Bill Parcells was famous for his penchant to continuously churn the bottom of his roster. He'd bring guys in for a look, and if he liked what he saw, he'd make a change. In theory, that constant churn at the bottom kept everyone else on the roster fighting hard to scramble upward. Players were kept on their toes to help avoid complacency. When asked about some of the reclamation projects or ‘has-beens' he'd bring in, Parcells would say something to the effect of ‘somewhere, someone once had a high opinion of this player.'
Recently, I was taking a look at Garrett Gilbert in light of his Dallas Day participation. I learned about his once sterling projection as a can't-miss prospect, one of the hottest QB recruits in the country. I started to think about what other prospects might be out there of whom "somewhere, someone once had a high opinion." There are countless reasons why a once highly-touted 18 year old kid might not realize his potential - injuries, academic struggles, poor scheme fit, the coaching staff that recruited him is fired, home sickness, poor judgment, immaturity, failure to develop, or even the possibility that the player was overrated to begin with. Remembering what I was like at 18, I'm more willing to forgive transgressions at that age than I am with a more mature adult. Could there be other tarnished gems out there worth a look?
To start my search, I needed help. I'm no expert on national high school scouting. Fortunately, there's a lot of scouting across this country, from Pop Warner football on up. Promising athletes are tracked from a very young age. Major sites now track high school prospects by class, with various grading systems. Rivals.com is one such site. Each year Rivals ranks the graduating high school senior class prospects using both a numerical ranking and a 1-5 star system. Since their rankings started in 2002, Rivals has given an average of 29 five-star grades per year. The coveted five-star grade is reserved for the best of the best, the crème de la crème, the top 1% of all the high school players offered scholarships. It might be interesting to see how the draftable crop of five-star prospects looks this year. This seemed like a decent enough (and manageable enough!) set of data to look at.
It's worth noting that the Rivals grading system, like any scouting endeavor, is not infallible. For every Adrian Peterson (2004 #1 overall, 5-star) there is a Derrick Williams (2005 #1 overall, 5-star). In aggregate though, five-star prospects have a fairly good chance of reaching the NFL. Consider this - since the 2008 Rivals class there have been 59 five-star prospects who have declared for the draft (not counting this year). Of these, 37 (62.7%) were drafted and an additional 16 (27.1%) were eventually signed as an undrafted free agent. Now, some of these only had the proverbial cup of coffee in the NFL, but that's still more than most who declare each year. As of today, 45 (76.3%) of those 59 are still on an NFL roster. Only 6 (10.2%) never made a regular season NFL roster or practice squad.
How does this year's draft look?
There are 29 five-star prospects eligible to be drafted this year. According to CBS big board, 20 (69.0%) of those 29 have a current draftable projection (i.e. a rank of 256 or lower).
Here are all 29:
|2011||1||Jadeveon Clowney||DE||S. Carolina||1|
|2011||22||Stephon Tuitt||DE||Notre Dame||40|
|2010||14||Lamarcus Joyner||CB/S||Florida State||52|
|2010||20||Christian Jones||LB||Florida State||124|
|2010||2||Seantrel Henderson||OT||Miami (FL)||156|
|2011||11||James Wilder Jr.||RB||FSU||409|
There are a lot of familiar names here. And these are of less interest to me. Clowney, Watkins, HHCD, Easley, Seastrunk - at this time of the year, everyone knows who these guys are. I'm more intrigued by the later round or UDFA guys. Let's say 5th round or lower, starting with Devon Kennard. What happened to these guys? Why did they fail to live up to their five-star projection as the cream of the crop? Are any of these guys worth a look, either in the draft or as a priority UDFA?
