2017 Under-the-Rader Prospects

By John Laub




                2017 NFL Draft:

          Under-the-Radar Prospects 




The annual allocation of college talent takes place in late April, and NFL general managers, scouts and coaches are examining the prospects. 


Despite the enormous scrutiny and analysis, players are overlooked every year by personnel departments: Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins, Cameron Meredith, C.J. Anderson, Adam Thielen, T.Y. Hilton and Emmanuel Sanders were all underrated by NFL franchises before the Draft. Nevertheless, all developed into well-regarded NFL players. 


Fantasy diehards are always searching for Under-the-Radar collegiate stars with long-term potential on Sundays. Listed below are eight possible fantasy contributors, who should be watched closely during the forthcoming seasons.

QB Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh

Scouts and diehards across the nation are looking for the next Dak Prescott and many have identified the former Panther as a potential draft-day bargain at quarterback. Enrolled at Tennessee and nailed to the bench behind Joshua Dobbs. Transferred to Pittsburgh after earning a degree in three years. Finally, earned starting position in 2015. In two seasons, started 24 games, tossed 47 touchdowns and passed for 5,142 yards. Last year, upset National Champion Clemson on the road and logged five touchdowns. At 6’2” and 226 lbs., a classic old-school passer: Commands the pocket with good composure and footwork, stands tall and absorbs big hits. Slides and steps up in traffic. Takes proper depth and sets up quickly. Anticipatory thrower, who scans field while analyzing progressions. Naturally accurate with pinpoint passes on short and intermediate throws. Uses legs to purchase additional time in pocket and extend drives. Also, throws well on the run, executing play-action bootlegs well. Delivers passes on time. Noble comprehension of mental challenges of the position: Makes pre-snap reads and identifies best option. Manipulates safeties with eyes. Splendid Senior Bowl week rose draft stock. Does not own elite arm strength to challenge deep zones. At times, rolls the dice by throwing into heavy traffic. Would be wise to throw ball away more often. Intermittently eyeballs targets and throws off balance. Would benefit by watching and learning for two seasons, and could become a very good starter in a West Coast offense.

Key Career Stats (Pittsburgh)

Games: 26 

Passing Efficiency: 151.1

Completion Percentage: 61.1

Yards per Attempt: 8.7

Draft Potential: Third round



QB Chad Kelly, Mississippi

Nephew of Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly and two-year starter in Mississippi’s spread scheme. Dual-threat signal caller: Scrambles to extends drives and throws well on the run. Accumulates chunks of yards with his feet: Totaled 958 career rushing yards and scored 16 rushing touchdowns. A junior college transfer in 2015, guided Rebels to most wins (10) by a first-year quarterback in school history and defeated SEC dynamos Alabama, Auburn and LSU as well as five Top 25 teams. Earned All-SEC Second Team and named Sugar Bowl MVP. Last year, suffered season-ending ACL tear and injured lateral meniscus on November 5. Only played in nine games, tossing 19 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Leaves campus as the school’s all-time leader in completion percentage (63.9%) and third in yards (6,800) and touchdowns (50). Can make all throws required of a NFL starter: Strong arm and drives football deep. At 6’2” and 224 lbs., prototypical size and toughness. Sturdy pocket passer and courage with traffic bearing down. Intense risk-taker with aggressive nature. Impressive anticipatory passer who reads the defense well. Coaches chat about high football IQ and given responsibility for audibles at the line of scrimmage. Athleticism to make plays outside of play structure and recorded many “wow” moments. Designed runs to take advantage of running ability. Wants to make the big play down the field. Physical tools to be a starter in the league. Unfortunately, baggage and red flags decorate resume: Dismissed from Clemson, an arrest in Buffalo on disorderly conduct and maturity suspicions. Inconsistant performer and decision maker with poor mechanics and footwork. Eyeballs receivers and over confident in arm strength, forcing balls into tight windows. Despite off-the-field concerns, one team likely to grab the former Rebel in the final round of the Draft or sign as a priority free agent.

Key Career Stats (Mississippi)

