Nov 7, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back C.J. Prosise (20) runs the ball against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Everyone knows the top names that’ll be taken early in the 2016 NFL Draft, but the hidden gems separate good drafts from great ones.
The NFL offseason is well underway and draft profiles are flooded throughout the internet and now it’s time to go a little bit deeper. Typically the rule of thumb is that for a team to have a successful draft, they have to hit on their first three picks.
What separates not only good drafts and bad ones, good general managers and great general managers are judged based on whether they hit home runs in the later innings. In particular in those mid to late rounds and there are a few guys who stand out on the big board, which could turn into cornerstone kind of players in the future.
Here are the top 10 hidden gems in the draft that will more than likely turn out to be impact players throughout their respective careers.
Next: 10. Leading sack artist of CFB last season
Sep 12, 2015; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions defensive end Carl Nassib (95) reacts after intercepting the ball during the second quarter against the Buffalo Bulls at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O
10. Leading sack artist of CFB last season
The intriguing case of Penn State Nittany Lion Carl Nassib. If you’re one of those fans that falls in love with production then Nassib is your guy.
Nassib led all defensive linemen with 15.5 sacks and forced six fumbles, yet for one reason or another, Nassib has been flying relatively under the radar. Much of that can be attributed to Nassib’s poor showing at this year’s 2016 NFL Combine.
Nassib didn’t show the necessary explosion you’re looking for from a guy who boasts enormous size at 6’7 and north of 270+ pounds. None the less he’s an intriguing physical specimen who will look to continue his momentous play at the next level.
Despite his tremendous production it seems at least early on that Nassib grades as a mid-round pick (3rd-5th round pick). The one year wonder label will limit his ceiling in the draft considerably.
Next: 9. A defensive end with tremendous upside
Oct 24, 2015; Syracuse, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back Chris James (5) makes a cut to get past Syracuse Orange defensive end Ron Thompson (13) during the first quarter of a game at the Carrier Dome. Pittsburgh won 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
9. A defensive end with tremendous upside
Ron Thompson won’t be invited to the draft, coincidentally nor will he be selected near the top of it. Despite collecting just 12 sacks in his three year career with the Orange, Thompson left an impact on what he could do at the next level.
His size suggests that Thompson will have to convert from a defensive lineman to a hybrid situational pass rusher at 6’3 250+ pounds. Thompson’s current draft stock is hovering around a borderline mid-round pick to a priority free agent.
Thompson possesses a knack for getting the most bang for his buck when he reaches opposing quarterbacks, collecting six forced fumbles in his career. NFL teams are always looking for the next hidden pass rusher, even more so after the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl headlined by their defense and their defensive stalwart Von Miller.
Sure, Miller was a top-five pick in the draft, but there’s a ton of examples of rushers that have been found later in rounds and even some gems that went undrafted. Look for Thompson to be ultimately drafted when things are all said and done, but with the right coaching staff he could develop into quite the role player on a contending ball club.
Next: 8. The cream of a barren crop
Feb 27, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks tight end Hunter Henry catches a pass during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
8. The cream of a barren crop
Lets cut right to the chase, the positional unit of tight end is horrendous. Back to back years of horrid depth and star power.
Hunter Henry chose to enter the draft after his junior season where he won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end. Though looking at the rest of the field, it really isn’t all that impressive.
Henry collected 51 catches for 739 yards and three scores on the year and he is clearly the number one tight end on the board. The rest of the class is so weak it’s dropping Henry’s value though. Perhaps unfairly so, even though Henry holds a day two grade he could slip into the bottom of the first round, if the cards fall right.
A team that could be kicking the tires is the Pittsburgh Steelers who just saw their long standing tight end Heath Miller hang up his cleats as Henry could step right in and fill the void. The problem is balancing need and value while knowing that there is a significant drop-off from Henry to the next guy will be key.
