During the latest In The Bleachers podcast I made a point about wanting to see declared juniors suit up for postseason all star games in preparation for the draft. While I know that kind of a situation is all but impossible given the time frame of an already early declaration day, I still think NFL scouts and personnel directors would benefit from seeing these young men in pads and not just in the combine and pro day workouts of the spring.
Also, I think it would benefit a number of the players, especially those who often get branded as "overachievers" and don't quite blow the scouting world's collective socks off at the combine. One point I forgot to bring up during the show was how this very lack of exposure doesn't just effect how underclassmen are perceived headed into the draft, but also significantly effects how under-the-radar senior prospects are perceived. Case in point, what about some of the seniors who've been left off the invitation lists for the all star games? The following five players are all seniors who've had distinguished careers, yet for one reason or another were not invited to one of the three postseason all star games in preparation from the draft. Do they have a viable NFL future? Maybe, maybe not, but considering their college production they all deserve at least a chance to make it on the next level.
WR Nate Swift, Nebraska: Even with Nebraska's distinctive option football history it's hard to believe that the school's all-time leading receiver has generated so little talk about a possible NFL future. Yet that's exactly the case with departing senior Nate Swift, who comes off his most impressive campaign yet after catching 63 balls for 941 yards and 10 TDs in 2008. At 6'2, 200-lbs he has good size for an NFL receiver, and despite getting categorically stereotyped as an "overachiever" and a "possession" wide receiver he's nevertheless blossomed into a sure-handed target in a pro style offense. Swift has more than enough functional speed to play in the NFL, while his blocking ability, toughness after the catch, and body control make him a prime candidate to compliment any NFL passing attack.
QB Willie Tuitama, Arizona: Even in a year in which the top end quarterback talent seems sparse, it's somewhat surprising to me that we haven't heard more about NFL teams that would be willing to take a chance on a guy like Tuitama with a late round pick. This is especially dumbfounding when you factor in Tuitama's record setting career at Arizona, where he threw for more than 9000 yards and 67 touchdowns. Mechanically he looks as strong as anyone in the draft, and once more has shown a real improvement over the last two years in Tucson with the change in offensive systems. I know there are questions about his escapability and athleticism within the pocket, but at 6'3, 230-lbs you'd think his combination of size, arm strength, and production at the collegiate level would be enough to draw more NFL attention.
TE Darius Hill, Ball State: Size and speed. We hear the phrase so much that it has become trite and worn out when describing the physical ability of prospects, yet it still manages to define exactly what scouts are looking for in a top-flight tight end. At 6'6 Ball State's Hill certainly has the size to make an impact at the next level, while his speed (estimated in the 4.7 range) is more than adequate for his body type. While he suffers from the stigma of being a below average blocker who lacks the physicality to play on the line in an NFL offense, he more than proved his worth as a redzone threat at the collegiate level, catching 31 career touchdown passes for the Cardinals. As strange as this sounds, I think Hill suffered from the diversification of Ball State's offense this year, but I still have to question why the First Team All-MAC selection was left out of the postseason party.
FS Daniel Charbonnet, Texas Tech: The former Woodlands star and Duke transfer has been something of a journeyman during his college career, not seeing significant action until the 2007 season with the Red Raiders. Still, he was arguably one of the best Big XII defenders last season, registering 92 tackles and a team-leading six picks, including a key interception against Texas which he returned for a touchdown. A second-team All Big XII selection at safety, Charbonnet is a bit undersized at 5'11, but has adequate speed for his position and a great on-field attitude. Maybe not a guy you'd expect to see at the Senior Bowl, but I'm surprised he did not earn a Texas vs. The Nation nod.
WR Casey Fitzgerald, North Texas: One of the most underrated skill position players in the entire country, Fitzgerald has quietly compiled an impressive on-field resume over the past two seasons in Denton. He's caught over 100 passes each of the past two seasons and was named first team All Sun Belt in both cases. While he does not wow you with his 5'11 size and may not run in the 4.4 range, he plays with excellent game speed and displays crisp route running ability and great body control. He reminds me a good deal of Rice wide receiver Jarret Dillard in his approach to the game, but doesn't get near the amount of publicity Dillard does. I think he could be a huge steal in a very deep wide receiver class. Now that you've seen my list of All-Star senior snubs we want to hear from you! Which players do you think should be generating more draft "buzz?" And who do you think is getting a bad rap when it comes to their projection at the next level?