NFL Draft Prospects to Look For

At this point, you’ve seen every NFL mock Draft that you’ve been able to get your fingertips on. You know the first round by heart and have crunched data on the handful of prospects that your team is “interested in”. Of course, these assumptions are based on the opinions of the guys who won’t be in your team’s green room. And with what we’ve learned about the draft, most of these rumors are smoke screens anyways.

This article is different. Just kidding, it’s basically more of the same — guy with a laptop telling you which draft prospects intrigue him this season.

Outside of the big names that are flying around the first round, here are some of my absolute favorites in this year’s draft.

Something to remember — the NFL Draft is extremely deep and swollen with talent year after year after year. Each Sunday, there are 704 starters in the NFL (not including special teams). There’s a reason that a NFL player’s shelf life is short, and you see veterans being swapped for late round picks. Talent is coming.

— Projected Rounds are based on NFL.com Player Draft Profile —

Kyle Lauletta — QB — Richmond — 6’3″ — 215 lbs — Projected Round 3-6

This year there will more than likely be 3-4 quarterbacks taken with the first five selections in the draft — Allen, Darold, Rosen, Mayfield, in whatever order you believe is the best. The year of the quarterback! Not to mention Jackson and Rudolph going somewhere in the second half of the first round.

Once again, there is a FCS kid, Kyle Lauletta, that can spin the football as well as anybody in the draft. If we’re keeping tabs, I’m the official president of the Lauletta Fan Club. I haven’t seen anybody else secure that title, so I’d like to copyright it right now.

In two of the last four drafts, the best quarterback (as of now) has been a FCS kid — Jimmy Garoppolo and Carson Wentz. Who’s to say it won’t be a third time in five seasons?

Lauletta has shredded defenses at the FCS level for two plus seasons for the Richmond Spiders. Some things that jumped out to me on tape was his decisive decision-making, arm talent, and mobility within the pocket.

When I’m evaluating quarterbacks, I have a system I refer to as The Three A’s — accuracy, assertiveness, anticipation.

Accuracy — Pretty simple, how well does he throw the ball to where he’s intending, take care of the football, etc.

It’s widely believed that you can’t coach up accuracy. Many say you’re born with it. Lauletta looks like a true gunslinger. With his quick release and dart throwing ability, he can hit a variety of windows on a variety of throws. Whether he’s in the pocket, throwing from play action, or scrambling to make something happen, Lauletta simply has great placement on his throws.

Assertiveness — Confidence and leadership

A two-time team captain, son of a former Navy quarterback, and college major in leadership, Lauletta shows great football intelligence, toughness, and other intangibles that make it easy to understand why a team would follow him.

It’s easy to see the confidence that he has in his arm talent when throwing to the sideline, his cloud touching deep ball, or attacking the seam. Each throw — even the bad ones —  look as if they’re unquestioned strikes. When I’m looking at a quarterback, I want arm talent above just about everything else. No, this isn’t just a contest of who can throw the furthest, but rather who can make the throwing part effortless.

AnticipationPredicting and understanding defenses, coverages, pass rushers, and ability to throw a receiver open, decision-making.

Lauletta strikes remarkable resemblance to Jimmy Garoppolo. Both have almost an exaggerated ability to move zone coverages with their shoulders and eyes, as well as the ability to negate a rush by sliding away with their feet. He’s excellent when it comes to avoiding the rush and keeping plays alive inside or outside of the pocket. When doing so, his eyes are always down field keeping an agenda on the play — not just running around.

He presents great anticipation for what defensive players are going to do, the openings of a coverage, and the spots where he can throw his weapons open, accurately.

However, maybe the best case for taking Lauletta is his versatility. While he was at Richmond, he played under four different offensive coordinators that had him running every offense under the sun.

Lauletta isn’t a perfect prospect and has things he need to work on — throwing the ball away, more velocity on his deep ball, proving he can do this against stronger competition — but given his accuracy, assertiveness, anticipation, draft value, and other strengths, Lauletta is my favorite quarterback prospect in this draft.

