Time again for my annual list of undervalued draft sleepers and smaller school prospects who deserve more attention in the NFL draft.
For 17 years now, I have made the analysis of lesser-known, small school, and undervalued NFL draft prospects my obsession. Over the years, I’ve tweeted about, written about, mock-drafted, interviewed, argued about, and generally died on the hilltop for “my” guys. Over the years, I’ve missed on a few I liked (Hello, Gantrell Johnson!) and missed on some I should have included but didn’t feel worthy (hello, Darius Leonard!)
However, I did hit on a few very unexpected home runs, too. Like when I watched 15 minutes of Texas Tech film and said out loud, “Patrick Mahomes is what a future Hall Of Fame QB looks like.” Checks are great, but I will accept accolades!
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, Tarik Cohen, Kevin Byard, Kenny Golladay, 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, Adrian Colbert, Cooper Rush, Chase Allen, Sharif Finch, Jatavis Brown, J.T. Hassel, Jessie Bates, Nik B=Needham, James Robinson, … and more each year.
In general, I tend to favor what a player shows they can do that has outlier potential– what is the best this player can be– 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’m sure there will be a sleeper or two who make 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:
and the 2020 B2B Directional State Team
As a side benefit, you’ll know more about the rosters of preseason games and the XFL than you ever thought possible! (Hello, Donald Parham!) Amaze your friends!
Special shout out to: Nick Farabaugh, Ryan Roberts, Bill Carroll, Josh Buchanan, Dom Kay, SteelPerch, everyone at Steelerfury.com, and especially Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan & Damond Talbot at DraftDiamonds.com for bringing names forward.
Without further ado, the best of the B2Best:
B2B Directional Player of the year:
EDGE Payton Turner, Houston – Composite Rank: 91 Actual Draft: 1.28 New Orleans Saints
Sometimes you’ll hear of a player outside the power 5 conferences who succeeds with a lot of effort and try-hard but who is athletically limited. Or you might hear of one who tests like an elite athlete but doesn’t have much to show. However, on those rare occasions where an outlier athlete pairs his athletic gifts with an all-out motor… that will you get into POY territory around here. Some Defensive Lineman start out as EDGE players but grow themselves into interior DL players, but Payton went the opposite direction. Playing behind and then next to future NFL stud Ed Oliver, he bided his time and worked his way into being a terrific, bendy pass rusher with terrific length and a stout run defender. He is the rare “transcends scheme” prospect who epitomizes “the kind of guy you want to have on your team”.
Off-the Map Power 5 Offensive POY:
OL Kendrick Green, Illinois – Composite Rank: 257 Actual Draft: 3.87 Pittsburgh Steelers
When the draft season more or less commenced late in 2020, I was widening my net, looking for players who might excel playing center at the next level. Somewhere wayyyyyyyyyy down the list, I saw this Illihois G who had some starts as a center. He was one of those prospects I see and say, “What am I missing? Why is this player’s consensus ranking so low compared to what he looks like on tape? He has good size, plays well on the move, just moves dudes out of the way in the run game… and he actually looked better and more comfortable as a center. He was all-Big10 and yet totally off the radar of the popular draft sheets. Fast-forward to April, and now Green is a popular “sleeper” pick for those just discovering him. I think he’s one of the 2 or 3 best center prospects in the draft, better than several bigger names.
Off-the Map Power 5 Defensive POY:
LB Garrett Wallow, TCU – Composite Rank: 140 Actual Draft: 5.170 Houston Texans
Playing in a conference not known for defense and starting alongside two much more well-known draft prospects, Wallow was the proverbial heart & soul of the TCU defense. In his last two seasons, he compiled a full stat line, featuring 88 solo and 215 total tackles, 27 TFL, 5.5 sacks, an INT, 4 Passes Defensed, & 3 Forced Fumbles in 22 games started. He has great sideline to sideline range and makes plays downhill, but is also surprisingly comfortable in coverage, with a great feel for zone.
Underappreciated Non-Power 5 FBS DPOY:
DL Milton Williams, Louisiana Tech – Composite Rank: 244 Actual Draft: 3.73 Philadelphia Eagles
Milton Williams is one of a breed that only exists in somewhat undermanned college programs: the undersized interior defensive line player. Despite giving 30 or 40 lbs to interior OL players, Tech mostly hammered Williams into offensive fronts like a big old bowling ball. To say he was disruptive would be an understatement, racking up TFL and sacks Then, just as you were trying to figure out what to do with him on the inside, he’d kick out to the edge and overpower or even bend his way past overmatched OTs. He may not become the NFL superstar that Aaron Donald is but, like Donald, I can envision him being successful in any scheme, at any position along the defensive front. Some enterprising coordinator could stand him up and let him rush from the outside––a task that might seem a whole lot easier to Willams than banging inside vs bigger players all game.
