One year ago, the Seattle Seahawks raised a few eyebrows when they selected quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round of the NFL Draft. Wilson had been a productive college player at both North Carolina State and Wisconsin, but his lack of prototypical size led many people to believe he was not worth such a high draft pick. Those experts were proven to be drastically wrong when Wilson led the Seahawks to within a minute of the NFC Championship Game as a rookie.
Every NFL Draft is filled with such possibilities, as there are always plenty of productive college players who wind up with lower grades for reasons that do not always make sense. Here are three such players who are most likely to embarrass draft experts as rookies next fall.
I honestly cannot figure out why there is not more buzz surrounding Barrett Jones heading into tomorrow’s draft.
Jones might be the most decorated offensive lineman in the history of college football. A four-year starter at Alabama, Jones won the Outland and Rimington Trophies while earning first team All-America honors at both left tackle and center. He also ranks among the draft’s best minds, winning the Campbell Trophy (the academic Heisman) and twice earning first team Academic All-America honors and leaving Tuscaloosa with a masters degree.
Oh, and Alabama won three BCS Championships in four years and had four different running backs clear 1000 yards with Jones in the lineup.
Seriously, what else does this guy have to prove?
Yes, Jones is not the best physical specimen in the draft and is also probably close to his peak as a player. He also had surgery on his left foot after the BCS Championship, though he figures to make a full recovery. Still, Jones has the intelligence and versatility that should make him a solid starter in the NFL for the next decade.
A terrific route runner blessed with an innate ability to adjust on the fly, Robert Woods has been Matt Barkley’s security blanket in the USC offense for the past three seasons. Entering the 2012 season, many experts believed that Woods was the best receiver in college football and would be a surefire first rounder if he chose to enter the draft.
But Woods was bothered by an ankle injury for much of last year, catching “only” 76 passes and leading many to believe he was starting to regress. In the end, Woods was not even the best receiver on the USC offense, though there are very few receivers who would not be overshadowed if they were playing alongside All-American Marquise Lee on every down.
Combine that with average speed and size for a receiver, and Woods is now unlikely to hear his name called in the first round. Do not be surprised if he cites this as motivation when he leads all rookie wideouts in receptions next fall.
Contrary to popular belief, there are actually a few quality defensive players hanging around the Big 12. A.J. Klein, a standout linebacker at Iowa State, has been one of the best over the past two seasons, earning a pair of first team All-League honors and being named co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.
It’s safe to say that Klein is a major reason why the Cyclones have reached the postseason in each of the past two seasons.
An instinctive tackler who excels at stuffing the run, Klein looks the part of a classic NFL middle linebacker. The knock on him is his coverage skills, though part of that could be the natural result of playing in a conference known for pass-happy offenses.
It looks like a great year for linebackers at the top of the draft, which could result in Klein dropping past the third round. Don’t be surprised if the team that selects him late ends up seeing a major improvement in their run defense next year.