Coaches often tell their players to "dig deep" when they need that extra effort at the end of the game. I decided to do just that in finishing my list of 200-plus senior prospects with the potential to be selected in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The list of prospects in the "Late rounds" category might not include many big names in the college football world right now, but they could surprise this fall -- and maybe next summer in training camp -- as teams look for rookies to fill roster spots or stash on the practice squad as a "redshirt."
Vernon Adams, QB, Oregon
Adams will be yet another weapon in the Ducks' wide-open attack. Though small for the position (listed at 6-foot, 190 pounds), Adams won numerous FCS honors in three years at EWU, completing 65 percent of his passes for more than 10,000 yards and a whopping 110 touchdowns. He makes throws at every level, keeps his eyes downfield when pressured and eats up yards with his feet -- but only when necessary. Seneca Wallace was of similar stature coming out of college and he enjoyed a long NFL career. Someone could give Adams that same shot.
Davonte Allen, WR, Marshall
One of the best big-play receivers to suit up for Marshall since Randy Moss, Allen (6-2, 200) averaged 24.7 yards per catch in 2014. He missed four games with a collarbone injury, so he managed just 22 catches on the year (for 544 yards!) with four scores. But his ability to track the ball and win 50/50 situations with strong hands makes him an intriguing prospect.
Alex Balducci, DT, Oregon
Balducci's statistics won't put him on any All-American (or maybe even all-conference) teams; he started 15 games for the Ducks last season and managed just 18 tackles (three for loss). But NFL teams will see him as a late-round value, playing the role of space-eater (6-4, 321) with decent enough feet to keep gaps plugged and squeeze the pocket.
Robert Booker, G/C, Missouri State
This two-time All-Missouri Valley Conference pick and FCS All-American has played center and guard for the Bearcats. Booker (6-3, 312) has the strength to earn playing time in either spot at the next level, though he will project best in the pivot unless he blows teams away with athleticism in postseason work.
Travis Britz, DT, Kansas State
A two-time honorable mention All-Big 12 pick by league coaches, Britz (6-4, 293) is tough against the run and is willing to hustle his way into the backfield when the opportunity presents itself (11.5 tackles for loss, six sacks the past two seasons). Scouts for 3-4 teams will look at him as a potential defensive end, especially if he's healthy enough (he missed the end of 2014 with an ankle injury) to display the necessary athleticism in postseason workouts.
De'Vondre Campbell, DE/OLB, Minnesota
Wiry and strong at 6-5 and 241 pounds, Campbell is just scratching the surface of his potential. Though you'd expect a linebacker of that size to be purely a pass rusher, the Hutchinson Community College transfer moves better than expected in the open field. He should be drafted, given the combination of his agility in tracking down ball carriers in the second level (75 tackles in 2014) and ability to make plays in the backfield (6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks).
Rashon Ceaser, WR, Louisiana-Monroe
It's probable that you've never heard of Ceaser, even though he was a first-team All-Sun Belt pick last season (77 catches, 872 yards, three touchdowns). But if I were to say that he could be a late-round version of Randall Cobb in the NFL, you'd be interested, right? Ceaser needs to show he has consistent hands, as he already has the physicality and quickness to own the middle of the field.
Ben Curtis, OT, Delaware
At 6-5 and 290 pounds, it's clear that Curtis must get stronger to compete in the NFL on an every-down basis -- even though he regularly uses his length and agility to hold off defenders at the FCS level. If he adds weight after his third season as a starter (two seasons as a starting left tackle and one season, plus a few games as a freshman, as a starting right tackle) and shows teams at the NFL Scouting Combine that he can hold 300-plus pounds, they will see his potential as an athletic left tackle.
Braxton Deaver, TE, Duke
When healthy, Deaver is one of the better receiving tight ends in the country. The problem is that he hasn't been healthy often enough, missing the 2012 (torn ACL in winter and broken thumb/fractured patella in summer) and 2014 (torn ACL) seasons due to injury. Deaver (6-5, 240) had a third-team All-ACC season in 2013, using his strong hands and speed to catch 46 passes for 600 yards and four scores.
