS (“Tends to round off routes and needs to show a more diverse stem release. Not overly fluid with inconsistent vision and feel when setting up his moves as a ballcarrier. Indecisive at times and gets himself in trouble when he hesitates, searching for daylight.”) and NFL.com (“Doesn't possess the strength or long speed to make a living as an outside receiver.”) at this time last year.
There are Stefon Diggs’ in this year’s class. Let’s go find them.
QB- Jacoby Brissett (NC State). Brissett is a curious case. He looks like a legitimate star when everything is clicking and a drunk frat douche playing flag football when it isn’t. Brissett picked up some bad habits over the past few years as defense mechanisms to compensate for his mediocre teammates. Miraculously, though, Brissett retains his composure despite having played behind offensive lines as interested in engaging in violence as the cast of Hamilton. If Brissett's next coach can refine his technique and teach him the finer points of the position -- like looking off defensive backs and manipulating the pocket with a few well-timed steps -- we'll be cooking with gas here. That coach will receive an NFL frame, NFL arm strength, NFL courage and NFL athleticism neatly pre-packaged in a gigantic Amazon Prime box. At worst, Brissett is a long-time backup. At best, he has a slightly better career than David Garrard. Well worth an early Day 3 pick amid this shady quarterback class.
I’m not alone in my admiration. Here’s what an anonymous NFL scout told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about Brissett: “He has a chance to be a starter. I think he's better than Teddy Bridgewater. He's bigger, got a better arm and better pocket presence, and is a great kid. People will want to work with him. He's got this huge lower body. Guys just have a hard time bringing him down. He's not a speed guy but he's not a slug.” NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein says Brissett evokes Jameis Winston when he’s on, but comped him to former UCLA QB Brett Hundley as a package due to inconsistency.
RB- Paul Perkins (UCLA). Perkins is one of the best in this class at marrying high-speed agility (the ability to make quick cuts while sprinting) with see-it-before-it-happens vision. Like a NASCAR driver on a busy freeway who intuitively understands where all cars are at all times and adjusts calmly no matter what happens, Perkins identifies small creases at the line of scrimmage, cuts into it them, accelerates, jukes to break into the third level and intuits defenders’ paths on the fly from there, maneuvering defensive backs where he wants them so he can make them whiff once he sees the whites of their eyes. It’s one of those subtle skills that translates like gangbusters. UCLA had all kinds of offensive line problems while Perkins was there (he was touched behind the line on more than one-quarter of his running attempts, an absurdly high rate). Instead of letting that get into his head -- as Brett Hundley did -- Perkins adapted his game. He’s emerged with top-notch agility, vision and patience.
Kenneth Dixon (Louisiana Tech). Like Perkins, Dixon is tremendous in the open field and knows how to get there. What makes Dixon a better overall prospect is that while Perkins is an average receiver, Dixon is exceptional. Dixon runs smart, efficient routes out of the backfield and becomes downright dangerous when deployed out of the slot. When the ball is in his hands, Dixon will fight you for every last inch of upfield movement, which made him one of my favorite players to watch in college football. Don’t be surprised if Dixon goes down as the second best running back in this class.
WR- Leonte Carroo (Rutgers). Defenses double- and triple-teamed Carroo over the past few years due to Rutgers’ utter lack of supporting talent and still they couldn’t stop him. He’s not huge (6-foot, 211 pounds), and he's not a burner (4.50 forty at the Combine), but Carroo is muscled-up and plenty fast enough to separate consistently. More importantly, Carroo’s hands are vice grips made out of leather magnets (had only two drops on 95 catchable targets over the past two years). One NFL scout compared those mitts to James Jones’. Pro Football Focus analyst Wes Huber called Carroo's catching ability "a truly special trait." That site called Carroo a first-round talent. Carroo is being projected between Rds. 3-4.
Tyler Boyd (Pittsburgh). Though he was constantly hounded by double-teams in college, and though he didn't have competent quarterback play after Tom Savage left, Boyd always managed to produce, ala Carroo. To further the parallel, Boyd is a strong-handed (dropped only five balls on 99 catchable opportunities last year) receiver whose stock dropped due to poor measurables (6-foot-1, 197 pounds with a forty between the 4.5s and 4.60). If nothing else, Boyd is a surefire slot stud available for a mid-Day 2 pick.
TE- Jerrell Adams (South Carolina). This tight end class is horrible. If I really needed a tight end, here’s what I’d do. Instead of reaching for Hunter Henry or Austin Hooper early on, I’d target Adams and hope I read the temperature of my opponents at the table correctly. Because the jig was up on Adams after his dominant Senior Bowl performance: His stock has risen to the point that a Rd. 2 call is now possible. Adams is faster, longer and more athletic than the two tight end prospects ranked ahead of him (and, well, the rest of them too). Were it not for the Gamecocks’ distressing quarterback play last year -- worse than that of even Rutgers and Pitt -- Adams may have entered this process as the class’ premier tight end.
