When you’re in my line of work, the most memorable players are often the unknowns, the underappreciated, and the underdogs. One of the most memorable for me was a player I watched in September 2006, whose performance against a top-ranked Tennessee Volunteers defense was so good that it belied his 24-carry, 72-yard box-score entry.
Here’s what I wrote about him in my game notes:
This was an impressive performance for [prospect], who
demonstrated unequivocally that he is a tough, physical back than can carry the load and get the difficult yardage as well as break the play outside or beat defenders in the open field with his moves and quickness. He rarely went down on the first hit unless the defender made a perfect form tackle.
It’s very impressive how low he can run in short yardage situations to get 2-3 tough yards against stacked defenses. Players bounced off [prospect] repeatedly in this game. This was one of the more impressive efforts I saw from a back all year.
These are notes meant for my own use, otherwise I would have found an appropriate synonym for “impressive,” so I didn’t use it three times in a five-sentence span. This 5-foot-11, 192-pound runner had one of my favorite performances of the year -– a year where Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch were the headliners at running back for the 2007 NFL Draft.
Like most, Lynch and Peterson were my top two backs. However this runner, who wowed me despite a sub-par yardage day, was ranked fourth in my pre-draft rankings. In 2007, 25 running backs went off the board.
Ahmad Bradshaw –- that No. 4 back on my board –- was the last runner taken in the draft; the 40th pick in the seventh round, going 250th overall. If we look at current career production, I was wrong about Bradshaw as my No. 4 back.
He has actually been the third-most productive runner from this draft class.
Players like these are memorable because let’s face it, unknown, unsung, and underappreciated usually means undrafted and unemployed. When a late-round or undrafted player makes his mark, it appeals to the part of us that roots for the underdog.
Whether it’s the small-school prospect with the big-time game, the well-known player whose skills are even better than advertised, or the overshadowed longshot with shocking moments of excellence, my favorite part of studying college prospects is watching talent that flies below the national radar.
Bradshaw’s obstacles towards reaching the NFL radar were injuries, off-field immaturity, and a B-list college program. I can think of others who fit the bill.
Victor Cruz was a small-school prospect with a big-time game. Ray Rice was a well-known college star who proved he was big enough, quick enough, and skilled enough to get the job done as a pro. Priest Holmes and Terrell Davis are great examples of talents that toiled in supporting roles behind talented teammates like Ricky Williams and Garrison Hearst after injuries cost them chances of earning more playing time.
My publication, the Rookie Scouting Portfolio, is a pre-draft analysis of offensive skill players that I publish April 1. (It also has a post-draft addendum.) What I enjoy the most about the April 1 publication is the opportunity to generate rankings where “draft stock” carries little to no weight. It’s a chance to focus more on the talent and less on the business.
This week, I’m sharing one unknown, one unsung, and one underappreciated prospect from my 2013 RSP analysis. I believe each prospect has the talent to out-perform his draft stock. These are excerpts from this year’s RSP that have been re-purposed for this column. It’s a small preview of what you’ll find in the publication.