The 2014 NFL draft class is loaded with explosive, game-changing players, from top to bottom. And while it’d be easy to write up a piece articulating how dynamic sure-to-be-drafted-on-Day-1 players like Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney are, I decided to focus on some of the lesser-known prospects.
Make no mistake: Just because they may not be drawing as much attention as their big-name counterparts, it doesn’t mean these players don’t have the potential to be instant-impact, game-changing performers in their rookie seasons.
These 10 prospects are dynamic and have the skill sets to make big plays at the next level.
RB Dri Archer, Kent State
Archer is a bit small, but he finds ways to elude defenders and find space to run through. He was a prolific rusher at Kent State and looks to translate his success to the next level. He’s one of the hardest players to tackle, by virtue of his lightning-like straight line speed and his excellent moves in the open field. Like RB DeAnthony Thomas, who is also on this list, he’ll be especially dangerous on screens, and could offer nice value in spread sets.
LB Kyle Van Noy, BYU
Van Noy is one of the most impulsive edge rushers in this year’s draft. He trusts his eyes (to a fault, at times) and goes by his instincts. While he can be caught cheating too far upfield every now and again, the former BYU star is a hard-hitting linebacker who has a reputation for destroying offensive linemen off the snap and punishing quarterbacks. He’ll need some refining and could get abused in the read option game, but Van Noy will produce.
Kyle Van Noy will be a bigger playmaker in the NFL than Anthony Barr over the course of the next 5 years. #VaultMe
— Ryan Riddle (@Ryan_Riddle) May 5, 2014
S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
Among safeties in college football last season, not many were more feared than Pryor. Opposing offensive coordinators seldom drew up plays to attack his side of the field, which is a testament to the former Cardinal’s rare ability. He’s an athletic enforcer and plays centerfield as well as any defensive back available this year. Look for Pryor’s exceptional range and tremendous ball skills to translate to a lot of pass breakups as soon as 2014.
RB/WR/QB DeAnthony Thomas, Oregon
Thomas is an offensive weapon who can play running back, slot receiver or even line up as a wildcat quarterback. He has elite speed and his lateral quickness is second-to-none. Thomas will need to silence critics regarding his injury history, as durability concerns have dogged his draft stock. That said, the former Oregon Duck has the potential to torch NFL defenses in both the screen game and on deep patterns.
WR Martavis Bryant, Clemson
Players like Mike Evans and Donte Moncrief get a lot of credit for being able to take the top off of opposing defenses, but Bryant is right there in terms of ability to positively impact a vertical passing attack. He’s got the size and speed to bully NFL cornerbacks, but was overshadowed by Sammy Watkins last year at Clemson. When he gets the chance to make an impact on his own, Bryant will seize the opportunity and figures to put up an obscene yards-per-catch average.
DB Chris Davis, Auburn
His field goal return for a touchdown in the final seconds of the Iron Bowl may have launched the cornerback into the national spotlight, but the truth is that Davis was one of the best defensive backs in the SEC way before that night. He’ll offer value as an athletic cornerback, but he’ll also be a solid returner as well. Davis’ knack for making plays will be well-received at the next level.
Remember when he did this last season? He crushed Alabama’s title hopes on this play.
QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Boyd’s inclusion in this article isn’t insinuating that he has the potential to be a franchise quarterback. I don’t believe that. That said, Boyd is the type of player who can make a significant impact on the game with both his arm and his legs. He’s a special player at the quarterback position, combining solid accuracy, workable mechanics and a dangerous propensity to tuck the ball and run. He’s worth a look.
RB/QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
While Boyd is a quarterback, Lynch is more easily classified as an offensive weapon. He’s a prolific rusher who happens to be able to throw the ball, which gives him value. Granted, it’s not known if the former signal caller can run a route or catch a pass, but he’s athletic enough to make it work. Lynch has rare vision and makes defenders miss with ease. He’s a tough runner who won’t give up at the end of a run.
Jordan Lynch’s 6.55 3-cone is second best among RBs (!!!) since ’06. Rainey’s 6.50 is only one better
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) February 23, 2014
DL Caraun Reid, Princeton
Some analysts are concerned that Reid played against poor competition. Others are concerned that his body of work doesn’t stack up to that of some of the other defensive linemen in this class. Disregard all of that. Reid is going to win battles in the trenches. He has rare quickness and a fantastic first step. He’ll end up living in the backfield, disrupting plays and causing turnovers at will.
TE Troy Niklas, Notre Dame
Niklas is one of the most athletic players in this year’s class, but he has a lot of work to do and room for improvement. The tight end will need to catch passes on a more consistent basis. His poor hands could dog him in the NFL. That said, he’s got the size to bully safeties and slot cornerbacks, but he’s much faster than the average linebacker at the next level. Give Niklas a few years under the tutelage of a solid tight ends coach and he’ll be a star.