Hitting on your early-round picks in the NFL draft is paramount. If a team can't consistently do that then they are virtually destined to mediocrity at best and last-place finishes and massive turnover at worst.
Making the most out of those high-value picks is a must, but what truly separates the average teams from the great ones is what they do with their picks in the middle and late rounds of the draft.
Redskins' fans have witnessed this first-hand in recent years with picks like Jamison Crowder (4th Round), Kyshoen Jarrett (6th Round) and Alfred Morris (6th Round). All three of those players made an instant impact and helped to lead the team to a division title.
This isn't just the case with the Redskins either. The Patriots and Seahawks have been the class of the AFC and NFC over the last several years, and they are led by sixth rounder Tom Brady and fifth rounder Richard Sherman respectively.
Washington doesn't have a Scot McCloughan type of talent evaluator in the building anymore, so fans can't simply put their trust in the front office to find the hidden gems in the draft anymore. Perhaps, using a stats-based approach in some cases can help both the followers of the team and the personnel department to identify sleepers in the draft that might have otherwise gone overlooked.
With that thought in mind, I looked for the top statistical producers, award winners and the best athletes that I could find that are currently ranked outside of CBS and ESPN top 100 (I did cheat by dipping just inside of the ESPN top 100 in one instance on both offense and defense).
There are reasons that these players are ranked where they are, but we also have some hard data to back up the idea that maybe they should be thought of more highly. These numbers do not necessarily mean that the players in question are surefire studs or even starters, but if nothing else, there is a good chance that they will point us in the direction of a few players that have been widely undervalued by the NFL scouting community and the media.
The numbers might not help us find the next Tom Brady or Richard Sherman, but if they can lead us anywhere close to the next Jamison Crowder or Alfred Morris then they are worth their weight in gold.
STATS, AWARDS AND ATHLETICISM METRICS PRIMER
You may not recognize some of the athleticism and statistical metrics that were used, so I want to provide a quick explanation of them.
All three athleticism metrics are looking at overall athleticism for each player relative to their peers that play at the same position group. Here are brief definitions of all three measures that we'll look at. Follow the links within each definition to learn more.
SPARQ: SPARQ is a formula developed by Nike which measures player athleticism by outputting a single composite score.
RAS: Relative Athletic Scores take player measurements and put them on an easy to understand 0 to 10 scale compared to their position group. A final score is then produced which is also on a 0 to 10 score to show overall athleticism for a draft prospect. This data can be used to chart trends over time, showing that overall athleticism is likely a contributing factor to player success in the NFL.
SLA: This formula blends aspects of SPARQ and True Freak Rating, so it was named Size, Length, and Athleticism (SLA) score. Essentially, SLA is a weighted blend of the previous two formulas. SPARQ tends to rate small explosive players very highly, and True Freak Rating rates long, lumbering players high. On the other hand, SLA serves to showcase desirable blended measurable sets. These three equations give us a good set of size, length, and athleticism analytics to quantify players' measurables for predictive purposes.
Again, all athleticism percentiles listed are referring to the position that the prospect in question plays at.
Some of the on-the-field production metrics that you may not recognize are from Pro Football Focus. Most of you are familiar with the site and their statistics, but if you are not then check them out at the link in the previous sentence.
Also, please note that, unless otherwise specified, all statistics awards and athletic testing that is referenced is from the 2016 college football season and/or is a national ranking.
Chad Kelley - Ole Miss
CBS Ranking: 219
ESPN Ranking: 330
Ranking Explanations: Kelly carries several red flags. He has had multiple off-the-field issues, suffered a torn ACL twice, struggled with consistency and is a bit undersized.
Underrated Stats: 10th in 2015 Passing Yards (4,042), 9th in 2015 Passing Touchdowns (31), 5th in 2015 Total Yards Per Play (8.1), 5th in 2016 PFF Passing Grade among prospects
Other Numbers to Know: Kelley also rushed for over 509 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2015.
Brian Hill - Wyoming
CBS Ranking: 153
ESPN Ranking: 190
Ranking Explanations: Hill's athleticism is average for an NFL runner, and he may be limited to a two-down role because of poor production as a receiver and a pass blocker. A lack of big-school pedigree hurts him too.
Underrated Stats: 9th in 2015 Rushing Yards (1,631), 3rd in 2016 Rushing Yards (1,860), 9th in 2016 Scrimmage Yards (1,927), 4th in 2016 Rushing Touchdowns (22), 4th in 2016 Touchdowns From Scrimmage
Other Numbers to Know: Hill was first or second-team all Mountain West in both of his years as a starter. He also does not turn 22 years old until November, which makes him one of the younger skill position players in the draft
Aaron Jones - UTEP
CBS Ranking: 293
ESPN Ranking: 302
Ranking Explanations: Jones went to a small school and there are some concerns about his durability. Being arrested for a DWI last year did not help his cause either.
