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Hidden gems lurk beneath NFL Draft hype

Every year, a team strikes gold with just about every draft selection they make.

It’s usually just one team, though some draft classes are just better than others. This 2014 NFL Draft class appears significantly deeper than most.

Here are players at every position outside of the offensive line that can grow into long-term difference makers — and will be picked after hype of the first round fades.


Zach Mettenberger, LSU

Zach Mettenberger, LSU: Mettenberger was getting better and better with each game he played, until he tore his ACL halfway into the 2013 season.

Before the injury, he was projected by some to go around the first or second round. And potentially be the first quarterback off the board.

The reasons — exceptional arm strength, accuracy, and size — are the same things that make him a tremendous value.

Mettenberger is currently projected as a fourth-rounder.

Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech: Thomas is a tight end-to-quarterback convert whose stat sheet doesn’t tell the whole tale. He’s also not close to NFL-ready.

But as a project player, it doesn’t get much better. He led all quarterbacks in just about every measurable category, and has the abilities of Daunte Cullpepper.

Thomas’s current consensus projected draft position is between rounds 4 and 5.

Running Back

Storm Johnson, Central Florida

Storm Johnson, Central Florida: Like his predecessor, Latavius Murray, Johnson would rumble through any tiny hole and turn it into a potential touchdown.

The knock, also with Murray, is that the competition Central Florida faced wasn’t top tier. And though the Oakland Raiders drafted Murray in 2013, nobody really knows what he can do after being placed on injured reserve during training camp.

But tape junkies have got to like what they see from Johnson. He’s country strong, with break-away speed.

Johnson is currently projected as a fourth- or fifth-round prospect.

Wide Receiver

Martavis Bryant, Clemson

Martavis Bryant, Clemson: Everyone might talk about Indiana’s Cody Latimer, but here’s another unknown with huge upside. Bryant is 6-foot-4 and ran a 4.41 40-yard-dash at the combine. Wow — Jon Gruden voice.

He’s got all of the things scouts covet in wide-outs, but has had problems with drops. That’s never a good thing, but given his tape and the intangibles, he’s certainly got tremendous upside.

Bryant is currently projected to be a fourth or fifth rounder.

Brandon Coleman, Rutgers: Coleman is another enormous guy at 6-foot-6 who ran a 4.56 at the combine. Much like Bryant, his college career had some drops. Also like Bryant, his route running could use some work.

But with some good coaching, there’s no way any starting cornerback in the NFL is going to be able to cover him. 3rd and long? No problem. Just throw it up and let Coleman go get it.

Coleman is currently being viewed as a third- or fourth-round selection.

Tight end

Richard Rodgers, Cal

Richard Rodgers, Cal: Lets face it, after Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro, there aren’t any tight ends that a coach would drool over. That said, Rodgers displayed a whole lot of drive, being told to do numerous unnatural things during Cal’s coaching turnover and doing them well.

There’s not much to brag about as far as measurables go (6-foot-5), but considering the class, Rodgers stands out with his work ethic and determination.

Rodgers is currently looked at as a fifth- or sixth-round pick.

Defensive End

Dominique Easley, Florida

Dominique Easley, Florida: This one comes with a medical concern. Both knees have required surgery, which has caused his stock to fall mightily. But when healthy, Easley is easily a top 10 end in this draft class. And this one ain’t shallow. The medical concerns are nothing to scoff at.

Marcus Lattimore wasn’t taken until day three last year, and Easley is looking at the same fate.

Easley should go during the fifth round.

Defensive Tackle

Deandre Coleman, Cal

Deandre Coleman, Cal: Coleman has some things to work on. Let’s not get this wrong.

But even as an unrefined, incredibly raw college player, his 2013 season included 9.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and the first safety that UC Berkeley has recorded since 2008.

He projects as a rotation or backup tackle during his rookie season, but as a prospect he possesses similar traits to Linval Joseph. To make things easier to grasp, Joseph was just given a $31.5 million deal by Minnesota, for five years.

Coleman is being projected from anywhere in the second round, all the way into the fourth.

Inside Linebacker

Shayne Skov, Stanford

Shayne Skov, Stanford: Skov is another guy with medical reasons for being on this list. NFL personnel hate medical issues.

There’s two things that separate Skov from others on this list with medical issues: his knee injury wasn’t severe, and his football instincts are incredible.

While he won’t ever be the fastest guy on the field, he sees things quicker than everyone else, which provides the necessary advancement to the ball.

Skov currently projects as a fourth- to fifth-round prospect.

Outside Linebacker

Lamin Barrow, LSU

Lamin Barrow, LSU: Barrow’s stock falls not because of injury or production, but because of his size. At 6-foot-1, he’s a bit shorter than the typical 4-3 outside backer, but has terrific speed.

He ran a 4.64 40-yard-dash at the combine, and also showed serious explosiveness with his 123-inch broad jump.

In 2013, Barrow notched 91 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks. As the numbers would indicate, offenses targeted him during the run game, but he did his part just fine.

Barrow is projected as a fourth- to fifth-round draftee.


Keith McGill, Utah

Keith McGill, Utah: McGill is actually my favorite corner in this year’s draft class. As with the wide receivers I’m keen on, McGill has a sturdy frame, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing in at a lean 211 pounds.

His 10-1/4 inch hands just add to the intrigue, and he possesses the size to cover the likes of Calvin Johnson, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.

The reason he’s not higher on everyone’s draft board is the fact that Utah is a glorified Division III school, and they didn’t face any top teams.

McGill also struggled with consistency at times, though there’s always going to be some leeway for that as a cornerback.

McGill is currently being projected as a second- or third-round prospect.


Terrence Brooks, Florida State

Terrence Brooks, Florida State: Brooks is an easy choice for this hole. He’s incredibly fast for a safety, possesses great ball skills, and hits like a Mack Truck.

The knock, unlike just about everyone on this list, is his size. He’s a stout five-foot-eleven, and has undersized hands (nine inches). Regardless, Brooks is an incredible athlete, and whomever takes this guy should be getting a steal.

Brooks currently projects anywhere from the third to fifth round.

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