Draft coverage is top-heavy. It always has been and it probably always will be. The top 50 players get 75% of the bandwidth. A decent number of onlookers dig a little deeper and check out the bottom half of the top 100. Only the intrepid few wander down off those heights and explore players beneath the top 150. Like all good explorers they are looking for one thing: treasure.
Great players get overlooked every year. Deep in the third day of the draft when the bright lights have faded and the majority of football fans have turned away, some very valuable draft cards get turned in. Antonio Brown was a 6th rounder. There's talent in them thar depths... you just have to dig a little harder to find it. In the spirit of mining this draft board for all its worth, here are some lesser-known gems who may provide big value down the line for teams that are willing to dig them up and polish their skills to reveal their true shine.
Jerod Evans (6'3"/232), Virginia Tech - Evans is a developmental QB that has shown enough flashes that he's worth a late-round pick. He's not ready to go right now but with some work a team may find a spot starter who is capable of making "wow" plays in time. He's got a great arm and is a threat to gain big chunks of yardage with his legs too (846 yards rushing and 12 TD's in 2016). He shows some starter's traits in short bursts (throwing with anticipation and very good deep ball) but needs to work on his decision making and consistency to be a viable player at the next level.
Aaron Jones (5' 9"/208), UTEP - Jones is a seriously overlooked player that has the skills to play on Sundays; and play well. He suffered an ankle injury his junior year but came back strong in 2016 with 1,773 yards on the ground (good for 4th overall in the FBS) and 17 TD's. If that was the end of it, he'd still be worth a look, but Aaron is an extremely talented pass catcher out the backfield as well. He tacked on an additional 233 yards and 3 scores through the air. While those may not be staggering statistics, some of the grabs showed that Jones has rare skills as a receiver. His production led to a well-deserved first-team All-Conference USA nod. He needs to improve his blocking to get on the field as a 3rd down back, but he could easily find an expanded role in the NFL if the starter ahead of him has to leave the lineup for any length of time.
Francis Owusu (6' 2"/221), Stanford - Francis followed his Brother Chris's footsteps to become a WR at Stanford. Chris made it to the NFL but was a back-of-the-roster player. Francis did not have tremendous production while at Stanford but made a few highlight catches that put him on the radars of NFL scouts. His measurables offer up the possibility of big-play potential: 4.35-second 40-yard dash, 39-inch vertical jump and a 10'7" broad jump.
Tanner Gentry (6'1"/208), Wyoming - Wyoming's Josh Allen is one of the top QB prospects for the 2017 season and likely the 2018 draft. He actually piled up enough production last season that considered declaring for this draft, but he ultimately decided to return to college for another season. A big chunk of that production came from throwing to his favorite deep-route target, Tanner Gentry. Gentry, hauled in 72 catches good for 1326 yards and an eye-popping 14 TDs.Tanner ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at his pro day, clicked off 19 bench reps, and a 38.5-inch vertical jump. He tracks the ball extremely well down the field, has great hands, and is strong enough to shed tacklers after the catch to gain additional yards.
Trent Taylor (5'8"/181), Louisiana Tech - Taylor racked up 136 catches for a nation-leading 1,803 yards. Only East Carolina's Zay Jones' record-breaking 158 grabs kept Taylor out of the top spot for catches too. All of that came playing in the same offense as one of this draft's leading receivers; Carlos Henderson. Trent is extremely quick out of his breaks and locks on to almost any pass thrown anywhere near him. He took his skills to the Senior Bowl and according to some reports was basically uncoverable in underneath breaking routes. He also has a couple of seasons of experience returning punts.
Robert Tonyan (6'4"/236), Indiana State - Tonyan arrived at Indiana State as a QB, but he grew and switched to WR. Now, as he looks at making the transition to the NFL he's decided TE would be his best position in the pros so he is trying to pack on good weight. He ran at the Northwestern Pro Day and opened some eyes with a 4.58 40-yard dash. Even more attention-grabbing should be his 10-yard split time of 1.53 seconds. That's extremely quick for a guy his size. Add in a 35" vertical jump and you've got a player who might be able to make a roster and add a dimension as a move-type TE.
Cethan Carter (6'3"/241), Nebraska - Carter has rare movement skills at the TE position. You notice the speed with which he can get into and out of breaks. The light has yet to come on for him tying together all the things he'll need to succeed at the next level (route nuance and setting up defenders, dealing with concentration drops, etc.) but if a good coach gets ahold of him his physical tools could ensure he becomes a weapon in the short-to-intermediate passing game very quickly.
Julie'n Davenport (6'7"/318), Bucknell - Davenport is a massive blocker who needs a little time to adjust to what the NFL is going to throw at him. He has the physical tools (extremely long arms, big hands, and decent athleticism) to be a left tackle at the NFL level in time. He'll need to adjust to the massive jump in the competition level between his days in the Patriot League and the NFL, but there are not many men on the planet who are his size and move as well as he does.
