American Draft Pickers, Part 5: (Defensive Backs & Return Specialists)



Welcome to the fifth and final installment into my 5-part series on sleepers in the 2013 NFL Draft. One of the things that makes or breaks scouts is their ability (or lack of ability) to find hidden talent in the dark, rusty corners of the massive pool of draft-eligible players. Every year we see late-round or undrafted players go on to make an unexpected impact on the teams smart enough to scoop them up. In this final installation, I'll go over defensive backs I feel could make this jump, and as a bonus, throw in a couple return specialists I think could do the same as well.

John Boyett/S (Oregon)

5'10", 204. 40 Time: 4.64



Boyett should be a mid-round prospect based on sheer talent and productivity, but his stock fell dramatically after suffering a bad injury at the beginning of this past season. Injury concerns are the biggest thing surrounding Boyett's scouting reports, but late in the draft where there is low risk, Boyett could be a massive steal if he can recover fully. Boyett also doesn't have the ideal size some teams want in NFL safeties, measuring out at only 5'10", but more than makes up for it by playing mean. He is never afraid to put a hit on someone, no matter whom that someone is, and can dish out someone highlight reel truck-sticks. Another thing that helps him is that he has great vision and is excellent at reading quarterbacks. Oftentimes it's obvious that he knows where the quarterback is looking before the receivers do. He also does not possess elite speed or quickness, but his physical ability should be adequate to fit his aggressive style. Coaches will have to make him a little less impulsive, but with his natural instincts and toughness, he could be a very nice bargain for a team.

Projected Round: 6th-7th.

Here are some highlights of Boyett:

Ultimate John Boyett Highlights | HD (via TheFootballman175)

Cooper Taylor/S (Richmond)

6'5", 228. 40 Time: 4.55



I'm not breaking any grounds here by talking about Taylor, because a few other TST members have mentioned Taylor in articles before. However, for this series, he bears repeating. Taylor is not your typical safety prospect, particularly because he is huge for one. At 6'5", Taylor dwarfs some other safeties, and uses his size to advantage with a very physical style of play. For his size, though, Taylor has impressively quick feet and flows very smoothly towards the play. Sometimes he is caught too upright, which can and will be taken advantage of in coverage if he doesn't work on it. In the box, he is obviously fantastic, but needs to work on coverage skills to make it in the NFL. Some have drawn the favorable comparison to Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. I'll be surprised if nobody drafts him.

Projected Round: 5th-7th.

This highlight reel has been shown on TST before, but I'll shamelessly repost it:

Cooper Taylor -- University of Richmond (via RichmondSpiders)

Rontez Miles/S (California [Pennsylvania])

6'0", 203. 40 Time: 4.59.



Miles has had a pretty unique path to the NFL. After getting offers from big name schools, Miles enrolled at Kent State to play with his step-brother. That year, then, his step-brother was dismissed from Kent State for marijuana possession, and Miles decided to leave the program as well. After spending a year at community college and working in a warehouse, Miles returned to football at California U of PA. Miles was an immediate impact player for the Vulcans. In his career at Cal-PA, Miles notched 258 tackles, 19 pass breakups, and 10 interceptions. In his sophomore year, he also had an impressive 10 TFL. On tape, Miles sticks out as another mean, physical player who likes to bully up on receivers crossing the middle. 13 scouts were on hand at his pro day, and some think he could go as high as mid-round. Teams seem to love Miles's big play ability and toughness in coverage.

Projected Round: 5th-UDFA.

Here is film of Miles's time as a Vulcan:

Rontez Miles (via Log0750)

Cody Davis/S (Texas Tech)

6'2", 203. 40 Time: 4.41



Davis has been a rising prospect late in the draft process. Texas Tech fans are no stranger to Davis's safety skills. Another big safety, he is not always the smoothest-looking safety out there, but possesses excellent natural instincts in coverage. He reads quarterbacks extremely well and finds passes like few others. At his pro day, he was a star, running a 4.41 40 and looking explosive in drills. However, scouts advise to take these results with a grain of salt, because the Texas Tech pro day is done on turf. Regardless, Davis has earned a tremendous boost to his draft stock and could go as high as the fifth to a team in need of a strong safety.

