Photo Essays  

 

Published: Oct. 12, 2017 at 11:22 a.m.
Updated: Oct. 12, 2017 at 12:05 p.m.

7 underappreciated prospects who will make big impact in NFL

The NFL is home to a lot of players that were underappreciated on a national level during their collegiate careers. The reasons for why they didn't get their due could range from the popularity of their more recognizable college teammates, a lack of media coverage, average size or speed for their position, or simply a lack of success for their program.

Unless you were heavy into watching MACtion on Wednesday and Thursday nights during the college season, you might not have seen much of former Toledo running back Kareem Hunt's career. Now, the 2017 third-round pick is the NFL's top rusher and an MVP candidate.

Here are seven prospects that are currently underappreciated for their talents. Some might creep up draft boards to their rightful spots over the course of the next year or two, while others could turn out to be draft steals.

7 Photos Total

  • <b>2017 stats:</b> 11 solo tackles (2 sacks), 5 INTs (3 returned for TDs), 1 forced fumble.<br><br>
Davis is blowing up this year, but if no one's watching the Aggies, is there a sound? Scouts think so. I loved Davis' game coming into the year, and now he's tied for the FBS lead with 5 interceptions, returning 3 to the house, in 6 games. The four-year starter is a tough player and a ballhawk. I believe he'll be a starting nickelback in the NFL. 7

    Chris Nicoll/USA TODAY Sports

    7. Jalen Davis, CB, Utah State

    2017 stats: 11 solo tackles (2 sacks), 5 INTs (3 returned for TDs), 1 forced fumble.

    Davis is blowing up this year, but if no one's watching the Aggies, is there a sound? Scouts think so. I loved Davis' game coming into the year, and now he's tied for the FBS lead with 5 interceptions, returning 3 to the house, in 6 games. The four-year starter is a tough player and a ballhawk. I believe he'll be a starting nickelback in the NFL.

  • <b>2017 stats:</b> 144 carries for 892 yards (6.2 average), 4 TDs; 8 catches for 66 yards, TD.<br><br>
Watching the 5-foot-8, 195-pound Saint Juste carry the ball while wearing the No. 22 jersey reminds me of Doug Martin when he starred at Boise State. This Rainbow Warrior's low center of gravity makes him difficult to tackle, but he also consistently lowers his pads on contact, driving forward for additional yardage. Saint Juste makes defenders miss in the hole and in the open field. Once he's free, he possesses the burst to take full advantage. Even if the program is in a bit of a freefall at 2-4, don't skip an opportunity to see the nation's third-leading rusher attack defenses with reckless abandon. 6

    Eugene Tanner/Associated Press

    6. Diocemy Saint Juste, RB, Hawaii

    2017 stats: 144 carries for 892 yards (6.2 average), 4 TDs; 8 catches for 66 yards, TD.

    Watching the 5-foot-8, 195-pound Saint Juste carry the ball while wearing the No. 22 jersey reminds me of Doug Martin when he starred at Boise State. This Rainbow Warrior's low center of gravity makes him difficult to tackle, but he also consistently lowers his pads on contact, driving forward for additional yardage. Saint Juste makes defenders miss in the hole and in the open field. Once he's free, he possesses the burst to take full advantage. Even if the program is in a bit of a freefall at 2-4, don't skip an opportunity to see the nation's third-leading rusher attack defenses with reckless abandon.

  • The Broncos might no longer be "rowing the boat" after head coach P.J. Fleck left for Minnesota after last season, but "Chuks" is making the best of his shot to show scouts he can be an NFL starter at left tackle. He has natural bend and foot quickness that belie his massive build (6-5, 355 pounds). He's also still learning the game, as his family emigrated from Botswana to the U.S. in 2010. His former teammate, Taylor Moton, was selected in the second round of the 2017 draft. Okorafor is a more intriguing prospect who could challenge Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey for the title of top tackle in the senior class. 5

    David Dermer/Associated Press

    5. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan

    The Broncos might no longer be "rowing the boat" after head coach P.J. Fleck left for Minnesota after last season, but "Chuks" is making the best of his shot to show scouts he can be an NFL starter at left tackle. He has natural bend and foot quickness that belie his massive build (6-5, 355 pounds). He's also still learning the game, as his family emigrated from Botswana to the U.S. in 2010. His former teammate, Taylor Moton, was selected in the second round of the 2017 draft. Okorafor is a more intriguing prospect who could challenge Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey for the title of top tackle in the senior class.