Donte Deayon, CB, Boise State
Yes, he's listed at 5-9 and 150 pounds. But anyone who has seen Deayon play knows he would take on any receiver at any time, tackling them in the open field or out-leaping them for jump balls downfield. The two-time second-team All-Mountain West pick has intercepted six passes and broken up nine others in each of the last two seasons. Deayon returned a punt for a touchdown in 2014, as well; special teams will be his ticket to an NFL playing field until his coaches trust him against pro receivers on an every-down basis.
Reggie Diggs, WR, Richmond
Although Diggs (6-4, 200) contributed during his first two years on campus, he exploded onto the scene in his first year as a full-time starter in 2014, garnering second-team All-Colonial Athletic Association honors with 85 catches for 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns. Even if he doesn't get much separation from his man downfield, his height and jumping ability allow him to go up top to snag the pass. If he uses his frame to beat corners down the sideline again this season and performs well during an all-star game in January, he should earn the respect of coaches and scouts alike.
Brandon Doughty, QB, Western Kentucky
Doughty, the 2014 Conference USA MVP and Sammy Baugh Award winner as the nation's top quarterback, has an innate ability to find places to throw the ball. He passed for 4,830 yards and 49 touchdowns last season, while only throwing 10 picks in 552 attempts. Doughty (6-3, 220) doesn't possess a rocket arm, but has the quick feet, fast delivery, and no-fear mentality that a successful NFL quarterback needs. If he can digest an NFL playbook, Doughty should at least be a long-time backup, and maybe more.
Ejiro Ederaine, OLB, Fresno State
Injuries to both shoulders limited Ederaine in 2014, yet he still managed to start all 14 games, making 64 tackles (12.5 for loss). An excellent athlete with NFL size (6-3, 234), Ederaine moves well in coverage, stands strong against the run and also attacks the quarterback when healthy (10 sacks in a second-team All-Mountain West 2013 season). However, if teams aren't comfortable with his medical situation, he might be relegated to a later pick than his talent indicates.
Aaron Epps, OT, Louisville
Epps, a former high school basketball player, has the look of a hoops star, and he had a limited role with the Cardinals due to injury and depth on the line in his first three seasons. His 6-7, 288-pound frame has room to fill out, however, and his play after taking over the starting right tackle job halfway through last season caught the eyes of scouts. Epps must add weight to his length and keep his foot quickness to fulfill his potential; if he bulks up after the season to show teams he can carry 300 pounds, they'll consider him worthy of a late-round pick.
Blake Frohnapfel, QB, UMass
With Rakeem Cato eating up playing time at Marshall, Frohnapfel (pronounced FROH-nap-ul) decided to head to Massachusetts for his final two seasons. He excelled in his first year as a starter, throwing for 3,345 yards and 23 touchdowns despite missing the final two games of the year with an ankle injury. Frohnapfel has pro size (6-6, 229), a strong arm and good touch over the top; he's also more mobile than you'd expect. Another solid season, maybe with improved accuracy (55.1 completion percentage in 2014), should land him a draft slot.
Reggie Gilbert, DE, Arizona
After starting 21 games as an undersized defensive tackle for the Wildcats, Gilbert moved outside last season. His statistics weren't mind-boggling (49 tackles, 5.5 for loss, three sacks), but he sets the edge with strength and uses his strength and natural bend to turn the corner as a pass rusher. He should be a solid late-round strong-side end prospect for 4-3 teams.
Dillon Gordon, TE/OL, LSU
Gordon weighs nearly as much as an interior lineman (6-4, 295) but is really better suited at tight end. He has managed to catch just six passes (none in 2014) in his career -- but the low catch total doesn't mean he's rarely open. Gordon puts up enough fight as a blocker to be a help in the running game and a potential threat in play-action situations; he'll definitely have a role to play if he lands on an NFL team with a power-run scheme.
Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas
Gray's career has not been as prolific as was expected of the top high school recruit in the country. Nonetheless, this year he should get the majority of carries for the Longhorns for the first time since his freshman season, when he earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors (710 rush yards, three touchdowns). Gray (5-11, 215) tore his right Achilles tendon halfway through his sophomore season, and just began to show glimpses of his explosive running style near the end of 2014. Watch for a big year if he's fully confident in his ability to cut and burst once past the line of scrimmage.
Ike Harris, OT, East Carolina
Isaac "Ike" Harris III is the son of a former Seattle Seahawks draft pick (12th round, 1991), but has made his own name by earning second team All-AAC honors in his second year as a starter at left tackle for the Pirates. Harris is a fair athlete who is difficult to beat in pass pro on the first move, and he'll get after his man (and others in his way) in the run game. Recovery speed has been an issue, however; moving his feet throughout plays consistently to adjust on the fly during his senior year will give scouts a reason to believe he can be an NFL contributor.
Joel Heath, DT, Michigan State
An impressive physical specimen, Heath stands at 6-6, 293 pounds and has solid straight-line speed for his size. He grew into this build over his first three years on campus, and then earned a starting nod inside in 2014 (29 tackles, five for loss, 2.5 sacks). Continued growth and improved strength holding his ground and shedding blocks against pro-caliber Big Ten guards this season should convince scouts he can earn playing time as a three- or five-technique at the next level.
Tyler Higbee, TE, Western Kentucky
Western Kentucky has had a bit of a run at the tight end position the past few years, with Jack Doyle drafted by the Colts in 2013 and Mitchell Henry getting his shot with the Packers this summer. Higbee could be as good as either of them, as the converted receiver continues to add weight to his frame (6-5, 250). Given the chance to show his stuff against Marshall last season, Higbee made six catches for 99 yards and three scores. With quarterback Brandon Doughty back for his senior year, Higbee looks to use his height, agility, and route-running skills to put up big numbers.
Alex Huettel, G/C, Bowling Green
Huettel's physique (6-4, 309) isn't among the best in this class, and he likely won't test well at the NFL Scouting Combine. But as an intelligent player and flat-out mauler, he'll be a favorite of NFL offensive line coaches. MAC coaches voted him second-team all-conference the past two seasons, his second and third as a starter at guard. He has potential at center, as well, which gives him the versatility to stick as a reserve lineman as an NFL rookie despite likely being a late-round selection.
Randall Jette, CB, UMass
Jette (5-11, 180) has already defended 36 passes (seven interceptions, 29 breakups) in this first three years with the Minutemen, and looks to reach the 50 mark this season. Jette (prounounced JET), a 2014 second-team All-MAC selection, will receive more recognition for his persistence in coverage as UMass charges toward a conference title this season under former NFL and college coordinator Mark Whipple (who coached UMass to a Division I-AA title in his first stint with the team).
Michael Jordan, CB, Missouri Western
As if people didn't already take a second glance at Jordan with his well-known name, he's earned additional looks with his play the past three seasons for the Griffons. The two-time first-team All-MIAA pick has 138 tackles, 11 interceptions, and 25 pass breakups in just three years, utilizing his size (6-0, 200) and physicality to own his man on the outside. Scouts are familiar with the Jordan family already, as his older brothe, Reggie, attended the combine as a tight end out of MWU; now it's time for Michael to step into the spotlight.
Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
Kelly had big shoes to fill when he took over for Rimington Trophy winner Barrett Jones in 2013, but he's handled the pressure quite well. A taller, athletic pivot (6-5, 297), Kelly was voted honorable mention All-SEC by league media last season, and even won the team's Offensive Player of the Week award twice during the year. He can anchor against strong tackles on the line but also reach second-level defenders to neutralize them. Kelly's really impressive when getting his body around to seal an inside lane. That sort of versatility will win over NFL scouts over the course of the year.
Nick Kwiatkoski, ILB, West Virginia
The heart and soul of the Mountaineers' defense (and not to mention the leading tackler), Kwiatkoski brings toughness to the field and is an explosive tackler when attacking gaps inside (11.5 tackles for loss among his 103 stops in 2014). He can play inside or outside at the next level, and should be a special-teams demon, which is what NFL teams look for when evaluating late-round linebacker prospects.