Projected Round: 5th-7th.

Here is a cutup of Davis's senior campaign:

Cody Davis Texas Tech #16 Senior Highlight Cutup 2012 (via Cody Davis)

Marc Anthony/CB (Cal)

6'0", 196. 40 Time: 4.59.



The biggest reason Anthony isn't a bigger-name prospect is because this class of corners is so deep at the back end. Anthony fits the mold of the long, lean corner who can extend that many NFL teams covet in today's NFL to match up with big, physical receivers like Calvin Johnson. He is aggressive and loves to challenge receivers at the line of scrimmage. However, he can tend to get a bit carried away with this sometimes and find himself getting burnt because of it. While this is a problem, it can be pretty easily fixed with superior coaching. He also has a tendency to get bitten by the injury bug, missing a few of Cal's biggest games. Anthony gets overlooked because of the competition he's up against, but is the type of corner many teams covet, and has a good chance to be productive in the NFL if he can stay healthy and iron out the wrinkles in his coverage style.

Projected Round: 5th-7th.

Here is film of Anthony's day against the Stanford Cardinal this past season.

Marc Anthony vs. Stanford (2012) (via Mario Clavel)

Steve Williams/CB (Cal)

5'9", 181. 40 Time: 4.34.



In an unprecedented move, we go with two Cal corners back-to-back. Frankly, Williams didn't make a great decision by entering the draft after his junior season, but there is still a lot to like about him. He was a good counterbalance to Marc Anthony at Cal because while Anthony is the long, physical type, Williams is smaller and faster. Williams opened some eyes at the Combine after running the 40 in a defensive back-leading 4.34. His speed is undeniable, but Williams comes with the same set of concerns as most undersized corners. However, Williams finds ways to overcome pretty much all of them. Despite being short, Williams has a surprisingly broad frame. He rarely finds himself outmatched by bigger receivers, as he is scrappy and tenacious from the point out attack, sometimes to a fault. He does a good job of baiting quarterbacks and can use his solid burst to undercut short routes. In his career, he has 25 passes broken up in 28 starts, including 13 in 2012 (with 3 interceptions). Williams projects best as a nickel corner in the NFL, which is a position of increasing value with the way offensive schemes are developing. While he often gets forgotten in this deep class, I think Williams has a ton of potential on the next level.

Projected Round: 5th-7th.

Here is film of Williams against Washington State last season:

Steve Williams vs Washington State (2012) (via Adrian Ahufinger)

Charles James/CB/KR (Charleston Southern)\

5'10", 184. 40 Time: 4.42.



James is yet another victim of such a deep cornerback class. In fact, being looked over is something James has been the victim of for his whole football career. Looked at by schools as big as Maryland but never offered a scholarship, James was passed over coming out of the Jacksonville, Florida, area, mostly due to the fact that the area is such a football hub that he was overshadowed by other prospects. James wound up at FCS Charleston Southern, where he started from his very first game against local hero Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators. James would eventually become the school's all-time interception leader, as well as three-time All Big South and two-time All-American. In 2012, James was rated to have had the 3rd rated pass defense in the FCS in 2012 and was an accomplished kick returner as well. James demonstrates great speed and the ability to bait quarterbacks, particularly on out routes. The big issue for James has always been simply getting a chance to shine, but when he gets his chance, he always takes it. Some of his best games have been against FBS opponents, including quality games against Florida and Illinois. He will get looked at as a cornerback first, but his returning ability may be what it takes to help him find a niche on a team to begin with.

Projected Round: 7th-UDFA.

Charles James Charleston Southern 2012 Highlight Tape (via 2siege1)

Greg Reid/CB/KR (Valdosta St.)

5'8", 190. 40 Time: 4.58.



