Ray Didinger is a Hall of Fame journalist and I challenge anyone to find someone that has more knowledge of the entire history of the NFL. Who started the West Coast offense? Bill Walsh! Nope, Red Hickey was running early versions of it with the 49ers back in the 1950’s. Just ask Ray. So, here are Ray’s sleeper picks for the upcoming NFL Draft.
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson, Kansas State, 6-foot-3, 217 pounds, timed at 4.54 in the 40-yard dash. Nelson is likely to be available in the third round because his 40 time is “considered a step slow,” Didinger says, adding that teams want a 4.4 or below. But Nelson is “one of these guys who plays faster than he times” because of his size, smooth breaks and “great intelligence and feel for the game.” Despite double coverage and facing different defensive schemes every week, Nelson still had 122 catches. Because his size and excellent route-running could make him a nice Red Zone target, “I would love to see the Eagles get him in the third round,” Didinger said.
Fullback Jacob Hester, LSU, 5-11, 226 pounds, ran the 40 in 4.62. Hester’s expected to be a fourth-rounder, despite rushing for over 1,100 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns for the national champion Tigers, Didinger said. The knocks are he’s not quite big enough, not fast enough. But “he plays with great effort and great pride” and played on all special teams at LSU, making him “a solid all-around player who, I think, is real versatile,” Didinger said. Hester (no relation to Chicago return sensation Devin Hester) blocks well for his size, showing he can pick up a blitz, and might fit in well with the Eagles, because “he’s a real sure-handed receiver,” Didinger said, adding, “I really have a feeling about this guy.” He wouldn’t be surprised if “eight years from now this guy’s still going to be playing in the league.”
Safety Corey Lynch, Appalachian State, 6-foot, 205 pounds, 4.52. Projected as a fifth rounder despite making 111 tackles for a team that upset Michigan and won the national 1-AA title over Delaware. But he, too, is perceived as “a step slow.” But he can play man to man coverage, can blitz, and even blocked three kicks, including a field goal in the Michigan game. During games he even seemed to reposition teammates. “It looks to me likes he was the leader of that defense,” Didinger said. Plays free safety or strong safety. On the Eagles, he’d have a shot to succeed Brian Dawkins, but at the very least could help on special teams.
Defensive end Brian Johnston, Gardner-Webb College, 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, 4.9 in the 40. Projected as a sixth-rounder because he’s from a small school. But he was twice defensive player of the year in the Big South, and played well in the Hula Bowl, getting six tackles and two sacks, while forcing a fumble against Division One players. “Every year, you just see him getting better and better,” Didinger said. Each draft seems to have a couple of small-college linemen who go low but do well, and Johnston might be the next one to join that group, he says. The Eagles, however, probably don’t see a big need at defensive end, since last year’s second-round pick Victor Abiamiri and off-season acquisition Chris Clemons are expected to join a cast that already includes Trent Cole and Juqua Thomas.
Running back/receiver/returner/quarterback/holder Jayson Foster, Georgia Southern, 5-9, 170 pounds, 4.32 time in the 40. Shhh. Don’t tell anybody. This guy’s name doesn’t even show up in a lot of draft books, Didinger said. But … “to me, he has the potential to be the most exciting player out of the bunch.” Didinger envisions this undersized but “lightning-fast” athlete as “a wonderful wild card player.” As a quarterback – yes, quarterback – last season, he rushed for 1,844 yards and 24 touchdowns. OK, he’s not going to be an NFL QB, but he’s “electrifying,” with “tremendous acceleration,” and on one 60-yard touchdown run made everyone miss so badly he was hardly touched, Didinger said. Note to the Eagles: Foster was also a threat as a place holder, because he’d run with the ball or throw it. So if used creatively at receiver and maybe running back, as well on as special teams, he could be a dandy asset. If people aren’t impressed that he also won the Walter Payton Award as the nation’s best small-college player, recall a few other winners: Steve McNair, Tony Romo and the Eagles’ Brian Westbrook.
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