As someone who follows the NFL Draft very closely (and covered it for a few years for NFLmocks.com) I sometimes fall in love with players who others are no so high on. Sometimes those convictions are very correct (Justin Houston, Russell Wilson, Alshon Jefferey, Stefen Wisnewski, Navarro Bowman are just a few). And sometimes those same convictions are embarrassingly wrong -- Da'Quan Bowers, Jimmy Clausen (I loved Clausen ... whoops!) and Trent Richardson are among the many misses.
This happens because scouting is an art, not a science. Fifty percent of first-round picks are likely to underwhelm the teams that draft them. It's true you can't measure heart, you can't always predict who will fit well within the city/team organization they end up in. With that in mind, enjoy reading this but take it for what it is. One man's opinion.
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech (11th on my big board)
I think the clearest example of a player I love more than everyone else does this year is tight end Jace Amaro. Amaro is a 6-foot-5, 265-pound reception monster (106 receptions for 1,352 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2013) with good, but not great athletic ability (4.74 yard dash, 28 bench press reps, with a 33-inch vertical jump, and a 118-inch broad jump). Amaro has terrific hands and does a very good job of creating space in the short to intermediate passing game -- simply put in college he was always open.
Amaro's big knock is that he "can't block," to which I say ... How do you know?
No, seriously, how can anyone say definitively that Jace Amaro can't block? According to secondroundstats.com Amaro only spent 11.76 percent of the time as an in-line blocker. That's an absurdly low number. That means that in a game of 50 plays, Amaro would have had maybe 12 opportunities to block someone. Then people wonder why he's not a refined blocker. He has enough size to be an effective blocker, he has enough strength (28 bench press reps is good for a tight end) and from what I've seen (albeit in very few opportunities), he is a willing blocker.
Secondroundstats also points out that Amaro had the highest convert rate among tight ends who are considered the top prospects, and is a guy who broke the highest number of tackles.
Amaro is a guy I think belongs in the top 20 picks, he's a guy who is often mocked well out of the top 20 and a lot of times even available when the Giants pick in the second round. Amaro will never line up at tight end, blow off the line and run a 50-yard seem route like Vernon Davis, but to me Amaro has a higher upside Jason Witten. I think in think in the NFL he can easily catch 70 passes a year because he catches the ball in traffic, he has good hands, and he really knows how to run routes to get open.
I hope he's available for the Giants in the second round (and would be fine with him as the pick in the first) but he's reportedly on the short list for the Jets at 18. Amaro is my No. 1 underrated draft prospect.
Lamarcus Joyner, S, Florida State
He's not the biggest guy (5-8, 84 pounds), he's not the fastest guy (4.55 40-yard dash), but like Tyrann Mathieu last year, Lamarcus Joyner just makes plays all over the football field. He has incredible football acumen. Joyner has to overcome his athletic and size limitations, but I feel like he's a guy who is going to be a good player in the NFL whether it's at nickel cornerback, sub-package safety, or potentially a starting NFL safety. His size could push him into Day 3, but to me I would be comfortable with him in the second round.
Kareem Martin, DE, UNC
I see a lot of people say about Martin I'd like him, but not until the third round. To me, I don't know what else you could ask for. He's athletic (4.72 40-yard dash at 6-6, 272 pounds), he's long (35-inch arms with 10-inch hands) and he was VERY productive (82 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 14 quarterback hurries!). I'm not sure what else you could ask for in a second round defensive end. He doesn't flash a dynamic first step, or convert speed to power as well as Jason Pierre-Paul did coming out of college, but I see no reason why he can't be Charles Johnson in the NFL. I have no problem with him as a second round pick.
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
I have him as a second-round pick, but he looks like he could be drafted on Day 3. Seastrunk is a tremendous athlete who has a potential to be a dynamic change of pace back. The biggest problem to me is that he can't catch.
Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
Borland is a draftnik's trendy pick. He's all linebacker all the time. He's instinctive, tough, productive. He is limited athletically. He gets the offense to put the ball in the ground and makes every play. These shorter guys who don't run extremely well could always turn out to be another Greg Jones, but when you watch Wisconsin play he makes every play and I think he's a good solid starter in the NFL.
Bashad Breeland, CB, Clemson
Who? He didn't run great at the combine (4.62 40-yard dash), but he's like a poor man's Darqueze Dennard. He uses the sideline well, he's aggressive, he plays the run, he plays long, he moves well on tape and is always in good position. He isn't huge (5-11, 197 pounds) but he was a very good college football player who I think ends up being a starter in the NFL who can be had probably even in the 4th round.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt - Jordan Matthews is a familiar name. However, he is also being very underrated. Somehow a receiving prospect who is the most productive receiver in SEC (NFL-Lite) history is being largely ignored. And all due respect to Vanderbilt, they hardly have the kind of high-powered offense that one would expect to produce a receiver with Matthews' level of production. He has massive hands, a prototypical frame for a No. 1 or "X" receiver, is a more than capable athlete. He might not put up the astounding numbers that some receivers do, he is certainly "good enough", and his route running, hands, and body control translated very well to the NFL.
Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina - Generally speaking, slot receivers don't get the same kind of publicity that outside receivers do. By and large they are the guys who have the dirty job of keeping the offense on the field and the chains moving, while the outside guys get the glory of scoring touchdowns. Personally, I think Ellington could be a special player. He has less than ideal height, and didn't run a blazing 40 time, but he is an explosive athlete none the less. His (nearly) 40 inch vertical and reliable hands give him a big catch radius for a 5'9" receiver. He also brings his skills as the South Carolina basketball team's starting point guard to the football field with excellent quickness, sharp cuts, a strong ability to high-point the ball, and a willingness to fight for it in traffic. Off the field he's regarded as a strong leader with great intangibles.
Telvin Smith, OLB, FSU -- I know, I keep talking about Smith but he's severely underrated. He has everything you look for except for the requisite weight. He diagnosed plays quicker than anybody else I saw this year. He was ultra-aggressive but didn't take many missteps. He was a tremendous asset against the run despite his thin frame. I think he has a great chance to be a better player than Ryan Shazier, my current top 4-3 WILL linebacker in this draft. He'll probably get drafted in the late 3rd to 4th round and whoever gets him will have a steal on their hands.
David Fales, QB, SJSU -- Whoa, a QB? Yeah. He's consistently mocked as a sixth-round-to-UDFA and not sure why. He's been terrific this entire offseason process and showed up great at the Senior Bowl. He's an accurate passer and was a team leader. Was able to go down progressions in college without much hesitation. I really like him and think he's got legit starting upside, but he's lost amongst the other QB prospects out there.