Sep 28, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Tom Savage (7) passes the ball during the third quarter against the Virginia Cavaliers at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh defeated Virginia 14-3. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Xavius Boyd – OLB – Western Kentucky
Teams in the pros are always looking for dynamic athletes who can fit a 3-4 defensive scheme because they are hard to find. However, the 2014 NFL draft could feature not only some talent in that area at the top but some serious sleeper candidates as well. One who hasn’t gotten noticed much but deserves the attention is Xavius Boyd. While not ideal in terms of height (6’2″), he fits the mold of one of those defenders who just makes plays. Despite playing some respectable programs like Kentucky and Tennessee with an overlooked school in Western Kentucky, it hasn’t stopped him from making plays. Boyd ranks second in the nation with 6.5 sacks, including three against the above mentioned opponents. If the trend continues into bowl season scouts won’t be able to find excuses to ignore him much longer.
Jimmie Ward – S – Northern Illinois
Despite their lack of success against bigger competition, Northern Illinois has become a serious hot bed for quality NFL talent. Michael Turner and Cowboys tackle Doug Free can attest to that. Coming off an excellent 2012 season, the Huskies are undefeated so far again and a big help has come from their defense. Among the standouts is free safety Jimmie Ward. He currently is tied for the NCAA lead in interceptions with four, which is impressive considering he had three total his junior year. Ward is a workhouse, collecting 100 tackles or more his previous two seasons. He’s not too small at 5’11” and boast 4.60/40 speed which is slightly better than 2013 first round pick Kenny Vaccaro. With his instincts showing marked improvement, he could become a serious contender for the top rounds in May.
Tom Savage – QB – Pittsburgh
The 2014 NFL draft class seems to get heavier and heavier with quarterback talent every day. After Zach Mettenberger entered the spotlight for LSU, another name has begun to creep up the lists for year-round experts. Though Tom Savage doesn’t play for an elite program at Pittsburgh, it’s worth noting he comes from the same school that produced Dan Marino. Savage will receive low marks for playing less quality competition but scouts aren’t fooled because they can see the measurable lining up. At 6’3″ he has optimum height and the game tape shows a pro arm with plenty of accuracy to back it up. He was a hot topic as a freshman at Rutgers but after two transfers to Arizona and then Pitt, he’s only now getting back on the map. Perhaps the most exciting thing about him is some respectable experts compare him favorably with another quarterback who transferred in college: Troy Aikman.
Brandin Cooks – WR – Oregon State
Noticing him isn’t as hard as in previous weeks because Brandin Cooks leads college football in receiving yards. It isn’t by accident though. He comes from a program at Oregon State that is becoming known for producing good receivers and he’s developing a reputation as one who can do all sorts of good for anyone who takes him in the 2014 NFL draft. Cooks is not tall at 5’10” but he is hyper athletic, showing an ability to not only beat press coverage repeatedly but gain separation from defensive backs to make plays down the field. This makes him a versatile weapon who can line up anywhere and force defenses to respect him. If he can show he has speed on top of that athletic skill set, he may shoot up boards just like Tavon Austin did.