T- Rees Odhiambo (Boise State). Josh Norris compares Odhiambo, one of his pet favorites, to longtime NFL stalwart Travelle Wharton. Wharton kicked inside to guard in the pros, and Odhiambo may be right behind him. Were it not for a season-ending ankle injury suffered in October, we think there would be a lot more steam behind Odhiambo than there is now. If the cost is an early Day 3 pick, pull the trigger A$AP Rocky.
Spencer Drango (Baylor). Also once seen as a possible first-round pick, Drango has a tackle’s length but a guard’s lunchpail game. He’s a four-year starter with a huge wingspan (85 7/8) and zero sacks allowed last year (six pressures) to finish tied for No. 1 in PFF's pass blocking efficiency grades. Having played shouting distances away from the quarterback in Baylor’s hyper spread, Drango’s chances of succeeding in an NFL photo booth are purely hypothetical. Early returns weren’t great: Drango looked awful at the Senior Bowl, crippling his chances of going on Days 1 or 2. Where some see a dead end, we see opportunity. A lack of athleticism and technique means a move to guard is probably coming. Nobody knows how that transition will go, but the possibility of netting a four-position utility backup in a shallow tackle class justifies the price of a mid-to-late Day 3 pick. If Drango turns into a long-time starter, it's found money. If he washes out quickly, you haven't lost much.
G- Joe Thuney (North Carolina State). Without Thuney, Jacoby Brissett may have lived out his days in a full-body cast. Thuney's best attribute is his run blocking, an area he graded out elite in each of the past two years. He isn’t one of those types who can only brawl, either. Thuney allowed a mere seven pressures on 507 pass-blocking snaps last year. He's also one of the most versatile linemen in the class. Most believe he’s an NFL guard. Lance Zierlein believes he’d be best at center. He could be passable at tackle in a pinch.
Darrell Greene (SDSU). One of the nation’s best run blockers and coming out of a pro-style offense, Greene is an agile 320-pounder who loves to wipe out linebackers on pulls. CBS projects a player we see as a long-time NFL starter as a seventh-rounder.
C- Graham Glasgow (Michigan). He’s athletic, smart (multi-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree) and versatile (starter at guard in 2014 before moving to center). At 6-foot-6, some worry he might be too big to hunker down and play center long term. We think he bends well enough to dispel those concerns, but even if we're wrong you’ve got yourself a long-time starter at guard.
DE- Charles Tapper (Oklahoma). Coming off a strong collegiate career, Tapper first dominated the Senior Bowl and then dominated the Combine. At 6-foot-4, 271 pounds, he runs the forty in 4.59 seconds and is one of the very best athletes at his position in the class. Despite all that, Tapper is rarely discussed and is seen as a Day 3 afterthought.
Shaq Lawson (Clemson). Lawson’s stock has fallen not because of anything he did, but because he’s been a top prospect for long enough that evaluators had time to nitpick his game to death. While Kevin Dodd was buried on the bench, Lawson was a feared situational rusher on very good Clemson teams. On last season’s runner-up squad, it was Lawson, not Dodd, who opposing teams made sure couldn’t beat them. And not for nothing? Lawson is reportedly a “warrior” who “teammates are drawn to” and who will be “a major asset on game day, on the practice field and in the locker room.”
DT- Chris Jones (Mississippi State). Is it the boring name? Is it that he played in Starkville and not Tuscaloosa or Baton Rouge? Whatever the reason, it’s confusing that Jones is not given due credit for being a deserving member of the small group of prospects a tier below this year’s Big Seven (Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, Joey Bosa, Laremy Tunsil and DeForest Buckner). Jones oozes potential at a hyper-athletic 6-foot-5 ¾, 310 pounds. He has a first step like your dad out of the booth when the waitress says the salad bar is included with his entree. That quickness allowed Jones to become one of the nation’s best interior pass rushers. And unlike Robert Nkemdiche, Jones is also disruptive in the run game. Jones did all that damage at Mississippi State with shoddy technique, like a vocal prodigy who’s never tried to sing standing upright. He's only going to get better in the pros.
Vernon Butler (Louisiana Tech). Everyone and there mother compares Butler to Muhammad Wilkerson, such so that they are merging into one entity, like an athletic singularity. You would agree Mo probably should have been taken in the top 15 of his draft, right? So why is Mo 2.0 mocked in the late Round 1 or early Round 2? Ask Ray Kurzweil, I guess. He’s the expert.
