April 12, 2024

2024 NFL Draft: ‘Trust the tape’ prospects who shouldn’t be overlooked despite lacking athletic traits

If you create the perfect NFL Draft prospect, he would be huge, with tremendous collegiate production and awesome athletic gifts. Of course, most don’t check all these boxes. Sometimes you have to trust a prospect’s film, even if he’s not an athletic freak.

This is the first in a two-part, annual series examining a few unique subsets of each draft class. Below are hopeful NFL players who don’t have the requisite physical attributes or who may not have crushed their combine/pro day workouts, but who I still really like and believe in as prospects. They can be good at the NFL level, I tell you!

Here are my “Trust The Tape” prospects for the class of 2024.

The Irving combination was such a downer for me. I had already fallen in love with his play at Oregon on film, and I wasn’t too concerned about his glaring lack of size as today’s NFL features increasingly smaller, lighter players.

But man – a 4.55 by 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds is one thing. The 29.5-inch vertical is another. Same with the broad jump of 9 feet-7 inches. Weft. It just didn’t occur to me that the Oregon runner I had seen, like every defender in the Pac-12 miss on a routine basis, would test so poorly.

The production doesn’t lie, though, and speaks to Irving’s ability to overcome his lack of pure explosion or high speed. In 2022, after transferring to Oregon from Minnesota, Irving forced 67 missed tackles on 157 carries. HELLO. Similar to the Ducks last season, Irving’s missed tackle count was 69 on 186 attempts. Dude is elusive! You know who is another small, ultra-productive collegiate runner with totally lackluster combined training who has become a quality professional: Devin Singletary. Irving can still rock in the NFL, lack of size and poor combination training be damned.

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Before the combine, I had a first round rating for Rattler. I was so charmed by his film – and the qualities he showed on film. Then he unfortunately tanked his combined training. Now I know what you might be thinking…combined workouts don’t really matter for quarterbacks. As far as I’m concerned, they do. There is an athletic minimum that almost has to be met in today’s NFL at the position, or it’s almost a lock that a quarterback won’t succeed.

Rattler ran a 4.95 in the 40 (!) with the slowest three-cone and short shuttle of the four quarterbacks who did those agility drills. Oh, and he was barely 6 feet tall and 212 pounds. Objectively speaking, he is a very low level athlete by today’s standards. On film, Rattler still exudes the confidence of a former No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country. Remember, he rocked Oklahoma as a redshirt freshman in 2020, jumping to the top spot in way-too-early mock drafts in May.

The arm talent is undeniable, and despite his low level athleticism, he made many SEC defenders miss behind what was an abomination of an offensive line. If there’s an early-to-mid Day 3 quarterback in this class that has the chops to be a starter in this league, it’s Rattler.

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I love McGlothern as a prospect, but I get the sneaking suspicion he’ll be available well into the third day of the draft. The longer you evaluate full draft classes, the more easily you can identify the prospects you’re totally against, and McGlothern is one of those prospects this year.

After transferring from LSU, the tall, lanky defensive back rocked for the Razorbacks with seven picks, 16 pass breakups and three forced fumbles in two seasons. Considering he played in the SEC, you’d think he’d have to be an elite athlete to put up those numbers. He is not. McGlothern has one of the most unique body type/athletic profiles in the entire class. He stands almost 6 feet tall, but weighs less than 190 pounds, with arms less than 31 inches and a speed of 4.47. The vertical was only 32 inches, and McGlothern jumped only 9 feet 7 in width.

He’s considerably more fluid and bendy on film than he is sudden and quick, and the former LSU defensive back plays with great instincts in the zone, which led to many of the instances where he got his hands on the ball in college. Now, if he gets drafted by a team and that team’s defensive coordinator asks him to go after the press, McGlothern won’t develop into an asset at the next level. If he is selected by a club that uses him in a zone, his coverage knowledge will be evident, and this Arkansas product could be one of the biggest defensive bargains in the class. Watch the LSU and Florida games for proof.

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Look at the entirety of Thrash’s team and you’ll realize why he was a candidate for this piece. Not quite 6-foot-1 and 188 pounds with 4.46 speed, a 34-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot broad jump, plus a three-cone well over the magic seven-second threshold (7.16).

While that all represents a somewhat disappointing physical profile on the surface, Thrash is a baller on the court with a complete skill set. I love that despite his small size, he largely lined up – and won – as a perimeter wideout in the ACC. Not an easy task. His lightning-fast feet and handwork ensure that he can beat pressure with reasonable regularity, he runs with sharp cuts in his routes – of course vital today – and is secretly good after the catch.

In his collegiate career at two schools over five seasons, Thrash posted a forced missed tackle rate of 24.4%, higher than Xavier Worthy, Brian Thomas Jr., Jalen McMillan, Ja’Lynn Polk and Xavier Legette. His vision, efficient cutting skills and deceptively good balance to absorb contact in space combine to make for serious YAC power. Somewhere on day 2, or early day 3, Thrash becomes a steal.

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Abrams-Draine has been on the draft radar for some time, and after a breakout debut season with three interceptions and seven passes at Missouri, the small but chippy cornerback defended 27 more passes with four picks and 99 total tackles over the next two seasons with the Tigers.

While I always try to offer more than just box-score scouting, I do have a rule that the cornerbacks with a lot of classic production are probably doing something good on the field and are either crazy athletes or super instinctive defenders. Abrams-Draine is more of the latter. At just over 6 feet tall and 179 pounds, he’s built to play nickel, yet he’s thrived on the SEC perimeter repeatedly. At the combine, Abrams-Draine ran a near-middle-of-the-pack 4.44 with an average vertical of 33.5 inches. In my opinion, he has just enough athleticism to survive in the NFL, and his tendency to play in coverage will continue due to the speed with which he reacts to route concepts. The icing on the cake with Abrams-Draine: he is the most reliable cornerback tackler in his class. I don’t usually write this about lesser athletes, but I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t become a successful pro.

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When it comes to checking the production box, grab the fattest Sharpie in your junk draw and use it for that portion of Trice’s draft profile. This guy recorded 150 quarterback pressures on fewer than 870 pass-rush snaps over the last two seasons in Washington. And this wasn’t by accident, or two years of superb game planning, or ruthless stunts that caused Trice to repeatedly run from the quarterback.

He won with a dazzling array of pass-rush moves, perhaps the best in the class. He’s a master with his hands, and that’s important in the NFL… especially if you’re not a high-caliber athlete. And Trice’s combination proved that he is, at best, athletically average for the position. Oddly enough, after listing at over 260 pounds, Trice was 245 in Indianapolis and ran 4.72 with one of the slowest 10-yard splits among edge rushers.

Sometimes a great collegiate player just isn’t athletic enough to thrive in the NFL. But Trice was that good for several seasons and doesn’t rely on his athleticism at all; his game is predicted based on flexibility, strength and most importantly his craft. He exemplifies the confidence that is the tape adage, because his tape is so spectacular.

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