The NFL draft is getting closer and closer. As the day approaches, the expected players are getting plenty of hype, but teams also look to find less heralded players that can make a surprising impact. Here are a few non-household names that can surprise people in the league, and why they deserve more hype.
QB Tyson Bagent – Shepherd College
Before the combine, it’s likely that few to no NFL fans knew who Bagent was. However, while the likes of Stroud and Young were gaining unbelievable amounts of notoriety, Tyson was covertly assembling an absurd stat line and lighting up the division two world. His 158 career TD passes are not only the most in division II history but also the most in the history of ANY college football format. He completes the ball at an impressive 69.9% completion percentage, and to his 159 TDs, he has only had 48 interceptions.
Statistics, of course, aren’t everything, and plenty of college statistical monsters have failed to produce at the NFL QB level, especially when those statistics are against weaker opposition. Names like Case Keenum, Colt Brennan, and Graham Harrell come to mind here, and it is natural to question that stat line given that it came in Division II.
My fascination with Bagent, however, lies in his tape. He has a very relaxed stance in the pocket and a generally poised presence, even in the presence of rushers. He has a quick release and is almost always able to get the ball off in time while in duress. His accuracy on short/medium passes is quite impressive, and he does have some serious power in his arm, although the accuracy does go down for deeper passes. Probably his most impressive ability is how he makes extremely quick reads and acts accordingly. From a pacing perspective, the NFL won’t actually be too intimidating a jump for that reason.
Probably the biggest issue will be broadening his vision against more complicated defenses. More often than not, in college his first read was correct, but there were instances where he made decisions more quickly than he should have, leading to some poorly executed plays. NFL-level coaching can get him there, and if he has the hunger and the adaptability to chase a top level.
RB Tyjae Spears – Tulane
Spears’ draft stock is starting to catch up, recently, to my impression of him. In his case, the reasoning is a simple and pure strength: speed and agility. Spears has a very quick burst after getting the ball and is able to get up to a high speed very quickly, making him difficult to catch. He beats the defense to the edge almost every single time he carries the ball, and also has the quick feet, awareness and agility to change direction as needed.
This yielded results at Tulane, where while seeing his load increase every year, he increased his productivity, and was a 1500-yard rusher last season, and wasn’t held under 100 yards after October eighth. He had a penchant for the big moments and turned in performances that hovered around 200 yards in the AAC Championship and Cotton Bowl. He secures the ball well, and only fumbled once in the entire regular season last year.
Spears has lit things up at the NFL combine and is overall looking like his skillset can be very conducive to the NFL level. The only true knock on him is the relative lack of strength – he’s not a great inside runner – but that can be taken care of with a good rotation.
P Michael Turk – Oklahoma
Last year was one of the first years where a punter was emphasized in a draft class because of the overwhelming talent of Matt Araiza. This year, a candidate almost as talented and significantly less problematic in Michael Turk has emerged. Aptly nicknamed hangtime, he’s well known for his booming punts with considerable hangtime. Sometimes it’s better to let tape speak for itself:
More than just mere distance, the combination of distance/power, hangtime, and placement, and the consistency with which he does this are what make Michael Turk such an intimidating NFL prospect. At the FBS level, he has had 45% of his punts downed inside the 20-yard line – already putting him at a mark that would be fifth in 2022’s NFL – with an average of 47.3 (which rank 16th) and a net average of 42.7 (which would rank 10th). He has seen touchbacks rise a bit this season, which is something he’ll have to try to reduce in the NFL.
There are teams in the NFL that need field-flipping special teams and are very much lacking it who could use a player like Turk. As early as the late fourth or early fifth rounds of the NFL Draft, teams should start to monitor Turk.
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