Games: 22

Passing Efficiency: 152.3

Completion Percentage: 64

Yards per Attempt: 8.7

Draft Potential: Third-day prospect 


RB Matthew Dayes, North Carolina State

Overlooked ACC prospect: Conference loaded with talented running backs last year. As a senior, became first 1,000-yard rusher for the Wolfpack since 2002. In 2014, one of three players in FBS with over 300 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning. In 2016, named Second Team All-ACC after rushing for 1,166 yards, catching 32 passes and scoring 10 touchdowns. Succeeded in big games: Against Notre Dame, Clemson and Florida State, gained 126, 106 and 104 yards respectfully. Well-built, lean frame at 5’9” and 205 lbs. Versatile runner with fanciful burst, vision and agility. Quick-twitch athlete with choppy feet. Wiggles and eludes first wave of defenders and spurts through openings. Excellent acceleration and short-area burst. Jumps and spins on a dime to elude tacklers. Low center of gravity and bounces off tacklers. Runs with good lean and generates maximum power. Plants foot and blasts off. Maximum effort competitor who lowers head and pads to gain additional yards. An exceptional pass catcher: 98 career catches for 933 yards and six touchdowns. Strong and reliable hands to pluck football in the air. Lined up occasionally in the slot. Lacks elite physical or athletic skills. Often arm-tackled on first contact. Not a pile driver at the goal line. Willing pass blocker but limited by size and technique. Too small to be an every down ball carrier as a professional. A zone-scheme, downhill runner who shines on stretch plays. A great value pick on third day of the Draft.

Measurements 40-yrd 3-cone 20-yrd Rec. YPC T-Yrds %
M. Dayes n/a n/a n/a 98 5.20 26% ('16)
Benchmark 4.55 7 4.35 50 5.25 30%

Draft Potential: Third-day prospect


WR Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech

Opinions from scouts vary wildly on the Virginia Tech prospect. A former high school basketball player who scored over 22 ppg. First wideout in Hokies history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns, and all-time leading receiver in catches (210) and yards (2,967) in Blacksburg, VA. Increased receptions every season on campus: 56-75-79 respectively. First Team All-ACC (2015) and Second Team All-ACC (2016). Fluid and lean speed demon at 6’1” and 194 lbs. with athletic frame and elongated limbs. Makes acrobatic—and difficult—receptions by stretching body and utilizing flexibility. Excellent footwork in and out of cuts. Stupendous natural route runner. Scans field and sits down in space, giving quarterback an inviting target. Smooth route runner with elite vision, spatial awareness and change of direction. Impressive catch radius: Soars for high passes and dumpster dives for low ones. Tracks ball well and contorts body. Eye-opening circus catches decorate resume. Runs deep patterns without breaking stride. Dangerous in open field: Effective on screens and jet sweeps. Jettisons past defenders with double moves. Tip-toes and drags feet near sidelines. Very durable player, playing in 39 games in three seasons. Willingness to block but not overly effective. Hot-cold competitor. Physical defensive backs will present challenges: Can be redirected. Suspect concentration. Lacks upper body strength and elite speed. Not elusive after the catch. Inconsistant hands: Does not always catch ball cleanly away from frame. Occasionally double-clutches passes and drops some easy ones. After the top wide outs are gobbled up, could be a Draft bargain.

Measurements 40-yrd 3-cone 20-yrd Rec. YPR P-Yrds % 
Isaiah Ford 4.61 6.94 4.34 210 14.1 40% ('15)
Benchmark 4.50 6.95 4.10 150 15 33%

Scholar's Supremacy Score: 7

Draft Potential: Third-day prospect  




WR Robert Davis, Georgia State

Nearly every year, the Combine spotlights a few small-school prospects, and the former Panther glittered in Indianapolis. Illustrated great athletic ability in the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, vertical jump (41 inches) and broad jump (136 inches). Four-year starter who concluded college career as the school’s all-time leading receiver and named First Team All-Sun Belt the past two seasons, corralling 128 passes for 1,948 yards and 11 touchdowns. Recorded at least one reception in every game (49) played, and posted career 10 catches over 50 yards on campus. Immediate impact player as a freshman, leading Georgia State in receiving. At 6’3 and 219 lbs., prototypical size NFL teams covet with speed to get vertical. Excellent hand and leaping ability. Makes nice over the shoulder grabs and twists and turns body to seize poorly thrown passes. High points the ball well. Quickly darts downfield once ball is in hands. Good footwork, extension and awareness. Starts and stops on a dime to evade defenders. A diverse route tree on resume. Lined up up all over the formation: on the outside, in the slot and both sides of the field. Without question, the production, experience and skill set foretell a worthy professional career ahead. Astute scouting departments will identify and select the Georgia State star later in the Draft.

Measurements 40-yrd 3-cone 20-yrd Rec. YPR P-Yrds % 
R. Davis 4.44 6.82 4.28 222 15.3 33% ('16)
Benchmark 4.50 6.95 4.10 150 15 33%