Underappreciated Non-Power 5 FBS OPOY:
WR Jaelon Darden, North Texas – Composite Rank: 114 Actual Draft: 4.129
Jaelon Darden might only have had one truly spectacular season, but what a season it was. He scored and scored and scored, often defying reality with a series of bursts, cuts, and the pin the tail on the donkey inducing fear he generated on opponents in the open field. I have my own nickname for him: Houdini. I can’t ever remember watching someone’s highlights and seeing multiple plays where I would watch and rewind endlessly, trying to understand how he scored. Like the great magician, you can watch everything he does in slow motion and still not see how he executes the magic. One of the most fun highlight reels you’ll ever see. Despite his diminutive size (slightly larger than the most recent Heisman Trophy-winner) and good but not great speed, he also managed to get behind defenders and make plays vertically. As part of a creative offensive scheme, he’s going to put up points in quite a few different ways.
He also scores on this play. pic.twitter.com/113Sl1rYNz
— OldSchoolNewSchool Football Show (@osnsFB) February 24, 2021
Spoiler: he scores. pic.twitter.com/BbZmW9KUEG
— OldSchoolNewSchool Football Show (@osnsFB) February 24, 2021
He scores vs half the defense. There are literally 6 defenders over here and one blocker. pic.twitter.com/8YxiY8bPiO
— OldSchoolNewSchool Football Show (@osnsFB) February 24, 2021
FCS Defensive Player Of The Year:
CB Franklin ‘Mac’ McCain III, North Carolina A&T – Composite Rank: 382 Actual Draft: PFA
It would be impossible to tell Mac McClain’s story without talking about him being the ultimate “legacy” player at his university. His grandfather, Franklin McCain was one of the organizers at the Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in that, in no small feat, brought integration to a part of the world where that seemed impossible and made his name and city world-renown. Franklin the III not only lives up to the standard of his legacy, he applies that to a leadership role on and off the football field. Captain, and star… his play as a defensive back is absolutely littered with splash plays. When looking at DBs in this draft class, I totaled up splash plays: TFL, Sacks, Forced FUmbles, INT, and Passes defensed. Total all those up and divide by games played and top players in this accounting had a ratio of about .8/game. McCain has an astounding 55 splash plays and 4 pick 6s in just 40 games. He is what a playmaker looks like, with good mirroring and great ball skills in coverage and then attacking the ballcarrier as an active tackler in the run game. Destined for something great in the future.
FCS Offensive Player of the Year
OT Spencer Brown, Northern Iowa – Composite Rank: 126 Actual Draft: 3.93
The first game I saw Spencer Brown play, on the very first play of the game, he pushed an opposing edge rusher so far and so fast that the poor guy just flew into a crash landing. Brown is so big, so strong, and so athletic that is simply looked like any old rep to him. He’s maybe the greatest athlete we’ve ever seen at the position––whether that will translate to NFL success depends on a lot of other technical issues and staying healthy, but he has pretty much no athletic or size limitations on the football field.
D2 & Below Defensive Player Of The Year:
LB Mar’Quess Daniels, Central Methodist – Composite Rank: 268 Actual Draft: unsigned
Mar’Quess Daniels is one of those guys you see in Division 2 who you don’t have to search for onscreen: he’s the biggest dude, making most of the plays. At 6’3″, 250 pounds, the former basketball star has the size and athleticism to not only go and get the ballcarrier or snag passes out of the air in coverage, he was playing two-way football as recently as junior college. The footage of him playing as flanker/RB and carrying the ball on sweeps vs players half his size is epic. He profiles like a D2 version of players like Zaven Collins & Baron Browning who could find an NFL roster if he can handle the step up in competition.
D2 & Below Offensive Players Of The Year:
FB/H-Back Kevonta Moses, Shaw – Composite Rank: 634 Actual Draft: unsigned
Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan had the ultimate one-liner about Moses: “He is an inaccurate throw eraser.” Moses has incredible hands and catch radius for an overgrown WR turned FB. At 6001 and 235lbs, he runs routes like a WR but is also so strong that he knocks down opponents at times just by getting his hands on them. He’s essentially a version of 49ers superstud Kyle Juszczyk who has a chance to be a really useful multitool for the offense and special teams units.