Richard Leonard, CB, Florida International
A Miami product, Leonard has had an impact at FIU as a returner and cornerback since the start of his career (although he missed 2013 due to academic ineligibility), especially in his first-team All-Conference USA junior campaign (five interceptions, seven pass breakups, four fumble recoveries, 25.7-yard kick-return average, 23.8-yard punt-return average with one touchdown). Though shorter than most NFL teams prefer at the position (5-9, 189), there's no doubting his foot quickness, closing ability and competitive fire. His elusiveness as a returner should earn him extra looks.
Jordan Lomax, FS, Iowa
After three years of waiting his turn to get on the field, including a lost 2012 season due to a spring shoulder injury, Lomax finally earned the starting nod in 2014. He put forth an honorable mention All-Big Ten effort, making 92 tackles, intercepting a pass and breaking up six others. Lomax uses his compact build (5-10, 205) and tenacious attitude to punish defenders coming into his space, but the former cornerback has the footwork to be effective in coverage as well.
Max McCaffrey, WR, Duke
Yes, Max is the son of longtime Denver Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey. It doesn't take long to see the resemblance on the field, either. At 6-2, 200 pounds, Max is effective working the middle of the field and makes it difficult for defensive backs to bring him down by running behind his pads. He hasn't put up huge numbers for the Blue Devils (65 career catches for 698 yards and seven scores), but with his pedigree and intelligence, he should get a shot -- especially if he tests well athletically after the season.
James McFarland, DE/OLB, TCU
Only a part-time starter in 2014, McFarland still led the team with seven sacks to go along with 12 tackles for loss. Like most TCU ends, he plays standing up and with his hand on the ground, but his NFL future is as a 3-4 strong-side linebacker. McFarland has some quickness to get around blockers, as well as the punch and long arms to get leverage against run plays. Sometimes he uses that leverage to drive his man straight into the quarterback. With another productive season of using that strength to his full advantage, scouts will believe he can play right away.
LaDarrell McNeil, FS/SS, Tennessee
The Volunteers have relied on McNeil (6-1, 206) since his freshman year to hold down a starting spot in the secondary. Having worked at free and strong safety during his career, McNeil shows the toughness and athleticism to fill in wherever needed (76 tackles, two interceptions in 2014). He'll likely contribute on special teams early in his NFL career, but should push for playing time before too long.
Paul McRoberts, WR, Southeast Missouri State
McRoberts earns respect from his team and league coaches as a captain and first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference pick in 2014. Scouts are impressed with his mental and physical toughness, as he has suffered great loss, losing his father to a sudden heart attack at age nine and his brother more recently. He returned from a Lisfranc injury last year to put up two 100-yard performances in three weeks after being out for five weeks. McRoberts' long strides (6-3, 197) make it difficult for defensive backs to stay with him downfield and his proficiency as a basketball player (he played one year for SEMO after a stellar high school career) shows he has the short-area quickness to excel against man coverage.
Marshall Morgan, K, Georgia
Morgan (6-3, 194) set the SEC record for most consecutive field goals made with 20, a streak that started in 2013 and ended in the second week of last season. Though his field goal percentage dropped in 2014, from 91.7 percent (19-of-22) to 76.2 (16-of-21), scouts should not forget the lesson learned from the last Georgia kicker drafted, Blair Walsh. Despite a lackluster senior year (21 of 35 on field goals), Walsh has become one of the league's best kickers. If Morgan can connect regularly in 2015 from long distance (he has made 55- and 56-yard kicks in his career) as well as prove he can be a weapon on kickoffs (31 touchbacks in 2014) and in clutch situations (like the game-winner against Tennessee in 2013), he'll get his shot to follow in Walsh's footsteps.