Reid is a name familiar to most followers of college football for being an immediate star at Florida State then dropping off the face of the Earth. Following resisting arrest & perjury charges being dropped, Reid was arrested for pot possession driving with a suspended license and dismissed from the FSU program in July 2012. He enrolled at Valdosta State, but tore his ACL and never played a game there. Thus, what we know about Reid is simply what he showed while he was a Seminole. Reid is very undersized and may be limited to only lining up as a slot corner at the NFL level because of it, and has a tendency to still get beat on big plays. Despite that, Reid demonstrates good short-area quickness and is tenacious enough to take on bigger receivers. One thing we do know for sure is that Reid is an electric returner who can score any time he touches the ball. While teams who take character concerns as a major factor, Reid obviously is someone they will shy away from, but for those that don't, the biggest question is whether he will still show the same speed and quickness after his ACL tear. Further evaluation will need to be done, but for a low-risk pick or signing, Reid is a player teams should take a second look at.

Projected Round: 6th-UDFA.

Since Reid played no games at Valdosta, here are some highlights of him as a 'Nole

Greg Reid Hightlights #5 (via LooomZz)

Reggie Dunn/KR (Utah)

5'10", 178. 40 Time: 4.24.



I'm cheating a little on this list, because I didn't want to do a pure special teams installment, but there are a couple pure return specialists I wanted to talk about. Since a couple of the players on here are also outstanding returners, I put them here. Dunn is technically a receiver but in the NFL, he will almost definitely be limited to return specialist. Thankfully for him, he is very, very good at returning. Dunn was named All-Pac 12 first team return specialist after averaging an eye-popping 51.3 yards per return in 2012, including four 100 yard kick return touchdowns. The only reason his average was not listed as tops in the nation was that he did not meet the minimum requirement for number of returns for game, which I can only speculate is because teams kicked away from him. Dunn finished his Utah career as the all-time NCAA leader in career 100-yard returns, single-game 100-yard returns, and kick return average in a game. At his pro day, Dunn turned heads after running what some reported was as high as 4.19 in the 40 (the "official" report was 4.24). Dunn seemingly offers little to nothing on offense or defense, but for a team wanting to open up a roster spot for a guy just to return kicks and punts, Dunn is somebody not to look over.

Projected Round: 6th-UDFA.

Here are clips of the four 100-yard returns Dunn had in 2012.:

Reggie Dunn's four 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns (via KSL5Sports)

Nick Williams/KR (UConn)

5'9", 184. 40 Time: 4.52.



Like Dunn, Williams is technically a wide receiver, but probably will not be able to play there at the NFL level. His returning abilities, however, although not as freakish as Reggie Dunn, are also worth a hard look by scouts. While Dunn will just blow by everyone, Williams is one of the most creative returners in the NCAA in 2012. He has outstanding vision that he uses to visualize his blocks and find spaces to aim for. Watching special teams players try to catch Williams is like watching guys try to catch a chicken in open space. You don't think it should be able to evade you, but somehow it always finds that little space to run through and make you look silly. In 2012, Williams averaged 20.4 yards per kick return with two touchdowns and 12.o yards per punt return, also with two touchdowns. Williams was UConn's special teams captain and leads the school's history in return yards with 2,045, as well as being second in school history in return average (25.9 YPR). Guys like Tavon Austin, Ace Sanders, and Reggie Dunn will be the more glamorous targets for teams wanting kick returners, but for those who miss out on them, Nick Williams could be a big time sleeper if given a chance.

Projected Round: UDFA.

Here is video of Williams with an impressive 80 yard punt return against Pitt.

Nick Williams (UConn) 80 Yard Punt Return | 11.9.12 | (via 22DukeBlue)

With that, I wrap up my American Draft Pickers series for 2013. Hopefully I will have another set of installments for all of you in 2014, and hopefully it will be in the midst of discussions of who the Rams will take at 32...

Thanks for reading. Comments and discussions are always welcome.

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