For every Leonard Fournette, Jared Goff and Myles Garrett that are coveted as early first-round picks, there is an equal number of vastly underrated athletes that are actually more than ready to perform at the next level. During this season alone, rookies such as running back Alvin Kamara (3rd round pick) and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (2nd round pick) exploded onto the scene as consummate playmakers that could contribute consistently despite their lack of experience as pro athletes. This year, there will certainly be a plethora of immensely talented prospects that will go unnoticed either because they lack the prototypical size and/or the elevated statistics needed to be considered a top pick. Regardless of the reason, NFL teams would be wise to do their due diligence on these ten prospects that could very well be competitive difference makers by the start of next season.
10. Hunter Renfrow, WR, Clemson
Despite being undersized at 5’10” and weighing just 180lbs, Hunter Renfrow is a deadly slot receiver that has fantastic hands and great route running abilities. While he caught a career-low three touchdown passes this year, he still brought in 60 receptions during his junior season, suggesting that his underwhelming scoring production was due to quarterback Kelly Bryant being more of a runner and intermediate passer, unlike that of former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. While Renfrow will probably be picked during the last day of the draft, he has the skill set and reliability to be an effective and speedy receiver at the next level.
9. Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State
Given the multitude of prolific backs that will be available in the draft this year, it’s understandable that a few lesser-known prospects at this particular position would fall through the cracks. However, Rashaad Penny has done more than enough to be rightfully considered a top running back prospect as he rushed for over 2000 yards while averaging 7.8 yards per rushing attempt and scoring 25 total touchdowns during his senior season. Although he may lack the speed of an electric rusher, he has the size and downhill running ability to be effective against weaker defensive fronts in the NFL.
8. Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
Every year, there are several highly talented FCS athletes that either get drafted late or go undrafted altogether because of the supposedly weak competition they faced in college. With impressive size and underrated athleticism, Dallas Goebert was a deadly receiving threat for the Jackrabbits as he posted back to back 1,000 receiving yard seasons during his junior and senior seasons. With prolific receiving tight ends being all the rage in the NFL, Goebert would be a fantastic selection for a team that needs a tough-minded and versatile playmaker.
7. Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
Despite playing for a non-power five conference school in UTSA, Marcus Davenport is a massive (6’7″, 256 lbs) and ferocious edge rusher that could be manhandling opposing offensive lines at the next level sooner rather than later. As a senior, Davenport racked up 55 total tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks, which is highly impressive even against weak competition. If Davenport has a great showing at the Senior Bowl, he could easily become a sleeper target for any NFL team that is looking for a relentless and athletic pass rusher.
6. Duke Dawson, CB, Florida
There are two key attributes that make for an ideal defensive back: instincts and intelligence. Sure, being athletic and physical are essential to frustrating great receivers as well, but as we have seen in someone like Richard Sherman, having the wherewithal and patience to make big plays consistently is what separates a good corner from a great corner. Similarly, Dawson is great at reading routes and transitions well in coverage but is at his best when shutting down speedy wideouts that like to run vertical routes. While Dawson is prone to giving up big plays every now and again, he makes an equal number of big plays against elite wideouts, which was evident when he covered Texas A&M’s top receiver in Christian Kirk earlier in the season.
5. Riley Ferguson, QB, Memphis
Yes, Riley Ferguson needs to vastly improve his field vision before he can start as a passer at the next level. Like most underrated quarterback prospects, Ferguson is prone to staring down his primary target, which was clearly his versatile wideout in Anthony Miller. However, when you consider this deficiency resulted in him completing just over 63% of his passes for 38 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, it becomes readily apparent that Ferguson could be an intriguing starter at the next level given time to develop. On top of that, Ferguson has the requisite arm strength needed to compete in the pros (9.0 yards per pass attempt during his senior season).
4. Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
Although quarterback Riley Ferguson has to be given an immense amount of credit for his impressive performances this year, he was privileged to have one of the most prolific wide receivers in college football. With great route running ability, quickness, and elusiveness after the catch, Miller is a cerebral and highly athletic playmaker that can turn a dump off pass into a big-time touchdown reception. Although Miller is slightly undersized at 5’11”, he has the abilities and tenacity of an elite wideout and could very well be the steal of the draft.
3. Jaleel Scott, WR, New Mexico State
While eye-popping statistics are an essential measurable when it comes to gauging NFL talent, there are times where a prospective athletes physical make up can supersede his lack of production. At 6’6″ and 215 lbs, Jaleel Scott is a freakish athlete with incredible size, which could be a serious mismatch issue for opposing NFL defensive backs at the next level. If Scott can show some quickness when he participates in the Senior Bowl, the now unknown receiver could skyrocket up the draft boards of NFL teams that are in need of a physical receiver.
2. Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford
92 total tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. Those are the insane numbers for the fearless defensive tackle that are being disregarded because he currently has issues breaking out of double teams. Nevertheless, Phillips has the requisite size to be an elite run stopper and could easily overcome his pash rushing inconsistencies with the proper coaching. While numbers are not everything, Phillips has the proven production and playmaking ability to be a serious enforcer in the trenches.
1. Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF
Okay, so the man is missing a hand. Other than that Shaquem Griffin has been nothing short of sensational on the field has the stud linebacker has recorded 33.5 tackles for a loss and 18.5 sacks during his last two seasons. Oh yeah, did I mention that he also been relentless and consistent as a physical tackler over his last two seasons with 166 total tackles?? More than likely, Griffin will either be a late round pick or become an undrafted free agent, but his otherworldly physical talents combined with his off the charts intangibles suggest that Griffin could and should be a taken no later than the second round.