2012 Wes Welker Watch List
Every year an off-the-radar player not invited to the Combine becomes a star
Former college hoops player Dale Moss has the size and speed teams want at WR
Despite coming from D-III, Chris Greenwood's pro day opened teams' eyes
The dramatic, out-of-nowhere rise of Victor Cruz last season is only the latest glaring reminder. When it comes to talent evaluation, the NFL can miss on a grand scale. Not only did the New York Giants' dance-happy, second-year receiver go undrafted as a rookie in 2010, but he also wasn't even thought highly enough to warrant an invite to the league's scouting combine in Indianapolis, a cattle call of an event that annually draws more than 300 NFL prospects to the Midwest.
Cruz's breakthrough 82-catch, 1,536-yard, nine-touchdown season was considered the most pivotal development in the surprise Super Bowl run the Giants went on in 2011, but in some ways, his was a familiar story: An off-the-radar player emerges to prove once again that the draft and the scouting combine aren't prerequisites for NFL stardom.
The reality that good players slip through the cracks every year in the scouting process is reason enough for our fourth annual Wes Welker Watch List, a compilation of 10 little-known prospects who have a shot to make it in the league even if they don't get drafted, or wind up being selected in the late rounds. These players weren't invited to this year's combine, but like Welker and Cruz both showed in February, that doesn't mean they can't get to Indy via a potential Super Bowl.
Players like New England's Julian Edelman, Buffalo's David Nelson, Arizona's Greg Toler and other active NFL players are alumni of the Welker Watch List, and even though none of them have had the huge impact that Welker has made, their odds-beating journey from unsung to successful have shown that there's more than one way to make a career out of it in pro football.
After all, last year's Super Bowl champion Giants were led by Cruz, with small but significant contributions also coming from undrafted rookie linebacker Mark Herzlich, and undrafted rookie fullback Henry Hynoski. Some players will travel the same, long road to relevancy this season, too. Count on it. In the NFL, every year teaches us anew that drafting and developing talent will never be a science.
Dale Moss, WR, South Dakota State -- He's a tall, fast receiver with the last name of Moss, and his uncle happens to be Nebraska Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers. But the NFL still didn't really notice him until he blew up at the SDSU pro day, running 4.45 and jumping 41.5 inches vertically. That's because the former collegiate basketball player tried football only in 2011, when he found himself with an extra season of athletic eligibility.
At 6-foot-3, 213 pounds, Moss has superb size, and his 61 catches for 949 yards and six touchdowns last year proves he's a quick study who can produce. Moss will undoubtedly be raw early in his NFL career as he continues to learn the game, but with his prototypical size and speed, someone is likely to make him a third-day pick and give him the chance to grow.
Logan Harrell, DT, Fresno State -- Harrell is undersized at 6-2, 280-plus pounds, and talent evaluators have him in the "tweener'' category, between defensive tackle and end. But someone will give him an opportunity to make a roster because of his outstanding pursuit ability and knack for making plays in an opponent's backfield. A two-time first-team All-WAC pick, Harrell had 31 tackles for loss in his last two collegiate seasons, and he relentlessly finds the ballcarrier.
He plays with such a tenacious style that some scouts have compared him favorably to 2011 fifth-round Titans rookie defensive tackle Karl Klug, one of the surprises of the year in the NFL last season. And it probably doesn't hurt that Harrell is the godson of Rams Hall of Fame defensive lineman Jack Youngblood, who played a bit light at 245 pounds in his day.
Brandon Hardin, DB, Oregon State -- Hardin missed all of his senior season after having preseason surgery on his broken left shoulder last summer, but he did get healthy in time to play in the East-West Shrine Game and start to mount a comeback. He has generated some solid buzz this spring and reportedly was scheduled to visit as many as 15 NFL teams, making notable trips to safety-needy teams such as Chicago and Baltimore.
A cornerback at OSU, Hardin projects to free safety, where his 6-2, 216-pound frame is needed in matchups against taller receivers and the ever-burgeoning crop of big, fast tight ends. Hardin ran a sizzling 4.36 at his pro day, and his jumping ability (10'4'' broad, 35.5 vertical) also earned the league's notice. As the draft nears, the third or fourth round is starting to look like a distinct possibility, especially given the dearth of talent at safety in this year's draft.
Chris Greenwood, CB, Albion College -- Players from a Division III program like obscure Albion College in Albion, Mich., have to be special to get noticed by NFL scouts, but prospects who can run and jump like Greenwood almost always get discovered at some point. Taking part in a pro day workout at the University of Michigan in March, Greenwood ripped off a 4.34 in his 40, then posted a vertical of 43 inches and a broad jump of 11'2''. At 6-1, 193, Greenwood also has NFL size for a cornerback, with long arms, well-honed press-coverage skills, and strong change of direction ability.
