(This article first appeared April 24th, 2019.)
Time again for my annual list of undervalued draft sleepers and smaller school prospects who deserve more attention in the NFL draft.
For 15 years now, I have made the analysis of lesser-known, small school, and undervalued NFL draft prospects my sometimes (actually more than sometimes) obsessive avocation. Over the years, I’ve written about, championed, interviewed, chosen in mock drafts, defended in arguments, and generally shouted into the wilderness about “my” guys. Over the years, I’ve missed on a few I liked (Hello, Gantrell Johnson!) and didn’t like (um, How about last year’s DROY? Oops) but hit on a few very unexpected home runs, too. Like when I said, “Patrick Mahomes is what a future Hall Of Fame QB looks like.” Excuse me while I “Pat” myself on the back for that one… at least so far.
Here are a few past B2Bers, more or less the B2B Hall Of Fame:
Patrick Mahomes, Jared Veldheer, Richard Sherman, Carlos Dunlap, Emmanuel Sanders, Jimmy Graham, Josh Norman, Alterraun Verner, Junior Galette, Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas, Buster Skrine, Doug Martin, Bruce Irvin, Robert Turbin, J.R.Sweezy, Jamie Collins, Brandon Williams, Paul Worrilow, Jarvis Landry, Javon Hargrave, George Fant, Malcolm Mitchell, Karl Joseph, and Jatavis Brown. Tarik Cohen, Kevin Byard and Kenny Golladay have definitely joined the club, and Adrian Colbert, Cooper Rush, Chase Allen, Sharif Finch, and Jaylen Samuels are looking good so far.
In general, I tend to favor what a player shows they can do that has outlier potential– paired with the football personality to make the jump to the actualization of that talent. Give me a guy with heart, football smarts, and athletic ability and shame on you if you can’t figure out how to make him a player. I’d also like to add that this list isn’t intended to be comprehensive. I’ll bet you there will be a sleeper or two who makes it in the NFL who isn’t on this list… but it’s not because I didn’t try to find him.
For some background on how I got started with this and a list of previous years team, click the following links:
2015 B2B Directional State Team
2016 B2B Directional State Team and
2017 B2B Directional State Team
2018 B2B Directional State Team
Special shout out to: Nick Farabaugh, Bill Carroll, Josh Buchanan, Dom Kay, SteelPerch, Emory Hunt, everyone at Steelerfury.com, and especially Damond Talbot at DraftDiamonds.com for bringing names forward.
Without further ado, the best of the B2Best:
B2B Directional Player of the year:
Donald Parham, TE, Stetson
Parham only played one year of high school football–to say he’s just scratching the surface of his talent would be an understatement. But, what a scratch it was. Last year, he caught 85 receptions for 1,319 yards and 13 Touchdowns, which represented roughly 40% of his team’s total receiving statistics. He displays outlier traits and talents, with a mix of the former Eagles WR 6’8″ Harold Carmichael’s height, deceptively fast strides in the open field, and a spin move that must be what it looks like when a supertanker does a 180… but it all works, somehow, and his talents can either translate as a big slot WR or move TE on the next level.
(thanks to DraftDiamonds for the excellent cut-up video)
Off-the Map Power 5 POYs:
B2B “Hearts & Smarts” Award:
LB Tre Watson, Maryland
As a non-insider, I don’t get draft evaluation sometimes. It seems like judgments are made about who a prospect is two years or more before they become draft eligible, and those early takes tend to stick, particularly when the prospect plays for a bad or off-brand team. Tre Watson played in a power 5 conference for one of its worst teams in Illinois, then transferred for his final year to a largely unheralded University of Maryland. Not only does his grasp of the game’s subtleties stand out on tape, it also resulted in over 200 tackles the past two years to go along with INTs and FF/FR. He played “all-in” for his old team and his new team, and his knowledge of the game and communication skills are near the top of the pack.
The “If This Were 1975, I’d be a 1st Rd Pick” or “Borderline Too Violent For This Sport” Award:
S Marquise Blair, Utah
click image for highlight video
Yeah, well, maybe he’s a targeting foul waiting to happen in this era of football, but you can’t deny he is about as good a hitter as you’ll find at FS. Despite his obvious inclination to trying to annihilate defenseless receivers and runners alike, he still managed to play the ball enough to get 8 INTs to go with all those knockouts. It’s not just the hits, either. He shows the capability to go from the far hash to the opposite sideline, which is a rare commodity in a physical safety.