Aaron Morris, G, Ole Miss
The Rebels hope that Morris stays out of the training room through his entire senior season so they can compete in the SEC. A bullish blocker from the left guard spot, Morris (6-5, 315) is a solid pass protector and a load in the run game who linebackers are not happy to see when he hits the second level. But he's torn his left ACL in each of the past two seasons, missing all but the opener in 2013 and failing to suit up for the team's bowl game last year. Power-running scheme teams in the NFL will have interest in Morris, especially if he can dress for all of Ole Miss' contests this year.
Jordan Payton, WR, UCLA
Payton is the Bruins' most dependable receiver, leading the team with 67 catches for 957 yards and seven touchdowns in his second year as a starter in 2014. The honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection can work inside, using his thicker build (6-1, 213) to break through contact at the line and downfield, while also possessing the footwork to execute crisp routes. If he shows better speed than anticipated this season and in workouts, Payton could rise up boards.
Aaron Peck, WR, Fresno State
Peck has grown as a receiver, physically and mentally, each year with the Bulldogs. He grabbed 32 catches for 419 yards and three scores in 2014, and could take a primary role now that Josh Harper has moved on to the NFL. Peck's frame 6-3, 217 is NFL-worthy, and a strong senior season displaying the speed and agility to be a factor after the catch will help him rise up draft boards.
Kevin Pierre-Louis, SS, Colorado State
It's quite simple: This guy likes to hit people. Often lined up in a two-deep formation (thus only 4.5 career tackles for loss), he takes correct angles and brings all of his force downhill to stop ball carriers in their tracks. He actually looks (6-1, 215) and plays like a linebacker, making 162 stops over the past two seasons. Another productive season and good postseason workouts should land him a fifth- or sixth-round slot as a reserve defensive back and special teamer.
Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
Rayne Dakota "Dak" Prescott (6-2, 230) proved himself to be an excellent college quarterback in 2014, breaking all sorts of statistical records (4,435 yards of total offense, 27 touchdown passes, 61.6 completion percentage) and helping his team to a 10-3 record. There's little question about his leadership abilities or his toughness as a runner, but scouts will want to better awareness in the pocket and more accuracy in tight windows in his senior year if he is to be a middle-round pick.
Luke Rhodes, ILB, William & Mary
Rhodes (6-2, 242) is the only player in the FCS to be selected to the Butkus Award watch list. He's a two-time first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association pick and team captain, not only racking up nearly 100 tackles in 2013 and 2014 but also flying into lead blockers to allow his teammates to make plays. While not an explosive athlete, Rhodes has enough speed to fill a gap, is agile enough to slip second-level blocks, and hustles to the sideline. As a special-teams ace and steady presence on defense, he'll be a tough cut in training camp.
Brandon Ross, RB, Maryland
Ross is an underutilized asset for the Terrapins who rushed for just 419 yards last season because he had just two games with 10 or more rushes (85 total for the year). He has an ideal compact build (5-10, 205), shifty feet in the hole and the ability to set up and blow by tacklers in the open field as both a runner and receiver (14 catches, 212 yards, one score in 2014). He did manage 776 yards and four touchdowns in a greater role in 2013, however; more opportunities this season will put him on scouts' radars.
Brandon Sheperd, WR, Oklahoma State
Sheperd (6-1, 195) staked his claim as one of the best receivers in the Big 12 with his seven-catch, 156-yard, two-touchdown effort in OSU's win over Oklahoma last fall. Though he didn't earn postseason accolades after averaging 18.9 yards per catch as a junior (39 catches, 737 yards, five scores), that won't happen again; scouts will also take note of his toughness on the outside and playmaking ability after the catch.
Jordan Simone, SS, Arizona State
Simone (6-0, 193) decided to walk on at ASU after taking a year off from football once his head coach at Washington State (Paul Wulff) was let go. He became such a problem for the offense while on the scout team that coaches gave him a shot to earn playing time last year -- and he did. League coaches recognized his play last year, as he made 100 tackles, 4.5 for loss. NFL scouts will want to see if he has the athleticism to play on Sundays, but coaches will push for him late in the draft based on his intelligent play and toughness.
