- Every year, a handful of college football's best players are passed up in the NFL draft in favor of high-ceiling prospects, leaving college fans scratching their heads. Watch for these seven to outperform their draft slot next fall. Plus, Les Miles's budding acting career, carnitas in San Antonio and the rest of this week's Punt, Pass & Pork.
Quarterbacks dominate the draft discussion in most years, but it feels like the QB conversation is overwhelming everything this year. The reason for that is obvious: A lot of teams need quarterbacks now, and this draft includes a decent-sized group of quarterbacks who boast high ceilings and potentially fatal—for their careers, anyway—flaws. You’ve read plenty about that, though.
You’ve also read plenty about the potential first-rounders. Today, we’re going to focus on the non-QBs who will go later in the draft. Those of us who prefer college football to the NFL get frustrated when players who proved themselves capable of producing at a high level get overlooked in the draft process in favor of freak athletes who didn’t produce in college. We cringed when Dion Jordan went No. 3 overall in 2013 when he might not have been the third-best player on Oregon’s defense the previous season. We love when someone like Seahawks receiver/return man Tyler Lockett finds success as a middle-round pick because it seemed obvious Lockett would succeed when he posted huge numbers at Kansas State despite opposing defenses knowing he was the only real downfield threat.
Last year, we hit big time on Alabama defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson, who went in the second round but should have gone in the first. He led all rookie defensive linemen in tackles, and if teams had listened to Crimson Tide teammates such as Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson, Tomlinson wouldn’t have been available at No. 55. We also blew one prediction. Former Boise State tailback Jeremy McNichols got picked in the fifth round by the Buccaneers and didn’t make the team. He spent most of last season on the 49ers practice squad.
We can’t nail them all, but we can keep trying. Here are seven draft-eligible players who should be able to outperform their draft position.
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
I always include a smallish receiver on this list because they’re the ones who typically get lumped together in the draft even though some are clearly better than others. The 5'10", 208-pound Kirk projects as a second- or third-rounder, but he may be able to provide first-round value.
Unlike Lockett at Kansas State, Kirk did play in an offense with other capable targets. He played alongside Josh Reynolds for two seasons, and last year freshman Jhamon Ausbon—whose measurables NFL teams will love—caught 50 passes. But Kirk led the Aggies in catches in all three of his seasons in College Station and led them in receiving yards as a freshman and as a junior. He also was one of the nation’s best punt returners all three years, even though teams got wise and only gave him 10 returnable kicks last season.
Kirk also acted like a fifth-year NFL player from the moment he stepped on campus. His three years at Texas A&M were fairly tumultuous, but he always did his job and tried to set a good example for his teammates.
Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
This is a deeeeeeep tailback draft. So fans shouldn’t despair if they can’t get Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. Johnson is an example of the kind of player who could be available in round two or three. There were times in wins against Georgia and Alabama—two teams loaded with draftable players—where Johnson looked like the best player on the field.
The 5'11", 213-pounder is a patient runner, and he excels at slipping through tiny cracks and then returning to full speed. He’s also extremely difficult to knock backward. Opponents grew frustrated when Johnson would get hit two yards past the line of scrimmage and then churn forward for two more yards before falling forward for one more.
Jaylen Samuels, TE, NC State
Putting only one position next to Samuels’s name doesn’t do him justice. The 5'11", 225-pounder did a little bit of everything for the Wolfpack. He can play as an attached tight end. He can line up in the slot. He can line up wide. He can play H-back. He can play fullback. He can play tailback.
The best position designation for Samuels is probably just “football player”. He may fall into the fourth or fifth round, but he’ll impress the coaching staff of whatever team takes him the moment he sets foot on the field. He’ll probably excel at special teams, and hopefully the lucky team that grabs him will find multiple ways for him to contribute to the offense.
D.J. Chark, WR, LSU
Chark should have put up better numbers than the 40 passes for 874 yards he caught as a senior. Unfortunately, injuries on the offensive line and Danny Etling’s limitations at quarterback prevented the Tigers from having as dynamic a passing game as they would have liked. Still, that per-catch average (21.9 yards) should provide a glimpse of what Chark can do when he has a quarterback who has time to throw and can get him the ball. Also, feel free to watch this punt return from last year’s Auburn game and imagine the possibilities on special teams.
Poona Ford, DT, Texas
This may have been the biggest combine snub of this draft class. Though linebacker Malik Jefferson and safety DeShon Elliott have better measurables, Ford may have been the best player on a Texas defense that was quite stout by season’s end. It’s understandable if NFL scouts look at the 5'11", 303-pound Ford and dismiss him as too small to play inside. That’s pretty much what members of the Texas coaching staff thought when they took over last season. It took about one day at practice to realize that Ford is a nightmare for guards and centers who try to block him one-on-one.
Because of his size, Ford will need to play in a defense that prefers gap-shooting defensive tackles. But given the fact that he could be available on day three, he could provide incredible value to such a team.
Dorance Armstrong, DE/OLB, Kansas
The 6'4", 257-pound Armstrong is a tweener who played defensive end at Kansas but may have to transition to 3–4 outside linebacker in the NFL. Or he may be able to put on weight and play as a 4–3 defensive end. He’s best at getting to the quarterback, but his sack numbers dropped from 10 in 2016 to 1.5 in 2017 because of a defensive scheme change.
