My favorite day of the entire year, outside of maybe Christmas morning with my family, is the Saturday of NFL Draft weekend. The final four rounds of the draft are captivating action to me.
Those rounds are filled with the players that can really help a roster, diamonds in the rough who can blossom for the right team. Many carry interesting back stories or circumstances that make them less coveted than players who will be drafted in the first three rounds even though these later prospects have every chance to be just as good, if not better. They either lack exposure or level of proven competition or don’t have the awesome physical traits, or they simply fall through the cracks in the draft media.
These are the prospects I study extensively and see in person at the Shrine Game, or sitting at tables at the Combine instead of podiums. Team area scouts talk them up to me in midseason conversations as players to watch, and they’re often spot-on.
Here are eight prospects I expect to see selected in the 4th thru 7th rounds, or perhaps even go undrafted, that I like a lot more than where their expected draft slot value would indicate.
Cortez Broughton, DT, Cincinnati
One of my favorite players to watch this past season, even when he devastated my alma mater, Ohio University, early in the year. Broughton is an expert at timing the snap and getting off the ball faster than the man assigned to block him. He is strong enough to bull rush and has explosive lower-body power while engaged, as well as natural leverage from being just 6-2 and 282 pounds.
The size is an issue, no doubt about it. He’s not as dynamic of an athlete as Geno Atkins, who is about the same size. He also doesn’t use his hands as well, and that’s something Broughton must improve if he ever wants to be more than a weekly inactive on the 53-man roster. The potential is there for an interior pass rusher who can reliably shoot gaps and finishes plays well. Despite being undersized, he also attacks the run quite well; his ability to chase down the edge run from inside is what ruined my Bobcats. I love him as an upfield attacking DE in an odd front, but Broughton can also work further inside.
Taryn Christion, QB, South Dakota State
Christion rewrote the Jackrabbits record books in his four years as a starter, and a lot of how he achieved such success in college translates well to the NFL. A 6-foot-2 dual-threat option with a sturdy build at 225 pounds, the game films I watched (3 games over two years, unfortunately not enough to have a deep opinion) echo a confident, mobile, smart quarterback a la Deshaun Watson or a smaller Andrew Luck.
There are some drawbacks. His level of competition is not great, though that has not been much of an issue for fellow FCS-to-NFL standouts Jimmy Garoppolo or Carson Wentz. Christion throws very well on the move but can be a little flat from a traditional pocket. He will need to learn to put more air under the ball on deeper throws too. The arm strength, ball placement and ability to stick anticipatory throws are all just fine. The character is impeccable; he’s a multi-year team captain and was a finalist for the FCS version of the Academic Heisman. If your NFL team needs a young backup with potential to take over for a starter in a year or two, Christion’s name should be much higher on the list than several players who will hear their names called before the end of Friday night.
Jimmy Moreland, CB, James Madison
Jimmy “MFin” Moreland. Playmaker extraordinaire. I’m a noted sucker for plucky slot corners, and that’s Moreland.
He picked off 18 passes for the Dukes, one of the top programs at the FCS level. He took 6 of those to the house. His style of man coverage is like watching Eric Beverly get under opposing point guard’s skin in the NBA, a constant barrage of hand checks, fast feet, move anticipation and swagger.
Moreland is small-framed at just 177 pounds and it shows in his tackling. He’s game to try but he’s not going to be successful if his role is to help bring down 240-pound TEs in the slot. His ball skills are exceptional and he’s got the “my ball” mentality that fans, and many coaches, covet.
Josh Oliver, TE, San Jose State
Sometimes players get dragged down or overlooked because of the quality of their college program. That sure seems to be the case with Oliver, who suffered through a carousel of inadequacy at QB and just 5 FBS-level wins in his final three seasons with the Spartans in San Jose.
