NFL Draft 2017: 5 most underrated prospects to keep an eye on

Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (94) reacts during the first quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft is on April 27 and is filled with a ton of talented prospects. Here we’ll take a look at the five most underrated prospects in this year’s draft class.

When it comes to the NFL Draft, it has its fair share of underrated prospects. After all, there are seven rounds of picks spread throughout three days. So,  there are bound to be hits and misses with picks in terms of overall fit.

Looking back at NFL Drafts in the past, underrated prospects have made a name for themselves in the league. There’s Kam Chancellor, out of Virginia Tech, drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, 133rd overall. He’s a four-time Pro Bowler and won a Super Bowl in 2013 with his current team, the Seattle Seahawks.

Then there’s quarterback Tom Brady. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. As the 199th overall pick out of the University of Michigan, he’s won five Super Bowls, including this past season in an impressive 34-28 comeback victory against the Atlanta Falcons.

This year’s draft is filled with a lot of defensive talent. But offensively, there are some gems, that if put in the right situations, could shine by the end of their career as well. Here’s a look at the five most underrated prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Oct 15, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Eddie Jackson (4) celebrates his punt return for a 79yd touchdown against the Tennessee Volunteers during the fourth quarter at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

5

Eddie Jackson

Safety, Alabama

Safety Eddie Jackson was having a great 2016 season before it came to a screeching halt this past season with the Alabama Crimson Tide. The senior safety broke his leg returning a punt against the sixth-ranked Texas A&M Aggies in Alabama’s eighth game of the season.

Jackson added punt returning to his abilities after a strong 2015 season with the Crimson Tide. Jackson returned 11 punts for 253 punt return yards and two touchdowns before breaking his leg back on October 22.

The safety was an AP All-American and first-team All-SEC selection during his junior season. He recorded 46 tackles, six interceptions (first in the SEC), two interception returns for touchdowns, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery through 15 games in 2015. Despite winning a National Championship, he returned to school for his senior season.

Since breaking his leg, Jackson missed the Senior Bowl as well as workouts at the NFL Combine, minus the bench press. He’s being overlooked a bit since declining to run the 40-yard dash at Alabama’s Pro Day on April 12. But his explanation was he hadn’t trained to run it. However, he still remains one of the best safeties in a deep draft class.

Jackson still put up reasonable numbers in 2016 on defense before his broken leg. He had 24 tackles and a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown. With plenty of time to get his health back in order, look for him to make noise on whatever teams give him his opportunity.

Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry (2) is pursued by Clemson Tigers defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (94) in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

4

Carlos Watkins

DT, Clemson

Defensive tackle Carlos Watkins is another player who returned for his senior season in 2016, except with different intentions. Watkins and the Clemson Tigers got redemption last season over Alabama winning a National Championship, as did he, with his play on defense.

Watkins earned second-team AP All-American and first-team All-ACC honors after posting 12.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and 50 total tackles last season. He led the Clemson defense in sacks and ranked fourth in the ACC.

Watkins is a hidden gem in this year’s NFL Draft. While he’s not Myles Garrett, he’s a player, who if put in the right situation will give a team a flexible interior defender on the rotation. Scouts want to see more consistency out of him but spending time on an NFL roster is part of the draft process.

The Tigers defensive tackle has size that’s NFL-worthy at 6-foot-3 and 309 pounds but he’ll need to show he has the motor to be an NFL defensive lineman. Whoever takes their chance on him in the NFL Draft will have a good shot of doing so.

Mar 2, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers offensive lineman Dan Feeney speaks to the media during the 2017 NFL Combine at the Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

3

Dan Feeney

OG, Indiana

Indiana Hoosiers offensive guard Dan Feeney’s versatility was on full display while in Bloomington. He battled injury early in his career, but he still finished as one of the best lineman in school history.

Feeney started 12 games at right guard for the Hoosiers in 2012 as a true freshman. He redshirted the 2013 season after suffering a foot injury during preseason camp. After that, he stayed relatively healthy, starting 29 games at right guard and five games at right tackle.

The senior offensive guard earned first-team AP All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honors in his senior season despite missing time to injury. He surrendered just two sacks on 785 pass attempts in his final two seasons with the Hoosiers. At 6-foot-4 and 305-pounds, he serves as one of the more underrated lineman in the draft.

While Feeney did miss four games in 2016 with a concussion, he did appear in nine games this season. Teams entering the NFL Draft have a lot of defenders on their draft boards in the first two days. But Feeney is an offensive lineman who could make waves on the right team.

Alumni Tevin Coleman (Atlanta Falcons) and Jordan Howard (Chicago Bears), both running backs in the NFL can attest to Feeney’s blocking ability now as NFL backs. As will running back Devine Redding, who ran for 1,122 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns this past season for the Hoosiers. Redding is also eligible in this year’s draft.

Dec 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Clemson Tigers running back Wayne Gallman (9) runs with the ball against Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Raekwon McMillan (5) at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

2

Wayne Gallman

RB, Clemson

The Clemson Tigers offense made a lot of positive strides in 2015 and 2016. A lot of it fell on the shoulders of running back Wayne Gallman. The early draft entrant is one of the more underrated running backs in this year’s NFL Draft.

Gallman ran for 1,000+ yards and 30 rushing touchdowns in the past two seasons for the Tigers. He ran for a career-high 17 rushing touchdowns although his workload went down a bit in the carries department (232) in 2016. In 2015, he ran for 1,514 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. The Tigers offense averaged 222.7 rushing yards that season.

Gallman still led the team in rushing yards last season and was fourth in the ACC. With a 6-foot and 215-pound frame, he’s shown he has the ability to get tough yardage at the second level. Although the team dialed back his carries a season ago, he still finished fourth in the conference. He was first in the conference with 282 carries in 2015.

The junior running back came up big in keys games for the Tigers last season. He ran a 4.6 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. But his ability to carry the ball in open space is more effective than his breakaway speed. As a late-round pick, he serves as a running back with something to prove in 2017.

Nov 19, 2016; Greenville, NC, USA; East Carolina Pirates wide receiver Zay Jones (7) makes a second quarter catch against Navy Midshipmen linebacker Justin Norton (5) to break the all time FBS record tying catch for receptions against the Navy Midshipmen at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

1

Zay Jones

WR, East Carolina

East Carolina Pirates wide receiver Zay Jones caught 399 passes in four seasons, a new FBS single-season record. He nearly doubled his catch-total in his senior season, catching 158 passes for 1,746 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 2016. He caught 98 passes in 2015.

Jones earned All-American honors this past season despite playing in the American Athletic Conference. His receptions and receiving yards were first in the FBS a season ago. Despite going 8-18 in his final two seasons, Jones still did his part on the offensive end.

Jones caught 10 or more receptions in 10 of 12 games in 2016. He caught a career-high 212 receiving yards against the Navy Midshipmen back on November 19. He caught a career-high 22 catches against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

At the NFL Combine, he ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash and a 46.5′ vertical leap, raising his stock in the NFL Draft. After turning heads with a strong combine performance, Jones is one of the receivers who could turn into a solid pro sooner rather than later. At 6-foot-2 and 201-pounds, he has the NFL-build to be a star. Whichever team gives him a chance in the NFL Draft will have a playmaker on their hands for seasons to come.

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