"The more you can do ..."
Five words routinely tossed around draft rooms at this time of year. When every evaluator in the room has a similar grade on two different players, one player can elevate over the other if he provides a service outside of his original position. There is definitely added value if a prospect can contribute in multiple areas.
For instance, if two tight ends have similar skill sets as route runners, pass catchers and blockers, but one of them has some experience playing fullback ... That can be the difference. Here's another one: If two linebackers are identical players on first, second and third down, but one of them is an animal on special teams ... That is the deciding factor in separating the two players.
I've come up with a list of five high-profile prospects who will benefit from their ability to contribute in multiple ways. Obviously, there are dozens of other versatile players in this draft class, but these guys stood out during my evaluation process.
Tavon Austin, West Virginia: Running back, wide receiver, punt/kick returner
Austin is the most electric football player in this draft class and his versatility is a huge plus. He lined up at both wide receiver and running back for the Mountaineers, returning punts and kicks, as well. Austin finished his WVU career with an impressive 7,287 total yards. He should be able to contribute on all four downs during his rookie season.
Jesse Williams, Alabama: Defensive tackle, short-yardage fullback
Williams has a very unique background. He grew up in Australia, where he excelled as a rugby player. After arriving at Alabama, he became a stout run defender along the Crimson Tide's defensive line. He also contributed on the other side of the ball as a bruising short-yardage fullback. His drafting team would be wise to keep using him in both capacities.
Margus Hunt, SMU: Defensive lineman, kick blocker
Hunt is another player with an international background, having grown up in Estonia. He created quite a buzz with his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, and there is some talk that he could be a surprise first-round pick. He is raw on tape, but boasts the rare size and quickness to play the five-technique in a 3-4 defense. He also has a unique skill set on special teams, as a prolific blocker of kicks. He blocked an incredible 17 kicks during his career at SMU. Think about all of the NFL games that are decided by a field goal or less. Hunt's ability to block field goals could be the difference in multiple games over a 16-game season.
Dion Jordan, Oregon: Defensive end, strongside linebacker, special teams
Jordan arrived at Oregon as a wide receiver before moving to tight end and eventually finding his way to the defensive side of the ball. He is insanely athletic and explosive on tape, but his greatest asset is his positional flexibility. Having lined up at both defensive end and outside linebacker for the Ducks, Jordan can put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer or match up with athletic tight ends all over the field. Also, in the earlier portions of his Oregon career, he was a terror on special teams units. His versatility is one of the main reasons why he's likely to hear his name called in the top 10 picks of the upcoming draft.
Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, BYU: Multiple positions, special teams
No player has helped himself more than Ansah since the end of the college season. He put together a dominant performance in the Senior Bowl game and followed that up with an eye-opening showing at the combine. Teams are excited about his potential as a player, especially given his immense versatility. He played all over the field for BYU this past fall, lining up over centers, guards and tackles at different times. Some 3-4 teams feel like he's ideally suited to play defensive end, while others see him more as a stand-up outside linebacker. Teams that employ the 4-3 vary on whether or not he's best served playing outside or inside. His ability to play multiple spots is a huge reason for his rapid spring ascension. As a bonus, he's also one of the top coverage players on special teams in the entire draft.