Thursday, February 21, 2008

Top Ten Underrated Draft Prospects

There are literally hundreds of players vying to be drafted in April be an NFL Football team. The media, and Mel Kiper especially, help many with their draft stock, but there are always a few underrated players that go overlooked. Yeah, they may get drafted in the late rounds and become those "late-round gems" finds like Ahmad Bradshaw, RB Giants, last year was drafted in the seventh round. Other finds have been Larry Foote (4th Round), Terrell Davis (6th Round), Jason Taylor (3rd Round), Zach Thomas (5th Round) and Terrell Owens (3rd Round) just to name a few. Here are my top ten sleepers of this draft, though some may argue that a few aren't sleepers, they've just been pushed down.

Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers 5'9" 205lbs
2007 stats-380 carries 2012 yards 5.29 average 24 touchdowns
For three years at Rutgers he has consistently averaged over five yards a carry, I don't care where you go to school that is ridiculous, especially when you average nearly 30 carries a game. I don't know if he is underrated as much as he's being overlooked. He doesn't have the height that teams want but you know what, Emmitt Smith was 5'10" and Barry Sanders was 5'8". You don't need to be tall to be a running back, you need to be able to move with a burst north and south and make plays, which is what Ray Rice does very very well.

Steve Justice, C, Wake Forest 6'4" 284lbs
A bit undersized for an NFL center, but their going to change his eating and work out habits so he'll reach 300lbs easily. I believe whole heartedly that Steve Justice is the best interior lineman in this draft, bar none. I have been nothing but impressed with his production at Wake Forest and believe he's going to be an All-Pro in the NFL. Mike Pollack is getting most of the center press after the Senior Bowl, and he's a pretty damn good player too, but for my money I'd take Steve Justice if I'm a Seahawk of Chief team that is looking to solidify it's interior line.

Kevin Ellison, S, USC 6'1" 220lbs
2007 stats-57 tackles 2 interceptions 2 sacks 8 tackles for loss 1 forced fumble
USC is the school that has put out more star safeties then probably any other college out there. From Ronnie Lott to Troy Polamalu they have consistently given the NFL good quality. Kevin Ellison came out early and probably could have benefited from another year in school. That being said, I still have him as my number three safety in this draft. I think he's still learning how to play the game and we haven't seen his best as of yet. He's all over the field making tackles, not too much of an interception machine, but 8 tackles for loss by a safety is quite impressive.

Kenny Iwebema, DE, Iowa 6'4" 267lbs
2007 stats-28 tackles 3.5 sacks 5 tackles for loss 2 blocked field goals
I don't know what it is about Iwebema, he isn't a statistical machine, he's not putting up eye opening numbers, but being the only beast on a defensive line causes teams to double team you quite a bit. He's probably going to go up to 270-275 in the NFL and he's already running in 4.8 range, which means he's got the skill to be a devastating defensive end. He won't be facing the constant double teams in the NFL, but there is some motor questions. I just can't explain it though, I just have a feeling about this kid and what he's going to do.

Marcus Henry, WR, Kansas 6'4" 210lbs
2007 stats-54 catches 1014 yards 18.78 average per catch 10 touchdowns
I don't know how the NFL and teams be overlooking Marcus Henry and the job he did for Kansas this season. Any time you get over a thousand yards in a season in college is impressive, especially in a conference like the Big 12 where it tends to be run first throw second. He has great height, great hands and runs decent routes. Apparently the knock on him is that at 6'4" he needs to have more bulk to his frame, which is fair, but that can always been adjusted. I don't know if he's a number one receiver, but he can produce which is something every team needs.

Dennis Dixon, QB, Oregon 6'4" 205lbs
2007 stats-67.6% completion 2129 yards throwing 20 touchdown passes 4 interceptions 105 carries 590 yards 5.62 average 9 touchdowns
I find it amusing how no one seems to be talking about Dixon. His numbers compare to Vince Young's at Texas, and may have had a similar season if he hadn't been injured. For me, the team who takes a shot with Dixon may very well walk out of the draft with the biggest gem of them all. Will he be able to run like he did, we don't know, but he still should be mobile. I think the misconception on him was that he was a run first quarterback, which if you look at the numbers he wasn't. If you throw 20 touchdowns to 4 interceptions in the Pac 10, you are likely going to be a pretty decent NFL quarterback.

Kenny Moore, WR, Wake Forest 6' 204lbs
2007 stats-98 catches 1011 yards 10.32 average 5 touchdowns
How can the man who holds the ACC record for receptions be overlooked? It's not like he's playing in a pass happy conference like the MAC, this is the ACC and when you catch 98 passes in the ACC you must be doing something write. I know the knocks, he has 98 catches and only 5 touchdowns, he's too short, blah blah blah. Think about this the previous record holder of receptions for the ACC was a man who was also only six feet tall, goes by the name Torry Holt, and he's had himself a pretty decent NFL career hasn't he.

Ezra Butler, ILB, Nevada 6'2" 250lbs
2007 stats-93 tackles 3 interceptions 13.5 tackles for loss 3.5 sacks
Look at those stats, impressive right? Well Ezra Butler also didn't play the first two games of the season for the Wolfpack, which would likely have made his tackle numbers gone up over one hundred. The last few years I've been trying to predict the linebacker that no one sees coming. I had D'Qwell Jackson, DeMeco Ryans, but didn't call Patrick Willis. This year, Ezra Butler is likely to be my selection. Mainly because I think everyone is coming around to Erin Henderson and Linebacker U that Maryland has become. Butler runs a 4.5 40, at 250 pounds, the man is all over the field. This kid is going to make whoever takes him very very happy, especially when he's making all the tackles next year.

David Vobora, OLB, Idaho 6'1" 215lbs
2007 stats-148 tackles 6.5 tackles for loss 1 sack 1 interception
Vobora is a tackling machine, which is something I always look for. Now the problem he really has is his size, at 215 pounds no one is seriously going to consider him for linebacker. No he runs a 4.5-4.6 40, which is decent for a linebacker, but not one his size. If he can get his speed up I can see teams trying to move him to safety, but I'm sure they'd rather try bulking him up and keeping him at linebacker. If neither works, he'll be one of those special team mavens that is making tackles all over the field. I think he has a real nose for the game, his body just has to catch up to his instincts.

Curtis Gatewood, DE/OLB, Vanderbilt 6'3" 245lbs
2007 stats-30 tackles 7 tackles for loss 3.5 sacks 1 forced fumble
Much like Iwebema, I have a feeling about Gatewood. He's going to have to transition back to outside linebacker as he's too small for a defensive end in the NFL. Now his numbers this year aren't impressive, but much like Iwebema he was getting double teamed much of the year, the product of having seven sacks the year prior on a traditionally bad Vanderbilt team. He runs a 4.6 or so in the 40 so his transition to outside backer shouldn't affect him too much, it may all depend on if he's on a 3-4 or 4-3 team. When I look at him I just see a football player, and someone with a damn good motor. It may take a few years, but I think he's an investment that is likely to pay off in two to three years.

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