Yet another NFL draft is upon us, and we're going to hear endless chatter this week about 40-yard dash times, a player's length and wingspan, his hips if he's a cornerback, his hand size if he's a quarterback, his get-off ability if he's a pass-rusher and always his upside.
Potential. Potential. And more potential.
But what about those guys who've been college football stalwarts for the past few seasons and have been nothing but productive, and yet they aren't being projected as first-rounders? As we've done the past two years, we've come up with a handful of players who we think will outperform where they're selected in the NFL draft.
In other words, who's the next Antonio Brown, who went from a sixth-round pick to one of the premier receivers in the NFL? Here's a glimpse:
Marcus Williams, S, Utah
One Pac-12 coach referred to Williams as "freakish," and he's certainly a freakish athlete who was always around the football for the Utes. A three-year starter who appeared in 39 career games, Williams had 10 interceptions the past two seasons, five each year, and broke up eight passes. He's the ultimate center fielder who cleans up mistakes and makes plays. Most of the draft projections have Williams pegged as a third-round selection, and if he does last that long, the teams who need a safety and pass him by are going to be sorry. At 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds, Williams isn't necessarily the enforcer that a lot of NFL teams covet at safety, but he's a sure tackler and fast enough that he could also possibly play some corner. Moreover, Williams doesn't turn 21 until September. So as good as he was in college for the Utes, he has a chance to be even better in the pros.
Vincent Taylor, DT, Oklahoma State
While it's true the Cowboys gave up 30 or more points eight times last season, it's also true that the 6-3, 304-pound Taylor was a disruptive force on the interior of that Oklahoma State defensive line. A redshirt junior, Taylor elected to leave early for the NFL draft and did so on the heels of an extremely productive season. He had 13 tackles for loss, including 9.5 in his last six games, and collected seven sacks. In addition, he blocked four kicks and forced two fumbles on his way to earning first-team All-Big 12 honors. Taylor's blend of speed and strength will play well in the NFL, making it even more surprising that he's being projected to go somewhere in the mid-to-late rounds. Everybody's looking for productive defensive tackles, especially tackles who can rush the passer, which will make Taylor a steal if he's still there the latter half of the draft.
Dalvin Tomlinson, DT, Alabama
Jonathan Allen is the Alabama defensive lineman getting most of the love as the draft approaches, but Tomlinson has everything it takes to be a 10-year pro -- and a good one. In fact, here's betting his second contract in the league is an eye-opener. A wrestler in high school, the 6-3, 312-pound Tomlinson was a rock in the middle of that Alabama defensive line and often overlooked because he had so many talented guys playing around him. He routinely swallowed up double teams and freed up other players to rack up big numbers. One NFL scout told ESPN.com that Tomlinson was more instinctive than even Allen and could find the football better than Allen and didn't run himself out of plays. From Day 1 in the NFL, Tomlinson will be strong enough, smart enough and athletic enough to hold his own against some of the best offensive linemen he faces, which makes him an absolute bargain if he slides past the second round.
Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State
Even the most talented running backs are undervalued sometimes in the NFL draft, and the 5-9, 214-pound McNichols will no doubt be drafted a lot lower than his college production says he should. He rushed for 3,046 yards and 43 touchdowns the past two seasons for the Broncos, including 1,709 yards last year. McNichols has excellent vision and is a terrific cutback runner. He can churn out the tough yards between the tackles and also had an 80-yard touchdown run and 76-yard touchdown catch last season. He had 88 catches over the past two seasons and should be an effective third-down back in the NFL because he's also improved in protecting his quarterback and picking up blitzes. In short, the more you watch McNichols play, the more you like him in a lot of different areas. Whichever team gets him in the latter rounds will get a running back equipped to play a long time in the NFL.
Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson
There are still some questions by NFL people about Leggett as a blocker, although he has improved in that area, but you're also talking about a guy who caught 86 passes, including 15 for touchdowns, over the past two seasons for the Tigers. He got better each year and really showed his versatility as a senior to be able to catch the ball in traffic and also generate yards after the catch. Leggett probably isn't going to hear his name called among the first few tight ends, maybe not even among the first five to seven tight ends, but his productivity in college suggests that he will be the kind of pass-catching tight end in the NFL that makes for major matchup problems for opposing defenses. Several analysts have dubbed this the deepest tight end class in years, but don't sleep on Leggett.