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Top 10 NFL Surprising Undrafted Rookies To Watch in 2014

Football
Top 10 NFL Surprising Undrafted Rookies To Watch in 2014

Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images

The 2014 NFL Draft was one of the deepest in recent memory and after 7 rounds and 256 picks, there were still some very talented players left behind. Many players who were collegiate stars and fixtures as starters on either successful or highly respected college football teams are now fighting to realize their dreams of making it in the NFL as undrafted free agents.

The players who didn’t make the draft grade were either injury prone, lacking in speed or strength or maybe just managed to get overshadowed by the abundance of talent at some of the deeper positions of available players. Given the right team and opportunity, some of these players still have the talent, drive and determination to land a spot on an opening day roster.

The following 10 players easily could have been drafted in previous years, but now must face the daunting task of making it on NFL teams as undrafted free agents. The difference in talent between these players and those who managed to get drafted in the later rounds is far from significant. With plenty to prove and the determination that comes from realizing a dream, these 10 players just might be able to go from Saturday stars to Sunday sidekicks.

10. Shane Skov – LB (Stanford)

Danny Wild/USA TODAY Sports Images

Danny Wild/USA TODAY Sports Images

The first-team All-PAC 12 and third-team All-American from Stanford is coming off a season with 109 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 5.5 quarterback sacks. Skov battered opposing ball carriers in 2013 and showed above average instincts and a nose for the ball. It seems that Skov has all the essential qualities of being a premier NFL linebacker, except for the desirable speed.

Skov went undrafted primarily because of the 5.11 second 40-yard dash time that he logged at his pro day. He battled a hamstring injury prior to the NFL Combine that was still nagging him at his pro day and has still been recovering from a serious knee injury suffered in 2011. The San Francisco 49ers decided he was worth a chance.

If Skov learns to be in the right place at the right times, he can plug holes and tackle with the best of them. He also has some good linebackers to learn from on the 49ers.

9. Brett Smith – QB (Wyoming)

Troy Babbitt/USA TODAY Sports Images

Troy Babbitt/USA TODAY Sports Images

Brett Smith is used to doubters and having to prove himself. The Oregon high school quarterback was lightly recruited and ended up at Wyoming where he decided to break several school records and score at least 30 touchdowns in three consecutive seasons. Smith ran a 4.59 40-yard dash, jumped over 10 feet in the broad jump and even had 18 reps of 225 pounds, proving he was certainly an athletic quarterback.

Questions about Smith’s arm strength and an inability to put velocity on throws while his feet are in motion contributed to his undrafted status. Smith can also be overconfident with his throws into tight coverage and is not the prototypical size of an NFL quarterback. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him after drafting his favorite Wyoming receiver, Mike Herron. This might help Smith settle in with the Buccs that much more.

Smith must be willing to throw the ball away or check down in the NFL. He will be united with a quarterback coach who recruited him at Wyoming and has the opportunity and grit to earn a roster spot.

8. George Uko – DT (USC)

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images

George Uko was a Parade High School All-American at Chino, California and an honorable mention All-PAC 12 defensive tackle at USC in 2013. Uko has decent speed and strength and exhibits a good burst for a man of his size, allowing him to play some defensive end during his Trojan career. He uses his hands and arms well and can collapse the pocket in the passing game.

Uko could have used another season to put up bigger numbers at USC. Hampered by his lack of overall size and strength and inability to dominate single blockers, his draft stock was not what it could be with another year of experience in college. He also lacks the quickness to be an effective NFL defensive end, but could get the opportunity to make it as an end after signing with the New Orleans Saints.

Uko is a good athlete that can add bulk to play in the middle or work hard to play off the edge. He is a project with great upside potential.

7. Brandon Coleman – WR (Rutgers)

John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports Images

John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports Images

Not many behemoth receivers come into the NFL with Brandon Coleman’s speed. Coleman only caught 92 passes for 1,743 yards in three seasons at Rutgers, but did manage to score 20 touchdowns. He has long arms and can catch balls thrown over the heads of shorter cornerbacks while also possessing deceptive speed that gives him the capability of being an effective sideline target.

Coleman didn’t have a stellar 2013 season, catching 43 balls for 718 yards, but still came out a year early for the NFL Draft. His numbers did not help him, but he still remains intriguing after averaging 18.9 yards per catch during his Rutgers career. After failing to get drafted, the New Orleans Saints signed him as a free agent.

Coleman has the size and speed to be the next Vincent Jackson, but it will not be so easy for him to separate from the speedy corners of the NFL.