B2B “Hearts & Smarts” Award:
S ArDarius Washington, TCU – Composite Rank: 106 Actual Draft: PFA
2021 is the year of the undersized superstars, with the Heisman going to a player who weighs 166lbs and scored 22 TDs, and a WR who is 174lbs soaking wet scoring 19 TDs in 9 games. Not only that, an NFL defensive back a 5’9″ DB in the NFL was named All-Pro. Size isn’t everything, but Ar’Darius Washington pretty much has everything in a ballplayer that you can pack into a 5’8″ 176lb package. He plays the game as if his life was in the balance, fearlessly laying the wood to bigger opponents, covering acres of ground with great instincts as a deep safety or sticking his nose into the run game and pass rush with ferocity. Just ignore his size— he is one of the best football players in this draft.
The “If This Were 1975, I’d be a 1st Rd Pick” or “Borderline Too Violent For This Sport” Award:
G Sam Cooper, Merrimack
The game of football has changed A LOT since 1975. Back then, you used to be able to hit the QB in the mouth with a forearm club and headshot WRs over the middle with imunity. Defensive linemen head slapped their way past O Lineman, and the OL guys bit, held, punched and otherwise took every liberty. That was the game then… and that is pretty much the game of Samuel Cooper. Cooper has a classic guard’s build and the demeanor of a bully. He plays every rep as if someone told him the only way to get noticed is to finish every rep in every game on film by knocking someone’s ass onto the ground. During the play? After the play! After the game on the way to the bus… it doesn’t seem to matter. He isn’t dirty, though, just has a mindset that is a real throwback. I saw one opponent just get knocked down over and over… and then fist bump Cooper before the next play, as if to say, “Respect.” And he can play, flashing good pass pro base and getting after it as you might expect in the run game. Who doesn’t need a guard like that?
B2B Adversity Award:
OG Raquan Thomas-Ishman, Buffalo
After a Philadelphia high school game in fall 2013, Thomas-Ishman got caught up in trying to calm down a dispute over a girl, which turned into a fight. He says he didn’t even see a gun or someone firing it–– he just felt the impacts from 5 bullets. As a big offensive lineman, doctors told him he most likely survived because he was bigger and had more muscle mass to slow the bullets. His coach was quoted by The Athletic as saying Raquan told him, “I don’t want to be on a T-shirt, I don’t want a bunch of teddy bears on a corner for me. I’ve got bigger plans for myself.” I’m sure thoughts of playing football went by the wayside during his recovery, but after a year, despite still re-learning to walk and getting around on crutches, he started petitioning coaches to let him return. A year and a half later, he had rededicated himself to academics, become a team captain, and earned a full scholarship to UMass. By the time he started there, with all the time sepnt in recovery, his weight had balooned to 398 pounds. He lost 42 pounds and ended up the starting left tackle faciing futre NFL stars like Montez Sweat and realizing, “Hey, I can play this game against the best.” As a likely undrafted free agent, he’ll have a tough task ahead just to make a team, but it’s nothing compared to where he’s been.
S Richie Grant, Central Florida
The NFL is moving to positionless defenders in the middle of the defense. Since every down is a passing down, you need defenders who aren’t a liability in the pass game but who also can make plays vs the run on early downs. Grant played primarily as a deep safety, but when brought closer to the line of scrimmage, he made play after play: 11.5 TFLs, 17.5 Passes defensed, and a 100 tackle season in 2018. As if that wasn’t enough, he then went to the Senior Bowl and was the inarguable star of the 1-on-1 coverage drills, covering WRs better than even the CBs did. I predict the NFL values this type of player a lot more than the consensus 77th rating he’s got going into the draft.NEW FOR 2020: The Darius Slayton/”Cinderella Story Out of Nowhere” Award:C/G Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-WhitewaterYou probably know the story by now: Division II Offensive lineman toils in obscurity outside of the greater Whitewater, Wisconsin metropolitan area, has his team’s season canceled due to COVID, gets bored working out at home, so he goes out to the woods and Rocky-V-in-Siberia’s his way to legendary workouts with logs, rocks, trees, and anything else he could find. After not putting on pads for 18 months, he goes to the Senior Bowl and becomes not only a media sensation but dominates against top competition from around the FBS top schools. Now he works out with the Watt Brothers™ and awaits to hear his name called in the NFL draft, possibly as early as Friday evening. An overnight success that was years in the making.