Underrated Stats: 4th in Rushing Yards (1,773), 6th in Rushing Yards Per Attempt (7.7), 6th in Yards From Scrimmage (2,006), 8th in Touchdowns From Scrimmage (20),
Underrated Athleticism: 3rd in SPARQ Percentile (88.2%), 3rd in RAS Score (9.04), 3rd in SLA Percentile (78.7%)
Other Numbers to Know: Jones' 1,773 yards on the ground in 2016 accounted for an amazing 79% of UTEP's rushing production as a team.
Donnel Pumphrey - San Diego State
CBS Ranking: 163
ESPN Ranking: 135
Ranking Explanations: Pumphrey is small, and is a bad athlete that hails from a non-Power 5 school.
Underrated Stats: 4th in 2014 Rushing Yards (1,867), 8th in 2015 Rushing Yards (1,653), 1st in 2016 Rushing Yards (2,133), 6th in 2014 Yards From Scrimmage (2,027), 5th in 2015 Yards From Scrimmage (2,067), 1st in 2016 Yards From Scrimmage (2,364), 9th in 2014 Rushing Touchdowns (20), 8th in 2015 Touchdowns From Scrimmage (20)
Underrated Awards: 2015 and 2016 Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year, 2016 Jim Brown Award (Top Running Back in College Football)
Other Numbers to Know: Pumphrey was named to the 2016 All-American team by Sports Illustrated and the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
He is the all-time NCAA leader in career rushing yards (6,405). That ranking does not include bowl games prior to 2002. Pumphrey would rank fourth all-time behind only Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams and Tony Dorsett if bowl games were included.
Taywan Taylor - Western Kentucky
CBS Ranking: 110
ESPN Ranking: 88 (Cheat Pick)
Ranking Explanations: Taylor has had some issues with drops and did not play against a high level of competition at Western Kentucky.
Underrated Stats: 5th in 2016 Receptions (98), 3rd in 2015 Receiving Yards (1,467), 3rd in 2016 Receiving Yards (1,730), 2nd in 2015 Receiving Touchdowns (17), 3rd in 2016 Receiving Touchdowns (17)
Underrated Athleticism: 4th in SPARQ Percentile (96.1%)
Other Numbers to Know: Taylor ranked first and second in deep pass receptions (20) and yards (948) among 2017 receiver prospects.
Dede Westbrook - Oklahoma
CBS Ranking: 117
ESPN Ranking: 189
Ranking Explanations: At 178 pounds Westbrook's frame is an obvious issue. He also has been accused of domestic violence on multiple occasions, is a poor athlete and is one of the oldest wide receivers in the draft.
Underrated Stats: 6th in Receiving Yards (1,524), 3rd in Receiving Touchdowns (17), 2nd in Yards Per Route Run (4.09)
Underrated Awards: Biletnitkoff Award (Top Wide Receiver in College Football), Heisman Trophy Finalist (5th in voting), Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Consensus All-American
Other Numbers to Know: Westbrook ranked second and third in deep pass yards (721) and deep pass catch percentage (62.5%) among 2017 receiver prospects.
Trent Taylor - Louisiana Tech
CBS Ranking: 388
ESPN Ranking: 268
Ranking Explanations: Taylor is another small-school prospect that lacks the size and length that NFL teams covet.
Underrated Stats: 2nd in Receptions (136), 1st in Receiving Yards 1,803
Other Numbers to Know: Taylor dominated as a slot receiver for LA Tech. He ranked first among all receiver prospects in slot receptions (131) and yards (1734) and ranked second in the country in yards per route run from the slot (3.28).
George Kittle - Iowa
CBS Ranking: 111
ESPN Ranking: 123
Ranking Explanations: Kittle is not a polished route runner or a prolific receiver. His size raises concerns about his ability to be effective as an in-line blocker. There are also some concerns about his durability.
Underrated Stats: 2nd in PFF Run Blocking Grade (79.6) among all tight end prospects
Underrated Athleticism: 1st in SPARQ Percentile (97.2%), 3rd in RAS Score (9.29) and 5th in SLA Percentile (84.2%)
Other Numbers to Know: Kittle caught a touchdown in 9 of his last 19 college games. He allowed just one total quarterback pressure in his last two years in college combined.