If I’m a team picking towards the top of the draft, I’d rather grab a talented skill position player, edge rusher, or a high-caliber lineman, plus Lauletta in the second or third because I don’t see a gigantic gap in the quarterback talent. This was evident during the Senior Bowl, which Josh Allen also played in by the way.

If he’s brought into a strong situation, and given a fair opportunity, Kyle Lauletta is this year’s Jimmy Garoppolo.

And if you’re Cleveland, where your quarterback evaluation process is clearly messed up, why not take a highly talented passer in a later round? By doing this you’d take some pressure off of both you and the pick, along with setting yourself up with the opportunity to draft both Barkley and Chubb with two picks in the top five.

Antony Miller — WR — Memphis — 5’11” — 190 lbs — Projected Round 3-5

My fascination with Miller all started when a buddy and I tuned in for the UCLA vs. Memphis game early on during the college football season. In that game, Miller had 9 receptions, 185 yards, and two touchdowns.

Without knowing of Miller’s talent, he jumped off the screen with a couple of big time plays late in the second quarter. Miller proved to be unguardable for UCLA, much like he has been his entire career at Memphis.

Miller joined the team as a walk-on talent and is leaving as the greatest receiver in program history after completely rewriting the record books over his historic career.

 Miller is a route technician that attacks the ball while it’s in the air. He plays far above his size and reminds me — and many others — of the great Steve Smith. A tribute to his jacked frame, competitiveness, and playmaking ability. Miller is a versatile guy who made dynamite plays from many different locations at Memphis. He’s a wizard off the jam, possesses freakish body control, and routinely awesome hands.

Each year that the draft comes around, scouts are paid a lot of money to find the next hidden gem in the draft. Who can find the next Tom Brady, Antonio Brown, Richard Sherman, etc. I’ll save you some time. If you’re looking for the next NFL receiving star, Anthony Miller is it. He’s flat-out the most talented receiver in this class and likely won’t be drafted until the third round at the earliest.

John Kelly — RB — Tennessee — 5’9″ — 215 lbs — Projected 4th-6th Round

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image credit: timefreepress
Despite playing with four-win Tennessee, Kelly showed potential as a starting NFL running back, particularly early on in his 2017 campaign.

I took a strong interest in Kelly after watching him eat up the Florida defense with explosive chunk plays. He finished the day with 300 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown.

With Kelly, you’ll be getting a solid no-nonsense style of running back with terrific draft value. His stocky build and strength will be able to pile up yards at the next level. The NFL is built better for his play style than college football is, if that makes sense. Kelly has a nice burst, nothing exceptional, but has a stiff arm that resembles some of the game’s greats, and is a trademark of his violent running style.

His statistics won’t excite you, but his tape certainly will. Kelly is dangerous when getting the corner on defenses, given his ability to avoid opponents and throw them to the grass in the open field. By doing so, Kelly has proven to be a reliable threat on the ground or catching passes in the flat, where he claims he runs better routes than ex-teammate Alvin Kamara. If that’s true — spoiler, it’s not — he’s going to be a special talent.

I see Kelly as a back who is capable of being a game changer within a community approach, but also one who is capable of handling the bellcow duties if given the opportunity. In that sense, think of someone like Jordan Howard who wasn’t drafted to become one of the league’s best. Kelly will surprise some people at the next level, especially if he’s given the reigns — which he never fully received at Tennessee — for the right organization.

Isaac Yiadom — CB — Boston College — 6’1″ — 190 lbs — Projected 3rd-4th Round

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image credit: WFMZ
Yiadom was another underappreciated player when leaving high school despite a high level of talent. Boston College was his only offer from a power five school, which likely came because he’s from the area.

However, he’s now leaving college and being overlooked again, despite having a highly productive four years of play within the ACC.

With Yiadom, your team would be taking a long, aggressive, high motor cornerback who is capable of playing to your style, whether that be way of physicality or finesse.

While watching the film and developing a feel for Yiadom, something that stood out to me was his patience and burst. Given my sight ability, along with what I’ve read a dozen or so times, Yiadom is phenomenal at being patient on the receiver’s route before attacking the catch point. He’s able to let routes develop and stick with his man, as well as recovering or exploding to break it up when that time comes.