Here are a few that I found interesting for one reason or another:
Did you know that this year's draft class features not one, but TWO sons of former Super Bowl-winning Cowboys? Jackson Jeffcoat, son of Jim, and Devon Kennard, son of Derek - the Cowboys' starting center in Super Bowl XXX! Once ranked the 8th best high school prospect in the country, Devon has had to bide his time on a talented USC team. He had a very good 2013, though, and was named to the All-Pac 12 defensive team with 60 tackles, and team highs with 13.5 TFL and 9 sacks. NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki says he's a good tackler, smart, tough and has outstanding leadership and intangibles, but he's only average athletically with limited explosion and power.
Once the #2 overall prospect in the nation, this mountainous OT prospect has been a hard guy to figure out from the start. After signing a LOI with USC, he later de-committed and eventually ended up playing for Miami (FL). He seems to be of the ‘million dollar body, ten cent brain' type. He's been suspended multiple times by the team, admitted to marijuana usage, ran a red light on an expired license, hit a car, and sent two children to the hospital, and also apparently ‘quit' his own pro day. Don't want.
One of only two five-star prospects dating all the way back to the 2008 Rivals class that are in the 2014 draft (Jermie Calhoun is the other), Matt Patchan has had nothing but hard luck since he came to Florida as the 18th overall prospect in the nation. It started in 2008 when he was shot in the shoulder as an innocent bystander in a park. He then hurt his knee in a scooter accident. Then he tore his right ACL. Then he fractured his right wrist. Then he tore his pectoral. Looking for a fresh start, he transferred to Boston College for his sixth and final year of eligibility and put together a solid season, earning 2nd team All-ACC honors in 2013. According to CBS' Rob Rang, Patchan has good athleticism and "undeniable talent." Perhaps the wheel of fortune has finally turned up for Patchan?
The former SEC Freshman of the Year ran for 850 yards and 5 TDs for Georgia in 2011. But then he was dismissed from the program for failing a drug test and for multiple felony firearm charges (which were later dropped). Instead of sitting out the mandatory year required to play at another FBS program, he enrolled at Alabama State, where he's dominated the past 2 seasons with 30 total TDs, nearly 2000 yards, and a 6.6 ypc average in 2013. From his CBS overview: "From a purely talent standpoint, Crowell may just be the best runner in the 2014 draft." But with his checkered past is he even on Dallas' board, and if so, is he worth the gamble? Someone will draft him.
The best high school prospect in the nation in 2010, according to Rivals. MVP of the US Army All-American Bowl. Powell lived up to his billing his freshman year, playing in 13 games and making the Freshman All-SEC Team. He followed that up his sophomore year with 12 starts, 9 TFL and a team high 6 sacks. Then came the injuries. He tore an ACL in a spring game, and then tore it again in fall practice, and sat out the year. He came back last year and did OK for a disappointing Florida team, starting 8 of 11 games with 26 tackles, 7 TFL, and 4 sacks. A good, once-great athlete, and by all accounts a good kid with leadership traits, Powell might have more upside than his return-from-injury 2013 season suggests.
Thrust into the spotlight of a BCS national championship game as a true freshman due to an injury to Colt McCoy, Gilbert had a chance to etch his name in history forever... only to come up short. An up-and-down performance has largely been forgotten. The ugly 5 turnover box score remains. How might his career have turned out differently if the Longhorns would have won that game? But they didn't, and after a losing 5-7 season as a sophomore starter, Gilbert's stay at Texas soon came to an end. He transferred to SMU and ran the run-and-shoot under June Jones. After a decent 2012 season, he came back strong and put together a 66.5% completion, 3500 yard, 21 td, 7 int season in 2013. By all accounts he had a terrific pro day, completing 87 of 88 passes and the once-and-future-and-then-forgotten-QB was back on the radar. Gil Brandt even suggested he might ascend all the way into the 3rd round (!):
"He's got good arm strength and probably moved himself up to be an early third-day pick, maybe even as high as late in the third round."
After his pro day and Dallas Day participation, the rumors of a Cowboy connection came fast and furious for a time. Could Gilbert be the late round or even priority UDFA developmental QB the Cowboys covet?
