Eric Fisher ascended from unheralded, two-star prep prospect, to the Mid-American Conference, then No. 1 overall pick in last week’s NFL draft.
Every draft class features under-the-radar, breakout prospects from the Championship Subdivision, Div. II and non-power conferences. But Fisher is an elite class with David Carr (Fresno State, 2002) and Alex Smith (Utah, 2005) as non-BCS conference products taken No. 1 overall.
In the last decade, they account for the majority of non-BCS players taken in the top 10. The only others are Byron Leftwich (Marshall, 2003) and Ziggy Ansah (BYU, this year). Three more were drafted at No. 11 (DeMarcus Ware, Troy/2005; Leodis McKelvin, Troy/2008; Dontari Poe, Memphis/2012).
Not all non-BCS talent flew under the radar during the recruiting process. Derek Carr and Kyle Van Noy are two of the best players from the non-BCS subdivision of the Bowl Subdivision, and both are on the 2013 Detmer Award watch list. But Carr was also a three-star prospect and brother of an aforementioned No. 1 pick. Van Noy was a four-star recruit.
The gems we’re mining for are the two-star prospects, like Fisher, McKelvin and Poe. And the class of 2014 has a few candidates who could grow from few-stars to superstar.
Ryan Grant, WR, Tulane
Grant is a fifth-year senior, injured early in 2011 but who bounced back strong in 2012. He caught 76 passes for 1149 yards and six touchdowns.
A two-star recruit coming out of Beaumont (Texas) West Brook, Grant has a high ceiling on his pro potential. His breakout coincided with the arrival of Curtis Johnson as Tulane’s head coach. Johnson spent six seasons as wide receivers coach for the New Orleans Saints. He held the same position with the Miami Hurricanes and worked with Andre Johnson. Grant is receiving firsthand tutelage from a coach who knows how to develop truly elite wide receivers.
Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU
Hoffman was among college football’s best receivers in 2012 with 100 receptions for 11 touchdowns and 1248 yards. All that came despite the Cougars’ inconsistencies at quarterback.
Stability at the position should only benefit Hoffman’s already lofty numbers. He will have a healthy Taysom Hill throwing to him in 2013. Regardless the quarterback situation, Hoffman has been a constant for BYU since arriving as a two-star prospect from Crescent City (Calif.). He’s caught 28 touchdowns in his college career, and should easily surpass 3,000 yards this upcoming season.
Hoffman is already very much on the draft radar; ESPN analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. calls Hoffman his No. 2 wide receiver prospect among the 2014 senior class.
Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
Mack has ranked among the nation’s best pass rushers throughout his career at Buffalo, registering tackle-for-loss and sack numbers that compare with such standouts as Damontre Moore, Jadeveon Clowney and Jarvis Jones.
Mack actually compares favorably to Jones. They are of similar size — Jones is 6-foot-2, 242 pounds; Mack is 6-foot-3, 244 pounds. Both are explosive rushing off the edge, and each has a knack for creating big plays.
His decision to remain at UB for a fourth season should benefit Mack’s draft stock. Continuing on his career arc would land Mack on the MAC 1st Team for a third straight season. It would also help his climb up NFL draft boards.
Austin Wentworth, OT, Fresno State
Derek Carr flourished last season behind an offensive line that gave him ample protection. Fresno State’s was the No. 12 passing offense in college football. Meanwhile, running back Robbie Rouse ripped off big gains on the ground utilizing the holes paved up front. Tackle Wentworth was the anchor of the Bulldog front five, garnering 1st Team All-Mountain West recognition.
In much the same way that Fisher climbed up draft boards with his athleticism and instincts, so too could Wentworth. NFL GMs proved in this year’s draft that offensive line support is at a premium, and talent wins out over name recognition.