Underappreciated Non-Power 5 FBS POY:
Nik Needham, CB, UTEP
Click picture for video
Nik Needham could also have been named Teammate of the Year. One of the aspects of prospects that doesn’t get enough attention, a player’s devotion to playing with and for his brothers on the field is severely underrated… as is the best CB in the draft that most people have never heard of. Needham shows off man coverage ability that is unrivaled in this class but, unlike some more highly touted cover guys, he’s also a tough tackler and supports the run violently. He’s a football player who happens to be a Cornerback (they also have the “Turnover PickAxe” at UTEP, so you don’t want to mess with him). He showed enough that he could have declared for the draft in 2018, but his UTEP team had gone winless that year, and he told his team he had to come back because he couldn’t go out that way without helping his teammates taste victory again. He returned, they beat Rice for their only win in two seasons. In that game, Needham recovered a muffed punt and knocked away two passes to set the school record for career pass breakups.
FCS Player Of The Year:
S Nasir Adderley, Delaware
Click image for highlight video
When your cousin Herb is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and you play the same position, I’m guessing there is some pressure to succeed. Adderley lives up to that legacy, with fluid movement skills and a knack for getting to the football and taking it away. 265 tackles, 11 INTs, and, 22 passes defensed in his career.
D2 & Below Player Of The Year:
JT Hassell, S/LB, Florida Tech
Click image for Highlight video
Despite being a 5’11” inside LB, Hassell was a force of nature at D2 Florida Tech. He had 77 solo tackles in 2018, won the Cliff Harris Award as the nation’s best small-school defensive player, and was generally all over the field for the Panthers. He stood out the way you’d expect an elite athlete playing D2 football would, and it’s not a surprise, considering the kind of elite athlete he is. At his pro day, he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash, had a 42-inch vertical jump and posted 6.84 in the 3-cone. All of that got him to the Tropical Bowl all-star game and looks around the NFL.
B2B Adversity Award:
Isaiah Frandsen, WR, Winona State
Click Image For Highlight Video
Isaiah Frandsen is a medical miracle. While he was a freshman at North Dakota State, he was told he had a congenital and painful hip impingement in both hips. He tried to play through it, contributing on special teams and one key 3rd down conversion from Carson Wentz during the Bison’s (that’s pronounced biZons, people) championship run. After the season he had two hip surgeries in the span of 6 weeks and spent a year rehabbing. It was almost a year before he could run and he sat out two seasons rehabbing, one of them alongside the aforementioned Wentz, as he recovered from a broken wrist and went straight to the NFL. Frandsen stuck with it, transferred to Winonan State and, finally, got back on the field in 2018. And he didn’t just get back on the field, though, after only one catch since high school, he had 43 grabs for 740 yards and 9 TDs… then ran an official 4.33 40 at his pro day. At 6’2″ 200lbs. That’s incredible.
The B2B Honorary Karl Joseph People Had Me As A Third Rounder But I’m Going In The 1st Award:
WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown
So-called draft experts used his size, his foot injury, his connection to cousin Antonio Brown’s Steelers meltdown– basically any excuse to say Marquise Brown wasn’t a top 5 receiver in this draft and he could fall into the second half of day 2. Look, maybe he’s too small and maybe his cousin lost his damn mind and maybe he has a Lisfranc injury… but “Hollywood” Brown just has “it”. He has see-ya speed, quick footwork… and he’s barely scratched the surface of what he can become. Say what you will about his famous cousin, AB… Marquise will have a great football teacher and will likely get better, which is a scary thought.
