Every year in the off-season leading up to the NFL Draft there is a group of players that aren’t necessarily under-appreciated, they’re generally ranked fairly in rankings and people recognize they have talent but, for one reason or another, they just aren’t talked about enough relative to their talent level. This could be because there are other more exciting and/or controversial players at the position or maybe they’re just talented but boring prospects. Whatever the reason may be, not enough is known about these players when the draft rolls around. Here are five prospects you’ve heard of but likely don’t know enough about:
James White | RB | Wisconsin
White has forever been in the shadow of other running backs during his time at Wisconsin. As a true freshman it was John Clay taking most of the snaps even though he was on his way to winning freshman of the year in the Big 10 and for his Sophomore and Junior campaigns he was behind the incredibly productive Montee Ball. Going into his Senior season White looked like he was finally getting his chance but this time it was Melvin Gordon who stole the spotlight and became the Badgers big play running back. None of this should affect White’s NFL prospects. Despite his size, he is a good overall running back. He’s not great in any one area but he’s above average to good in nearly all of them. He’s capable of running outside as well as between the tackles and possesses some of the quickest feet in the hole out of anyone in this class. He’s a solid pass catcher out of the backfield and is a willing and effective blocker in the pass game. White likely won’t be drafted until the 4-5 rounds at the earliest, but he has the makings of a player that will be an effective player that hangs around for 6-7 years.
David Fales | QB | San Jose State
Fales came into his final season riding a decent amount of momentum and some thought he could be an early Day 2 pick when it was all said and done. Since then it seems that other quarterbacks have picked up more momentum and it’s possible Fales won’t be picked until the the middle of the 3rd day. He started his career at the University of Nevada before transferring to JUCO for two seasons. When he transferred back up to the FCS, he exploded onto the scene and became one of the most productive quarterbacks in the country which continued through his Senior season. While he doesn’t possess great size nor arm strength, he makes up for it with his ability to move in the pocket and throwing with anticipation. He struggles to drive the ball down the field and won’t be a fit for every offense but his accuracy and ability to read the defenses will make him at worst a high quality back up.
Charles Leno | OT | Boise State
Boise State has had a history with moving tackles into the NFL and that tradition should continue with Charles Leno. In the last decade the Broncos have had guys like Daryn Colledge, Ryan Clady, and Nate Potter move on to the NFL. Leno arrived to Boise State as an extremely undersized prospect but will be leaving as a guy that has a chance to be a major contributor at the next level. Despite battling in the trenches as a starter for three years, he never missed a start and has experience at both the tackle positions. He shows good athleticism and ability to mirror and react to rushers. He also displays good punch and hand usage while using his long arms to keep defenders at bay. However, he does struggle with the bull rush and can be driven back. He’ll need to continue to get stronger and develop and anchor or he will get overpowered at the next level. It doesn’t look like he’ll be able to kick inside but he does project as a possible solid starter at the next level or as a highly valuable back up swing tackle.
Richard Rodgers | TE | California
The 2014 Tight End class isn’t full of talent and if teams miss out on one of the top talents in the first couple rounds, they’ll likely be forced to take a swing at some projects in the middle rounds. Rodgers is one of those prospects.As a junior, he played very heavy at around 270 lbs but dropped a reported 30 lbs to be a better fit in Sonny Dykes’ new system. Slimming down made him a much more reliable pass catching threat as he went from 20 catches in 2012 to 39 in 2013. While the Bears went to more of a passing attack, it wasn’t always the most efficient or effective as they were playing with a true Freshman quarterback and Rodgers was only asked to run a few different routes. He has good initial quickness and can make the tough catches, but will drop a few easy ones. His initial quickness should make him tough match-up for linebackers. He compares pretty favorable to Jermichael Finley in a lot of ways and will need to overcome easy drops much like Finley in order to reach his potential.
Josh Huff | WR | Oregon
The Oregon offense has been known as an offensive juggernaut, but it has struggled to put good offensive talent into the NFL. While Josh Huff isn’t an elite or even second-tier WR prospect, he has a good chance to find a home in an NFL offense and be an effective contributor for a long time. He doesn’t possess good size but is a good athlete that doesn’t lose much of his speed coming out of breaks and can be a very difficult cover for defenders in man coverage. Once he has the ball in his hands he is a threat and isn’t afraid of lowering his shoulder and bowling over defensive backs for a few extra yards. However, possibly the most impressive trait for Huff is his body control he can adjust and snag catches with just about anyone in this class. His route running and athleticism, along with that ability to make and adjust to difficult catches will make him a versatile player as you can line him up in the slot or on the outside and he’ll be effective. Huff has a good shot of being a very good #3 WR and can step in right away to help an offense.