Michael Roberts - Toledo
CBS Ranking: 236
ESPN Ranking: 174
Ranking Explanations: Roberts is a below-average athlete and he is also something of a one-year wonder.
Underrated Stats: 6th in Receiving Touchdowns (16), 1st in Overall PFF Grade among tight end prospects, 2nd in PFF Receiving Grade among tight end prospects
Other Numbers to Know: Michael Roberts was named to the Football Writers of America All-American team. His 16 receiving touchdowns led all tight ends in 2016.
Cameron Tom- Southern Miss
CBS Ranking: 187
ESPN Ranking: 277
Ranking Explanations: Tom's small frame and lack of strength and power are considered red flags by some evaluators.
Underrated Stats: 7th in Pass Blocking Efficiency (98.7%)
Underrated Athleticism: 1st in SPARQ Percentile (81.4%), 1st in RAS Score (8.93)
Other Numbers to Know: In 2016, Tom only allowed one hit and did not give up a sack.
Vincent Taylor - Oklahoma State
CBS Ranking: 113
ESPN Ranking: 150
Ranking Explanations: Taylor plays too high (not in the Josh Gordon/diluted sample sense) and he lacks the quickness and repertoire of moves to make adjustments. He is also a below average athlete.
Underrated Stats: 2nd in Pass Rushing Productivity among interior defender prospects (13.8), 4th in PFF Overall Grade among interior defender prospects, 3rd in PFF Pass Rush Grade among interior defender prospects, 8th in PFF Run Defense Grade among interior defender prospects
Other Numbers to Know: Taylor racked up 27 hurries, 8 QB hits and 7.5 sacks from the nose tackle position in 2016. His 43 total pressures ranked 11th in the nation and 5th among draft-eligible interior defenders last season.
Trey Hendrickson - Florida Atlantic
CBS Ranking: 125
ESPN Ranking: 128
Ranking Explanations: Hendricks is a subpar run defender that often gets swallowed up by blocks.
Underrated Stats: 2nd in 2015 Sacks (14), 2nd in 2015 Forced Fumbles (5), 3rd in 2016 Total QB Pressures (78), 1st in 2016 Pass Rushing Productivity (20.5), 4th in 2016 Overall PFF Grade among edge prospects, 3rd in 2016 PFF Pass Rush Grade among edge prospects
Underrated Awards: Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year
Underrated Athleticism: 8th in SPARQ Percentile (87.1%), 5th in RAS Score (9.42)
Other Numbers to Know: Hendrickson averaged a sack per game over his final two seasons at Florida Atlantic.
Ejuan Price - Pittsburgh
CBS Ranking: 228
ESPN Ranking: 199
Ranking Explanations: Price is extremely short for an edge rusher (5'11") and has missed more than two seasons due to injury.
Underrated Stats: 7th in 2015 Tackles For Loss (20), 2nd in 2016 Tackles For Loss (23), 8th in 2015 Sacks (12), 5th in 2016 Sacks (13), 6th in 2016 Total Quarterback Pressures (67)
Other Numbers to Know: Price was named to the All-ACC team in each of his last two years at Pittsburgh, and he averaged one sack per contest during that time.
Blair Brown - Ohio
CBS Ranking: 184
ESPN Ranking: 120
Ranking Explanations: Blair is yet another small player from a smaller college. Brown's size can cause him to get swallowed up by blocks.
Underrated Stats: 8th in total tackles (128), 1st in Tackling Efficiency (44.7), 3rd in Run Stop Percentage (15.5%), 2nd in PFF Overall Grade (92.4), 2nd in PFF Run Defense Grade (91.5)
Underrated Awards: PFF All-American
Underrated Athleticism: 4th in SPARQ Percentile (88.2%)
Other Numbers to Know: Brown also earned the ninth best PFF coverage grade and the second best PFF pass rushing grade among off-ball linebackers in the class.
Dylan Cole - Missouri State
CBS Ranking: 192
ESPN Ranking: Not Ranked
Ranking Explanations: Many of the guys on this list hail from small schools, but none are smaller than Cole's alma mater, Missouri State of the FCS.
Underrated Awards: FCS All-American, Buck Buchanan Award Finalist (Top Defenders in FCS)
Underrated Athleticism: 1st in SPARQ Percentile (96.7%), 1st in RAS Score (9.87), 1st in SLA Percentage (89.9%)
Other Numbers to Know: Cole led the FCS with 13 total tackles per game, and he has the highest SPARQ and RAS score of any inside linebacker in the last three years.