ILB- Scooby Wright (Arizona). You don’t have to squint to see Zach Thomas. Wright is small and slow, but the tackling machine is a bit better as a pass rusher and in coverage that he’s given credit for. Scooby may tap out as a good two-down inside linebacker, though don’t count out the coverage improving to acceptable over time. His floor alone is worth the Day 3 price tag.
OLB- Joe Schobert (Wisconsin). As with Scooby, Schobert’s testing numbers (average or worse size and athleticism) don’t flatter him. In addition, Schobert has been battling the stigma of all former walk-ons, a perception that says his potential is tapped and/or his production (79 tackles, 19.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks and five forced fumbles to earn Big Ten Linebacker of the Year honors) last year was flukish. These questions render Schobert a valuable thrift shop find on Saturday (Day 3). He has the kind of on-field instincts that allow him to get to where the running back intends to go before the running back is there. You know how Ernie Sims was a twitched-up speed demon who busted hard because he didn’t understand the ways in which offenses subtly tip their hands in the seconds immediately before and after the snap? Joe Schobert is the Antithetical Ernie Sims. If there's a Tallahassee grunge band out there looking for a name, you've got my permission to ride with The Antithetical Ernie Sims'.
Yannick Ngakoue (Maryland). Ngakoue is comfortable playing upright or with his hand in the dirt, part of the reason that 4-3 and 3-4 teams alike took a shining to him during the pre-draft process. He's a sensational pass rusher, a skill that will translate as either a 4-3 DE or a 3-4 OLB. Ngakoue needs to work on his run defense, so he'd be best served going to a team that can deploy him as a situational rusher as a rookie.
CB- William Jackson (Houston). Jackson’s surge up draft boards nearly disqualified him from All-Underrated consideration, but I don’t think perception quite caught up to reality in time for this week's draft. If I were the Bucs or the Saints and decided to take a corner in Rd. 1, it’s Jackson who I would want, not Vernon Hargreaves, Mackensie Alexander or Eli Apple. Jackson has a great frame (6-foot, 190 pounds) and superb measurables (he was one of the best performers overall at the Combine). He was also dominant last year (Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 grade both in coverage and as an overall CB in this class). As with Chris Jones, no problems on this end if Jackson is taken anytime after the top seven picks.
Kalan Reed (Southern Mississippi). Reed has steadily been moving up draft boards since his star-turning performance at March’s Pro Day (4.38 forty, 41.5-inch vertical). That he attracted more attention to himself has to annoy teams that were already hot for Reed. The Southern Miss star was almost as good as Jackson last season, earning Pro Football Focus’ No. 3 coverage grade in the class while finishing with four TFL, four interceptions, 14 passes defensed and two forced fumbles. The 5-foot-11, 192-pounder will fit any scheme and probably can be had with a Day 3 pick.
S- Jayron Kearse (Clemson). But wait!, you say, I thought Kearse was overrated! He may have been in the week or two after his declaration announcement, but the pendulum swung so far that Kearse became underrated, talked about as though he’s some kind of mid-to-late Day 3 bum.
What is he really, besides somebody with a famous uncle? Well, this Kearse is very tall (6-foot-4). Every now and again he’ll level a receiver on a slant route or sprint up to fling himself into a running lane. Every now and again you’ll make the following logical fallacy without trying to: He has the frame, he has the genes, he is (or will be) a stud. Kearse isn't going to be a perennial Pro Bowler because he isn’t the athlete Javon was and his game, while not exactly one-dimensional, is highly specialized. His movements are a bit rigid and his awareness in coverage needs work. So why do I like him more than his projected Rd. 6 price tag? Because the NFL is breaking in a new defensive position called moneybacker, or $LB, that is tailor-made for him. This hybrid S/LB spot, played with aplomb by Deone Bucannon, will cater to Kearse's strengths and mitigates his weaknesses. If he finds a team that will deploy him as such, Kearse could become a valuable cog to a playoff defense.
Kevin Byard (Middle Tennessee). You know the Humvee-type safeties that function as fourth linebackers that have become all the rage? The thing I was just talking about? Yeah, Byard isn’t that kind of safety. He’s your classic free safety, the last-line-of-defense guy who lines up deep and excels at mucking up the offense’s best laid aerial plans. Byard left campus with the school record of 19 interceptions. The 5-foot-11, 216-pounder, an egregious Combine snub, runs a forty in the 4.4s. But that’s just a number. Against Alabama, Byard ran down Kenyan Drake in the open field to save a touchdown. That’s speed, son.