The NFL is all about creating big plays on offense and finding mismatches you can exploit for chunks of yards at a time. And even though a prospect might not have the overall physical skill set to develop into a starter at the next level, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the ability to be a viable weapon on an NFL offense.
Today, the National Football Post ranks the nation’s top likely X-factors in this year’s draft:
1. WR Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss
Line him up at running back, wide receiver or even as a kick return man and Dexter McCluster will find a way make a play. At 5-9, 172 pounds, it’s tough to pinpoint a position for him at this stage in the NFL. However, McCluster has proven he can take a pounding as a running back, separate and catch the football from the slot and is simply too much of a talent to be overlooked on draft day. He’s a bit of a luxury pick because I don’t see him starting at any position at the next level. However, he’s one of the few prospects in this year’s draft who can be a real difference maker with a limited number of touches in a game.
2. WR Jacoby Ford, Clemson
Ford is another luxury-type player who lacks the size to consistently beat press coverage and make plays on the outside as a starting-caliber NFL receiver. His impressive sub-4.3 40 speed, however, is too much to overlook; the guy has the ability to easily run by defenders down the field and gash defenses in space. He’s still developing as a route runner and maturing as an overall receiver prospect. Nevertheless, if you give him an opportunity to beat a two-way go from the slot, there aren’t many corners in the NFL with the ability to play catch up and run with him on a crosser.
3. H-back Dorin Dickerson, Pittsburgh
Dickerson is another explosive tight end/H-back hybrid who possesses a rare blend of burst and vertical speed for the position. His 4.40 time at the NFL Combine was tops among the group as he displayed consistently during the 2009 season his ability to make plays down the field using his impressive deep speed. Now, he isn’t much of a route runner at this stage and is at his best when asked to simply run away from defenders in coverage. But you can’t teach this guy’s combination of size and speed, and you can bet some offensive coordinator will have a field day exploiting linebackers in coverage with Dickerson.
4. RB Michael Smith, Arkansas
It’s not out of the question that Michael Smith might be the most dynamic open field threat coming out of the SEC. Smith stands just 5-7, 180 pounds, but he’s absolutely lighting in a bottle and has the ability to instantly reach top speed, consistently make defenders miss and explode into daylight. He averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry each of the past four seasons but had plenty of struggles staying on the field because of his slight frame. However, if given a chance as a change-of-pace/third-down guy, there definitely is a place for him in the NFL.
5. H-back Jameson Konz, Kent State
Konz is a freaky size/speed athlete who at 6-4, 234 pounds has recorded 40 times in the sub-4.4 range while also hitting an absurd 46 inches on his vertical. Is he a better athlete than a football player at this stage? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean he lacks the willingness needed to improve and maximize his overall potential. Konz is a former linebacker who knows a thing or two about changing positions and getting the most out of his play quickly. He’s not there yet, but he definitely has the ability to run past defenders in the pass game and make plays down the seam for an NFL offense.
6. Wildcat QB Armanti Edwards, Appalachian State
The evolution of the wildcat quarterback position not only gives a player like Edwards a role to maximize his physical attributes but also allows him to create some very difficult matchup problems for opposing defenses. Edwards averaged more than 1,000 yards rushing per season in his career and offers an impressive blend of burst, wiggle and overall feel as a running quarterback. I don’t see the guy as potential starting QB in the NFL, but much like Pat White last year, Edwards’ ability to pick up yards on the ground as well as occasionally throw can certainly add a new element to just about any NFL offense.
7. RB LaMarcus Coker, Hampton
Coker is a former standout at Tennessee who was dismissed from the team in 2007 because of failed drug tests. He bounced back to run for over 1,000 yards as a senior at Hampton and could well be the fastest running back in the draft. Coker has been said to run in the sub-4.3 range and has the ability to get from 0-60 quickly in the open field. Obviously there are still a number of character concerns attached to him, but he’s a guy who has the speed to create any time he the ball is in his hands.
Others worth noting:
RB Darius Marshall, Marshall
Possesses a natural feel inside, catches the ball well and always seems to make the first man miss.
RB Roy Upchurch, Alabama
Never count out a running back who catches the football out of the backfield as well as Upchurch.
RB Brandon James, Florida
Isn’t a natural football player but has speed to burn once he gets in the open field.
WR Tim Brown, Rutgers
The slot guy no one is talking about. Showcases good balance and burst as a route runner and consistently is able to separate on all levels of the field.
WR Trindon Holliday, LSU
More of a track guy than a football player at this stage but can outrun anyone to the corner and is a threat to create any time the ball is in his hands. Plays at another gear.
TE Fendi Onobun, Houston
A former basketball player with limited experience/production, but at 6-6 and possessing legit 4.45 speed, the guy has the athletic skill set to mature into a player if given time.
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