Five NFL draft prospects who will exceed expectations
- After watching these NFL draft prospects' entire college careers, SI's college football experts believe players like Fred Ross, Gabe Marks and more could be the biggest steals in the draft.
Here on the college football side of the NFL draft, we sometimes see things a little differently than NFL scouts. Yes, some skills translate better to the pros than others, and you can’t just assess players’ NFL potential based on how successful they were in college. Still, there’s something to be gained from having watched and written about the players who will be selected over the next three days for up to the last four years (not even counting observations from when they were recruits).
From that perspective, some draft prospects seem to have slipped through the cracks. These players may not go in the first round and some may not even be drafted until much later. But after following their college careers closely, SI’s college football writers believe they could be among the biggest steals in the 2017 NFL draft.
Fred Ross, WR, Mississippi State
One player that scouts have undervalued whom I see having a solid and productive NFL career is Ross. He caught 160 balls for 17 touchdowns the past two seasons, emerging as one of the most consistent and reliable players in the SEC. Although he lacks explosion and some of the measurable assets that NFL teams covet, Ross’s consistent production, understanding of defenses and body control give him the tangibles and intangibles of a player who finds a roster spot and sticks around the NFL for a long time. He also brings added value as a punt returner.
Gabe Marks, WR, Washington State
Call me a West Coast homer if you want (hey, we need more of those), but I'm a believer in the Pac-12's all-time receptions leader (316), who also recorded 37 touchdown catches (second in conference history) and 3,453 receiving yards (seventh). Call him a "system" guy if you want but a) I agree with Marks that mastering his system should count for something and b) systems don't have much to do with actually catching the ball and getting into the end zone. Marks is on the smaller side—he checks in at 5'11”, 189 pounds—which means he'll likely be a slot receiver in the NFL. Once he perfects his routes, he'll be a stud.
Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
Maybe you can't peg a possible second-round selection as undervalued, but Cunningham has the marks of an intensely productive, three-down linebacker that starts in the league and performs at a high level for a long time. Or to put it another way: He gives you the value of a pretty high first-round pick. This is a 6'3", 234-pound playmaking machine (16.5 tackles for loss as a senior at Vanderbilt) with a 4.67 40-yard dash and a 35-inch vertical leap. His position may not dictate a high pick, but here's guessing anyone who passes him up on Day 1 and subsequently encounters an inside linebacker hole will regret it.
Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
I'm going to make the homer call and go with Harris. I think he may be undervalued two-fold: potentially by scouts, and almost certainly by many of the Internet's mock drafters. Look at nearly any of those lists, and you won't see Harris ranked higher than the fourth pass-rusher off the board, after presumptive No. 1 pick Myles Garrett, Stanford’s Solomon Thomas and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett. I don't imagine Harris will be picked before Thomas, who could go as high as second overall, but I do think he could come off the board before Barnett; Harris is more explosive than the former Volunteers star, and his inside spin move is, well, wow. Sure, Harris performed poorly at the NFL combine, but I hardly think that should overshadow his work at Missouri, where over the past two seasons he was one of the few (read: the only) bright spots.
Hunter Dimick, DE, Utah
Every NFL front office type writing off Dimick because of his unfavorable measurables and lack of elite athleticism might be making a huge mistake. In a year when another defensive end projects as the draft’s likely top pick (Texas A&M’s Garrett) thanks to his weight room prowess and track speed, don’t sleep on this former two-star recruit with T-Rex arms and a reputation as a high-effort, low-talent rusher whose game won’t cut it against massive pro linemen. Dimick just knows how to get after the passer. This basic truth is reflected in his numbers (29.5 sacks, 44.0 tackles for loss) over four years in Salt Lake City, and it will be confirmed by a long career making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.