B2B Walk-On to NFL Award:
QB Drew Anderson, Murray State
Click on Image for Highlight Reel
Drew Anderson has had a path to the NFL more crooked than Teddy KGB’s poker game in Rounders. Unrecruited and somewhat inexperienced coming out of high school, he walked on at San Diego State but wasn’t going to get an opportunity to play, so he transferred to Diablo Junior College, where he played one season, threw for 3,459 yards and 33 TDs, got himself an offer to come to Buffalo and back up their prize recruit, Tyree Jackson. After almost two years of standing on the sideline and with even the team’s announcers basically knowing nothing about the guy– when Jackson suffered a knee injury, in comes Drew, finally getting his chance. When he started dropping dimes all over the field, the announcers were like a virtual movie meme… “Who IS this guy?. When he won his first start the next week, they were hooked and began wondering if Jackson would simply go back to being the starter when healthy or if there might be a decision to be made. In his second start, Anderson had a game for the ages. Like, literally, one of the greatest statistical games in college football history. Despite frequent drops by his receivers and a slow first half of the game, he erupted in the second half and led his team into OT. And then another OT and then another– he scored running the ball, throwing precision passes… he even scored as a receiver with a tough catch on a Philly Special. He put up 569 pass yards, 7 TD passes, a TD run, a TD catch, and did everything but lead the band at halftime… and everything but win, when a 2 point conversion was dropped. Despite all of that, and Anderson’s YPA comp % and TDs, the coaching staff–invested in their prized recruit–gave the job back to Jackson and Anderson left as a graduate transfer to FCS Murray State, a team with little surrounding talent. Anderson certainly has epic game credentials: in addition to the 7-OT classic at Buffalo, he played in Murray State’s epic win over #14 SE Missouri State, where Drew’s 3 tipped interceptions and one strip sack led to 2 Defensive scores and a 31-0 deficit. With under a minute left in the 1st half, Anderson led a TD drive and eventually threw for 462yds and 4 TDs in an incredible comeback win. Just like out of high school, and out of junior college, and at Buffalo… he gets shockingly little love in the draft process, despite analytics that favor his future success, and an off-platform accuracy, mobility, and toughness that remind of a young Terry Bradshaw. He’s a bit of a throwback, with good size and arm talent. Somebody is going to get this kid in camp and he will reward them with some buzzworthy play.
B2B For The Love Of The Game Award:
CB Jamalcolm Liggins, Dickinson State
Click Image for Highlight Reel
When you’re a CB playing in lowly NAIA and your highlight reel begins with a series of backhanded, one-handed acrobatic grabs that would make Hakeem Butler blush… it raises the obvious questions: why are you a DB? and why are you playing at a no-name school NAIA school in North Dakota? In high school, Liggins was determined to start a military career, despite being a successful multi-sport athlete who was heavily recruited. Some of the schools went as far as to hassle him for his decision not to play in college. When he changed his mind and decided he needed the game, he avoided all the schools whose contact he found obnoxious and, instead, went to a place that was quietly thrilled to have him. North Dakota NAIA is nowheresville when it comes to football but, as the saying goes, if you can play, they will find you… and find Liggins they did. As a 6’1”, 209lb CB with smooth athleticism and transcendent ball skills, he might even be drafted… which is a hell of a long way from Dickinson.
TOP 10 YOUTUBE STARS
For those of you, like me, who dig through hours of video to evaluate potential talent, know that there’s nothing like a clip that sticks in your mind. Every year, I have my favorite moments on tape; here are my 5 favorites from the 2018 draft season:
1. Drew Anderson vs Western Michigan. Doesn’t even get going until the 3rd quarter, throws for 500+
2. Vosean Joseph earholes QB Danny Etling, Etling takes it in stride
3. Donald Parham Spin CIty (Reminder: this is 6’8 249lbs!) and Catch Radius at Full Speed:
4. Mecole Hardman in space is a beautiful thing… beep beep!
6. What the Cliff Harris Award DPOY looked like in high school
7. A series of ridiculous INTs from CB Jamalcolm Liggins
8. Marquise Blair’s This & That: Very few Safeties can do both of these things:
9. N’Keal Harry spin-O-rama cutback runner & N’Keal Harry one-handed on his back vs USC
at the 4:51 mark
At the 5:27 mark
10. WR Davion Davis spectacular catch
BONUS: Punt block snag. I’ve watched this over and over, and I’m not even sure it’s possible.
THE MAIN EVENT If you’re looking for last-minute, below market draft prospects— here’s your menu. The underrated, undervalued, & overlooked 2018 B2B Directional State Battling Basilisks:
QB Drew Anderson, Murray State (see above)
QB Zach Bednarczyk, Villanova
RB Wes Hills, Delaware
RB Khari Blasingame, Vanderbilt
Extremely underrated RB (playing in an awful offense that ran him into stacked looks behind a poor OL), with size, quick feet and jump cuts, advanced pass-protection and pass game skills.