He’s a player who plays far above his weight with his strength and the confidence that he has in himself. Rarely does a receiver beat him with their physicality.

The knocks on him seem to be that his feet and hips are questionable, along with relying too much on his recovery when defending shorter routes. That said, we’ve seen corners often come into the league and have success despite feet/hip issues. Those guys, like Yiadom, make up for it with great awareness of the field, ability to play in space, and bringing their power to the football. It turns out that it’s challenging to run your route when you can’t get off of a jam.

Does he have the natural talent of a first round pick? No. But during extended days of the draft Yiadom is a player that has the potential to make a difference for your team whether it’s nickel duties, a depth piece, or an eventual starter.

Christian Sam — ILB — Arizona State — 6’2″ — 245 lbs — Projected 5th-6th Round

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image credit: house of sparky
Sam is a highly productive inside linebacker that checks each of the boxes you’d want while watching him play. The only reasons that I can find for his low projection is because of some questions surrounding his speed and commitment to football,  but his physical assertiveness and film speak well towards his level of dominance at Arizona St. As far as commitment goes, the NFL is rumored to pay well, which is much different from the PAC-12.

Many teams would benefit by adding an instinctual linebacker that is obsessed with contact. He’s a proven tackle machine that rarely gets shook by ball carriers. Sam’s 127 total tackles this past season — top 10 among power five schools — shows strong evidence of that. Unlike a stopwatch, it also shows that he has game speed and instincts that directly translate to what his team’s ask of him. While he’s good in pass coverage, he isn’t strong. Sam was capable of covering a variety of positions at the collegiate level, but that success won’t translate to the league. He’s best suited as a roaming run-stopper that can bring pressure up the A-gap, certainly something in need of from every team.

Other Names to Know:

Frank Ragnow — C/G — Arkansas — Unlike the previous prospects, Ragnow does look to be someone who may go in the first or second round. The reason I bring him up is because I really, really like him. Great for someone who is desperate for an offensive lineman because of his interior versatility. Provided great production for years within the SEC.

Jack Cichy — LB — Wisconsin — After battling injuries and missing his last 20 games, Cichy is a giant question mark heading into the draft. However, when he’s healthy, he’s one of the NCAA’s top linebackers. His instincts and ability jump off the screen when you watch his tape, and I really hope he has a chance to have a strong, healthy career.

DaeSean Hamilton — WR — Penn State — As Hamilton is moving up draft boards, he still isn’t projected to be taken until round three at the earliest. He’s someone who is being questioned as the best route runner in the class, plays fast, and possesses good size, especially for a primary slot receiver.

Justin Jackson — RB — Northwestern — A few years back I watched Ameer Abdullah rush for 146 yards and four touchdowns against Northwestern, and I wasn’t even sure he was the best running back on the field that day. Now it’s Jackson’s time to come out for the draft and he’s being overlooked by these scouts. Jackson has been both consistent and productive in his four straight 1,000 yard seasons. He’s a back who can do a little bit of everything.

Chase Litton — QB — Marshall — Litton has received little to no buzz leading up to the draft. Like Josh Allen, Litton had his right arm replaced by a 19th century cannon. He has high upside, but is very rough around the edges. That said, it’s tough not to be intrigued by an arm like his. He’s basically Josh Allen lite — yikes — but would be worth a look towards the end of the draft.

Leon Jacobs — LB — Wisconsin — After playing each linebacker spot for Wisconsin, Jacobs shows great flexibility for NFL teams. He’s got great athleticism and play making ability, along with a pass rushing package that is advanced for a part-time outside backer. A versatile piece for a defense that needs depth.

Godwin Igwebuike — S — Northwestern — I didn’t want to pick two Northwestern and two Wisconsin kids, but it is what it is. Igwebuike is a problem for opposing offenses. He had a terrific combine and will make a difference at the next level as a run stopper before taking advantage of his athletic gifts in coverage. An old school, no non-sense safety who will come down in the box to smack your offense.

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