2010 Wes Welker Watch List
Ten unheralded prospects who could become difference-makers in NFL
Scouts like Florida wideout David Nelson's toughness, competitiveness
Brown, BYU, South Dakota, Kent State represented on this year's list
Last year's inaugural Wes Welker Watch List not only highlighted 10 off-the-radar NFL prospects who had a shot to make the league even if their names weren't called on draft weekend, but also managed to uncover the next best thing to Welker himself in Julian Edelman, the former Kent State quarterback turned Patriots rookie receiver/return specialist.
Seeing some very Welker-like characteristics in Edelman -- short-burst speed, good hands and escapability -- New England made him a seventh-round pick last April. And when Welker went down for a couple games with a knee injury early in the season, Edelman stepped in and did a dead-on impersonation, winding up third on the team in receptions (37) for 359 yards and one touchdown. With Welker out once again, Edelman finished the year very strong, leading New England in Week 17 with 10 catches for 103 yards, and adding a pair of touchdowns in the Patriots' opening-round playoff loss to visiting Baltimore.
Edelman was the clear-cut star of last year's Welker Watch List, but all told seven of the 10 unheralded players we wrote about are still on an NFL team's roster, including the undrafted Vince Anderson (Giants cornerback), David Nixon (Raiders linebacker), Russell Allen (Jaguars linebacker), and Carson Butler (Giants tight end). Besides Edelman, two other members of last year's list were drafted: Cardinals fourth-round cornerback Greg Toler and Bucs seventh-round cornerback E.J. Biggers.
With the bar set at that lofty 70 percent success rate, we're back for more with this year's second annual Welker Watch List. In most cases, these players weren't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in February and will wind up signing as collegiate free agents. But that doesn't mean they won't cut it in the NFL, and the careers of undrafted stars such as Welker, Kurt Warner, Antonio Gates, James Harrison and Willie Parker prove the point.
1. Ramon Harewood, OT, Morehouse College -- NFL personnel men love Harewood's massive 6-foot-7, 355-pound frame, and the native of Barbados is a physics and engineering major who wows scouts with his blend of intelligence and physicality. NFL types don't always make it to Morehouse's pro day, but almost 20 teams were represented this year, and they were all there to check out a prospect who projects to either the seventh round or priority free-agent.
2. David Nelson, WR, Florida -- He elevated his draft stock at the Gators pro day, running 4.57 in the 40, with a 38-inch vertical leap and a broad jump of 10 feet, four inches. Though Nelson got overshadowed at times among all of Florida's playmakers, scouts are enamored with his 6-5 height and ability to use his 217 pounds to block and give his quarterback a big target. "He's a tough kid and a competitive kid,'' one NFL scout told me. "He's got rare height and he catches the ball well. He runs good routes and he's just crafty. He'll make someone's team.''
3. Tim Hiller, QB, Western Michigan -- A four-year starter in college, Hiller didn't follow up his fantastic junior season with more of the same as a senior, and that has sent his stock plummeting since the fall. But he also wasn't playing with a lot of talent around him in 2009, and scouts do give him high marks for his size (6-4, 229), brains (4.0 GPA) and experience playing under center in a pro-style offense. Hiller was invited to and worked out at the combine, and played in the Texas versus the Nation all-star game.
4. David Howard, DT, Brown -- There's been a decent buzz surrounding this Ivy League star since he stood out at Brown's pro day, and scouts tell me NFL teams are starting to invite Howard for private visits, a sure-fire sign of draft interest. Howard has been a productive and steadily improving player throughout his college career, and he has good measurables at 6-3, 293 pounds. He ran well (5.03), had a quality 7.55 time in the three-cone drill, and displayed the kind of burst and athleticism that should make him a sixth- or seventh-round pick.
5. Andrew George, TE, Brigham Young -- He was the second tight end for the 11-2, nationally ranked Cougars last season, behind standout Dennis Pitta, an All-America pick who is projected to go in the third round. But George has sparked interest this spring as well, and some compare him favorably to former BYU and Philadelphia Eagles tight end Chad Lewis, who he has trained with this year. George is 6-4, 247 pounds, with good hands and athleticism, and scouts feel he'll grow into a decent blocker.
6. Danny Batten, DE-OLB, South Dakota State -- Batten has built momentum throughout the pre-draft scouting season, turning in a good week at the Texas versus the Nation all-star game in February and building on that with an impressive pro day workout for scouts last week. He projects to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but at 6-3, 246, he has room to grow into a 4-3 edge-rushing defensive end role as well. The Bears are one defensive end-needy team that seems intrigued by Batten and his collegiate sack production.
7. Jameson Konz, TE, Kent State -- I've heard different assessments when it comes to Konz. Some feel he's the next in the line of unheralded Kent State prospects who succeed in the NFL (a'la Edelman), and others view him as a workout warrior whose measurables are better than his NFL potential. But Konz is intriguing, if only because he's a former outside linebacker who switched to receiver as a senior, having never played the position before. He projects to either an H-back or fullback role in the NFL, and the 6-3, 234-pound Konz has teams like the Saints and Raiders scheduling private workouts with him after he posted a 4.38 time in the 40, with a 46-inch vertical and a 10-foot, eight-inch broad jump on his pro day.
8. Reggie Stephens, G-C, Iowa State -- He played in the East-West Shrine Game, but didn't rate a combine invite despite being an All-Big 12 honorable mention pick as a senior. Stephens helped himself on the Cyclones' pro day, measuring in at 6-3, 314 pounds, with 31 bench press reps and a respectable 5.26 in the 40. His versatility and athleticism are pluses, and new Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice was reportedly at Iowa State's pro day just to assess Stephens's late-round viability.
9. Freddie Barnes, WR, Bowling Green -- Barnes is another prospect overlooked by those who determine the combine invite list, but he had a solid week at the East-West Shrine Game and was a proven collegiate performer, with a mind-boggling, NCAA-record setting 155 catches in 2009. But his issue is speed. He didn't run well at his pro day, posting times in the 4.6-4.7 range, and is more of a possession-type receiver than home run threat. "He hasn't run well, but he was so productive you can't ignore him,'' one scout said. "He's very instinctive, and even at the tail end of the draft, I can see him doing something in the league.''
10. Levi Brown, QB, Troy -- Higher profile quarterbacks like Fordham's John Skelton and Tennessee's Jonathan Crompton have been garnering attention with their workouts this spring, but both could climb into the draft's middle rounds, which is why they don't fit our Welker Watch List parameters. In Brown, you have a small-school prospect whom several NFL teams seem to like as either a seventh-round pick or priority free agent. He has already met with the Saints, Bills and Panthers, and is scheduled to visit Tennessee on Friday and the Chargers next week. "He would fit into an NFL training camp,'' one scout said. "I could see a team keeping him around next year as its third guy and then developing him.''
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