With the draft process in full swing -- from all-star games to the NFL combine to pro days -- there are a few guys who aren't generating a lot of buzz. But after watching their tape, I think these guys deserve some recognition.
On the flip side, there are a few big names out there, guys who have been in our Top 32, who still leave me with questions.
First let's take a look at a couple of undervalued prospects.
Players you should know
D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston (Scouts Inc. Grade: 84)
There's a big reason no one is talking about Hayden. In practice this past November, Hayden tore his inferior vena cava, a major vein that feeds the heart, in a collision with a teammate in practice. He was in the hospital for six days with an injury that typically holds about a 95 percent fatality rate and that is common in high-speed car accidents. It's a minor miracle that he survived the injury.
He hasn't been able to work out and run for teams, and that's why he hasn't received a lot of buzz during the draft process. Most reports from scouts I've talked to are that he is on pace to be ready for action in the fall. He's starting to do a little light jogging, but he hasn't been able to test. However, his tape ranks near the top of all the cornerback prospects I've studied so far.
Against UCLA, you see a player who is instinctive, fluid and quick. He also shows an explosive closing burst and can make up ground in a hurry. A clear example came in the second half when he was initially beaten on a post route but was able to transition quickly with a speed-turn and track the receiver to make a play on the ball. Throw in a pair a of interceptions when he showed strong awareness and eyes to key Bruins QB Brett Hundley, come off of his primary assignment and track the ball. Hayden turned in a complete game.
The UCLA tape was not the only one when he flashed playmaking instincts. Against UTEP, Hayden jumped a slant route for an interception deep in his own territory before showing an extra gear to cut across the grain and run away from pursuit on his way to a 97-yard return for a touchdown. It was one of the more impressive plays I have seen during my film study this year. I also like his willingness to step up and set the edge in run support, which is a critical component scouts look for with the position.
Hayden checked in at the combine at 5-foot-11 and 191 pounds and has above-average size. Whether it's in the third round or he falls to Day 3, the team that takes Hayden will be getting a talented player and eventual starter. He's an early-second-round talent on tape, but because of the injury, a team might be able to get him in the third or fourth round. At that point, he'd be an absolute steal.
Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford (Scouts Inc. Grade: 64)
Thomas didn't work out well at the combine. He checked in at 6-3¼, 244 pounds, ran only a 4.91 40-yard dash, had a 32-inch vertical and had a 9-foot-5 broad jump. Those pedestrian numbers, combined with the average athleticism you see on tape, more than likely will drop Thomas into the range of the late third or early fourth round.
Thomas certainly doesn't have elite physical tools, but he's a flat-out football player. Thomas is an instinctive player who plays with a nonstop motor. He sees everything in front of him and is constantly a step ahead in reading and reacting to plays. In addition, Thomas has shown a lot of versatility lining up all over the front seven. He can play in a two-point or with his hand in the dirt when aligned off the edge and has shown ability to line up at the inside linebacker position in sub-packages.
As a pass-rusher, Thomas anticipates the snap count well to get a quick first step and comes off with proper leverage as a pass-rusher. He also has very active and quick hands to keep blockers off of his frame. Thomas doesn't have great torso flexibility to bend the edge and shave the corner, but he is very crafty at dipping his inside shoulder to get underneath offensive tackles' pads and has an inside change-up move. In addition, he excels at running a tight loop and quickly putting pressure on interior offensive linemen when executing the inside twist.
Thomas is constantly seen around the ball on tape and has the production to match. He has had 16 sacks in the past two years and 33 tackles for losses. That production combined with his instincts, motor and high character should allow him to bring strong return to a team that pulls the trigger on him in the early middle-round range.
Miguel Maysonet, RB, Stony Brook (Scouts Inc. Grade: 52)
Maysonet is a Day 3 type player at this point who is flying heavily under the radar. At 5-9, 209, he is built low to the ground and runs with above-average power. Maysonet shows natural vision and good instincts and does a great job of setting up and using his blocks. He runs with a wide base and a low center of gravity, which gives him great balance as a runner and provides him with lateral quickness and agility. Maysonet is also a strong finisher who keeps his legs churning to manufacture hidden yardage at the end of runs.
The play that paints a picture of the determination Maysonet displays came against Syracuse this past fall. He had a highlight-type run in which he hurdled a guy, got hit and continued to run for a TD. I believe Maysonet will be one of the bigger Day 3 steals, a player who can become a quality No. 2 and has the potential to develop into a feature back in the NFL.