The 2013 NFL draft is still months away, but it’s the only thing that fans of teams not named the San Francisco 49ers or Baltimore Ravens have to look forward to at this point.
With the draft process getting ready to ramp up to full speed over the coming weeks—and with the combine and pro days as the main attractions—it’s time to start identifying some underrated prospects to keep an eye on.
Let’s take a look at a few different players that could become real studs in the NFL, but aren’t getting the credit they deserve as February rolls around.
E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State
The Seminoles' signal-caller shined during his limited action at the Senior Bowl, throwing and running for touchdowns and completing a high percentage of passes. He won the MVP award for his efforts, finishing the day by going 7-of-10 passing for 76 yards with one TD and one INT, plus another score on a two-yard run.
He’s a dual-threat QB that isn’t getting the respect he deserves for his ability to take off and move the chains or chuck the ball downfield for big gains. During his senior year at FSU, Manuel led the program to a 12-2 record and Orange Bowl victory.
His numbers weren't bad in 2012, either. The 22-year-old completed 263 of 387 passes for 3,392 yards, 23 TDs and 10 INTs, while rushing 103 times for 310 yards and four scores.
If Manuel clocks a good 40-yard dash time and proves to be an overall athlete at the combine, we expect NFL scouts and GMs will finally give this youngster a serious look.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Patterson may not be the most polished prospect, but at 6’3” and 205 pounds, he is a dangerous one.
The junior wideout decided to leave the Volunteers early, even though he never contributed at an outstanding level to the program. Patterson leaves Knoxville having played one season, hauling in 46 catches for 778 yards and five touchdowns.
He added another dimension to the Vols' return game, returning both a punt and kick for a TD in limited action.
Patterson is hoping that he will have more of a chance to contribute in the NFL, and we’re inclined to agree with him. The kid has shown flashes of greatness and needs a change of scenery to realize this.
The WR has first-round-worthy athleticism and a ton of upside, so don’t be surprised to see him take the league by storm once he puts it all together.
Denard Robinson, QB/RB/WR/KR, Michigan
Robinson went from a Heisman candidate quarterback to a utility man for the Wolverines, but that just goes to show how versatile he is.
Even if he loses his job at one place on the field, there is always a position that “Shoelace” can play. Not only is he adequate at doing this, but the senior is also downright dangerous.
During his up-and-down 2012 campaign in Ann Arbor, Robinson completed 89 of 167 passes for nine touchdowns and nine interceptions, ran 177 times for 1,266 yards and seven scores and caught three passes for 31 yards. He even punted twice for good measure.
Whether it’s running routes, carrying the ball out of the backfield, delivering crisp passes or taking a kickoff to the house, Robinson is the very definition of a game-changer and will certainly be an X-factor for whichever franchise drafts him.