Over the past month, my time has been spent on two things: watching college tape and talking to NFL sources. I always enjoy talking about draft prospects with NFL general managers, scouting directors and scouts. During these conversations, I make sure to ask which players I should be studying.
I'm well aware of the top 30-40 prospects, having already studied the tape on most of them. My conversations with the personnel men help me prioritize my tape-watching schedule. This week, I asked several different sources to name one player not projected to go in the first round who would be fun to watch. Here are five names that came up during those conversations:
Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU: Obviously, teams will have to do their homework regarding Mathieu's off-the-field issues, but past play on the field has created some buzz. He lacks ideal size, but his combination of quickness, toughness and instincts has teams excited about his potential at the nickel position. He also has added value as a returner, where his electric change-of-direction skills are on display.
Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina: I'm excited to study tape of Sanders. One general manager told me that he is a poor man's version of West Virginia's Tavon Austin. That GM didn't view Sanders as a first- or second-round pick; he should, however, be targeted by several teams in the middle rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft. His return ability is mentioned as an added bonus.
D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina: This is shaping up to be a solid class of safeties. (I'm very high on Texas' Kenny Vaccaro and love the aggressive nature of Florida's Matt Elam.) I asked two executives which safety was their favorite to watch, and both guys praised Swearinger. They described him as an explosive hitter with good instincts. He is viewed as a third-round pick at this point, but he is a strong candidate to rise up draft boards.
Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State: Brown lacks ideal size, but he still excites evaluators. His production is outstanding, and he is described as an ideal fit at Will linebacker in a 4-3 defense. One scouting source compared him favorably to Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David. Brown is currently slotted to go late in the second or early in the third round.
Phillip Thomas, S, Fresno State: Thomas had an outstanding season and a solid week of practice at the Senior Bowl. I remember asking Fresno State coaches about him back in 2010; I wasn't focused on him at the time, but his ball-hawking skills jumped off the tape. This year, he led the nation with eight interceptions, and several different evaluators made a point to praise his play-making ability. I'm anxious to pop in the tape and see where Thomas slots in with the rest of the 2013 safety class.