2017 Under-the-Rader Prospects

By John Laub
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 nine 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 Brad Kaaya, Miami

Finished career as Miami’s all-time leader in passing yards—and fifth in ACC history— with 9,968. Immediately named starter as freshman and earned ACC Rookie of the Year in 2014. First two years played in predominately a shotgun system: Last year, under new coach Mark Richt, executed a pro-style offense. Scholar of the game and stupendous mental acumen. Pro-style passer who is a smooth, fluid athlete. Identifies prime matchups pre-snap and makes good decisions with the football. Understands defensive schemes before play begins. Progression reader: Scans entire field and adept at finding an open teammate. Anticipatory thrower. Outstanding accuracy on short passes. Innate feel for pressure and gets rid of football. Makes all the passes required at the next level. Rhythm passer with flick of the wrist: Short arm motion, quick release and solid footwork. Calculated risk taker. Throws a catchable ball with a tight spin: Ball comes out rapidly. At 6'4" and 214 lbs., an upright pitcher who effortlessly strides toward target. Slides well in pocket and quickly anchors base to throw football. Great leader with high football IQ. Calm demeanor and does not panic, hanging in the pocket. Illustrated toughness and absorbed punishment behind a young offensive line as a sophomore. Not an elite athlete at the position. Downfield arm-strength limited. Loses velocity on balls thrown deep middle against cover two defenses. When pressured, drops eyes and trepidations about rushers. Very narrow frame and may need to add bulk to withstand rigors of the position. Lacks slipperiness as a runner and not going to move chains on the ground. An old-fashioned signal caller who has the cerebral makeup to succeed as a professional; however, needs time to grow into a starters role.

Key Career Stats

Games: 38                                                      Passing Efficiency: 146.2

Completion Percentage: 60.6%                    Yards per Attempt: 8.6

Draft Potential: Third round 


RB Jeremy McNichols

Recent Boise State products Doug Martin (2012) and Jay Ajayi (2015) have both been productive professional ball carriers. Named All-Mountain West Second Team back-to-back seasons: Totaled 1,337 and 1,709 rushing yards respectfully and scored 53 times. Earned Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week four times last year. At 5’9” and 214 lbs., compact and powerful frame. Does not own prototypical size; however, plays bigger with strength and power. Good speed with excellent quickness. Patient playmaker with vision, burst and toughness to exploit cut-back lanes. Natural low-center of gravity with thick lower body: Runs low and gains yards after contact. Effective goal line runner. Creative ball carrier, who presses the line of scrimmage and surges into the open field. Prodigious pass catcher with 103 receptions for 1,089 yards and 11 touchdowns. Snags ball away from body and can make difficult catches. Possesses stiff-arm and start-stop moves to avoid tacklers. Flexible and fluid hips enable easy change of direction moves. Underrated interior runner with good body control, crisp cuts and light feet. Very good pass blocker: Anchors and absorbs blitzers. Does not possess elite top end speed to escape tacklers and will not push pile. Scouting Combine measurements in speed and agility moved needle north as a prospect. A versatile competitor who projects as a third-down back. Astute franchises will identify the former Bronco as a late-round target in the Draft.

Measurements 40-yrd 3-cone 20-yrd Rec. YPC T-Yrds %
J. McNichols 4.49 6.93 4.28 103 5.60 35%
Benchmark 4.55 7.00 4.35 50 5.25 30%

Scholar's Supremacy Score: 13                         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.

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 10 career 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 Malachi Dupre, LSU

An elite athlete with outstanding ball skills, who toiled in a run-oriented offense with subpar quarterback play. Limited opportunities and production on campus: Led Tigers in receptions and yards each of the last two seasons, recording 84 catches for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns. As a junior in high school, state champion in three—triple, long and high—jumps. Named SEC All-Freshmen Team (2014). At 6’2” and 196 lbs., long and lanky frame with excellent physical tools. A smooth and natural competitor. Good balance, foot quickness and body control. Very big and soft hands. Makes one-handed grabs effortlessly: several during LSU tenure. Beats defenders deep and tracks ball well over the shoulder. Fights through contact, breaking arm tackles and employing an unpleasant stiff arm. After catch, rapidly heads north. Outstanding 9-route runner, challenging defenses deep down the field. Great leaping ability and adjusts to the pass. Attacks football at highest point. Uses head and shoulder fakes to gain separation. Remains focused in congestion with defenders lurking and fearless in the middle of the field. Good red zone target. Aggressive and effective blocker. Lack of suddenness and struggles to get off press coverage. While getting off the line of scrimmage, absence of elite explosiveness. Still learning nuances of position: Good coaching may enrich and enhance natural ability. Not seamless in and out of cuts: Must sink hips more effectively in order to change direction. Does not have advanced route-running aptitude. Clearly, has a bright NFL future based on physical attributes. A great quarterback and offensive system could make a star out of the LSU product.  

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. 

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.

Draft Potential: Third-day prospect