Nine small draft prospects who should come up big in NFL

In every draft, many players lack ideal height for their position. Many undersized prospects lack the talent to compensate, but these nine mighty mites should make an impact in the NFL:

1. Brandon Graham, DE/OLB, Michigan. Graham (6-1 3/8, 268) was a super productive college end, and he should have an impact as an NFL end in a 4-3 scheme or outside linebacker in a 3-4 system. He has long arms, good strength and great technique and hand usage to defeat offensive tackles. He is surprisingly strong at the point of attack, too. He’s the rare undersized player whose draft stock isn’t impacted by his size. Projection: Top 20.

Dexter McCluster won't be an every-down back, but his versatility and athleticism should make him an asset in the NFL.
Dexter McCluster won’t be an every-down back, but his versatility and athleticism should make him an asset in the NFL.

2. Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia. Atkins (6-1 3/8, 293) is quick and explosive and shows the snap anticipation to split gaps and blow up plays in the backfield. He consistently beats one-on-one pass blocks with quick hands and explosive burst to the quarterback. On outside runs, shows the acceleration and elite speed to chase down ballcarriers. He also is shockingly effective at the point of attack. He won’t fit in some schemes but has the instincts and athleticism to be a highly productive one-gap defensive tackle. Projection: Second round.

3. Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Ole Miss. McCluster (5-8 3/4, 172) is well built and has the elite athleticism to make a big play on every touch. He won’t be a 20-carry back but should make an impact with 12-15 touches per game as a third-down back, slot receiver and return man. McCluster also shows the character and intangibles NFL coaches covet. He should have a similar impact as the Chargers’ Darren Sproles. Projection: Second or third round.

4. Eric Norwood, OLB/ILB, South Carolina. Norwood (6-0 7/8, 245) primarily played end in college but has experience at inside and outside linebacker. He produced at a first-round level at South Carolina but lacks the elite speed to be a pass-rush threat as an NFL undersized end, a la the Colts’ Dwight Freeney. Norwood does have good instincts and delivers hard hits all over the field. He fits best as a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme because of his versatility, competitiveness and instincts. Projection: Third round.

5. Jacoby Ford, WR, Clemson. Ford (5-8 7/8, 186) was mid-to-late-round prospect until a great Senior Bowl and then running a 4.24-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. He is a big-play return man who proved at the Senior Bowl that he could run sharp routes. He should be a dynamic slot receiver and return man in the NFL. He would fit best in Chicago because new coordinator Mike Martz would know how to take full advantage of his skills. Projection: Third round.

6. Rennie Curran, OLB, Georgia. Curran (5-10 5/8, 235) shows great instincts to read plays correctly and react in a blink and shows the elite speed to chase down ballcarriers all over the field. He also looks natural in pass coverage, staying with any tight end man-to-man and reacting quickly in zones. He won’t be able to play in a 3-4 scheme but fits best in a cover-2 4-3 scheme like Chicago, Detroit or Tampa Bay. Projection: Third or fourth round.

7. Brandon Banks, WR, Kansas State. Banks (5-6 3/4, 149) is short and thin but makes big plays, especially as a return man. He will have some limitations as a receiver and his coordinator will have to script plays for him, but he can be a game-changer. He should be an elite punt and kickoff return man as a rookie who helps his team win the field position battle. Projection: Sixth or seventh round.

8. Damaso Munoz, OLB, Rutgers. Munoz (5-10 5/8, 221) speed and explosiveness jump off the film. He looks more like a safety but is much better playing close to the line. He is smooth dropping into short zone coverage, reading the quarterback and closing quickly to deliver hard hits. He still was an NFL afterthought until he ran the 40-yard dashes in 4.49 and 4.50 seconds at Rutgers’ pro day and shined in all the tests and positional drills. Projection: Seventh round.

9. Tim Brown, WR, Rutgers. Brown (5-6 3/4, 151) is the same size as Banks, but lacked Banks’ college production as a return man. Brown did most of his damage in college on downfield routes — not on quick-hit passes like most short receivers — and averaged 20.9 yards per catch his last two seasons in college. He could go undrafted because of his lack of experience as a return man. Projection: Undrafted.

For more than 640 player scouting reports from Russ Lande and his team of former NFL scouts — plus an updated mock draft, Super 99 rankings and more — go to warroom.sportingnews.com.

