The NFL Draft is easily the most exciting event to highlight the league’s lengthy offseason schedule. As a result, great incoming athletes can be overhyped by the media and forced down fans’ throats. Meanwhile, underrated talents who may deserve more attention fly under the radar only to surprise folks with an unexpectedly early selection on draft day.
There are plenty of players not getting their due respect heading into the NFL Draft this May, but here are six to keep an eye on as the event draws near.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
I’ve written extensively about the 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end already, often citing him as a solid Plan B for the New York Giants should they choose not to select top tight end prospect Eric Ebron with their first-round pick.
Fiedorowicz is coming off a senior season at Iowa during which he caught 30 passes for 299 yards and six touchdowns. Though he does not possess the rare athleticism that has garnered Ebron most of the hype heading into the draft, Fiedorowicz is a well-rounded prospect that better fits the mold of a tight end at the pro level.
The former Hawkeye reminds me of former Giants tight ends Kevin Boss and Jake Ballard, showing soft hands to catch the football, solid technique as a blocker in running and passing situations and a surprising threat to make a big play down the seam with deceptive speed.
Fiedorowicz’s stat sheet likely doesn’t jump off the paper for most, but as CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler notes, the low-profile prospect was underutilized at Iowa and projects well in an underwhelming tight end class.
In such a class, Fiedorowicz might be a safer selection than Ebron or even Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro. He may not have as much upside as those two, but as a mid-round prospect, Fiedorowicz has far greater qualities to offer a team in search of a prototypical NFL tight end.
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
The first thing that jumps out when you watch film on Crichton is his nonstop motor. From the snap of the ball, the former Beaver’s feet are moving, fighting his way toward the football on every down.
Slowing the 273-pound defensive end down is more difficult because of Crichton’s explosiveness off the snap, which is among the best in this year’s draft class.
Though NFL.com’s Nolan Nawrocki calls Crichton a raw prospect, I see someone who took great strides to improve in 2013. His sack total dropped from a career-high nine in 2012 to 7.5, but he still earned second-team All-Pac 12 honors for being a weekly presence on the Beavers defense despite being the primary focus of opponents’ offensive gameplan.
Best suited as a 4-3 defensive end, as Oregon State head coach Mike Riley told NFL.com’s Dan Greenspan, Crichton is versatile enough to line up at any spot along the defensive line. He is an extremely disruptive player who uses his hands well and has a good burst off the snap to power his way into the backfield. His success should continue at the next level.
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
How could a potential No. 1 pick be underrated? Easy, no one is talking about him. Maybe it’s because of the NFL failures of his brother and former No.1 pick David Carr. But, in a quarterback-heavy class, most draft pundits have preferred to highlight guys like Teddy Bridgewater, former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and media darling Jimmy Garoppolo.
However, Derek is not David, and the film and scouting report make that quite clear.
Something I think a lot of the armchair guys don’t realize, is that Derek Carr has the work ethic his brother never did.
— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) February 26, 2014
Work ethic. RT @nfldraftscout: Practice is over, but Derek Carr is still throwing to Jordan Matthews. Only two guys on the field.
— Wake Up Zone (@WUZ1045) January 20, 2014
Carr wields a rocket launcher for an arm unparalleled by all of his counterparts in this year’s draft. Blessed with ideal size and elite physical tools, there is no question he has the makeup to be a successful quarterback in the NFL.
As my colleague and fellow TSD writer Eli Nachmany has highlighted in his scouting report, his mechanics leave room for improvement. Though he has no trouble throwing the deep ball due to his strong arm, his poor technique can lead to dangerous miscues downfield. Fortunately, his issues are coachable; Carr simply needs to learn to step into his throws and guide the football down the field rather than force it.
Nolan Nawrocki had this to say about him:
“Athletic, tough, instinctive, strong-armed, highly competitive quarterback who will impress in workouts, interviews and on the board. Elevated the Fresno State program and profiles like a gunslinger, though he’d be better served in the long run honing his game-management skills. Will be a starter sooner rather than later and the degree to which he’s able to make those around him better will determine his ceiling.”
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Overshadowed by a bevy of talented wide receiver prospects that includes Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin, Penn State’s record-breaking Allen Robinson has seemingly been lost in the shuffle.
I might be alone here, but give me Allen Robinson over Kelvin Benjamin. Safer, more polished option in that late first-second round range.
— Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) March 20, 2014
The 6-foot-3 wideout put up big numbers for the Nittany Lions this past season, catching 97 passes for 1,432 yards and six touchdowns. His most prolific performance came against Ohio State when he racked up 173 receiving yards over 12 receptions. Those big numbers came despite often being opposed by talented cornerback Bradley Roby, whom Robinson told Bleacher Report’s Ryan Riddle was the toughest cornerback he ever faced in college.
Questions remain regarding his speed and whether he can excel in the NFL, but he had substantial success in two years playing in Bill O’Brien’s pro-style offense with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
Studying more tape on Allen Robinson… Wish he had more juice but I love the way he fights for every inch after the catch. Very physical
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 10, 2014
Robinson wouldn’t be the first receiver to exceed without top-level speed in the NFL. However. Anquan Boldin has never been praised for his speed, yet he has been among the league’s best pass catchers, making big plays to move the chains for years.
CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler supports this notion:
“Robinson doesn’t have elite speed, but like Boldin he is a good-sized athlete with deceiving acceleration and strength at the catch point to be both a possession target and big play-threat.”
Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
With concerns about his size exiting Ohio State, Shazier flew mostly under the radar heading into the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Fortunately, his play on the field and his performance at the Combine have helped his stock in recent weeks. A bulkier Shazier at the Combine (he weighed in at 237 pounds) certainly helped.
Shazier has a dominant presence on the gridiron. He makes his impact felt on every play and seems to be all over the field at all times.
The former Buckeye has much to offer an NFL team in terms of speed, tackling and coverage ability. He was the Big Ten’s leader with 142 tackles, including seven games with 10 or more.
His instincts are unparalleled by any linebacker in this draft—and many already in the NFL. Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr may have more to offer in terms of raw potential and pass-rushing ability, but Shazier appears to be the safest bet with the greatest likelihood to make an impact on the field from day one.
Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama
He’s nothing flashy but that’s not his game. Norwood was often outshadowed as a member of the talent-heavy Alabama Crimson Tide, but he has the qualities of a capable No. 2 or 3 receiver in the NFL.
In a deep class that features the likes of Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins and a long list of talented wideouts, Norwood may be one of the most “pro-ready” prospects out there, despite his projection as late-round selection. One scout told Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller exactly that in his Scouting Notebook feature a few weeks ago.
“In my talks with NFL scouts this week, one name that kept coming up was Alabama wide receiver Kevin Norwood. In a draft class dominated by underclassmen at the position, Norwood is seen as one of the most pro-ready players in the group. One scout also told me Norwood has “the strongest hands” of the entire class.”
Norwood’s hands are his greatest assets, which proves beneficial considering his position. He has an amazing knack for adjusting to the ball and making some spectacular grabs like the one seen below against Tennessee.
#Alabama QB AJ McCarron; “Kevin Norwood is the best teammate I’ve ever had. I know exactly where he’s going to be on the field at anytime.”
— Joe Everett (@RookieDraft) February 21, 2014
Norwood is very much a possession receiver, but he is among the best in the draft. His ability as a route runner, coupled with his sure-handedness, should allow for him to develop into a consistent threat over the middle on third downs from the slot.