If you've been following NFL Draft coverage, by now you're probably extremely familiar with names like Bryce Young, Will Anderson Jr., and CJ Stroud. But the NFL Draft doesn't tend to get interesting until the later rounds. That's where the truly elite teams maximize their roster talent. This year, there are quite a few players floating under the radar that could end up making a pretty big splash in the league. Here are a few of my favorites:
If you’re of the belief that ultimately, because a successful NFL quarterback comes down to a certain “it” factor, then Haener is for sure a player you want on your team. Due to injuries last season, Haener’s numbers don’t jump off the page but if you’ve actually watched him play there’s no denying he’s going a little something special to his game. There’s a reason he’s drawing comparisons to Drew Brees. Haener had some outstanding performances last season, throwing for more than 350 yards against Oregon State and San Diego State —two of the best defenses on the West Coast.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see him land in a spot like Washington or even New England where the quarterback position feels up for grabs. He’s the best bet at being this year’s Brock Purdy.
Okay, so he’s tiny. Like, 5-foot-5, 180 pounds tiny. The odds of him being an every down back in the NFL aren’t high. But you better believe Deuce is making an NFL roster, and I’m pretty confident he’ll become a fan favorite in pretty short order. The son of a coach, Deuce began his career as a walk-on and ended it as a two-time All-American at Kansas State. And all he did in college was produce, no matter who the competition was, even Bama:
Deuce would be an electric third-down back in the right system. It’s hard to imagine Andy Reid not watching his tape and daydreaming of screens to get him in open space. If your team drafts him, make sure to put in your order for a jersey right away. They’ll be selling out soon.
Similar to Vaughn, Hodges-Tomlinson (LaDanian’s cousin) is an undersized player who did nothing but produce at TCU — where undersized athletes tend to shine. Hodges won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back last season and found himself lined up against very talented players week in and week out in the pass-happy Big 12. His value likely lies as a nickel slot corner, but despite being undersized, he has a ton of experience holding his own against bigger players on the outside. He’ll be a good pro for a very long time.
Boutte was projected to go in the first round prior to the start of last season, but injuries and general discontent at LSU resulted in a disappointing junior year. Regardless, there’s a case to be made — a good case — that Boutte is the best skill position player to come out of LSU since Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase. His 4.5 forty-yard dash time at the Combine leaves something to be desired, but his game tape doesn’t show a player lacking for speed at all.
I’m gonna take a wild stab and say the guy who glided through Georgia’s first round-laden defense has some potential. Boutte fumbled the bag with his disappointing season, but all the tools are there to be as good as any other receiver in this draft class.
Okay, so this one is a bit of a stretch because Campbell is projected to go in the second round but that still feels like a steal. This guy was nothing less than a dog in college. Iowa’s defense was arguably the most impressive individual unit of any team in the country, and Campbell was at the heart of it making play after play. The Hawkeyes have a long tradition of filtering solid linebackers into the pros and Campbell — an All-American and the Nagurski award winner for best linebacker in the country — may very well be the best of the bunch. It’s difficult to imagine a hard-nosed defensive coach like Belichick or Dan Campbell passing on him.
Bell is a player that isn’t projected to go until the end of the draft — or could possibly go undrafted altogether — but I’m definitely a believer. Although he dealt with some injuries during his career, whenever Bell was on the field all he did was get open and catch the ball.
Michigan’s offense was very run-heavy, but Bell established himself as the clear top receiving option, accounting for more than 25% of Michigan’s total passing offense last season. It would be a stretch to predict he’ll be a Pro Bowl-caliber talent but Bell was extremely consistent last season and feels like a great addition to a ball-control type of offense similar to what he played in at Michigan.