James Wilder Jr
The son of former successful NFL running back James Wilder, this prospect was the 3rd highest rated high school running back coming out in 2011. He's played well when given the chance in a crowded and talented FSU backfield: 5.8 ypc with 11 TD in 2012, followed up by 7 ypc and 8 TD in 2013. Has shown ability to catch out of the backfield, too, with 19 catches for 141 yds and 2 scores in 2012. He's not fast (ran a 4.8 40 at the combine), but he's a powerful and violent runner. He also comes with character concerns with multiple arrests on his rap sheet. Maybe a Marion Barber battering ram type?
Here's an interesting case. This once highly-recruited running back committed to Tailback U, where he almost immediately started getting into trouble. Marijuana use and improper contact with an agent (who Baxter claimed to not know was an agent), coupled with limited playing time as a freshman (59 carries) led to a transfer to his hometown San Diego State. He didn't last long there, and was dismissed for fighting with teammates before ever playing a game. He finally ended up at Baker University. He spent most of 2012 getting back in football shape and learning the offense, and contributed sparingly. But in 2013 he had a big year, with over a thousand yards, a 5 ypc average, 24 receptions, and 8 touchdowns for an 11-2 team. And then came these measurable from his participation at Kansas State's pro day: 4.46 40 / 37.5 vert / 122 broad / 6.78 3cone / 5-11, 203 lbs. Now, taking those pro day measurable with an enormous grain of salt, they would have qualified him as the 6th best 40 time amongst running backs at the combine, the 8th best vertical, tied for the 10th best broad jump, and tied for the second best 3-cone (after only Bishop Sankey). For a former five-star recruit who is now ranked 951st overall by CBS, those are some pretty nice measurables. He's saying all the right things now about gaining perspective and maturity. Maybe worth a look as a UDFA?
Once upon a dream, McDaniel was the nation's 2nd highest rated high school defensive tackle (second only to Sheldon Richardson). He committed to FSU and, unlike many of the other star-crossed prospects on this list, he remained there for his entire career. It wasn't trouble with the law or Mary Jane that derailed McDaniel's career. He had so-so performances and then injury struck. He fractured his ankle against Duke in the 5th game of the 2011 season and ended up missing the rest of the year and ALL of 2012. His was a feel-good story in 2013, as he came back and contributed in a rotational capacity for all games of the 2013 championship team, logging 29 tackles, 2.5 TFL, a half sack, and 1 interception. He's built like a Marinelli DT at 6-0, 295 lbs, though in a ‘reverse Melton' has also floated the idea that he's willing to convert to fullback in the NFL. Not great size or production, but again ‘somewhere, someone once had a high opinion of this player.' Maybe worth a camp look-see?
Those are some names that caught my eye. Oh, one more thing. There were 3 other five-star players that never declared and apparently have dropped out of football. Two of them were knuckleheads: Gary Brown, a 2009 five-star DT who committed to Florida and was dismissed before every playing a down after battery charges for striking two women, and Chris Martin, a 2010 five-star DE who committed to Cal, never played for them, later enrolled at Florida, never played for them, enrolled at Navarro College in Texas, got arrested for marijuana, eventually transferred to play for Charlie Weis at K State, but was dismissed following arrest on a robbery charge before every playing a down. Yikes.
The last mystery five-star is Latwan Anderson, a 2010 five-star ‘athlete' and 15th overall ranked prospect who accepted a track scholarship to Miami (FL) and was on the football team, but never played a down for them. He eventually transferred to E. Mississippi community college, but his current whereabouts are "unknown." A Youtube video shows him training as a cornerback at Raw Talent Sports in October 2013.
So there you have it: the five-stars of the 2014 NFL draft! While I'm tempted to continue on through the four-stars and lower, this is probably long enough! It's not likely any of these prospects will wear the star, but ‘somewhere, someone once had a high opinion' of all of these players.
Anyone catch your eye? Any other fallen stars you know about?