Nate Sudfeld, QB, Indiana
Even though Sudfeld (6-6, 240) missed about half of his junior year with an injured left (non-throwing) shoulder, there's a bit of buzz about his pro prospects. The brother of New York Jets tight end Zach Sudfeld possesses NFL size, a solid arm, and some mobility within the pocket. Scouts would like to see Sudfield improve his completion percentage (60.3 percent in 2013-2014) as well as his touchdown-to-interception ratio (27-12) before considering him a long-time contributor at the next level, but coaches will want to work with his physical tools.
Cole Toner, OT, Harvard
Toner had to deal with current Indianapolis Colt defender Zack Hodges during every practice the past couple of seasons, so most opponents on the Ivy League schedule were a piece of cake in comparison. The first-team all-conference selection in 2014 looks like an NFL prospect at 6-7 and 300 pounds, and he shows the toughness and footwork to win as a run blocker and pass protector. If he continues to fill out his frame after this season and early in his NFL career, it will help him contribute down the road.
Soma Vainuku, FB, USC
The cousin of former USC star and Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga brings his full effort on every play. He'll emulate a six-foot, 255-pound battering ram while leading the tailback into the hole, gain tough yardage as a runner, catch the ball out of the backfield and then pummel a returner on kick-coverage units. Versatility is a big key for fullbacks trying to make it in the NFL nowadays, so Vainuku should be valued for his multiple contributions to the team.
Michael Wakefield, DE/OLB, Florida International
A second-team All-Conference USA pick in 2014, Wakefield shows a knack for quickly and smoothly getting off the snap. He had eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last year using not only his get-off, but also good length and an ability to leverage a blocker and disengage to make the play. Wakefield can play either side of the line despite his average size (6-3, 254), which is a big plus. Coaches will put him through linebacker drills after the season to see how well he moves in space, and that will help determine how high he gets drafted.
Derek Watt, FB, Wisconsin
Watt isn't an athletic freak like his older brother and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt, but he'll be a tough cut from an NFL roster. While not a thumping fullback/H-back, he has the athleticism to find targets and create creases for excellent backs such as 2015 first-round pick Melvin Gordon. Watt is a solid receiver (15 career catches yards for 170 yards in a run-oriented offense) and can contribute on special teams, as well, showing off the tackling skills he possessed as a second-team USA Today All-American high school linebacker. He played the second half of the 2014 season while recovering from a broken foot in the opener; a healthy senior campaign should help him secure a late-round draft spot.
Bryce Williams, TE, East Carolina
Williams actually walked on for two programs in his career, first for a redshirt season at Marshall in 2011 and then in the fall of 2012 at ECU. In the past two years, he hasn't looked like a walk-on at all, earning all-conference accolades in 2013 (honorable mention) and 2014 (second team). As a fullback in the Pirates' offense the past two years, Williams used his 6-6, 250-pound frame to its fullest in the red zone (four touchdowns), out-leaping smaller defensive backs to attack the ball in the air. Given the chance to show off his hands more regularly as a senior, Williams should be a nice project player worth a look late in the draft.
RJ Williamson, SS, Michigan State
Although the Spartans' depth at safety kept Williamson out of the starting lineup early in his career, he still stepped in when necessary to accumulate 70 tackles, three interceptions, and six pass breakups. When given the chance to start at strong safety last season, Williamson (6-0, 214) stepped up again to make 59 tackles and intercept three passes -- two of which he returned for scores. He'll start in 2015 at free safety, where he'll again show his strong tackling ability as well as his ball skills.
Jonathan Woodard, DE, Central Arkansas
Woodard has terrorized quarterbacks since arriving at UCA, accumulating 25 sacks (among 40 tackles for loss) in three years. He is a three-time All-Southland Conference pick, its Freshman of the Year in 2012, and its Defensive Player of the Year in 2014. Scouts will be waiting until postseason all-star games, though, to see if he can beat NFL-quality tackles off the snap or disengage on the edge as a strong-side end on a four-man front. Woodard could also add weight to his frame (6-6, 271) in order to shift to a five-technique spot at the next level, as he already shifts inside regularly for the Bears.