With the NFL Combine behind us and all of the Big 12 teams finished with their pro days, NFL scouts are feverishly breaking down all the prospects and projecting who will thrive in the league. As diligent as they are in their research, there are always a handful of talented players that fly under the radar and either go undrafted or are scooped up as a late-round steal by an attentive team. You've heard plenty about the Big 12's projected first-rounders, such as star receivers Kevin White and Dorial Green-Beckham and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, but what about the talented players who have NFL potential who aren't being swallowed up by NFL scouts and the media?
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Baylor: Bryce Hager, LB
The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder might end up being the classic undersized underdog who makes it big. Over the years, there have been a few pretty good undersized linebackers to come out of Texas like Texas A&M's Dat Nguyen and Texas Tech's Zach Thomas. Hager is one of the greatest defensive players in Baylor history, yet he's had an under-publicized career, likely because the Bears' defensive units haven't exactly played like Nguyen's old Wrecking Crew. But that shouldn't diminish Hager's individual ability as an instinctual and athletic defender, whose terrific speed allows him to really explode to the ball and drop back in coverage. Hager, a strong candidate to play the outside in a 4-3 scheme, racked up a team-leading 114 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception in his senior season.
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Iowa State: Tom Farniok, C
Rarely do centers garner much attention come draft time, so it's no surprise that Tom Farniok has gone overlooked, especially when all eyes are on the Cyclones' star tight end E.J. Bibbs, who attended this year's NFL Combine. At 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, Farniok was a key cog to Iowa State's offense over the past four seasons, and received honorable mention for the All-Big 12 team for three consecutive seasons. The South Dakota native was a crucial leader for the struggling Cyclones in his senior season. Football runs in Farniok's blood, as his father, uncle, and brother (Oklahoma) all played or currently play college football. He didn't perform well at ISU's pro day, but if an NFL team can look past those numbers and recognize his consistency in his college career, he could become a steady contributor to any team.
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Kansas: Dexter McDonald, CB
With a 40-yard dash time of 4.42, a vertical jump measurement of 40.5 inches, and an 11-foot, two-inch broad jump at Kansas' pro day, McDonald is one of the most athletic players you'll see on a football field. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, he has both the size and length that NFL teams are looking for, and has the tools to thrive at the next level. In his senior season in Lawrence, McDonald tallied 35 total tackles, nabbed two picks, and forced a fumble. He'll have to work on his route coverage and become more disciplined in avoiding pass interference penalties, but he has all the raw elements in place to excel in the NFL.
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Kansas State: Curry Sexton, WR
While all eyes were on electric receiver/returnman Tyler Lockett at K-State, another Wildcat receiver had a stellar season that went undetected on the national radar. Although he didn't have quite the touchdown flair as Lockett, Sexton put on a show in his senior season, piling up 1,059 receiving yards (13.4 yards per reception) and five touchdowns. Sexton isn't quite as elusive as Lockett, but he is extremely athletic and very comparable in stature at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds. Like his K-State counterpart, with whom he is very close friends, Sexton has a knack for making great plays, and could play a very similar counterbalancing act that he played in Manhattan in the NFL.
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Oklahoma: Blake Bell, TE
At 6-foot-6, 259 pounds, this quarterback-turned-tight-end is affectionately known as the “Belldozer” by Oklahoma fans for his hard-charging, straight-ahead running style. He was initially used in goal-line situations, but then became a constant piece of OU's offense. He started eight games in 2013, missed time with a concussion and then Trevor Knight's big game in the Sugar Bowl signaled the end of Bell's career under center. His size, speed and physicality make him a natural at tight end. Last season, he showed constant improvement as a blocker while also making 16 catches for 214 yards and four touchdowns. He's tough to bring down once he makes the catch, and his enthusiasm for the game and coach-ability are assets, considering he's so new to the position, which is a concern for some teams.
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Oklahoma State: Josh Furman, S
The ceiling just keeps on getting higher and higher for Josh Furman. The linebacker reinvented himself after transferring to Oklahoma State from Michigan for his senior year of eligibility, and has continued to dazzle in his preparation for the next level. In his senior year in Stillwater, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound defensive back became a standout player on an otherwise young OSU defense, amassing 64 tackles and seven sacks, and also nabbing an interception and forcing a fumble. Persistence is his specialty. At OSU's pro day, Furman posted four marks that would have placed among the top five safeties at the NFL Combine. Due to his size, he's being projected as a safety in the NFL, and there's no question that he'll use his hard work ethic to pull off the transition.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
TCU: Kevin White, CB
West Virginia's standout receiver is usually the first Kevin White people think of when they hear the name, but there's another player with the same name who has NFL potential. The cornerback from TCU also delivered an exemplary season for the Big 12 co-champion Horned Frogs, and in fact, his stellar defense against White (28 yards on a season-low three catches) in a 31-30 win at West Virginia on Nov. 1 kept TCU's conference title and national playoff hopes alive. At 5-foot-9, 183 pounds, White (two interceptions, 51 tackles last season) doesn't possess the size NFL teams might desire. He doesn't have great speed and can lose quick receivers. However, he is a smart and feisty competitor who often covered the opponent's best receiver
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY SportsKevin Jairaj
Texas: Jaxon Shipley, WR
Much like his older brother Jordan Shipley, Jaxon just seems to have a nose for the football. He finds the soft spots in a defense and exploits it for chain-moving catches, even when he knows he's about to get decked. Shipley doesn't possess great size (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) and he isn't the most explosive threat, but he's tough and is able to make catches in small windows, which quickly made him a favorite third-down target of quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. Shipley, like his older brother, has had some health issues, yet he still he appeared in 25 games over the last two seasons, recording 115 catches for 1,166 yards while paired with inconsistent offensive line and quarterback play.
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Texas Tech: Bradley Marquez, WR
This two-sport star (he was drafted by the New York Mets in 2011) is out to prove that he isn't simply a fast receiver who put up flashy numbers thanks to an offense that likes to wing around the yard. The bottom line is when the Texas Tech offense needed something good to happen last season, it was typically the 6-foot, sure-handed receiver delivering the goods. Marquez's performances got lost in all the things that went wrong for the Red Raiders last season, but he accounted for a team-high 17 touchdowns among his 65 receptions for 821 yards. Marquez was not invited to the NFL Combine, so had to impress during Tech's pro day where he turned in a 4.5-second 40-yard dash to open the eyes of scouts.
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West Virginia: Quinton Spain, OL
Spain is one of the underrated Big 12 products who has the most potential to have success in the NFL; yet, virtually nobody is talking about him. Standing at a burly 6-foot-4, 330 pounds, the former Mountaineer is surprisingly agile for his size, which indicates he'd be able to succeed in the NFL. He is extremely active, and a very pesky player to match up against, which often has him being tagged as a "nasty" player. He needs to work on being more consistent with his hands, but that's nothing a good O-line coach couldn't teach him at the next level. Spain has the size, athleticism, and tenacity to make it in the NFL.