By Ben Skinner of Underrated Entertainment
Of the 165 players who I graded as the top five in their position group prior to the draft (those positions being quarterback, running back, tight end, receiver, offensive tackle, interior offensive line [ie center and guard], defensive tackle, edge defender, off-ball linebacker, cornerback and safety), 122 are on an NFL roster, ten are playing either in the CFL or USFL, 24 have atleast made an NFL training camp roster but aren’t currently playing anywhere, six never got an NFL training camp opportunity and five would probably be on an NFL roster if not for retirement or off-field issues. This means that 80% of the 165 players I graded highest are currently playing professionally – this is despite their average draft position being the 133rd overall pick:
This is in contrast to the “consensus” rating of players pre-draft – combining where the NFL, Bleacher Report and CBS picked their top-five positional players (the latter two being via pre-draft mocks, which might be a prediction of draft position rather than a conveyor of value, but this still captures sentiment on the players) their average draft position would be the 24th pick:
(This data was collected from the 2018 draft, but would be similar across all drafts).
Therefore, I can find players that have a strong chance of playing professional football even though they are significantly less valued than the players drafted in front of them.
Here’s a compilation of my most shrewd evaluations that have eventuated into the players having successful pro football careers, with hyperlinks to media that prove those evaluations prior to them eventuating:
- I gave a first round grade to Jakobi Meyers who would go undrafted in 2019. He would proceed to beat out a first round pick at his position from that draft in N’Keal Harry, amongst others, to become a top receiving threat for the Patriots since his rookie season.
- Orlando Brown Jr was my top rated player in the 2018 draft (back when I considered o-lineman and safeties the most valuable players in the sport) – he was drafted in the third round, amid questions about his athleticism after a “poor” combine performance. He has gone on to become one of the most valued offensive lineman in the league.
- I had a first round grade on Kyzir White in the 2018 draft, in which he was drafted in the fourth round. He’d go on to work his way into the Los Angeles Chargers defensive rotation before earning a contract and great playing time with the Eagles.
- Defensive end James Smith-Williams was my highest rated player in the 2020 draft, but was taken in the seventh round. He’s been in the defensive rotation for Washington ever since.
- I thought DeShon Elliott was a top-10 player in the 2018 draft, but he was drafted in the sixth round. He’d eventually start for the Ravens and earn a contract and starter’s snaps for the Lions.
- Upon re-evaluating the 2018 draft class in the 2021 offseason, I rated Zaire Franklin as one of the best players out of that class – I might add that 10 players I rate over Franklin from that class aren’t even getting many snaps if any at all this season. Franklin has been the Colts third linebacker in past seasons but is now starting while Shaq Leonard is injured and appears to be making a big impact.
- I graded linebacker Cole Holcomb as worthy of a mid-first round pick, but was taken in the fifth round in 2019. He has started for Washington since day one.
- I gave the Los Angeles Rams an “A” grade for their 2019 draft haul, which included quality prospects in David Long, Greg Gaines, David Edwards, Darrell Henderson, Bobby Evans and Dakota Allen. The former three were big-time contributors on the Rams’ 2021 title, while the latter three have had spot minutes here and there.
- I called for the Titans to install Ryan Tannehill at quarterback after a poor performance by Marcus Mariota in week three of the 2019 NFL season. The Titans would play Mariota for three more games, leading to a 2-4 record. Tannehill would be installed in week seven, and the Titans would end up in the conference championship game.
- I gave Giovanni Ricci a day two grade before the 2020 draft (meaning I thought he was worthy of being picked from round two), but he’d go undrafted. He’s since carved out a role as the Panthers’ fullback.
- I gave Isaiah Prince a mid-first round grade before the 2019 draft, but he’d be drafted in the sixth round by the Dolphins. He’d be cut by the ‘Phins, before being picked up by the Bengals and eventually starting for them in the latter half of the 2021 season, performing so well that he helped his team reach the Super Bowl. The Bengals have struggled since he was replaced by La’el Collins in the offseason.
