A handful of prospects dominate early season draft talk every single year. Transcendent talents carry that publicity and momentum all the way through the draft process and into Radio City Music Hall. Others, who possibly were crowned too early, fizzle and are designated with the tag of “faller.”
Rather than predict the latter, I will attempt to bring some names who could emerge as quality prospects this season. The goal is to find prospects like Lane Johnson, D.J. Hayden, and Dion Jordan (who I mentioned in a similar piece last year) before other evaluators. I am not saying all the draft-eligible players listed below will be top-64 picks, but I do believe they deserve more attention.
Florida State’s Duo at Running Back
Juniors James Wilder Jr. (#32/6’2/229) and Devonta Freeman (#8/5’8/208) make up a great tandem at running back from the Seminoles. The former has his share of off-field issues, while Freeman has struggled with injuries. However, both are powerful runners who do not shy away from contact. I prefer Freeman’s explosive cuts upfield, but Wilder’s tall build combined with thriving on contact could lead some to call him a poor man’s Adrian Peterson.
Central Michigan RB Zurlon Tipton (#35/6’0/220)
An upright runner with an injury history, but Tipton is unassumingly elusive with nice straight-line speed once finding open space. His cuts eat up a lot of ground, causing missed tackles when combined with a stiff arm. Once seeing the open field, Tipton is decisive and gets north and south in a hurry.
Washington junior WR Kasen Williams (#2/6’2/212)
Few receivers seek out or thrive in contact like Williams. As a receiver, he makes his money on curls, routes between the hashes, and short patterns that allow for runs after the catch. Williams consistently beats first contact by lowering his shoulder or displaying nice balance. His body control and tendency to create a sliver of space at the catch point compensates for his lack fo quick twitch movements.
Wyoming WR Robert Herron (#6/5’10/187)
The NFL is always looking for slot targets, whether it be big bodied receiver who win in traffic or shorter targets with quickness and elusiveness. Oklahoma’s Jalen Saunders tops my list, but Wyoming’s Herron is close behind. He is a hands catcher who makes shifty movements after the catch, and has vertical speed to work the coverages.
Miami redshirt junior TE Clive Walford (#46/6’4/259)
One of the more underutilized talents at the position, Walford shows an ability to win as a receiver when lining up inline or in motion. His athleticism shows when getting his release off the line and when adjusting to targets downfield. Walford tends to win in the intermediate section of the field. He is also a willing blocker.
Texas Tech junior TE Jace Amaro (#22/6’5/260)
Gavin Escobar was selected in the second-round last April. I wasn’t a fan of that pick from a value standpoint, since I thought Escobar was a limited receiver but was a very good hands catcher. Enter Amaro, who I think is a more fluid athlete and a better blocker. He predominantly lines up as a receiver in the slot (or close to it) and wins down the seam. He has speed once getting full stride.
Miami T Seantrel Henderson (#77/6’8/345)
I know, I know. Henderson has been on the national stage since his high school recruiting days. The point of mentioning him is this: Henderson could be taken before a bigger name tackle, like Michigan’s Taylor Lewan. Henderson is a mauler who currently plays on the right side. I wouldn’t be surprised if teams project Henderson at left tackle, since his lateral movement skills are better than many other power blockers (see No. 11 pick D.J. Fluker). I talked with one person close to Miami program prior to last season who said Henderson was on thin ice, and similar statements have been published, but his play last year cemented his status as one of the top players on Miami’s roster.
Florida State redshirt junior T Cameron Erving (#75/6’6/320)
Erving, a former defensive lineman, made the transition last offseason and immediately started at left tackle opposite second rounder Menelik Watson. Erving has his balance and technique issues, but I don’t think he is as underdeveloped as Watson. His posture in pass protection is better at this point.
Texas A&M redshirt junior T/G Cedric Ogbuehi (#70/6’5/300)
Obviously Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews drew headlines last season, but many are sleeping on last season’s right guard Ogbuehi. Now he is moving to right tackle and will be able to show his excellent length and athleticism on an island. The Aggies appear to have a system, consisting of playing right tackle, left tackle, then being picked early in the draft, but Ogbuehi might be impressive enough to bypass playing on Manziel’s blind side
Florida redshirt senior G Jon Halapio (#67/6’3/321)
Halapio isn’t a finished product, including footwork that takes him out of position, but he loves contact. That trait, combined with active vision to assist in blocks, leads to multiple pancakes and drive blocks five yards down the field. Some might compare him to former second-round pick Amini Silatolu.
Oklahoma RB Roy Finch (#22/5'7/167)
Bob Stoops might have forgotten about him, but I haven't.