By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist
The NFL draft is nearly upon us, with round one set to begin on April 27, and it’s time to start seriously looking at who teams may be targeting with each pick. The draft is probably my favorite sporting event of the year, as it brings renewed hope for all football fans. A great draft can lead to a dynasty of success, while a bad draft can set your team back for multiple seasons.
Since the players projected to go in the first round of the draft are already heavily publicized, I thought I’d take a look at five of my favorite players that may not hear their names called until late in the process. These may not be names you’ve heard of yet, but I’m convinced that they’ll each have long NFL careers.
Taywan Taylor, wide receiver, Western Kentucky
Taylor caught 98 passes for 1,730 yards and 17 touchdowns last season for the Hilltoppers and came up big in the Boca Raton Bowl against Memphis, helping them to a 51-31 victory. The 5-foot-11-inch Taylor won’t wow you with his size, but he has tremendous short-area quickness and was the top receiver at the combine in the three-cone drill.
Taylor is skilled with the ball in his hands, and while he may not come off the board until the fourth or fifth round, he has big-play potential and could thrive in the right system. He’ll likely be a slot receiver at the next level, but a smart offensive coordinator should be able to make use of this dynamic playmaker.
Duke Riley, linebacker, LSU
Aside from having one of the most football names you can possibly have, Riley has the speed and tenacity to thrive as a pro. He could stand to get a bit stronger, but he was the second fastest linebacker at the combine in the 40-yard dash and showed excellent range and instincts last season after emerging as a starter.
Riley would fit best as a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 defense, where he can use his versatility without getting swallowed at the line. If he can bulk up a little without losing his elite speed, Riley could be a long-term starter. Expect him to go off the board in the fourth round.
Isaac Asiata, offensive guard, Utah
Another excellent combine performer, Asiata was the best among offensive linemen at the bench press. He also has remarkable quickness given his wide, 323-pound frame. Asiata can play with a lack of discipline, sometimes showing aggressiveness that causes problems in pass protection, but he’s tenacious at the point of attack and is as strong as an ox.
Asiata’s already an accomplished run blocker who drives through defenders and moves his feet well when he pulls. He’ll likely be a middle-round pick, but has the physicality to be a starter early in his career.
Dalvin Tomlinson, defensive tackle, Alabama
Tomlinson might sneak into the third round, but I’d take him higher. I love nose tackles and feel they’re underappreciated in the league considering the dirty work they do up front. Tomlinson is a stout, 310-pound monster.
He offers nothing as far as rushing the passer, but he occupies multiple blockers as a one-gap space-eater and disengages easily to stop inside runs. Tomlinson should be an immediate two-down impact player as a run-stopper in the NFL.
Trevor Knight, quarterback, Texas A&M
Any draft list wouldn’t be complete without a quarterback and Knight is one of my favorite dark horse candidates to win a spot in the league—he’s an excellent athlete with an above average arm. While he’s only 6-feet-1-inch tall and 219 pounds, he plays bigger than his frame and has exceptional pocket awareness.
Knight’s season was cut short due to a shoulder injury, but the Aggies were 7-1 until he got hurt against Mississippi State last year. Knight will be drafted late, if at all, but I see him as a potential diamond in the rough.
Keep an eye on each of these players during NFL draft weekend, and good luck to your favorite team as you watch the stars of tomorrow don their first NFL uniforms.
Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.