Down
enlarge shrink
The biggest bust of the 2015 NFL draft will be?
1:31 | NFL
The biggest bust of the 2015 NFL draft will be?
Thursday April 30th, 2015

When he signed his National Letter of Intent with Florida State in February 2012, Jameis Winston was considered one of the top high school players in the country. The Hueytown, Ala., standout was rated as the top dual-threat quarterback and No. 10 overall prospect in that year’s class, according to Rivals.com, and backed up his recruiting hype by passing for nearly 8,000 yards with 65 touchdowns during his college career. Winston led the Seminoles to 27 victories and a national title, and won the Heisman Trophy following the ’14 season. Despite concerns about his off-field conduct, Winston will likely be selected with the first pick in the ’15 draft.

Of course, Winston’s case is not the norm. In many instances, players who possess NFL potential aren’t identified as elite high school prospects. Examples in the 2015 draft pool include Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney, Louisville receiver DeVante Parker, Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams and Duke offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson, all of whom were given three-star ratings. Similarly, the players mentioned below didn’t generate major recruiting buzz, yet should all hear their names called over the course of this weekend.

This list, which is ordered by each player’s spot in SI.com’s Top 300, excludes guys who Rivals.com once gave a three-star rating or higher. Who slipped through the cracks? Here are 15 formerly overlooked talents poised to enter the NFL.

Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

• SI grade: 8.9
• Projected NFL draft round: 1st
• Rivals.com recruiting rating: Two stars

Michigan State reportedly did not offer Waynes, a two-star prospect, until he ran the 40-yard dash at a summer camp before his senior season at Bradford High in Kenosha, Wisc. In-state power Wisconsin later extended Waynes an offer, along with Illinois and Iowa State, but he stuck with the Spartans. Waynes switched from safety to cornerback and may have been set to generate more recruiting interest had he not broken his fibula and torn multiple ligaments during the third game of his senior year. In any case, the 6-foot, 186-pounder went on to succeed Darqueze Dennard as Michigan State’s boundary corner. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and emerged as the top cornerback prospect in the 2015 class.

Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest

• SI grade: 8.5
• Projected NFL draft round: 1st
• Rivals.com recruiting rating: Two stars

While Johnson reportedly received scholarship offers from several high-major programs—including Wisconsin, Syracuse and West Virginia—he was given a two-star rating by Rivals.com. During his senior season at River Hill High (the same school attended by former Wake Forest star and close friend Michael Campanero) in Clarksville, Md., Johnson piled up 1,220 rushing yards and 251 receiving yards and also lined up in the defensive backfield. At Wake Forest, he appeared in 11 games as a true freshman and was named All-ACC honorable mention in his final three seasons after being deemed academically ineligible as a sophomore. The 6-foot, 188-pound Johnson has gained more than 30 pounds since his arrival on campus.

SI STAFF: Compiling our experts' 2015 NFL Mock Drafts

Paul Dawson, LB, TCU

• SI grade: 7.7
• Projected NFL draft round: 2nd
• Rivals.com recruiting rating: Two stars

Dawson was listed as a two-star recruit in the class of 2011 who had a scholarship offer from Colorado State. Yet after playing receiver at Skyline High in Dallas, he enrolled at Trinity Valley Community College, where he moved to linebacker. In May ’12 Dawson committed to TCU over a reported scholarship offer from UNLV. He appeared in all 13 games in ’12, led the Horned Frogs with 91 tackles in ’13 and was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year after racking up 136 tackles during TCU’s run to the Peach Bowl in ’14. However, Dawson may have hurt his draft stock with a disappointing combine performance.

Ty Sambrailo, OT, Colorado State

• SI grade: 6.9
• Projected NFL draft round: 3rd
• Rivals.com recruiting rating: Two stars

Before he developed into an NFL-caliber offensive lineman, Sambrailo had to give up competitive skiing. He was nationally ranked and won championships in the giant slalom and super G, according to the Detroit Free Press. A few years after he began playing contact football as an eighth-grader, Sambrailo reportedly landed his first offer from Southern Utah. The Saint Francis Central Coast Catholic High standout from Watsonville, Calif., attracted interest from New Mexico State and Washington State, among others, but opted to sign with Colorado State in 2010. Sambrailo was voted second-team All-Mountain West as a junior and first-team all-conference as a senior. He started 42 games over four seasons.

