Dec 31, 2013; El Paso, TX, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas (3) during the game against the UCLA Bruins in the 2013 Sun Bowl at Sun Bowl Stadium. UCLA defeated Virginia Tech 42-12. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Which NFL Rookie Project Players Bear Watching?

A project player in simple terms is an NFL draft pick taken in the later rounds who has talent but also questions about his ability as a pro.  Who are some names in that category to watch carefully?

Logan Thomas – QB – Arizona Cardinals

Quarterback Logan Thomas shuns the idea that he’s a project player but the fact is that is precisely why the Arizona Cardinals drafted him.  His physical skill set might be the best in the entire 2014 class from a size, speed and arm strength ratio.  Yet he suffers from inconsistent accuracy and decision-making.  Bruce Arians is a respected quarterback developer, but this might be his toughest job yet.

Ka’Deem Carey – RB – Chicago Bears

Matt Forte is getting older and stacking up lots of touches, which is bad news for a running back.  That is why the Chicago Bears invested a 4th round pick in Ka’Deem Carey.  Analysts were skeptical of the Arizona product given his off-the-field history and limited 4.7/40 speed.  Still, the tape doesn’t lie.  Carey was not a good but a great runner in college and in a system like that of Chicago, fits like a glove.

Jeff Janis – WR – Green Bay Packers

One of the workout warriors at wide receiver during the NFL scouting combine, Jeff Janis got on team radars thanks to his 4.4 speed and 6’3″ frame.  Such size-speed ability is rare, which is why the Green Bay Packers took a flier on him late in the draft even after taking Davante Adams and Jared Abbrederis earlier.  It will be a steep climb to make the roster, but his athletic ceiling is hard to ignore in a system like Green Bay.

Crockett Gilmore – TE – Baltimore Ravens

Protecting Joe Flacco was a must entering 2014 for the Baltimore Ravens and it takes more than linemen to do that job.  That would help explain the drafting of Crockett Gilmore who rated as one of the better blockers in the class.  At the same time scouts saw his raw ability as a pass catcher.  Given his rangy 6’6″ frame, it’s interesting to see if the Ravens can mold him into a two-way threat.

Daniel McCullers – DT – Pittsburgh Steelers

Size means a lot in pro football, especially at defensive tackle.  The Pittsburgh Steelers landed arguably the biggest of them all in Daniel McCullers at 6’7″, 350 lbs.  He is not a finished product by any means but the Tennessee standout has rare quickness and untapped reserves of strength that need to be unlocked.  If they are, the Steelers could have their plugger in the middle for the next ten years.

Cassius Marsh – DE – Seattle Seahawks

Pete Carroll has built a legacy and getting the most out of players with character concerns.  The Seattle Seahawks reflected that ideal when they took Cassius Marsh.  There is no denying the UCLA kid has energy and plays with a fire that creates steady production.  His big problem is lack of discipline that has gotten him in trouble on and off the field.

Ronald Powell – OLB – New Orleans Saints

From a pure talent standpoint Ronald Powell looks every bit the part of a true athletic 3-4 outside linebacker who can rush the passer and drop into coverage.  The New Orleans Saints will find though he suffers from inconsistency, lacks instinct and doesn’t always show much urgency.  Sean Payton and Rob Ryan will have to get that fixed in order to unleash his impressive skill in their defense.

Dexter McDougal – CB – New York Jets

Among all the picks in the NFL draft that drew questions, the New York Jets taking Dexter McDougal ranked near the top.  Despite a number of red flags, most notably injury issues that dogged him at school, the Jets just couldn’t resist his undeniable speed and athleticism.  How Rex Ryan moves forward with the young corner should be closely watched as a classic boom-or-bust project.

Jonathan Dowling – SS – Oakland Raiders

The same situation faces safety Jonathan Dowling, except his big issue is not injuries but inexperience.  The Oakland Raiders took a flier on him in the 7th round and for good reason.  Dowling is 6’3″ and big but can run like a cornerback.  He loves to hit.  The big issues rest on technique and discipline, which are explained by his not playing the position for very long.  If given time there is enough ability in him to become a standout player for the Silver and Black.

Tags: Arizona Cardinals Baltimore Ravens Chicago Bears Green Bay Packers New Orleans Saints New York Jets NFL Oakland Raiders Pittsburgh Steelers Seattle Seahawks

  • joe

    I wanted eagles to take powell. Saints took him with the pick we gave for sproles so I’m gonna be watching him.

    • Erik Lambert

      Oh the irony. I’m sure part of you is hoping he crashes and burns. ;)

  • Raymond Harris jr

    I really think Mcdougle on my Jets will surprise everyone. They said he is healthy n ready to go for otas n training camp.

    • Erik Lambert

      He has athletic skill for sure. I just wonder what will happen when the pads go on.

      • Raymond Harris jr

        Erik I think he will be fine with pads on most likely he will have a extra pad under his shoulder pad just in case. I like what I saw from him on tape. Plus he had surgery in Sept so it’s been 8 months. I don’t c y he can’t beat out Patterson who is always hurt too n is also learning a new play book.

        • Erik Lambert

          My issue with him is not on ability. If he stays healthy he has every tool required to be a really good player. It’s just I’ve learned to trust trends with a player and injuries are a trend with McDougal.

          • Raymond Harris jr

            They said the same about Milliner on always being injured n he turned out fine. Mcdougle will be fine also.

          • Erik Lambert

            Didn’t Milliner miss three games?

          • Raymond Harris jr

            I think so my point is its not serious ones like everyone said he would always having. Mcdougle never missed any games before this past season so it’s not like he was always injured. So we will c.

          • Erik Lambert

            Indeed we will.

  • Paul Newbold

    McDougle will be lucky to make the practice squad! It has to be the worst pick of the draft! The guy had surgery in September, but didn’t participate in the combine! His proday was great by all reports, and I don’t doubt his potential talent. There are a couple of concerns I have though. First the injuries, these aren’t hamstrings, or ankles, the injuries (mostly minor until last season) have all come as a part of him tackling a receiver. His legs are fine, he has a good skill set, but can he hold up at the NFL level? Can you really see him taking the hit from a NFL runniing back with a full head of steam as he makes the corner? Then you have the fact that every scouting report out there projects him as more of a slot/nickel corner in the NFL then an outside corner. Even if they were to move him outside, he’s 5’11″ compared to big NFL receivers measuring 6’3″ and up! Wilson has done a good job in the nickel position, has shown he struggles on the outside, so where exactly does McDougal fit? Milliner is still a question mark at this point, though he did improve towards the end last season, can the Jets really afford to start McDougal opposite him this season? The need was for a top outside corner to play man press in Rex’s defense, McDougal came from a zone set, has little experience playing press, and his size makes you question whether he’ll be able to be physical enough to fight with the bigger NFL receivers! There were a ton of options open to Jets at corner when they chose! This pick makes little sense to me, and might turn out to be the biggest bust of the bunch!