Next: 7. The blood lines are strong with this linebacker
Sep 5, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans linebacker Su’a Cravens (21) carries the ball on a 32-yard interception return in the third quarter against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
7. The blood lines are strong with this linebacker
Jordan Cameron (Pro Bowler) and Manti Teo (second round draft choice), are both related to Su’a Cravens as it’s clear to see football is in his blood. Cravens is a former USA Today National High School Defensive Player of the Year and his ceiling has only gone up.
Cravens made various Freshman All-American teams as well as honorable mention All-Pac-12 (52 tackles, four interceptions). The coaching staff decided to move him to a safety/linebacker hybrid role as a sophomore, which Cravens was very much against initially.
Despite his resistance he lead the team with 17 tackles for loss (five sacks) and three interceptions to earn third team AP All-American and first-team All-Pac-12 accolades. The line between a safety and an outside linebacker is so blurred, especially in 2016.
Cravens is a versatile athlete who could develop into an All-Pro at either safety or the outside linebacker position. The more feathers you have in your cap the longer your NFL shelf life, Cravens will end up being a second to third round draft choice and he will make one NFL team a very happy one.
Next: 6. A defensive tackle living in the shadows
Jan 30, 2016; Mobile, AL, USA; North squad defensive tackle Adolphus Washington of Ohio State (92) pursues South squad running back DeAndre Washington of Texas Tech (31) in the second half of the Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
6. A defensive tackle living in the shadows
You would think being on Ohio State’s roster would make it impossible to be overlooked, but that’s what we have here with Adolphus Washington. A record 14 players were invited to the annual combine from Ohio State University, including Washington.
No one casts a bigger shadow than a 300+ pound defensive tackle and he’s a behemoth of a man. Washington has excellent lateral quickness and is extremely active as an interior pass rusher.
Often bigger players struggle at the next level because they play with such a high pad level and that is the case with Washington. He can be beat with the leverage disadvantage and also has shown conditioning issues in the past late in games.
The other red flag that stands out is his judgment and maturity which was questioned by scouts after he was suspended for Ohio State’s bowl game for soliciting a vice squad officer in early December. Often when deciding whether to draft a prospect you weigh the risk vs the reward. Washington has a few issues, but is an interesting talented piece of clay that could be sculpted into a 10-year starter on the defensive line for a potential franchise.
Next: 5. A dynamic running back with a nice skill-set
Jan 1, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back C.J. Prosise (20) against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the 2016 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
5. A dynamic running back with a nice skill-set
At times last season, C.J. Prosise looked like he would be headed for stardom. Prosise is a home run threat every time he touches the ball and that is what a lot of teams in the NFL desire.
As the Irish’s leading rusher, he gained 1,032 yards and 11 scores on just 156 carries (6.6 average). Prosise also caught 26 passes and 308 yards and one touchdown. Prosise is used to doing a little bit of everything having been recruited as a safety, playing some receiver and even jumping in on special teams (was also the team’s Special Teams Player of the Year).
Possesses LeSean McCoy like lateral ability and always falls forward for extra yardage, can’t be brought down easily. Prosise does everything well for a position that is relatively new to him, which is evident when he is asked to pass-block. That could be an issue at the next level because as we’ve seen if you can’t pass protect you won’t get much playing time.
He’s an ascending running back prospect with the physical build to handle a workload. The good news for Prosise is that most teams try to have a healthy three back rotation which opens up even more opportunities to make an NFL roster. With that being said, Prosise looks like an immediate committee runner with the potential to develop into an every down feature back.
Next: 4. This versatile offensive lineman is the real deal
Jan 30, 2016; Mobile, AL, USA; North squad offensive guard Nick Martin of Notre Dame (72) in the second half of the Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
4. This versatile offensive lineman is the real deal
Some noticeable Notre Dame love is going on here and that continues in the trenches as versatile offensive linemen Nick Martin steps up to the plate. Martin moves between center and guard without an issue (started at left guard 10 games in 2014, three games at center that year as well as most of 2013 and all of 2015).
