The dramatic, out-of-nowhere rise of Victor Cruz last season is only the latest glaring reminder. When it comes to talent evaluation, the NFL can miss on a grand scale. Not only did the New York Giants' dance-happy, second-year receiver go undrafted as a rookie in 2010, but he also wasn't even thought highly enough to warrant an invite to the league's scouting combine in Indianapolis, a cattle call of an event that annually draws more than 300 NFL prospects to the Midwest.
Cruz's breakthrough 82-catch, 1,536-yard, nine-touchdown season was considered the most pivotal development in the surprise Super Bowl run the Giants went on in 2011, but in some ways, his was a familiar story: An off-the-radar player emerges to prove once again that the draft and the scouting combine aren't prerequisites for NFL stardom.
The reality that good players slip through the cracks every year in the scouting process is reason enough for our fourth annual Wes Welker Watch List, a compilation of 10 little-known prospects who have a shot to make it in the league even if they don't get drafted, or wind up being selected in the late rounds. These players weren't invited to this year's combine, but like Welker and Cruz both showed in February, that doesn't mean they can't get to Indy via a potential Super Bowl.
Players like New England's Julian Edelman, Buffalo's David Nelson, Arizona's Greg Toler and other active NFL players are alumni of the Welker Watch List, and even though none of them have had the huge impact that Welker has made, their odds-beating journey from unsung to successful have shown that there's more than one way to make a career out of it in pro football.
After all, last year's Super Bowl champion Giants were led by Cruz, with small but significant contributions also coming from undrafted rookie linebacker Mark Herzlich, and undrafted rookie fullback Henry Hynoski. Some players will travel the same, long road to relevancy this season, too. Count on it. In the NFL, every year teaches us anew that drafting and developing talent will never be a science.
At 6-foot-3, 213 pounds, Moss has superb size, and his 61 catches for 949 yards and six touchdowns last year proves he's a quick study who can produce. Moss will undoubtedly be raw early in his NFL career as he continues to learn the game, but with his prototypical size and speed, someone is likely to make him a third-day pick and give him the chance to grow.
He plays with such a tenacious style that some scouts have compared him favorably to 2011 fifth-round Titans rookie defensive tackle Karl Klug, one of the surprises of the year in the NFL last season. And it probably doesn't hurt that Harrell is the godson of Rams Hall of Fame defensive lineman Jack Youngblood, who played a bit light at 245 pounds in his day.
A cornerback at OSU, Hardin projects to free safety, where his 6-2, 216-pound frame is needed in matchups against taller receivers and the ever-burgeoning crop of big, fast tight ends. Hardin ran a sizzling 4.36 at his pro day, and his jumping ability (10'4'' broad, 35.5 vertical) also earned the league's notice. As the draft nears, the third or fourth round is starting to look like a distinct possibility, especially given the dearth of talent at safety in this year's draft.
All he really lacks is pedigree, having attended three colleges, jumping from Northwood University in Michigan, to Eastern Michigan, to Albion in a relatively short span of time. Look for Greenwood's name to be called in the earlier rounds on Saturday, with some scouts likening his frame and game to Antonio Cromartie.
Teams such as the Bears, Falcons, Titans and Raiders all have him on their radar screen, and he's likely a late-round candidate to make a team as either a rotational defensive end or stand-up rusher, with immediate responsibilities on special teams.
Douglas will be either a late-round pick or a priority collegiate free agent, and scouts have grown more impressed with his soft hands, tight route running and football instincts as the spring has worn on. The Lions and Bills are two of the teams thought to be interested in his market.
It's easy to understand why the NFL might be interested when you check out his measurables. Adams is 6-6, 308 pounds, with a ridiculous 81.5 inch wingspan and massive hands. He ran a solid 5.17, isn't a stiff when it comes to his athleticism, and has the kind of frame NFL coaches can always work with and wait on as he matures. Adams actually impressed scouts at two different pro days, Columbia's and Northwestern's, and the Jets are thought to be a team considering him in the draft's sixth or seventh rounds.
He has superb edge rush skills, but as a defensive end he's undersized (6-2 1/2, 250) and likely will be shifted to outside linebacker in a 3-4 formation. He's raw, but Hamilton would benefit from a team taking him and giving him nothing more to concentrate on than honing his edge pass rush game. He's seen as a Day 3 prospect, whose good first step and strong closing speed makes him an intriguing developmental project.
Green's ball skills need work, but he improved his coverage skills playing for New Mexico State head coach DeWayne Walker, a former NFL defensive backs coach. Playing in the inaugural AstroTurf NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in January, Green was named the National Team's defensive MVP, and his 14 passes defensed led the Aggies last season and ranked second in the WAC. He's seen as a likely third-day pick, or priority collegiate free agent.