DJ Jones (6'1"/319), Mississippi - "Stout" is the first word that comes to mind when watching Jones man the nose tackle spot. Not too many players can move him off a spot he wants to occupy. What sets DJ apart from many of his contemporaries in the middle of the DL is his short area burst. He moves extremely well for a near-320-pound man and that allows him to make a lot of plays collapsing the pocket or wrapping up running backs. He'd be an ideal backup for Eddie Goldman and wouldn't look out place taking meaningful snaps at NT if Goldman succumbed to an injury again this year.
Roderick Henderson (6'1"/353), Alabama State University - You read that right... Henderson is a rolling wrecking ball at over 350 pounds. He loves collapsing the pocket and as he puts it "Establishing a new line of scrimmage". His technique is raw and his conditioning need some serious attention (he'd be much more effective around 325-330 pounds), but he plays with excellent effort and is effective.
Keionta Davis (6'3"/271), Tennessee-Chattanooga - Davis is a powerfully built attacking defender who has a very good motor. He'll make an opposing tackle work every down all game long. When he does get into position to make a tackle he delivers a shot with power. Keionta tacked up 10.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles last year.
Avery Moss (6'3/264), Youngstown State - Moss played opposite fellow NFL prospect Derek Rivers to form one of the most talented defensive duos in the nation. Moss plays with very heavy hands and can rag-doll offensive tackles who are not extremely mindful of their balance when facing him. His violent style of play helped him accumulate 17.5 tackles for loss (TFL), 10.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles last season.
Jimmie Gilbert (6'5"/230), Colorado - If you squinted your eyes a little while watching Jimmie wreck his way to first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season you could see a lot of Leonard Floyd in him. He compiled 14 TFL, 10.5 sacks, six forced fumbles using a frame that is very similar to the Bears 1st-round pick from last year.
Samson Ebukam (6'3"/240), Eastern Washington - Ebukam is an explosive athlete who has the desire to get better as a football player. His technique is raw and could definitely benefit from some additional patience and nuance, but the all-out style and willing to work are evident in his play. Even without terrific technique he accumulated 15 TFLs and 9.5 sacks last year. His way into the NFL will be on special teams but his ticket to stay will come from developing as a situational edge rusher.
Calvin Munson (6'/241) San Diego State - Munson is a player who won't wow you with is physical measurements or his test numbers. He's not a t-shirt colossus, he's a football player. Calvin is smart, gets to the right spot, and attacks ballcarriers that enter his area of responsibility. He's effective. He'll be limited to an inside role and will be a liability facing TE's with tremendous speed but he can absolutely play an interior role in a 3-4 defense effectively.
Jayon Brown (6'/231) UCLA - Jayon Brown looks and plays a lot like Danny Trevathan did at Kentucky. He can move very well and is effective in coverage (6 pass break up's [PBU's] and 3 interceptions in 2016). A bit undersized but got the job done in the pass-heavy PAC-12 and was voted first-team All-Conference.
Brandon Wilson (5'11"/200), Houston - Wilson is a versatile athlete that played cornerback, running back and returned kicks for the Cougars all in the same season. He's incredibly quick (4.36 40-yard dash), strong (24 bench reps) and powerful (41" vertical jump). He's a better returner and runner than he is a corner right now but he can help a team in multiple ways while he tried to develop a full-time spot on the either offense or defense.
Brendan Langley (6'/201) Lamar - Almost purely a triangle guy (height, weight & speed) as he switched over from WR and is still learning to be a cornerback. Pushed up 22 reps on the bench and ran a 4.43 40-yard dash so the raw tools are there, he just needs to land in a spot where the team is willing to develop him.
William Likely (5'7/180) Maryland - Being 5'7" Likely needed a perfect season to stay on NFL scout's radars and he didn't get it. He tore his ACL on a kickoff return that ended his season after 6 games. He started every game at corner for the Terrapins before the injury and also started 2 at WR, showcasing his athleticism and versatility. William is an aggressive and skilled defender, both against the pass and the run. However, his smaller frame will have him all the way off some team's boards. A team that can see past his height will swoop in and get him for a song.
Jarrell Carter (5'9"/195) Trinity International - Saying Carter is "well-built" is like saying locomotives can pull "a little weight". It's an understatement of the highest order. This fireplug of a CB pushed up 25 reps on the bench and ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, prompting the Bears to go and visit him outside of Houston very late in the draft process.
Delano Hill (6'1"/216), Michigan
Nathan Gerry (6'2"/218), Nebraska
David Jones (6'3"/210), Richmond
Lorenzo Jerome (5'10"/204) Saint Francis (PA)
I wrote about all 4 of these safeties right here in Draftwatch last week.
Who are some of your favorite under-the-radar players that might make a difference in the league down the line?