6. Cornelius Lucas – T (Kansas State)

Scott Sewell/USA TODAY Sports Images

Scott Sewell/USA TODAY Sports Images

Cornelius Lucas is a large man and used his size to his advantage on the way to earning All-BIG 12 second-team honors. He earned first-team All-BIG 12 honors as a junior when he emerged as one of the top linemen in the conference. Lucas is good at cutting off pass rushing angles, has great athleticism for his size and has a large wingspan that helps him recover lost ground.

Lucas has the raw skills to become the next Jonathan Ogden in the NFL, but his desire and inability to be as dominant as his size can permit are holding him back. He plays stiff and struggles with leverage which can be overcome with his great size in college but not in the NFL. The Detroit Lions will get a chance to tap into his tremendous potential.

Lucas has the size and physical tools to become a great NFL tackle if he remains dedicated and commits to working on becoming more dominant by improving his technique.

5. Anthony Steen – G (Alabama)

Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports Images

Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports Images

The second-team All-SEC guard had shoulder surgery to repair a partially torn labrum in December. He was considered to be the 5th best guard available in the 2014 NFL Draft prior to suffering his injured shoulder. In his junior season (2012), Steen was the only member of the Alabama offensive line that didn’t record a penalty or quarterback sack. He is compact and strong in the trenches and at the point of attack.

Steen did not have much luck with the surgery and didn’t exactly impress scouts with his 5,33 second 40-yard dash. He had struggles against quicker players and is less effective at pulling than hitting defenders right out of the blocks. His arms are considered to be short and his lateral movement is below average. Despite all the questions about his readiness for the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals decided to take a chance.

Steen needs to compensate with improved technique and better footwork. He is tenacious and strong enough for the NFL and now has the added determination to survive the last cut.

4. Marcus Roberson – CB (Florida)

Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images

Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images

Marcus Roberson entered Florida as a four-star recruit from undefeated Florida powerhouse, St. Thomas Aquinas High School. He was considered, by Rivals.com, to be the second best cornerback recruit in the nation. He had a tremendous sophomore season in 2012, recording 12 pass breakups and two interceptions, but battled injuries throughout 2013. He managed to play in only seven games, but still decided to enter the draft.

Roberson went undrafted after recording a less than stellar 4.61 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He was signed by the St. Louis Rams who are hoping he can return to 2012 form.

Roberson needs to improve his anticipation skills and stay more alert in coverage to eliminate his tendency to use his hands to neutralize receivers. He has good hips, quick feet and quick recovery skills to make up for his lack of straight line speed.

3. DeAndre Coleman – DT (California)

Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports Images

Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports Images

The former Parade High School All-American from Seattle was a star defensive tackle at California with his ability to clog up the middle with size, strength and long arms. He was selected to several preseason All-Pac-12 teams and even landed on the 2013 Outland Trophy Watch List.

A less than spectacular senior season combined with an injury suffered while running the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, lowered his draft stock. Coleman landed on the Jacksonville Jaguars and will face some stiff competition on the defensive front of the Jaguars that has lots of youth at the tackle spots.

He needs to improve his explosiveness and do a better job of fighting off blocks, but certainly has enough athleticism and strength to play against the run.

2. Kelcy Quarles – DT (South Carolina)

Rob Foldy/USA TODAY Sports Images

Rob Foldy/USA TODAY Sports Images

The first-team All-American and All-SEC defensive tackle from the University of South Carolina finally gets to step out of the shadow cast by Jadeveon Clowney with a fresh start on the New York Giants. Quarles was projected to get picked by the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft but went undrafted. In 2013, he had 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 quarterback sacks to lead the Gamecocks.

Quarles uses a good burst and strong long arms to dominate single blockers in college, but many NFL executives questioned whether double teams against Clowney were the secret to his success. He is quick, strong and has a good motor, but lacks the awareness to slow down at times to properly diagnose plays.

Kelcy Quarles should have been drafted based on his play on the field and 2014 NFL Combine results as well. Now, he even has something to prove.

1. Antonio Richardson – T (Tennessee)

Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY Sports Images

Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY Sports Images

Antonio Richardson is a mammoth offensive tackle who was a two-time second-team All-SEC selection at Tennessee. He helped the Volunteers rush for 2,261 yards in 2013, which was their highest rushing total in nine years. He has tremendous potential that is as big as his overall size.

Richardson decided to forgo his senior season in order to enter the 2014 NFL Draft and was one of five Tennessee players invited to the NFL Combine. Many projections had him being selected somewhere in the first four rounds, but questions about his commitment and ability to work on his technique seemed to weigh heavily on his draft stock.

“Tiny” Richardson must prove he can improve his play and work harder to use his mind to work in tandem with his incredible size and considerable strength. If he can put it all together, he can become a steal for the Minnesota Vikings.

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