Underrated: James Hardy, Indiana
It may be a stretch to say he's underrated, as I have seen some projections that have Hardy as high as the No. 2 receiver in the draft but others have him much lower. Besides Jackson and Devin Thomas, there seems to be much disagreement over who exactly the elite receivers are in this draft (Malcolm Kelly? Limas Sweed? Mario Manningham?).
All I know is, for a league obsessed with size, the NFL, you would think, couldn't go wrong with a guy who's 6-foot-5 1/2, racked up 1,125 yards last season and scored 36 touchdowns in three years. Hardy was an absolutely dominant performer for the Hoosiers and there's no reason to think he won't become a go-to NFL receiver.
Overrated: Mike Pollak, Arizona State
I've got to be honest: I have no idea how to spot an overrated offensive lineman. Therefore, Pollak got this nod for no particularly legitimate reason other than I couldn't find fault with any of the guards or tackles. He's the draft's top-rated center yet he played on an offensive line that got absolutely abused by the three best teams it faced last season: Oregon, USC and Texas. (Strangely, the No. 2 center, Notre Dame's John Sullivan, also played for an atrocious O-line. I guess it wasn't their fault.)
Underrated: Sam Baker, USC
Let's see here. Baker was the starting left tackle -- most important position on the line -- for the most dominant program in the country for four straight years. When Baker got injured last season, quarterback Mark Sanchez (filing in for Booty at the time) suddenly found himself running for his life. Based purely on Baker's college track record, I assumed he would be one of, if not the top, tackle on the board; instead, I see he's barely in the top 10. Baker reportedly did not test well at USC's pro day, which means, of course, that those four years never happened.
Overrated: Kentwan Balmer, North Carolina
I'd like to think I follow college football fairly closely, so what I'm about to admit may seem a tad bit embarrassing: I had literally never heard of this guy prior to this week. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw him smack dab in Peter King's first-round Mock Draft. Either I need to start watching more ACC football (which itself may require a steady IV drip) or there's a legit reason I'd never heard of him: The fact is he did almost nothing to distinguish himself his first three seasons. He did have a big senior season, earning all-conference honors, but mostly, he's just big (6-4 1/2, 308 pounds).
Underrated: Quentin Groves, Auburn
Groves was limited by injuries at times last season, but when he was at his best, he was definitely one of those guys who can take over a game just by the pressure he puts on opposing quarterbacks. He did just that in the Tigers' early season upset at Florida, helping limit Heisman winner Tim Tebow to mostly short completions. The year before, when fully healthy, he notched 9.5 sacks. The only defensive end I'd rank above him is Chris Long, and if, as projected, Groves slips into the second round, someone is going to get themselves an absolute steal.
Overrated: Vernon Gholston, Ohio State
A) I couldn't find a pure linebacker I thought was overrated, but some are projecting Gholston to play such in a 3-4. B) I've never understood all the fuss over this guy. I've watched a lot of Ohio State games over the past two years and only once did I see him truly dominate a contest. That was last year's Michigan game, when he had three sacks. (He did have four sacks against Wisconsin, but that game was on the Big Ten Network, so I can't be sure it actually took place.) Most notably, Gholston was a non-factor in both of the Buckeyes' BCS title-game appearances the past two seasons (against Florida in 2006 and LSU in '07). What am I missing here?
Underrated: Philip Wheeler, Georgia Tech
Here's a classic case of a guy who did nothing but produce at the highest level for one of the nation's top defenses the past three seasons (242 tackles, 35 tackles for loss and 19 sacks) yet is being downgraded by NFL types for an only-in-the-NFL reason: They can't figure out what position he should play. Is he an inside backer? Is he an outside backer? Here's an idea: Just throw him out there and let him go tackle people. Georgia Tech seemed to figure it out.
Overrated: Justin King, Penn State
King was one of those guys who came in with a big reputation out of high school and elicited a lot of excitement as a true freshman when Penn State used him in spot duty on offense and as a return man. No question the guy is fast, but I never understood the acclaim as a cornerback. In a game I covered in Happy Valley last season, Ohio State receiver Brian Robiskie basically did whatever he wanted against him. Ditto Mario Manningham in a game the two played their freshman seasons. Great athlete? Yes. Great cornerback? Debatable. And certainly not better than this guy ...
Underrated: Antoine Cason, Arizona
Four-year starter. Three-time All Pac-10 honoree. Fifteen career interceptions, including three touchdowns. And a signature, nationally televised performance last season against then second-ranked Oregon in which he scored on both a 42-yard interception return and a 56-yard punt return. I'm not sure you could ask for a more solid, consistent four-year career by a major-conference cornerback (Aqib Talib turned pro early), yet he's only considered a second-rounder, well behind a guy from Troy (Leodis McKelvin) and a guy from Tennessee State (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie). What more did the guy need to do?
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