Shaquil Griffin - UCF
CBS Ranking: 121
ESPN Ranking: 161
Ranking Explanations: Griffin struggles against certain types of routes and gave up his fair share of yards and touchdowns over the last two seasons.
Underrated Stats: 6th in Passes Defended (15), 4th in PFF Overall Grade among cornerback prospects, 4th in Coverage Grade among cornerback prospects
Underrated Athleticism: 7th in SPARQ Percentile (96.1%), 4th in RAS Score (9.83), 4th in SLA Percentage (91.6%)
Other Numbers to Know: Griffin only allowed 39.7% of the passes thrown into his coverage to be caught last season.
Damontae Kazee - San Diego State
CBS Ranking: 178
ESPN Ranking: 95 (Cheat Pick)
Ranking Explanations: Kazee is a poor athlete and is undersized.
Underrated Stats: 2nd in 2015 Interceptions (8), 3rd in 2016 Interceptions (7), 7th in 2016 Interception Yards (156)
Underrated Awards: 2015 and 2016 Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year
Other Numbers to Know: Kazee only missed 5 tackles and allowed 99 yards after the catch last season. He only allowed 6 career touchdowns compared to 16 interceptions while at San Diego State.
Rasul Douglas - West Virginia
CBS Ranking: 150
ESPN Ranking: 104
Ranking Explanations: Douglas has good size, but his 40-yard dash time of 4.59 is very poor for a corner (18th percentile).
Underrated Stats: 1st in Interceptions (8), 6th in PFF Overall Grade among cornerback prospects, 6th in Coverage Grade among cornerback prospects
Other Numbers to Know: Quarterbacks had a passer rating of just 45.0 when targeting Douglas last season.
Tedric Thompson - Colorado
CBS Ranking: 207
ESPN Ranking: 269
Ranking Explanations: Thompson is another undersized player that is lacking in the athleticism department.
Underrated Stats: 3rd in Interceptions (7), 4th in Passes Defended (16), 1st in PFF Coverage Grade among safety prospects, 1st in Passer Rating Allowed among safety prospects (21.3)
Other Numbers to Know: He only allowed 40% of the targets thrown in his direction to be completed, which is the fourth best rate in the safety class.
Nathan Gerry - NC State
CBS Ranking: 329
ESPN Ranking: 194
Ranking Explanations: Lack of speed and coverage skills could make him a liability in man coverage, which would likely limit him to a role as a box safety.
Underrated Stats: 3rd in Run Stop Percentage among safety prospects (7.4%), 2nd in Overall PFF Grade among safety prospects, 9th in PFF Run Defense Grade among safety prospects
Underrated Awards: PFF All-American
Other Numbers to Know: The only safety in the class that picked off or defended a pass on a higher percentage of the targets in his coverage was Marcus Williams.
Zane Gonzalez - Arizona State
CBS Ranking: 146
ESPN Ranking: 323
Ranking Explanations: First of all, he is a kicker. Gonzalez is also said to have some problems with shorter field goals and with kickoff return touchdowns allowed.
Underrated Stats: 1st in 2013 Field Goals Made (25), 7th in 2014 Fields Goals Made (22), 2nd in 2015 Field Goals Made (26), 4th in 2016 Field Goals Made (23), 7th in 2016 Field Goal Percentage (92%)
Underrated Awards: Lou Groza Award (Top Placekicker in College Football), Consensus All-American
Other Numbers to Know: Gonzalez made an all-time NCAA record 96 field goals in his college career.
OTHER PLAYERS CONSIDERED
Here are a few other players that didn't quite make the cut. These prospects were considered for several different reasons, but athleticism was the main redeeming quality of many of the players in this group.
QB: Trevor Knight (Texas A&M)
RB: Jeremy McNichols (Boise State), Kareem Hunt (Toledo), Matt Breida (Georgia Southern)
WR: Robert Davis (Georgia State), Austin Carr (Northwestern), Speedy Noil (Texas A&M)
TE: Jonnu Smith (Florida International)
OL: Robert Leff (Auburn)
DL: Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA)
EDGE: Joe Mathis (Washington), Hunter Dimick (Utah), Tanoh Kpassagnon (Villanova)
ILB: Eric Wilson (Cincinnati), Kenneth Olugbode (Colorado)
CB: Brian Allen (Utah), Jalen Myrick (Minnesota)
S: Jason Thompson (Utah), Rayshawn Jenkins (Miami)
*All statistics are courtesy of 3 Sigma Athlete, 2017 NFL Draft Slaytics Report, CBS Sports, College Football Reference, ESPN, Mockdraftable, NFL.com, Pro Football Focus, numberFire, Relative Athletic Scores and Rotoviz*