Martin could like his brother (Zack Martin) become a strong anchor in pass protection while also possessing nimble feet to attack linebackers in the run game. The Dallas Cowboys made the decision to protect their franchise quarterback in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft and it has paid off in a major way.
There is no doubt other teams in the league took notice and will copy the strategy heading into this year’s draft. There are no questions about Martin’s passion and love for the game, he loves football and that has been a culture set by his parents in a long line of athleticism in his genes.
Unlike his brother Martin, Nick may not be a first round pick but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t a viable prospect. Quite the contrary, Martin could plug in at either guard spots or step in from day one and be your starting center. Martin is athletic, but his stiff hips limit him on tape and that could hinder him when he’s pulling and attacking at the second level.
Next: 3. An ace of a punter
Feb 24, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Syracuse place kicker Riley Dixon speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
3. An ace of a punter
Players of special teams rarely receive praise, much less a spot in a hidden gems draft list. But that is exactly where Syracuse punter Riley Dixon has placed himself.
It’s more than simply him being able to punt a football 45+ yards to switch field position. In the NFL you have to be able to do directional punting which is as important if not more so than the power of your leg.
Dixon was a very popular player at Syracuse coining the hashtag: #DixonForHeisman. Dixon not only consistently flipped the field position battle, but he also had a propensity for the fake field goals and fake punt opportunities.
Dixon possesses unusual size for the position, which only adds to his athleticism at 6’5 and 200+ pounds. Dixon was unanimously one of the best punters in the country and could make some noise at the next level, drawing high praise from one Mel Kiper Jr.
Next: 2. An undersized defensive tackle deserves respect
Sep 26, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Sheldon Day (91) celebrates after a sack in the second quarter against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 62-27. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
2. An undersized defensive tackle deserves respect
Sheldon Day despite putting up big numbers in a big program, continues to be overlooked leading up to this year’s draft. Day is an explosive athlete who can play any position along the defensive line.
People have questioned his size as a defensive lineman at the next level, but Day has overcame any deficiencies to show draft analysts what he’s made of. Scouts, general managers and coaches love to be wrong about the right measurables.
For instance a team biting on a guy who was a workout warrior at the combine is okay because physically he measured up and everyone drafts six foot plus 250 pound athletes. But not the case when a scout takes a risk on a smaller player because if he doesn’t measure up it was obvious and you could be relieved of your duties.
Despite the fact that there have been many exceptions to the rules governing the cookie-cutter mentality when it comes to prospective NFL athletes, sometimes size isn’t everything. Day doesn’t have the prototypical size for the position, but if you look at the tape you’ll realize this guy is a day one talent in the draft. But because of his size will drop due to politics, if a team is sitting there in the middle of the second round they should dive at the chance to get a guy of this magnitude.
Next: 1. One incredible defensive end
Feb 26, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Baylor defensive lineman Shawn Oakman speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
1. One incredible defensive end
Jevon Kearse was drafted back in 1999 by the Tennessee Titans and he was absolutely incredible. Kearse got the nickname “The Freak” from his physique, intensity and playing style. Shawn Oakman out of Baylor could soon become the next incarnation of Kearse.
NFL teams couldn’t put together a better looking prospect if they tried on paper, Oakman stands at 6’9 and weighs nearly 300 pounds of muscle. There’s a few red flags with Oakman that teams will have to consider when weighing the potential risk with the potential reward.
He was kicked off the Penn State team by Bill O’Brien, now head coach of the Houston Texans. He struggled academically and missed class, which raises questions about his commitment. He was also inconsistent on the field, making eye-catching plays one snap and looking ordinary the next.
To Oakman’s credit, he’s admitted he’s made mistakes that he chalks it up to immaturity. Regardless, with the right guidance and coaching, Oakman could be the next big thing to hit the NFL if he can be completely committed to honing his craft in his transition to the pros.