James Guillory/USA Today Sports

D’Joun Smith, CB, Florida Atlantic

• SI grade: 6.8
• Projected NFL draft round: 3rd
• Rivals.com recruiting rating: Two stars

Smith did not draw significant interest from high-major schools during his time at American High in Miami. The Sun Sentinel notes that schools were concerned with Smith’s reputation after he was issued a four-game suspension for illegal hits. He showed enough during his senior season to pick up an offer from the Owls; Smith amassed 75 tackles and seven interceptions and earned an invitation to the south Florida all-star game. After seeing extensive action on defense and special teams his first two seasons on campus, Smith led Conference USA with seven picks as a junior. He was named second-team all-conference in 2014.

Quinten Rollins, CB, Miami (Ohio)

• SI grade: 6.7
• Projected NFL draft round: 3rd
• Rivals.com recruiting rating: No stars

Less than a year after completing a basketball career that saw him record the second-most steals and fourth-most assists in Miami (Ohio) history, Rollins was named the MAC’s Defensive Player of the Year in football. Rollins had not played football since his time at Wilmington High, but easily transitioned back to the sport after playing four years of basketball for the RedHawks. The 6-foot, 203-pounder registered 72 tackles, seven interceptions, 16 passes defended and nine pass breakups. Still, Rollins is considered “raw” and certainly didn’t help himself by running the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds at the combine.

Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut

• SI grade: 6.5
• Projected NFL draft round: 3rd
• Rivals.com recruiting rating: Two stars

Years before Jones garnered widespread attention by setting what is believed to be a world record in the broad jump, he was a mere two-star recruit at St. Paul Catholic High in Bristol, Conn., with one listed scholarship offer from a high-major program. In addition to lining up as a defensive back, Jones played quarterback and receiver during his high school career, and also reportedly received interest from Boston College and Syracuse. After arriving at UConn in 2010, Jones took a redshirt as a freshman before starting 37 games over four seasons. A shoulder injury limited him to only seven games in ’14.

FARRAR: The All-Underrated Team entering the 2015 draft

Xavier Cooper, DL, Washington State

• SI grade: 6.4
• Projected NFL draft round: 3rd
• Rivals.com recruiting rating: No stars

Cooper did not start playing football until his freshman year at Wilson High in Tacoma, Wash. According to The News Tribune, he was diagnosed with a learning disability and struggled academically to the point that it appeared he would land at a junior college. Washington State was the only high-major school to extend an offer to Cooper, per the Tribune, but asked him to grayshirt, meaning he would not enroll until the following spring semester. After redshirting as a freshman in 2012, Cooper started 34 games and recorded 31 ½ tackles for loss over three seasons with the Cougars. The 6’3”, 293-pounder was clocked at 4.86 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, the fastest time among projected defensive tackles.

Ali Marpet, C, Hobart College

• SI grade: 6.3
• Projected NFL draft round: 3rd
• Rivals.com recruiting rating: No stars

The MMQB’s Robert Klemko recently chronicled Marpet’s journey from lacrosse school unknown to projected draft pick. Fordham and Holy Cross were among the schools to express interest in him while he was at Hastings High in Westchester County, N.Y. Marpet chose to attend Division II Hobart, a small liberal arts school in Geneva, N.Y., and excelled against Liberty League opponents such as St. Lawrence, Rochester and Springfield. After earning conference Co-Offensive Player of the Year honors during his senior season, Marpet impressed at the Senior Bowl and turned heads by running the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.98 seconds) among offensive linemen at the combine.

