Now is the perfect time to pinpoint some underrated prospects so you can be aware of the "sleepers" at the outset of NFL Draft season in late winter, and you'll be an expert about these guys at "peak" draft season in March and April.
Criteria to be included:
- Be an underrated prospect
- Never have been mentioned in any of my draft articles this season (QB Stock Watch, Top 20, Mock Draft)
The 6-foot-6, 232-pound Litton has a Jimmy Garoppolo-like delivery. It's quick and he has a tendency to lean backward upon the release. But there are plenty of impressive throws -- especially on downfield tosses toward the sideline -- on Litton's film résumé. After completing 62.6 of his passes with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a sophomore last year, Litton is completing 60.9 percent of his throws this season, with 13 touchdowns to just three picks. He completed 26 of 43 attempts for 350 yards with two scores and an interception against a stingy North Carolina State defense on the road in September. While Litton's overall numbers aren't eye-popping, his size, relatively good arm and flashes of pinpoint accuracy make him a name to stash away until draft season.
Lindsay has been a mainstay in the Pac-12 for going on three seasons now. He ran for 1,252 yards at 5.1 yards per carry with 16 rushing touchdowns a year ago and has continued his effectiveness as a senior. In eight games in 2017, the 5-8, 190-pounder, who runs with more power than his size would suggest, has 1,093 yards at 5.3 yards per rush with 10 scores. He's a no-nonsense back who displays impressive vision and is quick to get north-south. Rarely does Lindsay get tackled for a loss, and he constantly falls forward for extra yardage. He's not a true home run hitter but is efficient enough with his cuts to create big gainers on occasion. In a super-crowded running back class, don't let Lindsay's name get lost.
D.J. Moore, Maryland
The 5-11, 215-pound Terrapins wideout has already eclipsed his 2016 figures of 41 receptions, 637 yards and six touchdowns. He went off for 133 yards on seven catches and one touchdown in the season opener against Texas and had a 210-yard masterpiece in a win over Northwestern two weeks ago. Moore has a nice blend of decent size, ball skills in tight quarters and springy athleticism as a runner in the open field. He reminds me of Rishard Matthews.
Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State
Some will question the level of competition Goedert has faced in college, but he has dominated that competition. He had 92 receptions and 1,293 yards with 11 touchdowns last season and already has 33 grabs for 587 yards with three scores in 2017. He consistently makes difficult catches due to what look like long arms and monstrously large hands, and he almost always looks like the most athletic player on the field.
A year ago, Hernandez allowed one quarterback hurry on 363 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus' draft guide. Disclaimer: That's really good. At 6-3 and 330 pounds, Hernandez looks like an NFL lineman on the field with the Miners. Before this season, Hernandez had already started 37 games at left guard. He routinely gets lower than defensive linemen to win the leverage battle at the point of attack and is a tremendous combo blocker. Hernandez's awareness and balance round him out as a squeaky clean interior offensive lineman prospect. He was a stud against Oklahoma in September.
In a limited role behind Carl Lawson during his first two seasons with Auburn, Holland had three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss in 18 games. As the Tigers' featured edge-rusher this year, the 6-2, 249-pounder has amassed 7.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in eight outings. While Holland doesn't appear to be the most bendy, explosive outside rusher, his hands are extremely active and "heavy," as he routinely uses a swipe move on offensive linemen on his way to the quarterback. The presence of refined hand use is a major luxury for a pass-rushing prospect.
Folorunso Fatukasi, Connecticut
Last year the UConn freak athlete turned high draft pick was second-rounder Obi Melifonwu (Raiders). This year, that player might be the just-as-awesomely named Foloronso Fatukasi. While watching Fatukasi, I first noticed how immovable he is. It was kind of astrange, actually. Big offensive linemen try to move him, and it's like his spikes have grown roots in the ground. He's a super-strong 6-4 and 315 pounds but is not solely a block-eater. He had eight tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 2015, and after a down year a season ago, he has three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss in six games. The Huskies star defensive tackle moves very well and has lead pipes for arms.
Khalil Hodges, Buffalo
As a senior in high school, Hodge had 252 tackles. Following that ridiculousness, he spent a year at City College of San Francisco before making the cross-country trip to Buffalo. In 2016, his first season with the Bulls, Hodge maintained his tackling-machine ways with 123 takedowns with seven tackles for loss. Thus far in eight 2017 games, the 6-1, 240-pounder has 114 tackles, three tackles behind the line, two sacks and one interception. Hodge could stand to get a little faster for the NFL level, but his twitchiness and polish using his hands to shed blocks lead to his immense production.
M.J. Stewart, North Carolina
Stewart has produced from Day 1 in Chapel Hill. As a freshman in 2014, he snagged two picks and had 26 tackles with four pass breakups. He took a huge step forward in 2015 with 14 pass breakups and four interceptions to go along with 62 tackles. Through eight games this season, Stewart has corralled 30 ball-carriers with four tackles for loss, two sacks and eight defended passes. Clearly, he's a highly active secondary member and at 6-feet and 205 pounds, he has NFL-caliber size for the cornerback spot.
A brother of 49ers safety/linebacker Eric Reid, who went in the first round of the 2013 draft, this Stanford safety has enjoyed a breakout 2017 campaign. The Louisiana native had seven pass breakups and 55 tackles as a sophomore last year. He has reeled in five interceptions and already has 51 tackles in eight games this season. He could stay for his senior year in Palo Alto, but if he continues to play to the level he has shown he can, Reid could be a highly sought after for the 2018 draft in what looks like a shallow safety class.