RB Devin Singeltary, Florida Atlantic
RB/KR Kerrith Whyte, Jr., Florida Atlantic
Terrific Kick returner and straight ahead runner.
RB Xavier Turner, Tarleton State
RB Darnell Holland, Kennesaw State
In 4 years he averaged 9.9 YPC & 17.3 YPRec; 4.38 40, & a 37-inch vert
RB/WR/RS Tony Pollard, Memphis
I don’t know if he’s big enough or fast enough but he is sure fun to watch and has the proverbial nose for the endzone.
OL Max Scharping, Northern Illinois
Doesn’t exactly have ‘wow’ size for LT, but his feet and hand fighting are so good, he can stick on the left side.
OL Nate Davis, Charlotte
Nice movement skills for a big guard prospect.
OL Olisaemeka Udoh, Elon
Gotta love an Offensive Lineman whose name starts with OL. Udoh is a bit raw but is a big, quick bear of a Tackle.
OT Tytus Howard, Alabama State
OT Trey Pipkins, OT, Sioux Falls
WR/PR Davion Davis, Sam Houston
Extremely under the radar for a guy who scored 31 TDs in his past 18 games at the Division 1 level. Incredible hands and body control, great return skills. What’s not to like?
WR Andy Isabella, UMass
Undersized and has some catch radius issues… but he has great speed and produced massive numbers for UMass, where he represented roughly 40% of their entire passing offense.
WR Anthony Johnson, Buffalo
WR Emmanuel Butler, Northern Arizona
WR Isaiah Frandsen, Winona State (see above)
WR Stanley Morgan, Jr., Nebraska
Excellent route-runner who screams NFL pro. A bit lost in a deep WR class.
WR Reggie White, Jr., Monmouth
WR Ashton Dulin, Malone
If you believe in production analytics, this is your guy. He played for a team won that total of four games and canceled its football program after last season. In 2018, he saw 109 targets, catching 56% of those passes. He accounted for 35% of his teams’ receptions and 41% of his teams’ receiving yards. In 2018, Dulin averaged 194.7 yards receiving per game, which led the entire NCAA.
WR Damion Jeanpiere, Jr., Nicholls State
Too much speed and agility. Reported 4.22 40 yard dash, with a 1.51 10 yd split. A 39″ VJ, and 6.41 3-cone.
TE Donald Parham, Stetson (see above)
TE Kahale Warring, San Diego State
The soft hands you might expect from a former stud water polo goalkeeper (incidentally, the absolute hardest sport I’ve ever played), combined with a knack for getting up the seam. He’s still developing as a football player, after a late start to the game, but he is a good enough athlete to play at a high level.
TE Keenen Brown, Texas State
Huge and a great blocker, shows some elusiveness in the open field for a 6’2″ 250lb man.
DL Ed Oliver, Houston Yes, I know Ed Oliver isn’t a sleeper, but I just wanted to say that he’s the best player in this draft class, that’s been obvious for three years, and he ought to be the 1st overall pick.
DL Armon Watts, Arkansas
1-year wonder, but that year was tremendous. Not many DL prospects can play virtually every spot along the line, are stout vs the run, and also a holy terror as a pass rusher.
Iseoluwapo Jegede, Valdosta State:
His journey from Africa to an FCS National title, to freakish pro day is an amazing one. His skills aren’t particularly refined, as he can pop upright at the snap– a mortal sin for DL play. But he seems incredibly coachable and, even with his flaws, hes a planet theory guy who dominated his LOC at times.
Trysten Hill, Central Florida
Came out a year early because of some issues with the new coaching staff last year but hopefully that decision makes him angry… because when appearing to play angry football, he unleashes Hulk Mode and you’d might as well just forfeit. He blew up an incredible number of plays in his relatively short tenure compares favorably in play style and results to Casey Hampton. High praise indeed.
John Cominsky, Richmond
Not sure if he’s an EDGE player or a 5-tech at the next level, but at this level, this former QB enjoyed success chasing Qbs instead of being one. Not many 6’5″ 286 lb guys are running in the 4.6s and posting better 3-cone and short shuttle times than CBs who will be playing on Sundays.
