6th annual Wes Welker Watch List: Potential impact undrafted FAs
Starr's long limbs and ability to run with tight ends in coverage gives him more than special teams value in the NFL, and he showed he's not just an FCS star who dominated weaker competition when he excelled at the East-West Shrine this winter. Starr, a former high school basketball standout, is a fluid and natural athlete, the kind defensive coordinators are on the lookout for these days in the passing-crazed NFL.
• Chase Rettig, QB, Boston College -- Rettig didn't earn an invite to the league's scouting combine in Indianapolis in February and had to make due working out for the NFL at a regional combine in SoCal. But he's not without NFL-worthy credentials. He started 46 games for the Eagles the past four seasons, threw for more than 8,200 yards and 52 touchdowns, and his completion percentage and passer rating got higher every year. And he wasn't easily rattled either, given that he played for five offensive coordinators over that span, and starred for a Boston College team in 2013 that took a run-first approach with lead back Andre Williams being showcased in new head coach Steve Addazio's offense.
Rettig has more than sufficient NFL size at 6-2, 208, and some see a lot of Andy Dalton in him, even though his arm is stronger than that of the Bengals' starter. Rettig worked out this spring for the Patriots in Foxboro, and New England and Oakland are thought to be teams with some level of interest in him as a potential seventh-round pick or priority free agent.
• Joe Don Duncan, TE, Dixie State (Utah) -- A pass-catching machine named Joe Don demands attention, even if he did play in Division II for the obscure Dixie State. Health issues have dogged Duncan during his collegiate career, but he was medically cleared last month at an NFL re-check following foot surgery this winter, and is on the radar screen of a bunch of teams as a third-day pick.
Duncan is a prototypical H-back or slot tight end prospect who has shown quickness off the line and the ability to use his athleticism and 6-3, 267-pound frame to make for a great target. He dominated with 71 receptions for 1,045 yards and 13 scores in just 10 games last season, missing his team's finale due to a hamstring issue, after sitting out all of 2012 following lower leg surgery. He'll be a 25-year-old rookie in the NFL after having stints at Sacramento State and El Camino (Calif.) Community College, but given the premium teams place on tight ends who can move around and line up in multiple spots, Duncan will get a shot to prove he can elevate his game against much stiffer competition.
• IK Enemkpali, Louisiana Tech, DE -- This is how one NFL personnel executive described Enemkpali (his last name is pronounced "IN-em-PALL-ee," and his first name is Ikemefuna) to me: "He's an overachieving guy, just a madman with amazingly high motor. Just an animal on the field who's going to find his place and rush off the outside edge for you all game long.''
Of Nigerian descent, Enemkpali is thickly built at 6-0, 263, and plays with abandon and great competitiveness. What he lacks in size he makes up for in effort, but he'd be a short defensive end in the NFL and some teams project him at 3-4 outside linebacker or maybe fullback, where his love of collisions would come in handy. His tweener size will likely relegate him to either the seventh round or free-agent status, but some head coach is going to fall in love with his all-business approach to football and his ability to punish the ballcarrier.
• Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley State -- Big receivers who can run like Janis, who turned in a 40-yard dash time of 4.42 at the NFL Scouting Combine, don't come around too often, and some team will take a chance on his 6-3, 219-pound frame. Janis was a man among boys as a senior for Division II Saginaw Valley State, making 83 catches for 1,572 yards and 14 touchdowns, and he topped 3,200 yards, with 31 touchdowns in his last two collegiate seasons.
Though he had a good week of practices at the Senior Bowl, earning praise from Atlanta head coach Mike Smith, who coached the North squad, Janis didn't quite separate himself in the game with just two receptions for eight yards. This week, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock called Janis an "intriguing'' prospect who may last until the sixth round, earning either a special teams role or practice-squad berth as a rookie. He's seen as a player who could, in time, develop enough to warrant a club's third- or fourth-receiver role.
• Beau Allen, DT, Wisconsin -- Allen is a great fit for a team looking for someone to do a little dirty work in the trenches. He's big, strong, stout and you're not going to move the 6-2, 333-pound former-Badger easily. He somehow got bypassed when the combine invitations were sent out, but he turned in a strong pro day performance at Wisconsin in early March with a 33-inch vertical jump and 30 reps on the bench press. Allen played the nose tackle slot in the Badgers' new 3-4 defense last year, but he had three seasons of defensive tackle experience in a 4-3 at UW before that, so his versatility is a key selling point to his game. He's going to be a pure first- and second-down run stuffer who can push the pocket but won't offer much pass rush, though his ability to hold his ground at the point of attack likely puts him in line to go in the seventh round or be a priority free-agent signee.
• Trashaun Nixon, OLB, New Mexico State -- Nixon is another prospect snubbed by the combine, but he has been noticed by teams that love highly mobile linebackers who can chase all game and keep delivering big hits at the same time. His skillset combines a linebacker's size (6-0, 233) with a safety's athleticism, and his blend of strength and quickness has reminded some of Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
Nixon's grades coming out of high school forced him to go the JUCO route, but when he arrived at New Mexico State he proved to be an adept tackler and consistent playmaker, totaling 189 stops, five sacks and 23 tackles for loss in just two seasons. Nixon most likely projects to an outside linebacker role in the NFL, but he might be able to play the weak side as well in a 3-4. He ran in the 4.5's this spring, has taken a couple teams visits and will probably emerge as somebody's special teams dynamo while he provides depth at linebacker.