Which NFL Rookie Project Players Bear Watching?


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

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.