DraftBrowns.com Staff Writer: Justin Higdon
For many fans and analysts, the end of one NFL Draft leads seamlessly into preparation for the next one. Already in May, with a year to go before the 2014 NFL Draft invades Mother’s Day weekend, household names like Jadeveon Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd and Marqise Lee are echoing across the internet as zealous writers and scouts get an early jump out of the blocks. After all, football is king, there is no offseason, and there will be even less of one next year. It isn’t even summer yet, but college football feels like it’s right around the corner. Fans won’t be caught off guard by Clowney and Teddy B, but every year some lesser-known names lie just below the surface of popular consciousness, ready to make noise when the season kicks off. Here are five offensive prospects who may be flying under the radar for now, but will be ready to strike once the games begin.
Jeff Mathews QB Cornell – Mathews has caught the eyes of a few savvy analysts over the past year or so, but playing in the Ivy League has generally kept him out of the spotlight. He became a starter during his freshman year and hasn’t looked back, throwing for over 8000 yards and 50 touchdowns during his first three seasons. Mathews is a tall, strong-armed pocket passer with deceptive mobility. He does a good job sensing pressure and moving around in the pocket to avoid sacks and buy time to throw. He is able to scan the field when he has time, and get the ball out quickly when he doesn’t. Mathews has zip on his intermediate throws, and is fairly accurate at all levels of the field. When he does miss, his throws tend to be just behind his receivers, so like many young quarterbacks he will need to work on his anticipation and ball placement. When faced with pressure, Mathews does well to keep his eyes downfield. He is tough to corral because he can deliver with accuracy on the move, and can complete passes from a variety of arm angles. This season, Mathews will need to overcome the stigma of facing FCS-level competition, and continue to improve. But with his size and skill set, another strong season will surely generate buzz in draft circles.
Cody Green QB Tulsa – Green was a four-star recruit who originally attended Nebraska, but after Taylor Martinez beat him out for the starting quarterback gig, Green opted to transfer to Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane went 10-3 in Green’s starts last season, but his performance was uneven throughout the year. Still, it is difficult not to be intrigued by his combination of size and athletic ability. Green is over 6’3” tall and weighs close to 250 pounds. He has good arm strength, with experience running the read option and taking snaps under center. Green is a threat to run with the football, and is a load to bring down in the open field. He is not a speed merchant, but he runs well for a man his size. His power running, and ability to make a play action pass make him a player to watch in the red zone this season. Unfortunately, Green’s greatest struggle is with accuracy – not a great sign when attempting to forecast NFL success. His biggest issue is that the ball tends to wobble when it leaves his hand. It could be due to the way he grips the ball, or possibly his hands are smaller than his stature would indicate. It will be something teams monitor as the season progresses. If Green can find some precision to accompany his physical tools, he will climb up draft boards.
Tim Flanders RB Sam Houston State – After failing to earn playing time at Kansas State, Flanders transferred to SHSU, where he has put together consecutive 1600 yard rushing seasons for the Bearkats. In three collegiate seasons he has amassed over 4200 rushing yards on 5.6 yards per carry, hauled in 58 passes for nearly ten yards a pop, and has scored 55 total touchdowns. At 5’9” and 210 pounds, Flanders has a compact frame with a low center of gravity – perfect for keeping his balance after first contact. He has good burst through the hole, and is able to bounce runs outside if nothing is there. Flanders shows excellent patience to let his blocks set up, and his quick feet and cutting ability make him tough to wrap up. He won’t intimidate anyone with his size, but he is able to stand in and pick up a blitz and run with authority. Flanders finishes strong and lowers his shoulder to pick up an extra yard or two. Running backs have been devalued in recent years, and Flanders won’t be a first round pick, but he is one of the most talented backs at the FCS level entering the upcoming season.
Jaamal Berry RB Murray State – After redshirting in 2009, Berry ran for 80 yards on only seven carries in his college debut for Ohio State. He finished his freshman season with 800 all-purpose yards – 266 rushing (8.3 yards per carry) and 534 on kick returns (25.4 yards per return). In 2011, Berry touched the ball just eight times as his season was marred by a couple of fights and a resulting suspension. Berry had previously run afoul of the law before he even set foot on Ohio State’s campus, getting pinched for marijuana possession back in June of ’09. All of that trouble resulted in a transfer to Murray State, where he was eligible to play immediately in 2012. Berry gained 675 yards on 95 carries for the Racers (7.1 yards per carry), and added 234 yards on 29 receptions. Berry is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield, and even does a nice job picking up the blitz. He has tremendous change of direction skills and his feet are so quick that he sometimes seems like he’s about to shake out of his own shoes. Once he gets into the open field he’s as good as gone. Berry most often tries to avoid even the slightest contact, but he is capable of getting low and finishing a run strong. At 5’10” and 200 pounds, he has room to add a little bulk, as long as he doesn’t sacrifice speed. Trouble was Berry’s ticket to Murray State, but if he can convince NFL teams that he has learned from his mistakes, his physical talent should earn him a long look at the next level.
Erik Lora WR Eastern Illinois – At 5’10” 182 pounds, with long hair spilling out from under his helmet, Lora might look more like a drummer than a football player. But in 2012, after missing all of 2011 with a hip injury, the junior wide receiver hauled in a staggering 136 receptions for 1664 yards and 12 touchdowns. Lora’s five catches against Western Michigan were his fewest of the season, and he tallied single-game totals of 12, 13, 15, 17 and 21. Twenty-one passes in a single game. Lora is able to get open underneath and on the outside, albeit against predominantly FCS competition. He uses subtle, veteran push-off moves to help free himself for some tough catches. Lora has terrific body control, and appears to have above-average speed. He is likely destined for a role as a slot receiver, but he does a nice job tracking deep throws over his shoulder. On the field Lora is an extremely excitable, demonstrative player. He often seems fired up, and his teammates feed off of that. The fifth-year senior will be called on as one of the leaders of his team, and will no doubt be hungry to produce another outstanding season for the Panthers.