In every draft, many players lack ideal height for their position. Many undersized prospects lack the talent to compensate, but these nine mighty mites should make an impact in the NFL:

1. Brandon Graham, DE/OLB, Michigan. Graham (6-1 3/8, 268) was a super productive college end, and he should have an impact as an NFL end in a 4-3 scheme or outside linebacker in a 3-4 system. He has long arms, good strength and great technique and hand usage to defeat offensive tackles. He is surprisingly strong at the point of attack, too. He’s the rare undersized player whose draft stock isn’t impacted by his size. Projection: Top 20.

Dexter McCluster won't be an every-down back, but his versatility and athleticism should make him an asset in the NFL.
Dexter McCluster won’t be an every-down back, but his versatility and athleticism should make him an asset in the NFL.

2. Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia. Atkins (6-1 3/8, 293) is quick and explosive and shows the snap anticipation to split gaps and blow up plays in the backfield. He consistently beats one-on-one pass blocks with quick hands and explosive burst to the quarterback. On outside runs, shows the acceleration and elite speed to chase down ballcarriers. He also is shockingly effective at the point of attack. He won’t fit in some schemes but has the instincts and athleticism to be a highly productive one-gap defensive tackle. Projection: Second round.

3. Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Ole Miss. McCluster (5-8 3/4, 172) is well built and has the elite athleticism to make a big play on every touch. He won’t be a 20-carry back but should make an impact with 12-15 touches per game as a third-down back, slot receiver and return man. McCluster also shows the character and intangibles NFL coaches covet. He should have a similar impact as the Chargers’ Darren Sproles. Projection: Second or third round.

4. Eric Norwood, OLB/ILB, South Carolina. Norwood (6-0 7/8, 245) primarily played end in college but has experience at inside and outside linebacker. He produced at a first-round level at South Carolina but lacks the elite speed to be a pass-rush threat as an NFL undersized end, a la the Colts’ Dwight Freeney. Norwood does have good instincts and delivers hard hits all over the field. He fits best as a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme because of his versatility, competitiveness and instincts. Projection: Third round.

5. Jacoby Ford, WR, Clemson. Ford (5-8 7/8, 186) was mid-to-late-round prospect until a great Senior Bowl and then running a 4.24-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. He is a big-play return man who proved at the Senior Bowl that he could run sharp routes. He should be a dynamic slot receiver and return man in the NFL. He would fit best in Chicago because new coordinator Mike Martz would know how to take full advantage of his skills. Projection: Third round.

6. Rennie Curran, OLB, Georgia. Curran (5-10 5/8, 235) shows great instincts to read plays correctly and react in a blink and shows the elite speed to chase down ballcarriers all over the field. He also looks natural in pass coverage, staying with any tight end man-to-man and reacting quickly in zones. He won’t be able to play in a 3-4 scheme but fits best in a cover-2 4-3 scheme like Chicago, Detroit or Tampa Bay. Projection: Third or fourth round.

7. Brandon Banks, WR, Kansas State. Banks (5-6 3/4, 149) is short and thin but makes big plays, especially as a return man. He will have some limitations as a receiver and his coordinator will have to script plays for him, but he can be a game-changer. He should be an elite punt and kickoff return man as a rookie who helps his team win the field position battle. Projection: Sixth or seventh round.

8. Damaso Munoz, OLB, Rutgers. Munoz (5-10 5/8, 221) speed and explosiveness jump off the film. He looks more like a safety but is much better playing close to the line. He is smooth dropping into short zone coverage, reading the quarterback and closing quickly to deliver hard hits. He still was an NFL afterthought until he ran the 40-yard dashes in 4.49 and 4.50 seconds at Rutgers’ pro day and shined in all the tests and positional drills. Projection: Seventh round.

9. Tim Brown, WR, Rutgers. Brown (5-6 3/4, 151) is the same size as Banks, but lacked Banks’ college production as a return man. Brown did most of his damage in college on downfield routes — not on quick-hit passes like most short receivers — and averaged 20.9 yards per catch his last two seasons in college. He could go undrafted because of his lack of experience as a return man. Projection: Undrafted.

For more than 640 player scouting reports from Russ Lande and his team of former NFL scouts — plus an updated mock draft, Super 99 rankings and more — go to warroom.sportingnews.com.

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