- Dorance Armstrong was a top-three edge defender in the 2018 draft in my opinion, before being taken in the fourth round by the Cowboys. His playing time has steadily grown until he is now one of Dallas’ defensive anchors.
- I considered Jonah Jackson one of the top interior offensive lineman in the 2020 draft – he’s started every possible game for the Lions since entering the league as a third round pick.
- Mark Andrews was my highest rated tight end in the 2018 draft, but he’d be taken in the third round after three other tight ends (including a quality player in Hayden Hurst on his own team). He’s been one of the league’s highest regarded tight ends since.
- Taylor Cornelius was my highest-rated quarterback in the 2019 draft. After going undrafted he’d make the Packers rookie camp, before playing in the XFL, and is now balling out in the CFL.
- I thought Saahdiq Charles was a top-five offensive lineman before the 2020 draft, before he was drafted in the 5th round by the Commanders. He has stuck on their roster and is now playing the bulk of his team’s snaps at right guard.
- I made this highlight video stating that Kamu Grugier-Hill was one of the most underrated free agents in the 2021 offseason. Grugier-Hill would be signed by the Texans to a one year, $2.5 million contract, and has been a mainstay for them since as one of their team’s off-ball linebackers.
- Both Alex Bars and Nate Herbig were worthy of a Day-Two pick in my evaluation of them before the 2019 draft, but they’d go undrafted. They are both starting for the Raiders and Jets respectively.
- Trevis Gipson was worthy of a day two pick in the 2020 draft in my opinion, before being taken in the fifth round. He’s now a starting defensive end for the Chicago Bears, notching seven tackles and two sacks in the first two games of the 2022 season.
- Kindle Vildor was my highest rated cornerback in the 2020 draft but was taken in the third round – he’s now starting for the Bears.
- Donald Parham was my second-highest graded tight end in the 2019 draft, but went undrafted. He played in 41% of his team’s offensive snaps last season.
- I thought Mike Jackson was a top-five cornerback in the 2019 draft, before he was taken in the 5th round by the Cowboys. He would be cut and signed by a few different teams before the Seahawks picked him up in 2021 – he is now their starting cornerback.
- I thought Kamren Curl was one of the top defensive backs in the 2020 draft – he’s played in atleast 70% of Washington’s snaps since day one after getting drafted in the seventh round.
- I thought Will Clapp was one of the better offensive lineman in the 2018 draft but was drafted in the seventh round. He’s bounced around the league but has stuck around enough to where he is filling in for the Chargers at center while their incumbent is injured.
- Scott Quessenberry was worth a day two pick according to my pre-2018 draft evaluation. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Chargers, and played occasionally for them but never definitively claimed a starting spot, which he seems to have now achieved with the Texans.
- Despite being a former first round pick, Malik Hooker’s stock in league circles was down in the 2021 offseason due to his injury issues. I still called him one of the most underrated free agents in that year, and he’s since being a strong presence for the Cowboys when they picked him up on the cheap.
- Broderick Washington was one of my highest rated defenders in the 2020 draft but would be taken in the fifth round. He’s been in the Ravens’ d-line rotation since his rookie year.
- I thought John Bates was good enough to be a mid-first round pick before the 2021 draft – he’d be taken in the fourth round by the Commanders. He replaced another great tight end in Logan Thomas when the latter went down due to injury last season and now shares snaps with Thomas in his second year.
- I rated Mike Hilton as one of the best free agents in the 2021 offseason. He was already regarded as a great nickel cornerback, but I think his presence has REALLY been felt at his new home in Cincinnati, where he’s a real disruptor on a Bengals team that improved enough – partially due to him – to make the recent Super Bowl.
- Byron Murphy was worthy of a top-five pick in the 2019 draft IMO, but was taken 33rd overall. He’s since become a leading contributor for the Cardinals’ defense at cornerback.
- I labelled Pat Elflein as an “All_pro level guard” last season, and is now doing great for the Panthers at center.