All he really lacks is pedigree, having attended three colleges, jumping from Northwood University in Michigan, to Eastern Michigan, to Albion in a relatively short span of time. Look for Greenwood's name to be called in the earlier rounds on Saturday, with some scouts likening his frame and game to Antonio Cromartie.
Tim Fugger, DE, Vanderbilt -- Fugger played defensive end at Vandy, but he shed weight this spring to 248 pounds and is getting looked at by some as an outside 3-4 linebacker who can provide a burst off the edge. He was a high-effort and consistent playmaker for the Commodores last season, racking up 13.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and three forced fumbles. He ran in the 4.5-4.6 range, and helped himself with an impressive and athletic showing at the Vandy pro day.
Teams such as the Bears, Falcons, Titans and Raiders all have him on their radar screen, and he's likely a late-round candidate to make a team as either a rotational defensive end or stand-up rusher, with immediate responsibilities on special teams.
David Douglas, WR, Arizona -- The Wildcats' No. 2 receiver behind the more highly regarded Juron Criner, Douglas didn't have gaudy stats as a senior (65 catches for 666 yards and four touchdowns), but he flashed real potential this spring, running in the 4.4s with a 39-inch vertical leap. He has excellent short-burst quickness and the ability to find the gaps in a defense, and at 6-1, 207 pounds he has the necessary size to project to the NFL.
Douglas will be either a late-round pick or a priority collegiate free agent, and scouts have grown more impressed with his soft hands, tight route running and football instincts as the spring has worn on. The Lions and Bills are two of the teams thought to be interested in his market.
Jeff Adams, OT, Columbia -- The NFL doesn't make a habit of finding its offensive linemen in the Ivy League, even though Ravens center Matt Birk has proved to be a rare exception to that trend. But Adams isn't your typical Ivy Leaguer. The Lions standout has been a three-time All-Ivy first-team pick at offensive left tackle, and was a third-team All-America pick by the Associated Press in 2011.
It's easy to understand why the NFL might be interested when you check out his measurables. Adams is 6-6, 308 pounds, with a ridiculous 81.5 inch wingspan and massive hands. He ran a solid 5.17, isn't a stiff when it comes to his athleticism, and has the kind of frame NFL coaches can always work with and wait on as he matures. Adams actually impressed scouts at two different pro days, Columbia's and Northwestern's, and the Jets are thought to be a team considering him in the draft's sixth or seventh rounds.
Adrian Hamilton, DE, Prairie View -- Hamilton is an intriguing late-round prospect who signed with Oklahoma State out of high school, but didn't qualify. He later walked on to Texas Tech in 2007, before transferring to Prairie View for 2010-11. All he did last season was break Robert Mathis's single-season sack record in the SWAC, totaling 20.5 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss, with six forced fumbles.
He has superb edge rush skills, but as a defensive end he's undersized (6-2 1/2, 250) and likely will be shifted to outside linebacker in a 3-4 formation. He's raw, but Hamilton would benefit from a team taking him and giving him nothing more to concentrate on than honing his edge pass rush game. He's seen as a Day 3 prospect, whose good first step and strong closing speed makes him an intriguing developmental project.
Jonte Green, CB, New Mexico State -- There will always be a place in the NFL for players with blinding speed, and if Al Davis were still alive and picking the players in Oakland, I'd put my money on Green winding up a Raider. Green ran 4.41 at the New Mexico State pro day, and his measurables of 5-11, 191 pounds helped make sure the NFL scouts knew his name as well.
Green's ball skills need work, but he improved his coverage skills playing for New Mexico State head coach DeWayne Walker, a former NFL defensive backs coach. Playing in the inaugural AstroTurf NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in January, Green was named the National Team's defensive MVP, and his 14 passes defensed led the Aggies last season and ranked second in the WAC. He's seen as a likely third-day pick, or priority collegiate free agent.
Aaron Henry, S, Wisconsin -- Henry isn't spectacular in any facet of his game, but he's plenty solid enough to carve out an NFL career of some sort for himself, even though the All-Big Ten first-team coaches selection somehow didn't merit an invite to the combine in February. A dependable and productive two-year starter for a Badgers team that made back-to-back Rose Bowl trips, Henry is a converted cornerback who got plenty of notice from NFL scouts at the East-West Shrine Game this year, and his 4.53 40 and 39.5-inch vertical at the Wisconsin pro day moved him into solid consideration for a third-day draft selection. At 6-0, 208 pounds, Henry has enough size and speed to handle the ever-more important duties at free safety in the NFL.