Oliver might have the best hands of any receiving TE in this class. I’ll argue he’s the best at making difficult catches, in part because of how few well-thrown balls came his way. He has the athleticism to adjust to both coverage and the throw in the air. The effort is there as a blocker, though he’s not a bulldog with power or great footwork. I see Oliver as a ready-made TE2 for an offense that throws to that option a lot. The route running, while needing polish, is more advanced than his critics or ignorers would have you believe. I have a feeling that if he played at Stanford or Iowa, nearly every draft analyst would have him in the top 100.
Adarius Pickett, S, UCLA
If your team is looking for a safety who can play either the strong or free spot, or uses a scheme where safeties aren’t specialized, Pickett is a solid choice. That’s part of the problem in selling Pickett as a prospect. He’s very solid at just about everything but doesn’t have any one standout trait to make him shine.
I really like how well he tackled in space. Safeties often have to make tackles in space after sprinting to the point of attack. A lot of them cannot gather themselves to make a solid form tackle. Pickett does that very well. He flashed ball skills at times, notably in Shrine Game practices. One thing I also liked: he played better when UCLA’s corners looked good. That tells me he can be more successful when he’s more aggressive and doesn’t have to worry about the relative incompetence of his secondary mates.
Derick Roberson, EDGE, Sam Houston State
Roberson is a bundle of twitchy athleticism as a stand-up pass rusher off the edge. He erupted for 15 sacks in 2018 and did so despite not having P.J. Hall (2nd round pick by the Raiders in 2018) helping clear space for him on the inside.
Everything about Roberson is done at maximum speed. He blasts up the field and corners quickly to get the edge. He chases down plays across the formation. His mid-4.5 speed shows up easily. The technique needs work. In Shrine Game practices, Roberson either won instantly on a rep or got nullified. I can see that happening early in his NFL career until he learns how to use his hands and shoulders more effectively. Guys with his length, speed and closing burst don’t come along in the 6th round very often. Draft and stash and see what you’ve got.
Sione Takitaki, LB, BYU
Here’s a case of a player who wasn’t on my draft radar until a great performance at the Shrine Game practices forced me to pay attention. I was aware of Takitaki (he was on a watchlist I got from a trusted scout), but I hadn’t studied him until I saw him physically bully everyone in arm’s length in St. Pete.
It’s difficult for off-ball LBs to make an impression in practices like that. Live hitting isn’t allowed, after all. But there was Takitaki, consistently in position to thump people, always in the right gap at the right time against the run. He blew through RBs and TEs in pass rush/protection drills. Then he did the same in his one live-action day in Mobile at the Senior Bowl.
So I went to the tape and watched three BYU games (Wisconsin, Utah, Utah State) in a day. I’m not sure I saw more than 10 run plays in those three games combined where he didn’t at least have a hand in the tackle. One quality that really stood out: Takitaki was great at absorbing a block when he saw a teammate in closer proximity to make the play. That’s a savvy move that helps make Blake Martinez a starter for the Packers despite similar athletic and speed limitations as Takitaki, who is a little stiffer and about a quarter-count slower to react.
He’s the kind of 3-4 ILB anyone descended from the BIll Parcells coaching tree will love, and because he had some off-field issues in his younger days, Takitaki might fall pretty far in the draft. He can at least make a roster in 2019. At least…
Papi White, RB/WR, Ohio
White is not going to get drafted, I’ll put that out there right away. And I might be biased as a fellow Ohio Bobcat, too. But I firmly believe the versatile White can stick in the NFL.
His skill set and size (measured at 5-9/177) remind me a great deal of current Lions RB Theo Riddick. While Riddick plays at about 20 pounds more than White, the concept of a quicker-than-fast collegiate slot WR becoming an NFL RB is Papi’s path to NFL success just as it has been for Riddick. Lightning quick in space and generally sure-handed (save one ugly drop), White is a weapon in the short-range passing game. He has some return specialist potential as well. Don’t bet against him making a roster as the No. 4 RB/No. 5 WR with special teams ability.
His Bobcat teammate, RB A.J. Ouellette, might be an even better choice for this list. To stick with comparisons to current Detroit Lions, think an angrier Zach Zenner with more natural hands.