LB Ulysses Gilbert, Arkon
LB E.J. Ejiya, North Texas
LB/DIME Juwan Foggie, Charlotte
Foggie is a converted WR who was switched to safety and then bulked up into a Linebacker. He actually uses experience and trait from all three positions to be an ideal candidate for a DimeBacker. He was used at every level of the defense, blitzing and crashing in run support, covering in short and intermediate areas in zone or man, playing as the single high deep safety on most long-to-go downs. His ball-tracking and route recognition from his time on offense translated into X PDs and helped him nab X INTs in 2018.
LB Tre Watson, Maryland (see above)
LB Jahlani Tavai, Hawaii
EDGE/LB Kaden Elliss, Idaho
His father was an NFL All-Pro, he has the best two first steps of any pass rusher you’ll find in this draft, and he has coverage skills that might enable him to be a multi-tasking LB at any level. At 6033 239lbs, and a 4.68 40 yard dash,his 6.49 3-cone, and 4.14 short shuttle would have been at the top of the combine at his position.
EDGE Maxx Crosby, Eastern Michigan
EDGE Malik Reed, Nevada
EDGE Jamal Davis II, Akron
EDGE Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion
EDGE Malik Reed, Nevada
EDGE Ronheen Bingham, Arkansas State
EDGE Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech
I’m not sure Jaylon Ferguson is any kind of metrics or athletic testing outlier, but, c’mon… he had 17.5 sacks +26 TFL in 2018. Which is ridiculous.
EDGE/LB Sutton Smith, Northern Illinois
29 sacks the past two seasons. A little undersized to be strictly an EDGE player at the next level, but his getting-to-the-QB skills are definitely next-level.
S Marquise Blair, Utah (see above)
S/LB JT Hassel, Florida Tech (see above)
S Nasir Adderly, Delaware (see above)
S Kam’Ron Johnson, Northern Arizona
Talented deep safety, with a strong overall game. Going to be a UDFA and make someone’s roster.
S Cua Rose, Arkansas State Wonder Boys
CB Nik Needham, UTEP (see above)
CB Rock Ya-Sin, Temple
CB Jordan Wyatt, SMU
CB Jordan Brown, South Dakota State
CB Stephen Denmark, Valdosta State
Ridiculous size-weight-speed athlete for a DB. 6024 220lbs, with an absurd 1.48 10yd split, 4.46 40, 43.5 VJ, & 120″ BJ. That defines the term explosion. Could potentially play CB, S, or DimeBacker in the NFL, but at least there’s somebody who can keep up with that guy Damien Jeanpierre.
CB Jamalcolm Liggins, Dickinson State (see above)
CB Jimmy Moreland, James Madison
Ballhawk and guy who adds a ton of attitude to your secondary.
CB Kyron Brown, Akron
CB D’Angelo Ross, New Mexico
4.32 40 (!) and sticky coverage skills.
QB Taryn Christion, South Dakota
QB Jacob Dolegala, Central Connecticut
RB Dexter “Juice” Williams, Notre Dame
OL Drew Forbes, G, SE Missouri St
OL Iosua Opeta, Weber St
Marquis Wimberly, Texas A&M-Commerce
WR Thomas Ives, Colgate
WR Denzel Knight, Wagner
Wagner’s former starting RB made the move to full-time WR in 2018, and put up an impressive array of plays, deep catches, and the kind of YAC expected for a former RB.
TE Brandon Dillon, Marian
TE Jacob Chobanian, Chapman
LB B.J. Blunt, McNeese State
LB Ben Burr-Kirven, Washington
LB Josiah Tauaefa, UTSA
LB Ben Banogu, TCU
LB Blake Cashman, Minnesota
LB Troy Reeder, Delaware
EDGE Daryl Johnson, Jr., North Carolina A&T
EDGE Tim Ward, Old Dominion
EDGE/LB Nate Harvey, East Carolina 14.5+25.5
S/CB Jamal Peters, Mississippi State
S/DIME Jarell Addo, UMass
CB Dylan Maybin, Fordham
CB Donnie Lewis, Tulane
CB Ryan Pulley, Arkansas
CB Rodney Randle, Lamar (4.28 40)