All those factors will depress Armstrong’s draft stock, but a team that can project him into the correct role could find a gem late in the draft.
Kentavius Street, DE (or DT?), NC State
A veteran of Bruce Feldman’s Freaks list, Street is strong while still flexible. Teammate Bradley Chubb is getting most of the attention, but the 6'2", 280-pound Street could also make some NFL franchise very happy. The question is whether his future is as a pass rusher or as an interior lineman. He has the skill set to be either, but he would need to gain some weight to play inside.
A Random Ranking
Les Miles wants to act. No, really. Check out this amazing story by Ross Dellenger of The (Baton Rouge, La.) Advocate. It details the former LSU coach’s attempt to break into the movies. With that in mind, here are the top five roles Miles should be cast in. One of them is a role he’s already been cast in. You’ll have to read Dellenger’s story to figure out which one.
1. A hard-boiled police captain who routinely screams at the detective who plays by his own rules. The captain also screams at that detective’s partner, who is three days away from retirement.
2. The quirky but doting football coach father of a rom-com heroine who puts his daughter’s suitors through their paces by making them walk on to his team.
3. A turfgrass management professor with a predilection for eating the product. When he accidentally creates a strain of Zoysia that tastes just like filet mignon, he becomes a billionaire almost overnight. Zaniness ensues.
4. A NASA chief in charge of deciding whether to launch the Space Shuttle despite concerns from engineers.
5. A supervillain known for inspiring absolute loyalty from his damn strong henchmen even though they aren’t entirely sure what he’s talking about most of the time.
Three And Out
1. A bunch of reporters got to work as officials at the South Carolina spring game on Saturday. So feel free to yell at them for all the calls they blew.
Meanwhile, former Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier had a chance to catch a touchdown pass. He did not.
2. Angelique Chengelis of The Detroit News provided an update last week on the Shea Patterson transfer saga. The former Ole Miss quarterback is practicing at Michigan this spring and still awaiting a decision from the NCAA about whether he’ll be eligible to play this season.
3. Washington State coach Mike Leach is offering more marriage advice (starting at the 5:35 mark).
What’s Eating Andy?
College basketball season ends Monday night when Villanova faces Michigan for the national title. My only regret is that I only got five days in San Antonio. That’s not nearly long enough to properly appreciate a town that has so many good taco places that the local paper’s food critic wrote about a different one every day for 365 consecutive days. (And they say public service journalism is dead.)
What’s Andy Eating?
The gentleman behind the counter at Carnitas Lonja cut me off as I prattled through an order. Eight tacos, he said, would not be the best value for two people. That would cost $24 before we added beans or beverages. He instead directed us to the by-the-pound section of the menu, where we could get a pound-and-a-half of carnitas—cooked in lard he’d been recycling for eight months—for $21. “And we’ll just give you all the tortillas you need,” chef/owner Alex Paredes said.
There are two amazing facts in those past two sentences. First, if this weren’t San Antonio, 24 ounces of juicy, cooked-in-pork-fat pork might cost twice that. It probably should cost four times that. But when competition is cutthroat, profit margins are slim. Second, Carnitas Lonja is just giving away some of the world’s best corn tortillas when customers order by the pound. Competition be damned, that act qualifies as one of America’s finest examples of culinary charity.
Simply judging by relative deliciousness against every other menu item in every town in America, one Carnitas Lonja taco probably should cost $15. Yet a confluence of market forces has made one cost $3, and the generosity of Paredes—who doesn’t have to let tourists know how the math can work out better for them—drives the price down to $2.63. That doesn’t even include the two housemade salsas. The red has a mighty kick thanks to a touch of habanero mixed in with tomatillos and guajillo chiles. The green has a softer touch thanks to cilantro that plays well with serrano peppers and oil. They’re just in bottles on the picnic tables out back, but they’re worth at least 50 cents a squirt.
In Spanish, lonja means market. But figuratively, lonjas translates to something more like “love handles” or “muffin top”. Despite only boasting a few items, the menu at Carnitas Lonja can certainly contribute on that front. The main attraction is carnitas, or confit-boiled pork. It can fill a tortilla or a bolillo roll. Those blue corn tortillas also can be covered in cheese and chorizo and grilled. The beans, which cost $3, are worth every penny. Their broth would make a glorious soup, and a few spoonfuls can make a carnitas taco add even more to your lonjas.
As delicious as all of this is, a stack of the tortillas made by Aura Judith Lopez placed next to a bottle of either salsa would make for a fine meal. Corn tortillas are far superior to their flour brethren, and these particular corn tortillas tower over their fellow carbohydrate wrappers. Most places have to double up on their corn tortillas for a taco because the connective tissue can’t handle the weight of the meat and toppings as well as their flour counterparts. Corn tortillas tend to break, and the best of the taco must be mopped up with a fork or with the hands. These warm, slightly charred tortillas can handle any reasonable load of carnitas. They also handled some of the more unreasonable loads I applied to them.
And Paredes just gave them to us when we ordered a mess of meat. Something this wonderful probably shouldn’t be this cheap, but while it is, we should eat as many carnitas tacos as we can.