Teams are salivating over the elite crop of talent that is available in the first two or three rounds of next month’s NFL draft, but the real fun happens in the later rounds, which are a glorified guessing game.
So, who will be the next Tom Brady (sixth round, 2000), Kevin Walter (seventh round, 2003), Marques Colston (seventh round, 2006), Julian Edelman (seventh round, 2009) or Bo Jackson (seventh round, 1987)? Let’s take a look at some of this year’s hidden talent and a few players who could slip a few rounds. You can bet the Patriots are taking notice.
Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards
Similar to Edelman, Armanti Edwards probably won’t be projected as a quarterback on a lot of draft boards, but the extremely athletic App. State star has a serious collegiate resume. He won back-to-back FCS national championships as a freshman and sophomore, led the Mountaineers to a shocking upset at Michigan in 2007 and became the first player to win the Walter Payton Award twice in a row in 2008 and 2009. Edwards threw for 10,000 yards and rushed for 4,000 yards in his four years at App. State, and he should warrant a seventh-round pick from someone. He’ll be a project — like Edelman and Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs — but if a team can spare a roster spot, the returns could be very beneficial in a year or two.
Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount
Clemson’s C.J. Spiller, Fresno State’s Ryan Mathews and Cal’s Jahvid Best are considered to be the three best backs on the board, but it doesn’t appear as though there is too, too much of a drop-off after that. There should be some good talent remaining in the fifth or sixth round, and LeGarrette Blount’s stock is down due to last season’s in-game sucker punch and subsequent suspension. There’s little question about Blount’s talent, and if he’s got the will to keep his head, he’ll have a career in this game.
Clemson wide receiver Jacoby Ford
Just another speedster named Jacoby. He ran a 4.126-second 40-yard dash at the Fork Union College Coaches Combine, according to his Clemson bio, and that helped Jacoby Ford excel as a kick returner, as well as a wideout. Ford is only 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, so he’ll be overlooked in the early rounds. Still, he could fill the same role as Brandon Tate if the Patriots don’t believe he’ll bounce back from his latest knee injury.
Florida State safety Myron Rolle
Some mock drafts have him as high as the second round, and that would obviously make him ineligible for this list. But Myron Rolle’s stock is more difficult to forecast than Tim Tebow’s, and the former Seminole could slide deep into the draft. Rolle was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and didn’t play football last year, and he has made it known he eventually wants to be a doctor, which has caused teams to worry about his love for the game and a desire for a long-term football career. But Rolle can play — he was an Associated Press Third Team All-American in 2008 — and the combination of talent and smarts should be overly intriguing, especially if he slips into later rounds.
Florida wide receiver Riley Cooper
Above all else, Riley Cooper is an athlete. He was selected in the 2006 and 2009 Major League Baseball draft, and Cooper played both sports at Florida. He emerged as a senior, catching 51 passes for 961 yards and nine touchdowns, and his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame is built for the NFL. Cooper definitely has flaws and isn’t a polished receiving product, but he’ll be available between the fifth and seventh rounds.
Oregon cornerback Walter Thurmond III
He actually looked to have a brighter career than former classmate, Ducks cornerback Jairus Byrd, who just completed a spectacular rookie season with the Buffalo Bills, but Walter Thurmond III has battled a string of injuries. He tore three ligaments in his right knee last September, and that further hurt his draft stock. Thurmond III was on the Jim Thorpe Award Watch List (nation’s top defensive back) in 2009, so he’s obviously got the talent. But his speed was an asset, so his stock has really fallen.
Central Michigan wide receiver Antonio Brown
Antonio Brown is another burner, but he left a small school after his junior year and only stands at 5-foot-10 and 186 pounds. There are concerns about his route-running ability, too. However, Brown is another athlete who can line up in the slot, take a few handoffs out of the backfield and return kicks, and those hybrid players are becoming increasingly popular in the NFL. Brown had some insanely impressive stats in his three years at Central Michigan, catching 305 passes for 3,199 yards and 22 touchdowns, rushing 71 times for 518 yards and four touchdowns, and also scoring five touchdowns on special teams.
Bowling Green wide receiver Freddie Barnes
Freddie Barnes caught 155 passes for 1,770 yards and 19 touchdowns during his 13-game senior season. Despite setting the NCAA record with 155 receptions, the 6-footer is criticized for running a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, which makes people question his ability to break away from defenders in the NFL, as well as his usefulness on special teams. Hey, if you can catch the ball, you can catch the ball. For a seventh-round pick, Barnes could probably be a decent third receiver if given the right opportunity.