It probably sounds weird saying a player is going to have a better pro career than college career because ideally every early draft pick should. For the context of this, having a better pro career than collegiate career is about a solid college player becoming more than they were expected to be at the next-level. Whether that means a college starter that didn’t receive accolades suddenly becoming a Pro Bowl player or a college contributor becoming an NFL starter. It’s mainly about their college production not quite matching their tools. It can also be about the player being used incorrectly and never quite reaching their potential. Sometimes it’s about injuries slowing them down so they never blossom during the college process. Every year there’s players drafted that end up better in the pros than they were in college. Arian Foster, Doug Baldwin, and Everson Griffen are examples of guys who fall under this category. These are the 10 players I think will be better in the pro’s than in college.
- For the Washington Huskies Dante Pettis was a stud. He is the all-time leader in NCAA punt return touchdowns with nine. He also racked up 24 receiving touchdowns in four years, but spent much of his time playing second fiddle to John Ross and Jaydon Mickens. Despite his skill set he never was given the opportunity to put up big numbers as a receiver. For Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers, Pettis is going to be a go-to guy. He’s a nuanced route runner and arguably has the best hands in the rookie wide receiver class. With solid athleticism and size, he’ll find his way onto the field early and should make an impact. Pettis is a technically sound receiver that can do a bit of everything. He’ll be able to learn from Pierre Garcon for a season before taking over as the 49ers top pass-catcher. Obviously he also has Pro Bowl punt return ability.
- Pro Comparison: Marvin Jones
Kemoko Turay, EDGE, Indianapolis Colts
- After being named to the Freshman All-American team, Kemoko Turay battled injuries throughout his career at Rutgers. In four years he played in 34 games and had just 14.5 sacks, but on tape the potential is clearly there. Turay was the best pass rusher during Senior Bowl week and had everyone digging deep on his tape. He has the size teams look for in pass rushers, but what really stands out is his ankle flexibility. Turay can bend and dip on the edge to beat tackles, but the way his ankle flexion allows him to get so low to the ground is mind-blowing. With the Colts moving to a 4-3 base defense the addition of Turay is huge. He’ll likely compete with John Simon and Tarell Basham to start at defensive end opposite Jabaal Sheard. At the very least Turay upgrade this pass rush unit and has the potential to become a double digit sack guy.
- Pro Comparison: Chandler Jones
BJ Hill, ID, New York Giants
- It is an odd fit putting BJ Hill on the Giants defensive line alongside Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson, but it’s a sneaky good fit. Hill was a four-year starter at NC State, playing both 3-tech and 1-tech in a 4-3 base defense. Although he was clearly talented, his hype didn’t really build until he dominated one-on-ones at the Senior Bowl. He flashed a pass rush potential that he rarely was able to find for the Wolfpack. For the Giants he’ll be playing in a 3-4 base as a 5-tech defensive end. His size and strength alongside Harrison and Tomlinson gives the Giants a beefy interior trio that will gobble up the run. Most 3-4 base defenses aren’t true three man fronts anymore and Hill should be able to find a home as a penetrating 3-tech on passing downs for New York. He’s one of those rare players that has a high-floor due to run stuffing ability, but the pass rush ability he flashes has the making of a Pro Bowl player.
- Pro Comparison: Linval Joseph
Fred Warner, LB, San Francisco 49ers
- Of all the linebackers drafted, none played the role for their team that Fred Warner played at BYU. He was in an overhang position on the majority of his snaps to help combat spread offenses. That role is basically like a big nickel corner, and he did this as a 6-3, 236 pound linebacker. The athleticism is clearly there for Warner and he answered physicality questions at the Senior Bowl where he was one of the most impressive off-ball linebackers. For BYU he put up big numbers, but because of the odd role he played he never received the hype that his talent deserved. In San Francisco he should make a name for himself quickly. They lack a true weakside linebacker and Warner can step right in and play. Putting him beside Reuben Foster gives the 49ers one of the most athletic young linebacking duos in the league. Warner is a dark horse for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
- Pro Comparison: Mychal Kendricks
- The selection of Isaac Yiadom in the third-round may have surprised some. Yiadom was only a full-time starter as a Senior this past season and a part-time starter as a Junior. The numbers he put up for Boston College aren’t anything special, but the way he plays corner is what the Broncos need. Yiadom is long and lean at 6-1, 190 pounds and uses his length well. He’s a true press corner who does his best work jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. The draft lacked tall, physical, press corners and that helped Yiadom’s draft value. For Denver they needed a player like Yiadom after trading Aqib Talib to the LA Rams. With the Broncos top three corners being Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby and Tramaine Brock, the addition of Yiadiom was important. All three of those guys are undersized and other than Yiadom there isn’t a big press guy on the roster. It won’t be surprising if Yiadom ends up a starter at some point as a rookie.
