Every year, highly touted prospects slide. There are also guys who don’t receive the press to go on to become stars. These players might not be headed for future Pro Bowls, but they might be worth a second (or even first) look for fans and GMs alike.
As a full-on disclaimer, I have not had the chance to watch as much football and to review as much tape as I normally do for players. More than that, I have not been pouring over a dozen profiles per prospect like I normally would. However, I am finally getting a little caught up on prospects, and the following five players have jumped out at me and are sticking in my head. These are players that I like more than I should, at least if conventional wisdom and draft gurus are correct.
Sam Ehlinger (QB, Texas, Senior)
So, anyone who read my piece on boxscore scouting quarterbacks knows that Ehlinger passes my test—he has the yards, the interception rate, and the scrambling ability I want in a quarterback prospect. Still, the 6’1, 220lb young man from Austin, TX is not frequently considered more than a backup if he’s lucky.
Why I shouldn’t like him: He doesn’t have power or accuracy on deep throws and while he can maneuver in the pocket, he’s not fast enough to be a dual-threat in the NFL. A tendency to play hero-ball led to him taking sacks when he shouldn’t have, and he does that awful thing where he runs around with the ball too low, begging for a strip sack.
Why I do anyway: the kid could be the poster child for “intangibles” in multiple ways. He’s tough as nails both physically and mentally. Name the trait—he can pick up the hard yards, he can shake off a sack or an error, he can get other players where they need to be—and if that trait is something positive that doesn’t show up on a stat sheet, Ehlinger has it. He also does this wonderful thing called “reading defenses” wherein he keeps his eyes downfield and goes through his progressions, making adjustments instead of locking on to one receiver.
Parting thoughts: He will probably be a career backup if he’s lucky, but I like the way he plays, and I think he’s canny and tough in a way that I would love to see in Navy and Orange.
Alaric Jackson (OT, Iowa, Senior)
There is almost no replacement for experience, and the modern NFL has very few precious few practice snaps to go around, especially for backups. That makes a player with 42 career starts at left tackle and a history in a program that has strong linemen a guy worth a second look.
Why I shouldn’t like him: His footwork is a mess and he’s not a physical specimen. As a consequence, his balance and his play strength are a little lacking. He could use more aggression, and he’s probably never going to be a bulldozer. He is almost certainly not worth a pick on the first two days.
Why I do anyway: First and foremost, he has shown steady improvement. There were concerns about his proportionality and he worked on decreasing bad weight and adding muscle. There are still concerns about his footwork, but it’s been getting steadily better. He uses his hands well more often than not, and he has pretty good timing. He knows what to do, even if he doesn’t always do it. Live game experience is hard to replicate without that many actual contact drills in the pros, and he comes in with a wealth of snaps.
Parting thoughts: There are two kinds of “10-year tackles” in the NFL. First, there are guys who are worthy of Pro Bowls and who anchor a line. Guys who make the quarterback’s life easier. Then there are guys who hang around and step in when needed. Swing tackles and line-plugging lunchpail pros who hang around for a decade. I think Jackson has a chance at being the best kind of depth player—the guy who you don’t worry about when he needs to step in, even if he’s not the guy you want to see starting. On the offensive line, that’s worth a late-round pick as far as I’m concerned.
Josh Palmer (WR, Tennessee, Senior)
The 6’1”, 210lb Palmer is currently slated to be a 4th-round prospect from what I can see, so it figures that the Chicago Bears don’t have a fourth-rounder at the moment.
Why I shouldn’t like him: Breakaway speed? Doesn’t have it—defenders can stick to him for at least five yards, and he doesn’t have a higher gear. History of production? Not so much—he never hit 500 yards and never reached 5 touchdowns in a season,
Why I do anyway: watching him play, I love how he uses his body to box out defenders—he’s not afraid to get physical, and that’s a trait I love in receivers. I love it even more when they run such great routes at every level of the field that they remain an option for the quarterback and they make faster defenders look silly. I also don’t care about the yards if a player moves the chains, and Lance Zierlein of NFL.com reports that nearly 70% of his catches went for first downs. Good hands, good routes, and good instincts always beat raw speed in my mind.
Parting thoughts: he might not be athletic enough, but he could also be the kind of mid-round, reliable safety valve that statheads use to explain why it’s not worth spending a first-round pick on a receiver when guys like Palmer are available later in the NFL Draft.
Alim McNeill (DL, N.C. State, Junior)
This is the one where I feel the most at odds with what I’m reading compared to what I’m watching. I think he was misused a little bit, and I love his absolute desire to fight for every inch.
Why I shouldn’t like him: He lacks length, with shorter arms on a 6’2” frame, and he doesn’t have a plan when he gets blocked. There is no brilliant go-to move in his repertoire, and he isn’t going to wow anyone with his footwork.
Why I do anyway: He’s powerful, he’s quick, and he has good enough hands to get the job done. He also seems to want to be out there, frequently pushing hard with a good motor. I like it when guys who play in the trenches treat every inch like it’s precious, and he does.
Parting thoughts: He is currently slated as a second- or third-round pick, and the Bears have bigger needs than a rotational defender at the moment, which is what he would be at first. Still, I have this fear that in a few years I’m going to see him lined up opposite Chicago and he’s going to make the teams that passed on him pay.
Benjamin St-Juste (CB, Minnesota, Junior)
Canadian football prospects are few and far between, and there are reasons to think that the Montreal native will struggle. Still, he has a certain je ne sais quoi.
Why I shouldn’t like him: He doesn’t really have experience at this point, and so he has yet to develop a sense of what to do with his 6’ frame (1.83m), and in general he shows the problems of an underdeveloped prospect. He gets grabby, he gets turned around on routes, and he has trouble finding the ball instead of the player in coverage. There are a lot of reasons he is currently projected to go in the third or fourth round, if not later.
Why I do anyway: This kid wants to win each contest. I love physicality in defensive backs, and he is not afraid to mix it up. He tackles with power and he tries to wrestle for the ball. There’s an old saying that the defender has just as much right to the ball as the receiver, and St-Juste plays as if he wants every 50/50 ball lobbed his way (and some of the 70/30 balls, too). Everything wrong with St-Juste could be corrected by a coach who took the time to develop him, and he seems to have the motor to take advantage of the opportunity if given.
Parting thoughts: Between his attitude and his athleticism, I really hope a team gives him a chance.