Tyeler Davison, DL, Fresno State

• SI grade: 6.0
• Projected NFL draft round: 3rd
• Rivals.com recruiting rating: Two stars

Davison excelled as a wrestler at Desert Mountain High in Scottsdale, Ariz., before he turned his focus to football. He played on both sides of the ball and reportedly received scholarship offers from several non-major conference schools—including UNLV, Air Force and Northern Arizona—but his high school coach told The Arizona Republic that local programs Arizona and Arizona State resisted because they thought he was too short. At Fresno State, the 6’2”, 316-pounder went on to start 40 games and earn first-team All-Mountain West honors twice. He had 13 tackles for loss, including 8 ½ sacks, with two forced fumbles as a senior.

Jaquiski Tartt, S, Samford

• SI grade: 6.0
• Projected NFL draft round: 3rd
• Rivals.com recruiting rating: No stars

Tartt arrived at Samford having played only one season of football at Davidson High in Mobile, Ala. According to AL.com, he committed in December of his senior year and signed a few months later despite drawing interest from Mississippi State. After redshirting his first year on campus, Tartt appeared in 10 games in 2011 and earned all-Southern Conference honors in the following two seasons. In ’14 he had 62 tackles, including three for loss, and an interception. He became the first Samford player to compete in the Senior Bowl and tied Alabama's Landon Collins for the top 40-yard dash time (4.53 seconds) among strong safeties.

Ted Richardson/AP

Justin Hardy, WR, East Carolina

• SI grade: 5.8
• Projected NFL draft round: 4th
• Rivals.com recruiting rating: No stars

After switching from wide receiver to quarterback for his senior season at West Craven High in Vanceboro, N.C., Hardy reportedly did not receive any offers from major conference programs. He signed with Division II Fayetteville State to play quarterback in 2010, and West Craven coach Kevin Yost said, “Justin was under-recruited in my opinion” and “I think Fayetteville State is getting a steal.” Hardy was later released from his Letter of Intent and joined the Pirates as a walk-on. He leaves East Carolina as the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards (4,381) and touchdowns (34) and set the FBS record for career receptions (376).

Zach Hodges, LB, Harvard

• SI grade: 5.8
• Projected NFL draft round: 4th
• Rivals.com recruiting rating: No stars

Hodges overcame significant adversity before enrolling at Harvard in 2011. In September of his junior year at Independence High in Charlotte, Hodges’s mother died of a stroke. He then moved to Tri-Cities High School in East Point, Ga., and drew interest from several schools after playing in only four games, according to Bleacher Report. As a senior, Hodges registered 21 sacks and 10 forced fumbles to earn a spot on Georgia’s All-Region 5-AAAA first team. Despite considering Stanford, Hodges went to Harvard and was named the Ivy League’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year after collecting 10 tackles for loss, with 8 ½ sacks, in '14.

GLICKSMAN: Meet some of the draft's most intriguing prospects

B.J. Finney, C, Kansas State

• SI grade: 5.7
• Projected NFL draft round: 4th
• Rivals.com recruiting rating: Two stars

The list of former walk-ons coach Bill Snyder has turned into productive players at Kansas State includes Jordy Nelson and Ryan Mueller. The latest addition to that group is Finney, who nearly decided against attending Kansas State. Per the Kansas City Star, the Andale, Kan., native was close to committing to Ohio before a different offensive lineman pledged to the school. Finney was then left to decide between playing on scholarship at Division II Pittsburg State or walking on with the Wildcats. He opted for the latter, redshirting as a freshman before earning a spot as a starter in 2011. As a senior, he was named the Big 12’s Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year and a finalist for the Rimington Trophy.

David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa

• SI grade: 5.6
• Projected NFL draft round: 4th
• Rivals.com recruiting rating: Two stars

As a senior at Clinton High in Iowa, Johnson accounted for a school-record 42 touchdowns and earned all-state honors. Yet the only programs that offered him were Northern Iowa and Illinois State. According to The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Iowa offered Johnson the opportunity to grayshirt. He instead chose to join the Panthers, with whom he earned three all-Missouri Valley Conference team nods. As a senior, Johnson rushed for 1,553 yards with 17 touchdowns, caught 38 passes for 536 yards (including 203 against the Hawkeyes) with two scores and totaled 438 kick return yards on an average of 36 yards per return. The 6’1,’’ 224-pounder was clocked at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.