Going into the draft, most fans have their eyes on a particular prospect or few and really hope their team can get them. Whether they opt to pass on that player in favor of someone else or that player goes before their team picks, they end up unable to pick the guy the fan wants. Or maybe, the value conscious consumer just wants to go a different route early in the draft and come back and grab a player that is similar.
We’re here to help. The following lists players likely to go in the first round of the NFL Draft and a prospect for each that could go a round or few rounds later, but plays the game in a similar manner as the first round prospect. Some of these guys may end up outplaying the more celebrated prospect that goes in front of them and people could look back in a few years and ask how these guys went as late as they did.
Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M – It remains to be seen just how high Manziel will ultimately go in this draft, but he is the most well-known of the quarterback prospects.
Bargain: Brett Smith, QB Wyoming – I actually have Smith rated higher than Manziel but all indications is the NFL Draft will go the other way and a few rounds could separate them. Smith was really impressive, but did his damage out in Laramie, Wyoming. Smith is bigger than Manziel, but has the same kind of arm talent and mobility that Manziel does. What makes Smith interesting is that he will be able to sit and develop for a year or two without issue. It is basically expected. Manziel needs that, but likely will not get it.
Blake Bortles, QB Central Florida – Bortles has a shot to be the #1 pick in this year’s draft, if not the top passer. While he is not a finished product, he does have the physical size that some teams love as well as some high potential going forward.
Bargain: Logan Thomas, QB Virginia Tech – These are the two aircraft carrier style of quarterbacks in this draft. Thomas is even bigger than Bortles, but both are big, strong and athletic. Thomas is not quite as refined a passer as Bortles in terms of the types of throws he can make, but he has a substantially stronger arm. Thomas needs some significant time and development as people forget he is still only three years removed from moving to quarterback, but if Thomas can figure it out, his upside is as high as anyone in this class, regardless of position.
Carlos Hyde, RB Ohio State – For plenty of analysts, Hyde is the top running back in this year’s class. He brings a nice combination of size, strength and agility as well as above average speed.
Bargain: Antonio Andrews, RB Western Kentucky – A lackluster 40 time will likely hurt Andrews, but he has demonstrated a good amount of power as a runner with quickness and the ability to make cuts. Andrews was also arguably the best back at the Reese’s Senior Bowl and really did a nice job of showcasing the talent he offers. The issue that Andrews has to address is fumbles but he has the talent to be a nice value back that can make an instant impact.
Bishop Sankey, RB Washington – He may be the most purely talented running back in this class. Sankey is incredibly effective when it comes to making opponents miss, minimizing wasted motion and displaying quickness and burst. Added strength allowed him to take his game to another level, but he is a natural receiver as well.
Bargain: Ka’Deem Carey, RB Arizona – Carey is not as athletic or fast as maybe he should be for the position and he needs to do a better job getting behind his pads and maximizing runs through contact. Nevertheless, Carey was the engine that drove the Wildcat offense and was incredibly productive, so while he may not operate in the most conventional ways, he was able to succeed.
Sammy Watkins, WR Clemson – Though he is not my top receiver, many regard him not only as the best receiver in the class and an elite prospect.
Bargain: Shaq Evans, WR UCLA – Watkins has more physical potential than Evans, but Evans is a more professional looking receiver. From his stance to route running to how he frames and catches the ball, Evans really looks ready to make a transition into the NFL and could make one of the quickest impacts in this rookie class once he adjusts to the physical aspect of the game. Beyond that, the two receivers are eerily similar in how they are built, strength and speed. While Evans is not quite on Watkins’ level physically, the difference is far less dramatic than some might expect.
Mike Evans, WR Texas A&M – Arguably the best receiver in the class (My top receiver) and the premier receiver when it comes to high pointing the ball and winning in coverage.
Bargain: Davante Adams, WR Fresno State – There are receivers that are the same size as Evans, but no one is able to go up and high point the ball the way Evans does. The closest one to him is Adams, who has the same broad build, overall strength, and a knack for knowing how to high point the football and make those types of catches. Adams is obviously much shorter than Evans, but in this draft, he is the next best prospect in that particular aspect.
Jordan Matthews, WR Vanderbilt – Matthews is big but really understands how to set his feet before catches and maximize the run after the catch, using subtle moves to slip past opponents. He is a faster and quicker player than he is given credit for and he really has a good understanding of how to run routes and position his body to make catches.
Bargain: Cody Hoffman, WR BYU – Hoffman needs to become a more explosive player, but he is also a better athlete than some might expect for his size and frame. He has really improved how he can make catches and set his feet to anticipate making the first move to get opponents to miss and getting more yards after the catch than any time in his career. Hoffman runs good routes and the question facing him will be how well he can create separation.
Jace Amaro, TE Texas Tech – Amaro has a chance to be a first round pick because of his ability to get open and catch the football. He was incredibly productive for the Red Raiders this season and might be the best pure pass catching tight end in this class right now.
Bargain: Jake Murphy, TE Utah – Murphy is an extremely talented pass catcher much like Amaro, but may go substantially later in part due to his age. Amaro is a better pure route runner than Murphy, but Murphy’s hands are on as good as anyone in this class. Neither has shown they are terribly physical blockers at this point, but Murphy did suffer a broken wrist. Murphy did not get nearly enough opportunities to make plays in his career and could have a bright future as a space tight end at the next level.
Jake Matthews, OT Texas A&M – Matthews is an elite tackle and looks like he could be the next Joe Thomas. From technique to athleticism, he is really impressive and his bloodlines are simply an added bonus.
Bargain: Wesley Johnson, OT Vanderbilt – Johnson has largely been an undersized tackle for much of his career, but he has four years of playing experience against the SEC and playing at a high level; much of it at left tackle, including an impressive showing against Jadeveon Clowney. Like Matthews, Johnson has been incredibly durable and while he may not go high, it seems difficult to believe that someone with that much experience, that talent and nasty streak will not find a home and succeed in the NFL.
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT Alabama – Questions surround that knee, but if he is healthy, he has a tremendous amount of length to be a pass blocker, but really stepped up his run blocking this year for the Crimson Tide and he really became a better finisher this year.
Bargain: Cornelius Lucas, OT Kansas State – Lucas is a really good blind side protector in the passing game. He can slide and mirror effectively, though he was more consistent as a junior. He has the same length and natural ballast Kouandjio does, but he struggles to get behind his pads in the running game, forcing him to work largely on positioning. In an NFL that will take left tackles who can do almost nothing but pass block, Lucas can fit that bill.
Gabe Jackson, G Mississippi State – Jackson is the premier gap scheme guard in this class. He is an absolute earth mover who is also a really effective pass blocker. Jackson is incredibly strong and looks like he should walk in and become an institution at right guard for the next decade for someone, much he did in Starkville.
Bargain: Trai Turner, G LSU – Turner has impressive power in his own right and can really do some damage on the interior of that line, but he is still raw and still learning the position. Combining technical development and added physical prowess, he could be a big time lineman at the next level with time.