B2B Unwanted to NFL Award:
Zach Davidson, TE/P, Central Missouri
A basketball player who pretended to know how to punt so that he could join the high school football team, his tryout consisted of 3 punts, the 3rd of which went about 50 yards and got him the gig. Basically, he had no offers out of high school except D2 Central Missouri. While becoming All-American as a punter, he fooled around catching the ball in between drills. The coaches joked that they should try him on offense and, after working on the position in the offseason, he vaulted his way into a completely surreal and ridiculously dominant season featuring a school-record 15 receiving TDs and All-American honors at his second position. This, in turn, brought the NFL scout saround and now it’s entirely possible he will go from “pretending to be a punter” to “pretending to be an NFL draft pick”. At 6065 and 245lbs, his pro-day workout featured a 4.64 40-yard dash, a 4.26 short shuttle, a 37.5″ vertical jump, and an outstanding 6.95 second 3-cone drill… and apparently he punted well, too. He looks and tests the part–– if his game can translate to the NFL competition, the sky is the limit as a TE… and punter!
New for 2021: B2B O Canada Canadian Freak Football Player who will probably be in the CFL Hall of Fame someday:
LB Ben Hladik, British Columbia
Canada is on a draft prospect roll. In the last couple of years, there have been some really talented and athletic Canadian U-Sports players who have begun to make some headway on the NFL radar. A few have even made NFL teams. gO Canada!. Speaking of Zaven Collins and Baron Browning-type hybrid LB/EDGE players, Hladik is like the Saskatchewan version: a ridiculous athlete with a nose for the ball and a wake of disruption and destruction left behind, no matter where he lines up. The Thunderbirds used him as an interior DL, he played deep middle coverage, he ran down RBs in the flats. Now, his level of U Sports in Canada isn’t exactly the SEC but he was easily the best player on the field. It takes a certain kind of person to pass on being a Superstar in the CFL just to try a longshot audition for an NFL team’s last roster spot. If he gets a fair shot in the NFL, he won’t be physically overmatched.
WR Josh Palmer, Tennessee
WR Jacob Harris, UCF
RB Deon Jackson, Duke Bigger and faster than Travis Etienne, he toiled in a much less favorable situation than he might have had at Clemson. Good short-yardage feel, as good as any 2021 RB in pass game, and the top end gear to take it yard on any play.
C/G Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater (see above)
EDGE Patrick Johnson, Tulane
EDGE Raymond Johnson III, Georgia Southen
EDGE Andre Mintze, Vanderbilt
EDGE Darius Hodge, Marshall A little short and undersized, he gets under opponents pads with power and was a really irritating guy for opposing OTs.EDGE Alani Putulau, Adams State Slightly undersized speed rusher who tormented QBs by running the arc or countering back to the inside if OTs overset to the outside.
EDGE William Bradley-King Baylor
EDGE Chris Rumph II, Duke A hard evaluation, since his size is better suited the college game and his late injury impacted his ability to test athletically, but Rumph seems worth a bet. He is aggressive and a total pain to play against. If he can build his strength and mass enough to battle NFL OTs without losing his athleticism, he could have a very high ceiling.
S Derrick Forrest, Cincy
S J.R. Pace, Northwestern Another surprise find for me, based on his pro day workout. His ability in coverage––specifically clicking and closing to break on the ball in the air––is terrific.
OL Taaga Tuulima, Hawaii
OG Braylon Jones, Houston
WR D’Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan
WR Javon McKinley, Notre Dame
WR T.J. Vasher, Texas Tech
WR Keyion Dixon, Eastern Kentucky
WR Marlon Williams, UCF
WR Adrian Hardy, Louisiana Tech
WR Tre Walker, San Jose State
WR Blake Proehl, East Carolina
WR Warren Jackson, Colorado State
WR DreSonte Dorton, Eastern Washington
EDGE Warren Thomas, Midland (Nebraska)
EDGE Malcolm Koonce Buffalo
DL Marquiss Spencer, Mississippi State
LB Buddy Johnson Texas A&M
LB Riley Cole South Alabama
LB Curtis Robinson Stanford
LB Trajan Stephens-McQueen Georgia State
LB Lawrence Garner Old Dominion
LB Anthony Butler Liberty
S Thomas Leggett, Texas Tech
CB Cameron Kinley Navy
CB Antonio Phillips Ball State
CB Jerry Jacobs Arkansas/Arkansas St
CB Mark Gilbert Duke
CB Emmanuel Rugamba Miami (OH)