Sam Darnold, Saquon Barkley, and the other top prospects in this year’s NFL Draft class are getting all the hype, but there are a plenty of players who aren’t talked about much who could end up becoming household names in the NFL. Here are just a few that may end up becoming stars at the next level:
5. Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State
In an exceptionally deep running back class, Penny has become a day-two player. He could end up being a steal, as his physical profile and production should translate well at the next level. At 5’11” 220 lbs, Penny is built to take hits in the NFL. His 4.46 40-yard dash quieted concerns about his breakaway speed.
In 2017, Penny carried the ball 289 times, rushing for 2, 248 yards and scoring 23 touchdowns. He should be able to contribute immediately and could develop into a feature back. Penny has the agility to make defenders miss at the second level, and the power to run up the middle for hard-earned yards. He doubles as an excellent kick returner (he averaged 31.9 yards per return in his career), which will only add to his value.
4. Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond
A three-year starter at Richmond, Lauletta displayed excellent accuracy during his collegiate career. This past season, he completed 64.9% of his passes for 3,737 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Lauletta’s arm is weak by NFL standards, which is why he won’t be taken high, but accuracy is the most important trait for a pro QB to have, and Lauletta has it.
Plenty of NFL quarterbacks have succeeded without elite arm strength: Chad Pennington, Alex Smith, Andy Dalton, and Tyrod Taylor, to name a few. Lauletta could end up joining that group in a few seasons. He needs to sit behind an established NFL QB to refine his skills on making reads and going through progressions, but he is good at timing-based throws because of his accuracy.
3. Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
Miller has perhaps the most star power of the players on this list,and will likely be the first of this group to be selected. Over the last two seasons, Miller caught 191 passes for 2,896 yards and 32 touchdowns. At 5’11” 201 lbs, he has size more suitable for the slot, but his game is that of an elite outside receiver. He runs good routes, has the quickness to create separation from defenders, and his ball-tracking skills are fantastic.
His hands are good, although he will have some concentration drops at times. His toughness is one of his best attributes, as he fought through injuries, both major and minor, and was still the best player on the field. Miller should be a WR3 as soon as he is drafted, and has the potential to develop into an elite WR1, as he is extremely similar to Steelers’ star Antonio Brown.
2. Jalyn Holmes, EDGE, Ohio State
Holmes started a grand total of zero games in his career. Normally, that would be a pretty major red flag, but Holmes played at OSU, which is a front-seven factory for the NFL. Current Buckeyes in the pros include Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, and Cam Heyward, along with likely second-rounder Sam Hubbard, and future first-round pick Nick Bosa.
Holmes was a rotational player who was very effective in his limited playing time, even though that wasn’t reflected in his stats. He has good size for either a 3-4 or 4-3 DE, at 6’5″ 283 lbs. He isn’t the most explosive athlete, but he is strong and very good against the run. If he can develop his technique a bit more, Holmes will become a better NFL player than he was in college.
1. J.C. Jackson, CB, Maryland
Jackson played just two seasons at Maryland, and due to his lack of experience, he will be a day three selection. However, he has a lot of potential to develop into a very good NFL CB.
At 5’10” 201 lbs, Jackson is not the biggest guy, but he can play either the boundary or the slot. His 4.46 40-yard dash and 35.5-inch vertical show off his solid athleticism, and he is able to stick close to receivers quite well. His ball skills need work, but as a fith, sixth, or seventh round pick, he has a lot of room to improve. He is also a willing and able run defender, which is a great trade to have in a cornerback.
The NFL Draft is a huge risk for every single team, and front offices are always looking for diamonds in the rough to increase their chances of hitting on a pick. These five players will make their new teams very happy when they are available after the first round.