Scholar's Supremacy Score: 10 

Draft Potential: Third-day prospect


WR ArDarius Stewart, Alabama

Redshirt junior who earned the moniker “ax-bearer.” Despite missing three games last year, led Crimson Tide in receiving yards (864) and touchdowns (8) on 54 catches. Yards per catch increased substantially from 11.1 to 16.0 last season. Unselfish teammate with mental toughness. Fiery demeanor and plays with an attitude. At 5'11 and 204 lbs., an explosive competitor who produced huge “YAC” totals. Dangerous with ball in hands on returns, screens and sweeps. Good field awareness, vision and body control. Quick acceleration to burst through creases in defense. Attacks opponents instead of heading to the sideline. Often, leaves first tackler grasping for air. Large catch radius and secures football from various points. Very good upper body strength. Strong hands: fights and wins contested catches. Jack of all trades but master of none. With a mobile quarterback, defenses played mostly zone and very little man-to-man press coverage vs. Alabama. Discovers soft spots in zones and comfortable working between the hash marks. Projects as an ideal slot receiver. Not a refined or nuanced route runner. Sloppy at times and not sudden out of breaks. Lack of separation against tight coverage. Intermittent ball security: Focus drops are a concern and fumbles will turn off coaching staffs. While trying to hit a homerun, occasionally loses yardage. Shortage of alpha dog athletic traits: Skill set foreshadows a nice career as a second or third receiver.

Measurements 40-yrd 3-cone 20-yrd Rec. YPR P-Yrds % 
A. Stewart 4.49 n/a n/a 129 13.3 28%
Benchmark 4.5 6.95 4.10 150 15 33%

Draft Potential: Third-day prospect

TE Jordan Leggett, Clemson 

Distinguished college career: John Mackey Award finalist (2016), First Team All-ACC (2016) and Second Team All-ACC (2015). Pass-catching prospect with 112 catches for 1,598 yards and 18 touchdowns during campus tenure. Tantalizing NFL frame at 6’5” and 257 lbs. with strong hands and long arms. Attacks the seams and ventures into the middle of the defense. Discovers open space in the secondary. Runs good routes and deceives opponents. Snatches ball away from body. Low center of gravity and good foot quickness. Teammates and coaching staff articulate his hard work and character. Uses athleticism to snatch passes off the ground and pluck football out of the air. Tough one-on-one matchup. Capable as in-line tight end and can be utilized from the slot and as an H-back. Elevates performance in big games. Not a smooth athlete: Does not sink hips effectively or explodes out of cuts. Uncertain desire and assertiveness while blocking: On film, fervor and urgency not always evident. Declines to latch onto blocks while on the move. Lacks punch at the line of scrimmage: Limited power base. Not asked to run a diverse route tree nor change direction while in flight. A gifted competitor who could become a rock-solid starter as a professional if motor and effort swells.

Measurements 40-yrd 3-cone 20-yrd Rec. YPR P-Yrds % 
Jordan Leggett 4.79 7.12 4.33 112 14.3 15%
Benchmark 4.75 7.05 4.35 80 13 20%

Scholar's Supremacy Score: 7

Draft Potential: Third-day prospect


TE Jake Butt, Michigan

A four-year starter and two seasons in a pro-style offense under former NFL coach John Harbaugh. In 2016, John Mackey Award winner and All-Big Ten Tight End of the Year in 2015 and 2016. Stupendous competitor, clutch playmaker and very good athlete. Suffered a torn ACL and injured MCL in Orange Bowl vs. Florida State. Also, tore ACL as a sophomore during winter conditioning. At 6’5” and 246 lbs., prototypical size with good balance, flexibility and body control. Employed in many different formations: In-line tight end, outside wideout, slot receiver and H-back. A factor in both the running and passing games. A gifted receiver who separates well and extends soft, magnet-like mitts. Smooth and savvy route runner who adjusts to the pass. Fearless in middle of the secondary and absorbs body hits. Dangerous on seam patterns in the red zone. Very good at making contested catches. Finds open spots in the zone and owns a diverse route portfolio. Creates space at the top of routes. Hands catcher and displays an attitude after the catch. Does not posses the uber athletic ability of the top position prospects in the Draft. Must improve greatly as a blocker: Needs to lower hands when engaging blockers. Two serious injuries will scare off some medical staffs. On Saturdays, a traditional tight end role and a likely easy transition to Sundays. A wild card in a loaded draft class. If a club is patient, the Michigan product may blossom in third year of professional career. 

Measurements 40-yrd 3-cone 20-yrd Rec. YPR P-Yrds % 
Jake Butt n/a n/a n/a 138 11.9 21% ('15)
Benchmark 4.75 7.05 4.35 80 13 20%

Draft Potential: Third-day prospect 


With his Masters in history and professional experience as an educator, John Laub is uniquely qualified to research, analyze and discover new insights and trends in college and professional fantasy football. Laub has played fantasy football for nearly thirty years and provided FootballDiehards.com with weekly player rankings for two decades. He won $10,000 in 1993, defeating nearly 15,000 owners, and published Audibles: Winning is Everything in the 1990s. He truly is The Gridiron Scholar. Twitter: @GridironSchol91 or e-mail: Audibles@aol.com 

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