- Pro Comparison: Corey Webster
- Quietly this was one of the best picks and fits on day three of the draft. Will Richardson started at right tackle for NC State for three seasons before declaring for the NFL Draft. He was consistent, but never received the hype he deserved at the position. Richardson likely would have gone higher in the draft if not for some off-the-field questions, but he has the makings of a top right tackle in the NFL. At 6-6, 306 pounds, he has the size and length needed to survive at tackle. Richardson also has the versatility to kick into guard and dominate. With his size, mean streak, and knack for run blocking it won’t be long until Richardson is starting for the Jaguars. He can compete with AJ Cann for the right guard spot or eventually replace Jeremy Parnell as the starting right tackle. Richardson isn’t a Pro Bowl player, but he’s a great fit for this offense and should start on the offensive line for a decade.
- Pro Comparison: Eugene Monroe
- Having Tre Flowers here might be surprising with the talent Seattle has at safety. Even though Flowers was a four-year starter at safety for Oklahoma State, he’ll probably be a cornerback for the Seahawks. That is the reason he is on this list. Flowers was a good safety in college, but his smoothness and length always stood out in coverage and of course the Seahawks noticed. He’s 6-3, 202 pounds and fits the mould of the long, physical, rangy cornerbacks Seattle likes. Flowers being moved to corner is intriguing with Richard Sherman gone and Byron Maxwell being a short term fix. It might take a year for Flowers to grasp the Seahawks system and play meaningful snaps, but expect him to be a starter down the road. He has everything they like in a corner and the future for them should be Flowers and Shaquill Griffin outside. Flowers could be a fifth-round steal for the Hawks.
- Pro Comparison: Thomas DeCoud
Kylie Fitts, EDGE, Chicago Bears
- Like Kemoko Turay, Kylie Fitts flashed big-time ability in college. But also like Turay he battled injuries. In four seasons with UCLA/Utah, Fitts played in just 22 games and racked up 11.5 sacks, not exactly impressive. Yet, he was at the Senior Bowl and stood out. If not for injuries he would have probably been a fourth-round pick, instead he fell to the sixth. The Bears cashed in on his slide. Fitts has the size (6-4, 263 pounds), and athleticism (4.69 40-yard dash, 6.88 3-cone drill) the Bears covet on the edge. With Leonard Floyd and Aaron Lynch both coming off of injuries Fitts may see a far bigger role as a rookie than expected. With his explosiveness, motor and ability against the run Fitts might even compete to start opposite Floyd. It sounds crazy considering he was a sixth-round pick but the athleticism and well-rounded game are hard to ignore when you lacking depth at the position.
- Pro Comparison: Jason Babin
- It feels like most LSU receivers make bigger impacts in the pros than they do in college because LSU never has a quality quarterback. Russell Gage won’t be any different. Gage is an interesting player who might be the best kick and punt coverage guy in the draft. He’s an ace on special teams which will get him on a roster. At LSU Gage had 17 special teams tackles and rarely played anywhere else prior to his Senior season. In his final year Gage found a home as the jet sweep specialist for OC Matt Canada and racked up 232 rushing yards to go along with 285 receiving yards. He can be a gadget player for the Falcons and sort of takeover the role Taylor Gabriel had, but to a lesser extent. Special teams matter, but Gage has some juice on offense. With the ball in his hands he’s an explosive playmaker and he flashed deep threat ability out of the slot for LSU. He has the type of skill set that fits a niche role as the fourth receiver and also becomes a Pro Bowl special teams player.
- Pro Comparison: Johnnie Lee Higgins
David Williams, RB, Denver Broncos
David Williams is a former 4 star recruit who got lost in the shuffle for whatever reason at South Carolina. Even last year at Arkansas the most amount of carries he got was 15. For a big back, he has some good hips and finds work in pass protection. pic.twitter.com/tcF5yDPsMi
— The Mick Nartin™ (@themicknartin) February 7, 2018
- Usually seventh-round picks are for players that will need to carve out special teams roles, but David Williams can be more than that. He might not be with the Broncos because they have used higher draft picks in the last three drafts on running backs Devontae Booker, De’Angelo Henderson and Royce Freeman. Even if he gets cut by Denver he can make an NFL team and be a contributor. Between three years at South Carolina and one at Arkansas he only started six of the 42 games he played in and ran for just 1,450 yards and 13 touchdowns. Don’t let the numbers fool you, Williams can be a good player. He is 6-1, 229 pounds, and plays like it with a bruising style. He’s a one-cut back that when he sees it, he hits it with everything he’s got and there’s a place for that in the NFL. With the size and running style he should be able to carve out a role as a rotational power back that does damage in short yardage situations. He also has the makings of a special teams star.
- Pro Comparison: Alfred Morris