Zach Wilson among top NFL draft prospects who started as an overlooked college football recruit

April 2021

  • Tom Luginbill.


ESPN analyst

    • Senior national recruitment analyst for
    • Trained in three fields
    • Defeated Eastern Kentucky and Marshall.
  • Craig Haubert.


ESPN Mitarbeiterin

    • National recruitment analyst and analyst for ESPNU
    • Over a Jahrzehnt Erfahrung als College- und Profi-Coach.
    • Abschluss in Indiana und Nebraska-Omaha.

Der NFL Draft 2021 steht vor der Tür und ist gefüllt mit mehreren Headlinern, die ihr großes Versprechen eingelöst haben.

While many Day 1 picks are former five-star players and were heavily recruited, like Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence, there are also many picks who were less heralded by intriguing stories, like FCS QB Trey Lance.

Unknown variables in making predictions about educational prospects can be perplexing, as I often suggest to my colleague Todd McShay. Let’s take a look back at the six missed high school prospects expected to hear their names called in the first two rounds of next week’s draft.

QB Zach Wilson
BYU Cougars
ESPN 2018 Recruiting Rankings: Three
stars, ESPN NFL Draft prospects rankings: 4

The ’78 class is on the high end of our three-star scale, which reflects Wilson’s recruiting level well. He was recruited by Boise State, California, Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, Syracuse, Utah State, Hawaii, Fresno, Nevada, Rice, Idaho, Weber and Colorado. So although he’s a well-known West Coast player, he wasn’t as advanced physically in high school as he’s become in his 30 starts at Provo.

It’s not often that a true freshman starts working for BYU instead of taking a break before returning to campus and resuming his football career. He struggled with injuries that hampered his development in his first and second years.

But while he was healthy, Wilson proved to be a special talent who wasn’t even a Day 1 NFL Draft pick until the 2020 season. In three seasons as a center, he never threw double digits in interceptions.

OT Rashawn Slater
Northwestern Wildcats
ESPN 2017 Rookie Rankings: Three
stars, ESPN NFL Draft prospects rankings: 8

He was originally scheduled to play as a goalkeeper upon graduation, due to his height (1.80 m) and light weight (267 kg). In 2017, Slater came to campus and started 12 games as a right tackle. He started 26 games at right tackle in 2019 before switching to left tackle, where he had an outstanding season, allowing one QB hit, zero sacks and five QB hurries, while totaling just six QB pressures in 11 games for the Wildcats.

Slater entered the 2020 season as Pro Football Focus’ best offensive lineman in the Big Ten. After gaining nearly 40 pounds since high school, Slater has become one of the most dominant players in college football over the past two seasons in Evanston.

QB Trey Lance
North Dakota State Bison
ESPN 2018 Recruiting Rankings: The overlooked
ESPN NFL Draft prospects rankings: 10



Relive the incredible games of Trey Lance’s college career.

As a senior at Minnesota, Lance was overlooked when he was just as productive on defense as quarterback. Lance recorded 54 tackles and three interceptions as a senior safety, but his numbers under center were not extraordinary. Offensively, he scored 24 touchdowns, but only threw for just over 1,300 yards and ran for over 600 yards.

In the end, everyone was shortchanged, probably because the other prospects on the Group 5 and Power 5 rosters were statistically more advanced players and outside of Minnesota. Lance appeared in 15 games in 2018, played in two before retiring.

Lance’s celebration came in 2019 when he led North Dakota State to its first undefeated season since 1894 in college football with a 16-0 record, winning nearly every postseason award imaginable along the way. Perhaps his most impressive accomplishment was setting the NCAA record for most attempts without an interception (287).

OT Christian Darrisaw
Virginia Tech Hokies
ESPN 2017 Rookie Rankings:
ESPN NFL Draft Two-Star Prospect: 25

Darrisaw is the epitome of the late bloomer. He was a very raw player with great size who would eventually become a dominant force. A graduate of the class of 2017, Darrisau had to attend Fork Union Military Academy before enrolling at Virginia Tech.

As a freshman for the Hokies, he made an immediate impact in 2018 and was named to the All-ACC first team in 2019.

His decision not to retire for the 2020 college football season has allowed him to make nine more starts and significantly improve his profile this offseason. He started 35 games in three seasons for the Hokies and became one of the most versatile and agile tacklers in college football.

OT Bitches Jenkins
Oklahoma State Cowboys
2016 ESPN Rookie Rankings:
ESPN NFL проект рейтинга перспектив : 30

There’s no reason not to. There’s no reason not to. There’s no reason not to. There’s no reason not to. There is no reason not to, and there isn’t.

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The 2016 graduate saw his first action and start of 2017, playing both tackle and defensive end. The versatility of his position throughout his career and the number of starts he has made have given him tremendous value. He can play on either the right or left side as a tackle and defender.

Jenkins played basketball and baseball in high school with tremendous length and finally came into his own with increased functional strength and size when he went to Oklahoma State. He proved to be a latecomer, both physically and technically.

DE Gregory Russo
Miami Hurricanes
ESPN 2018 Recruiting Rankings: Three
stars, ESPN NFL Draft prospects rankings: 41

Russo was one of the most intriguing prospects in the 2018 class, as he played defense, but was also a wide receiver coming out of high school. In addition, Russo weighed just 6-foot-1 before developing into a 6-foot-1 defensive tackle for the Hurricanes in 2019.

He had a breakthrough season and was named First Team All-ACC and Defensive Rookie of the Year after playing in all 13 games, though he had only started seven. A big part of Russo’s development was physical improvement in the gym. It’s simple: It had to get bigger and stronger to become a donor and make a difference. In 2019 alone, he recorded 54 tackles, 19.5 for loss and 15.5 sacks. His sample was limited, but his output was reliable.

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