- De’Montre Tuggle had a great college career but ended up splitting a lot of snaps with other backs at Ohio in his senior season, before going undrafted. He showed enough to NFL teams to get a lot of preseason action with the Bears. Since 2021 I’ve considered Tuggle one of the best young running backs in the world.
- I thought Cedric Wilcots of New Mexico State was worthy of a high draft pick in the 2020 draft. He’s in the defensive rotation for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL.
- I made this video highlighting excellent draft prospects since 2018 who would achieve roster spots in the USFL.
- I thought Talanoa Hufanga was a top-five defender in the 2021 NFL draft class, but he’d be taken in the fifth round by the Niners. He’s now starting for them at safety and making some big plays.
- I considered Jarrett Guarantano an all-time great quarterback prospect in the 2022 draft. Despite getting limited reps in his final season at Washington State, he’d earn a lot of snaps for the Cardinals in their recent preseason (which I chronicled with this video).
- James Daniels, a top 10 player in my 2018 draft evaluation, was taken in the second round and has become a highly lauded interior lineman, enough to get a lucrative new contract and a starting spot for the Steelers.
- I called Rashad Fenton an elite corner early in 2021 season, has been their most reliable cornerback for the Chiefs since.
- I gave Tulsa o-lineman Tyler Smith an A+ grade as a generational prospect before the 2022 draft. He’s playing well for the Cowboys as their starting left tackle already.
- In evaluating the 2018 draft class recently I realised that Zach Sieler is one of the best d-lineman out of that class. He and Christian Wilkins – who I regarded as a quality d-tackle prior to his draft and has since lived up to his early first round pick status – make up an awesome defensive tackle duo in Miami.
- Bilal Nichols has been making big plays for the Raiders as their starting defensive tackle, after being signed by them to a relatively cheap contract for an elite d-tackle. Last offseason I graded Nichols as one of the best players from his draft class (I missed evaluating him prior to his draft).
- Greg Little, taken in the second round by the Panthers in 2019 but cut within a few seasons, is now getting a starting opportunity in Miami. He was one of my highest rated players before his draft.
- Grayland Arnold was my third-highest rated cornerback in the 2020 draft, but he’d go undrafted. He would soon make the Eagles roster and play here and there, before being cut in 2021. He clearly has enough talent to appeal to teams though, because the Texans have recently signed him to their active roster.
- Wyatt Ray was a top-five edge defender in my opinion prior to the 2019 draft but would go undrafted. He’d get his first NFL snaps with the Titans in 2020 after being cut by four different teams, before parlaying that into making the Bengals’ d-line rotation in their AFC Championship-winning season. He’d then sign with the Jaguars, before being cut, but has now returned to the Titans active roster.
- I labelled Keion Crossen as one of his drafts best players three years after it happened – he is still getting opportunities on the Dolphins’ special team units and occasionally as a defensive back.
- Tee Higgins was worthy of an early first round pick before the 2020 draft in my opinion, before being taken with an early second round pick. He’s now one of the offensive leaders for the Bengals.
- Alexander Mattison has developed into of the league’s better running backs, attested to in my video highlighting great players from the 2019 draft. Despite a bearish market for running backs – supported by the fact that they’re the lowest paid All-22 position group – Mattison is considered good enough to be in trade talks after playing well as a starter in 2021.
- Tyler Conklin was my 6th highest rated tight end in the 2018 draft, meaning he was probably worth a second or third round pick – he was drafted in the 5th round by the Vikings. He’d end up earning a great contract with the Jets and play well for them after playing a lot of snaps with the Vikings.
- Nathan Shepherd, my top rated defensive tackle in the 2018 draft, has stayed in the Jets d-tackle rotation after being taken in the third round.
- I believe Roderick Johnson to be one of the best offensive lineman in the game. Since I said that he’s been signed by a few different teams, but never stuck anywhere, but he’s deemed good enough to have been signed to the Eagles practice squad.
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