This year’s 2018 NFL Draft has a deep class, with a plethora of star talent at every position on the draft board. Here is a list of the Top 10 late-round slept on prospects with starter potential, ready to suit up Day 1 for any team with needs to fill an offensive or defensive role.
- Kameron Kelly, DB, San Diego State
From film, you can tell Kelly is a go-getter, standing at 6’2” 204 pounds, plucking deep routes from receivers’ hands and sweeping them off their feet with his aggressive tackles-great at locating and breaking up the pass. Kameron ran a 4.66 40 at the combine, with a vertical of 33 inches and his versatility to play the whole secondary matched with his size and length can be carried on to be used the next level no doubt.
- Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee State
At 5’9” 178 pounds Richie lacks big stature, but that didn’t halt his contested production or himself as an electrifying runner after the catch, with precise routes, always in his highest gear with 4.48 speed, and a 35.5 vertical to top it off and make his name as a competitor known. James shined in 2015, receiving first-team Freshman All-American and first-team All-Conference USA notice with 108 receptions- ranked 3rd nationally, and 1,346 yards with 8 touchdowns. He also had 146 yards on 12 carries adding to that with a rushing touchdown. His sophomore season he contributed even more for Middle Tennessee, covering 1,625 yards and scoring 12 times while again receiving first-team all-conference honors, with 339 yards on 38 carries and ran the rock in the end zone 4 times. Richie was also the Hawai’i Bowl MVP despite the Blue Raiders’ loss because of his 201 yards of offense, including a 51-yard touchdown. His junior season came to an end early in October 2017, suffering a broken collarbone (31 receptions, 290 yards, three receiving touchdowns; 10 carries, 57 yards rushing, seven attempts and 37 yards on punt returns), but still managed to finish as the school’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns.
- John Kelly, RB, Tennessee
Declaring for the draft as a junior, John Kelly is a stocky power back that contributes almost more with the pass-catching facet of his game than exploding through defensive gaps. With 37 catches for 299 yards in the 2017 season, he had a break-out year for the Vols, rushing for 831 yards on 189 carries racking up 9 total touch downs. Also showing out at the Chick fil a kick off game tallying 4 TD’s with 128 rushing yards, stinging Georgia Tech and proving to be one of those diamonds in the rough.
- Darius Leonard, LB, South Carolina State
The 6’2” 213-pound South Carolina Native came up big for his hometown, with the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2016 with 124 tackles, 14.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, three pass break-ups, and 4 forced fumbles. He put up 70 stops the previous year, 13.5 for loss, 5 sacks, and two interceptions to earn a first-team all-conference selection. Darius led SCSU in tackles as a redshirt freshman in 2014, accumulating 86, 14 for loss, two forced fumbles and five sacks with an of NFL comparison to Wesley Woodyard.
- Justin Watson, WR, Penn State
Another underrated prospect that chose to stay close to home, the Pennsylvania Native has quick feet and hips to help his productivity as one of the best in FCS history, and an NFL sized frame. He’s exceeded over 1,000 yards in each of the last 3 seasons, receiving first-team All-Ivy League selection in 2015, finishing with 74 catches for 1,082 yards, nine touchdowns receiving; 10 carries and 154 yards, with one rushing TD; a runner-up for the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year award. Watson became noticed on a national level in 2016, as he was named a finalist for the Walter Payton Award as the FCS’s top player, setting school records and topped off his senior year in style, catching 81 passes for 1,083 yards and 14 touchdowns in 10 games.
- Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
Originally from Nigeria and got a late but promising start to the sport of football in 2010 when his family moved to the states, his name may be a challenge to pronounce, but one thing that’s not difficult to say about the big fella at left tackle is his staggering 6’6” 330-pound NFL build! Chukwuma played as a reserve his 2014 freshmen year for WMU, but soon earned a starting job at right tackle the next year, not to mention first-team All-MAC honors for his efforts, using his wide stature and length to protect the man behind him and carve holes for the running back. Okorafor received numerous All-American accolades and first-team all-conference for his performance as a senior in 12 starts at the left tackle position.
- Darious Williams, CB, Alabama Birmingham
This senior prospect doesn’t let his lack of ideal pro size tamper his abilities one bit, exemplifying the meaning of playing with pure heart for the game. A former walk-on for the Blazers, Darious might be geared more for slot coverage at the next level, but his competitive nature and technique allows him to play bigger than his frame states. One of the nation’s most productive corners in 2017, Williams accumulated 5 picks and broke up 19 more passes during his senior campaign, including 50 total tackles; establishing his instincts to prove he’s among the legitimate elites.
- Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
Kalen the Colorado native out of Arizona State, has a great athletic frame at 6’1” 227 pounds and uses his 9 and a half inch hands to be the effective pass catcher in the backfield for ASU. He ran a 4.46 forty at the combine, projecting to be chosen at round 4-5 in the draft. The four-star recruit played a role as a true freshman in 2014, accumulating 42 touches for 138 yards, 3 scores, six receptions for 64 yards and a receiving touchdown, adding to his stat-line, taking back 96-yard kick to the house in the Sun Bowl that year. He made national headlines in 2016 by tying the FBS record, using his powerful rushing style and speed to tally eight touchdowns in one game, mostly in the Wildcat position and one receiving, in a September match-up against Texas Tech. Ballage did not earn any all-conference awards because he split carries with Demario Richard, but he posted 14 rushing touchdowns, provided a safety net in the receiving game with 44 receptions for 469 yards, and a touchdown, and put in work on special teams returning 18 kicks for 409 yards. Ballage split carries with Richard again in 2017, totaling 669 yards and six TD’s on 157 carries 91 yards on 20 receptions and a lump sum of 437 yards on kick returns.
- Riley Ferguson, QB, Memphis
Riley has solid 6’4” 210 pound NFL size, ran just under a 5 flat forty, and finished his senior season with comparable numbers to top Quarterback prospect Josh Rosen, with a 63% QBR, 4,257 yards, 38 total touchdowns, and nine interceptions but yet projected to leave the draft board at round 3-5, may even slip further just because of the dominant QB depth that declared for this upcoming season. Ferguson’s executed best against UCLA, going 23/38 for 398 yards, six scores and one pic. Although the draft QB wise is very top heavy with guys like Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Rosen, Baker Mayfield- Riley can sling it down the field, and is still a great addition to any team that wants the grow a back-up into their QB1 in the next year or so.
- Deadrin Senat DL, South Florida
Deadrin is a Sunshine State native and interior defender, fitting for a 4-3 team with his quick, 9 ¾” hands to optimize his leverage over bigger offensive lineman- although he’s a pretty big man himself. Senat is a whopping 6’0” 314 pounds with a 31 5/8” arm length, so shorter composition and reach than some other high prospects, but has the physicality and technique off the line to terrorize pocket quarterbacks. In 2015, Deadrin started 10 games, playing in 12, and compiled 18 tackles, 5.5 for a loss. As a redshirt freshman, he started two games and played in all 12 finishing with 18 tackles. He was awarded Defensive MVP as well as second-team All-American Athletic Conference selection in 2016. Started 12 of 13 games played that season, making 34 stops, 7 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. At the combine he carried hi weight well, running a 5.16 forty, put up 35 reps on the bench press, and all in all South Florida should be proud of this 2-3 round pick.
Vaughan Sixbury, BCP Contributor