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NFL draft is full of high-impact players with low-level names

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No matter where they're turned up, the NFL scouting departments that most consistently find "diamonds in the rough" separate themselves from the rest.

Players with the potential to change teams, and who haven't yet received the attention their physical abilities warrant, are listed below.

Former Alabama QB Greg McElroy ran a  4.84 40 at the combine. (US Presswire)  
Former Alabama QB Greg McElroy ran a 4.84 40 at the combine. (US Presswire)  
Some played for smaller schools -- where level of competition can be a viable question for scouts to answer -- and others have immense talent but their stocks has been dragged down by durability issues, inconsistent production or simply were misevaluated by the masses.

Each player is a potential draft pick but might not be known by the average NFL fan.

In recent years, I've highlighted several unheralded prospects in this piece that went on to surprise in the NFL. Before NFL fans were learning the names Jared Allen (Idaho State), Joe Flacco (Delaware), Greg Jennings (Western Michigan), Marc Mariani (Montana) and Jimmy Graham (Miami, Fla.) among others, they were listed here as "diamonds in the rough."

There's plenty of credit to be given production with senior analyst Chad Reuter and's sports information technician Brian Hitterman, who contribute significantly to the site rankings and identify prospects that might have been overlooked. Our success is well documented.

Over the past five years, 164 of the 200 players listed in this article were drafted. The vast majority of the players not drafted were signed by NFL teams.

One "diamond in the rough" prospect was highlighted each week in my NFL Draft blog. Among them were Hampton defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis, Villanova offensive lineman Ben Ijalana, San Diego State receiver Vincent Brown and Appalachian State safety Mark LeGree. Don't be surprised when each of these prospects gets drafted significantly higher than most others are projecting.

Here are players projected to be second- or third-day picks we believe will prove to be steals. The position list outlines a top "diamond" and four others to watch, including one player at every spot who wasn't one of the 330 players invited to the 2011 Scouting Combine (denoted by asterisk).

Players are listed alphabetically.


 Greg McElroy, Alabama, 6-2, 220, 4.84 -- McElroy was hardly "in the rough" playing for Alabama, but I've been significantly higher on him than most. His fractured hand in the Senior Bowl robbed him of the opportunity to work out for scouts, but expect him to make a team as a very intelligent backup and eventual surprise when pushed into duty.

Others to watch:

Nathan Enderle, Idaho, 6-4, 240, 5.12

Adam Froman, Louisville, 6-4, 220, 4.73*

Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin, 6-2, 212, 4.92

Adam Weber, Minnesota, 6-1, 211, 4.82*

Running Back

 Taiwan Jones, Eastern Washington, 6-0, 194, 4.40 (40 time is estimated) -- The rare FCS-level underclassman leaving school early, Jones hasn't been able to work out due to a broken foot, but he'll scoot up draft boards when he does. Jones, a former cornerback, is brittle but he's also the most dynamic open-field runner I've seen this year -- at the FCS or BCS level.

Others to watch:

Graig Cooper, Miami, 5-10, 205, 4.60

Alex Green, Hawaii, 6-0, 225, 4.45

Bilal Powell, Louisville, 5-11, 207, 4.52

Chad Spann, Northern Illinois, 5-08, 199, 4.58*

Tight End

 Rob Housler, Florida Atlantic, 6-5, 248, 4.46 -- Housler's speed caught the eye of scouts at the Combine, but his ability to pluck the ball out of the air impressed those who watched him previously. There are a lot of raw, athletic tight ends in the class, but Housler is my favorite of the bunch.

Others to watch:

Jordan Cameron, Southern Cal, 6-5, 254, 4.56

Daniel Hardy, Idaho, 6-4, 249, 4.77

Andre Smith, Virginia Tech, 6-5, 269, 4.80*

Julius Thomas, Portland State, 6-5, 246, 4.64

Wide Receiver

 Tandon Doss, Indiana, 6-2, 201, 4.55 (40 time is estimated) -- Doss earned second-round to third-round grades from scouts contributing to the NFL Advisory Committee, but is a virtual unknown outside of the Big Ten. Unable to work out at the Combine due to recent groin surgery, he could slip further -- but shouldn't. He's a strong and surprisingly fluid runner after the catch capable of contributing as a receiver and returner.

