|UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin (left) and Alabama OG Barrett Jones are long on potential and short on exposure.|
By this point in the year, many of us have become quite familiar with the big-name prospects, the Luke Joeckels and Eric Fishers of the world who project as first-round picks and immediate-impact rookies. But what about the guys who aren't being talked about? What about the firmly under-the-radar prospects who are likely to be picked in the second and third rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft?
As I wrote last week, this draft class is underrated and much better than many think. This sentiment applies to the depth that can be found after Day 1.
Teams seem to know this. Just look at what's happening at pro days; I've never seen as much activity by coaches at these events as I've seen this year. Brian Winters, for example, is a relatively unknown offensive line prospect from Kent State who must look pretty good to NFL folks, as he had seven line coaches from six different teams work him out at his pro day.
With that in mind, I've put together a list (in alphabetical order) of 12 second- or third-round picks who are going to outperform their draft positions. These are the Russell Wilson-type guys who, after they've been in the league, are going to draw comments like, 'Gee, he should have been drafted higher.' "
First, a disclaimer: This list isn't meant to be all-inclusive. There are many likely second- and third-rounders -- like Winters -- who are going to make an impact but aren't one of the 12 named in this piece. This was merely a "get to know you" exercise meant to illustrate the sheer depth of talent that will be available come April.
Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Armstead is a very good athlete who has everything needed to be a starter by his second year in the NFL. He even got involved in a skill-position capacity last season, handling the ball on a tight end screen against Jackson State; he is versatile enough to contribute at tight end or defensive end. He's also a really smart kid.
Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
Bell worked out well and ran faster than people thought he would at the NFL Scouting Combine. He also posted a 6.75-second three-cone drill, indicating good change-of-direction skills. Bell rushed for 1,793 yards last season, fifth-most in FBS college football. He needs to control his weight, but will be a starter. He reminds me somewhat of Chuck Muncie, except without the glasses.
Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
Franklin finished his Bruins career with 4,403 yards, most in school history and fifth-most all time in the Pac-10/12. He had issues with fumbling early on in college, but that can always be corrected. I like players who have shown the kind of production he had while playing at a school like UCLA and in a conference like the Pac-12. Franklin, who has interned in the Los Angeles mayor's office, wants to be the mayor of L.A. someday.
Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin
If you were to look at his picture in Wisconsin's media guide and his profile picture from the combine, you'd think you were looking at two different people; in the first photo, he's a clean-looking kid, and in the second, he looks like a mountain man. Frederick was the first offensive lineman to start a Wisconsin season opener as a true freshman. He has experience starting at center and left guard. He recorded just 21 reps in the bench press, but I can't detect any lack of strength in his play. Scouts say he's a better prospect than former Badgers lineman Kevin Zeitler, who started for the Cincinnati Bengals as a rookie last season.
Marquise Goodwin, WR, Texas
The thing I like about this guy is that almost immediately after competing in the long jump at the London Olympics last summer, he hopped on a plane back to Austin so he could get involved with the football team workouts as soon as possible. He's not as quick-footed as Tavon Austin, but Goodwin did have the combine's fastest time (4.27 seconds) in the 40-yard dash. Teams love speed; you can always teach a guy to catch the ball better, but you can't teach speed. Somebody is going to take a chance on Goodwin.
Barrett Jones, OG, Alabama
For some reason, Jones, who didn't work out at the combine because of a foot issue, isn't ranked all that highly by scouts. But any time a guy starts at Alabama for four years, there has to be something good about him. He might not be as strong as you would like, but he has long arms (34 inches). He's a lot like Jeff Saturday in that we're not talking about him much now, but when he retires in a decade or so, some team will be trying to figure out how to replace a very smart player. To put it simply, his man does not make plays against him. Jones won the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation's top center, last season.
Vance McDonald, TE, Rice
McDonald, who's from a small town in Texas, is a clutch player, securing first downs on 28 of 36 catches in 2012. He reminds me of another Rice product, tight end James Casey, who played well for the Houston Texans over the past four years before landing a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday. McDonald shocked everyone with how well he worked out at the combine; his numbers (4.69 40, 7.08-second three-cone) really catapulted his stock.
Denard Robinson, WR, Michigan
This guy has a magnetic personality; he's going to be a great team leader. Wherever he ends up playing, he'll be a very good return man. The former college signal-caller might even be useful taking a few snaps at quarterback in an option package or in short-yardage situations. I would try to draft the speedy Robinson as a cornerback, which is how he was recruited at one point by Michigan. He was dealing with an elbow injury at the combine, and it will take some time before he's back to 100 percent.
Brian Schwenke, C, Cal
Offensive linemen from Cal have done very well in the NFL in recent years; Mitchell Schwartz, who started for the Cleveland Browns as a rookie last season, is an example. Schwenke should continue the tradition. The first-team All-Pac-12 player is versatile, having started games at center and both guard spots. He posted good numbers at the combine, including 31 reps on the bench press and a 4.99 40. He's a good foot athlete.
Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State
Sims lost a significant amount of weight before his weigh-in at the combine. I like that; it shows dedication and control. Sims is a very good blocker with soft hands, collecting 59 catches for 707 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons at Michigan State. For his size (262 pounds), his 40 time (4.75 seconds) was remarkable. He also practiced with the basketball team during his freshman year in East Lansing.
Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State
Taylor had a very good combine, posting a 4.39 40, a 6.82 cone and a 4.06 short shuttle. Though his arms aren't very long, he does have jumping ability. With his speed and athleticism, he'll be capable of starting at cornerback as a rookie.
Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
Wheaton runs precise routes and has very good hands. He posted great numbers (4.45 40, 6.80-second three-cone and 37-inch vertical) at the combine. I think he'll be a starter and productive NFL player. Here's an amazing thing: Wheaton and Oregon's Dion Jordan, who is projected to be a top-10 pick, both played receiver at Chandler High School in Chandler, Ariz. Can you imagine having two players like that on one high school team?
Receivers Ryan Swope (Texas A&M) and Kenny Stills (Oklahoma) are two more guys who I think can outperform their draft positions, though I don't think they're going to be selected until the fourth round or so.
Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.