  • <b>2017 stats:</b> 10 tackles for loss (4.5 sacks), 1 forced fumble.<br><br>
Mata'afa is an undersized interior player at 6-2, 252 pounds. His initial quickness, however, helps him get his head in a gap before the guard and center can come out of their stances. The junior's hustle and physical play are also impressive. Watching quarterback Luke Falk run pirate-loving head coach Mike Leach's offense is great, but Mata'afa and the rest of the 6-0 Cougars' defense give college football fans on the East Coast another reason to stay up late on Saturday night. Wazzou running back Jamal Morrow could have made this list, as well -- he's a rushing/receiving threat for Leach. 4

    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    4. Hercules Mata'afa, DT, Washington State

    2017 stats: 10 tackles for loss (4.5 sacks), 1 forced fumble.

    Mata'afa is an undersized interior player at 6-2, 252 pounds. His initial quickness, however, helps him get his head in a gap before the guard and center can come out of their stances. The junior's hustle and physical play are also impressive. Watching quarterback Luke Falk run pirate-loving head coach Mike Leach's offense is great, but Mata'afa and the rest of the 6-0 Cougars' defense give college football fans on the East Coast another reason to stay up late on Saturday night. Wazzou running back Jamal Morrow could have made this list, as well -- he's a rushing/receiving threat for Leach.

  • <b>2017 stats:</b> 35 catches for 516 yards (14.7 average), 7 TDs.<br><br>
Miller will be one of those third-round receivers who contributes immediately for whatever NFL team drafts him. His production has been down at times this year, but that changed last weekend when caught 15 passes for 224 yards and four scores against UConn. At 5-11, 190 pounds, Miller isn't physically imposing, but pro quarterbacks will love his deep speed, strong hands and muscular build whether he's lined up in the slot or outside. 3

    Jessica Hill/Associated Press

    3. Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

    2017 stats: 35 catches for 516 yards (14.7 average), 7 TDs.

    Miller will be one of those third-round receivers who contributes immediately for whatever NFL team drafts him. His production has been down at times this year, but that changed last weekend when caught 15 passes for 224 yards and four scores against UConn. At 5-11, 190 pounds, Miller isn't physically imposing, but pro quarterbacks will love his deep speed, strong hands and muscular build whether he's lined up in the slot or outside.

  • <b>2017 stats:</b> 11 tackles for loss (5 sacks), 1 INT.<br><br>
It's easy to see why Bryant is overlooked with stud linemen Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell, and Christian Wilkins on Clemson's front four. He is tied for fourth in the FBS with 11 tackles for loss in 2017, however, with five sacks to his credit, leading the Tigers' formidable line in both categories. While he's not as quick as some of his teammates, the junior (who missed six games due to injury in 2016) plays with power and possesses the athleticism to win inside or outside against right tackles. Bryant's best football is in front of him, which should make him a favorite among NFL defensive coaches. 2

    Ric Tapia/Associated Press

    2. Austin Bryant, DE, Clemson

    2017 stats: 11 tackles for loss (5 sacks), 1 INT.

    It's easy to see why Bryant is overlooked with stud linemen Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell, and Christian Wilkins on Clemson's front four. He is tied for fourth in the FBS with 11 tackles for loss in 2017, however, with five sacks to his credit, leading the Tigers' formidable line in both categories. While he's not as quick as some of his teammates, the junior (who missed six games due to injury in 2016) plays with power and possesses the athleticism to win inside or outside against right tackles. Bryant's best football is in front of him, which should make him a favorite among NFL defensive coaches.

  • <b>2017 stats:</b> 59 carries for 500 yards (8.5 average), 7 TDs; 5 catches for 38 yards (7.6 average).<br><br>
Despite leading the eventual national runner-up in rushing in 2016 (1,037 yards), Harris was not selected to the coaches' All-SEC team after the season. He's not as big as teammate Bo Scarbrough, whose talent and size brought comparisons to Heisman winner Derrick Henry. Tide RB Josh Jacobs has also impressed at times. But Harris just goes about his business, whether it's breaking big runs, catching the ball out of the backfield, returning kicks or pass protecting. He's an all-around talent who isn't asked to carry a heavy workload because of 'Bama's depth at the position. 1

    David J. Phillip/Associated Pres

    1. Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

    2017 stats: 59 carries for 500 yards (8.5 average), 7 TDs; 5 catches for 38 yards (7.6 average).

    Despite leading the eventual national runner-up in rushing in 2016 (1,037 yards), Harris was not selected to the coaches' All-SEC team after the season. He's not as big as teammate Bo Scarbrough, whose talent and size brought comparisons to Heisman winner Derrick Henry. Tide RB Josh Jacobs has also impressed at times. But Harris just goes about his business, whether it's breaking big runs, catching the ball out of the backfield, returning kicks or pass protecting. He's an all-around talent who isn't asked to carry a heavy workload because of 'Bama's depth at the position.

Discuss ()