Others to watch:

Doug Baldwin, Stanford, 5-10, 190, 4.54*

Vincent Brown, San Diego State, 5-11, 187, 4.68

Edmund Gates, Abilene Christian, 6-0, 192, 4.31 4.

Denaryius Moore, Tennessee, 6-0, 194, 4.43

Offensive Line

 Derek Newton, Arkansas State, 6-5, 311, 5.0 -- In the dog days prior to the Combine when Chad Reuter and I are writing up dozens of player evaluations to ensure we have every draft-worthy athlete covered, it is always a boost to discover a player outside the top tier who jumps off the tape. The athletic Newton did that for me while starring at right tackle for the Red Wolves. Newton needs to add some strength, but there is a lot of natural talent here.

Others to watch:

James Brewer, Indiana, 6-6, 323, 5.21

Taylor Boggs, Humboldt State, 6-2, 293, 5.20 (40 time is estimated)

Ben Ijalana, Villanova, 6-4, 317, 5.34 (40 time is estimated)

Willie Smith, East Carolina, 6-5, 310, 5.40

Defensive Line

 Lawrence Guy, Arizona State, 6-4, 305, 4.96 -- A standout in the Pac-10, this junior would be well-known if he played at Southern Cal or Oregon rather than Arizona State. Big, strong and athletic, there are elements to Guy's game and national anonymity that remind me of former Kentucky standout Corey Peters, who emerged as a quality starter for the Falcons after being the 83rd overall pick in last year's draft.

Others to watch:

David Carter, UCLA, 6-5, 297, 4.96*

Ugo Chinasa, Oklahoma State, 6-5, 265, 4.63

Kenrick Ellis, Hampton, 6-5, 346, 5.19

Chris Neild, West Virginia, 6-2, 319, 5.06


 Lawrence Wilson, Connecticut, 6-1, 229, 4.71 -- Wilson is smaller than my ideal linebacker prospect, but his instincts and athleticism make him a very intriguing weak-side 4-3 linebacker in the middle to later rounds. For a smaller guy, he's also pretty tough (having started a school-record 50 games) and plenty productive. He led the Big East with 123 tackles last season.

Others to watch:

Akeem Dent, Georgia, 6-1, 242, 4.78

Jeremiha Hunter, Iowa, 6-1, 239, 4.77

Thomas Keiser, Stanford, 6-5, 244, 4.80 (est)*

K.J. Wright, Mississippi State, 6-3, 246, 4.75

Cornerback  Shareece Wright, Southern Cal, 5-11, 185, 4.41 -- As is the case with Alabama's McElroy, it is a reach to call any Southern Cal prospect a "diamond in the rough," but Wright is a unique story. He didn't see the field consistently while battling injuries and academics, but there is legitimate talent here. Don't be surprised if he is drafted in the middle rounds and ends up an NFL starter. Some close to the USC program say he was the most talented cornerback in the program since Eric Wright.

Others to watch:

Jalil Brown, Colorado, 6-1, 204, 4.52

Korey Lindsey, Southern Illinois, 5-10, 182, 4.52*

Curtis Marsh, Utah State, 6-1, 197, 4.42

Johnny Patrick, Louisville, 5-11, 191, 4.59


 Mark LeGree, Appalachian State, 6-0, 210, 4.49 -- With 22 career interceptions and a trophy case full of awards, LeGree had to wait until the last minute to get an invitation to the Scouting Combine. Once there, he proved that his production wasn't just due to instincts, but legitimate athleticism. He'll likely be drafted on the third day, but then again, so were past players in this space, such as Colts' Antoine Bethea and the Redskins' Chris Horton.

Others to watch:

Chris Conte, California, 6-2, 197, 4.52

Chris Prosinski, Wyoming, 6-0, 201, 4.42*

Jonathan Nelson, Oklahoma, 5-11, 197, 4.51*

Jerrard Tarrant, Georgia Tech, 6-0, 204, 4.54

Rob Rang is Senior Analyst of, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Follow him on Twitter at @RobRang.


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