You’re bored of hearing about Mitch and Myles and Solomon at this point. You even have carefully detailed analyses of Sefo and C.J. and Taysom. But I guarantee you don’t know the prospects described in this article.
Not every potential NFL star is invited to the combine. Some don’t even make the draft boards of the most obsessive NFL analysts. Here are five players so obscure that some people think I just made them up.
- Fran Kukla, Long Snapper, University of Phoenix
He’s admittedly raw, which is why Kukla didn’t make LongSnap.com’s list of the top 5 long snapper prospects. (Yes, that’s a real thing.) But the upside potential is huge because this converted baseball pitcher has only played football for one year.
It took him a few games to stop turning and throwing sidearm, which seriously undercut his blocking ability. But once he adjusted, Kukla quickly showed a power and accuracy with his snaps that no one had ever seen before.
Some teams have downgraded him because of the multiple broken fingers suffered by his field goal and extra point holders, which will be more costly on smaller NFL rosters. But he’s the only player ever to hike a curveball from the normal, through-the-legs position. That allows fake field goals snapped directly to a speedy tailback or wide receiver in the slot, or even split wide.
Projected Round: 2 (by Tampa Bay, UDFA otherwise)
2. Johnny Shankly, Coin Tosser, William and Shirley University
Shankly is nominally a punter, but his real skill is “flipping out” as he likes to call it. The redshirt junior has won 18 straight pre-game coin tosses, and was 27 for 29 overall at W&S. (He’s one of the top earners on the pro rock-paper-scissors circuit.) Given the NFL’s overtime rules, this is worth a roster spot, at least in the playoffs.
As a punter, his hang time is incredible, averaging 6.12 seconds. Unfortunately he kicks straight up, averaging 21 yards per kick before returns — which average only half a yard. This limits him to situations where a team has a very conservative coach and a terrible field goal kicker.
Projected Round: 3 (to Todd Bowles and the Jets)
3. Carson “My Son” Mason, Long Snapper, Chemeketa Community College
Mason is more polished than Kukla, with less upside potential and one clear strength. The true senior, an avid weight lifter, is the longest-snapping long snapper in history, holding the Guiness World Record at 48 yards in a non-conference game against Moler Barber College in 2015. (The Checkers were trying to run out the last 12 seconds on the clock without giving the Buzz a chance for a run back, and his snap was precisely on target. The punter just ran around until time expired.)
The only problem is that his skill is not actually useful in most situations, and Mason’s accuracy suffers on shorter hikes (say, in the 15-30 yard range). He might be useful for a franchise with a special teams unit that is especially bad at blocking. If he doesn’t make the NFL, Mason plans to join the Navy Seals as a specialty sniper, lobbing pigskins into religiously-charged situations.
Projected Round: 4th round (CFL)
4. Omar Reed, Gunner, Virginia Military Institute
Yes, everyone at VMI is a “gunner” ha ha, but Reed is the real deal, a true special teams ace. He was recruited after winning the world Tag championship in 5th grade, and has an unparalleled combination of speed and spatial tracking ability. You will not run past him. Remember that 5’3 kid who ruled at kickball in grade school? That’s Reed.
The hitch in his game is a complete inability to tackle. Now 5’5” and 119 pounds, he doesn’t hit returners, or even wrap them up, so much as he caresses them like a warm zephyr. Your kicker could probably truck this guy, but he still unnerves a lot of returners into fair catching. If they happen to scout him, you have to hope that he causes them to re-route or hesitate enough for subsequent players to catch him.
Projected Round: 7th round compensatory pick
5. DeSeantrel “3 Nuts” Williams, Athlete, University of Michigan
At the end of the day, the biggest draft hits are those raw potential players with massive upside who fly under the radar. Williams is one kid with nowhere to go but up.
A star in Pop Warner football until his first season was cut short by injury, he actually hasn’t played football in 9 years, though he watches a lot and is great at Madden. In the meantime, he grew up and then out, and then back in again. At 6’7”, 319 pounds, he has prototypical NFL size probably, once he figures out a position.
Williams emerged as an NFL prospect after losing 60 pounds his senior year, but it was his third ACL tear that really got the attention of scouts. Everyone likes a fixer-upper because the GM gets all the credit for making him a star.
There’s probably a really interesting story behind his nickname, but everyone’s afraid to ask him how he got it.
Projected Round: He was expected to go in the 3rd round until Trent Baalke was fired. Now, UDFA.