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2019 NFL Draft: 10 diamonds in the rough

Jesse Reed
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone is talking about the prospects who will be selected early in the 2019 NFL Draft, yet the league is full of late-round picks who turn into stars.

With that in mind, we’re looking at 10 potential diamonds in the rough heading into the 2019 NFL Draft.

Jalen Hurd, wide receiver, Baylor

This converted running back has taken on the a difficult project of becoming a slot specialist. Many believe he could be one of the most dangerous weapons in this capacity that this year’s draft has to offer once he polishes up his game. Though, given his size (6-foot-5 and 226 pounds) he could become so much more than that.

Teams will be considering Hurd in the middle rounds of the draft. Though he has just one year of experience as a receiver and is a bit of a project, his physical traits and ability to make big plays all over the field make him an intriguing prospect.

David Long, cornerback, Michigan

A bit undersized for what he does best (press-man coverage), Long might be the second-best pure cover man in the draft behind Georgia’s DeAndre Baker. The issues that will keep him from being selected early are his lack of height and length (5-foot-11 and arms under 31 inches).

Because of the size issue, teams might view Long as a slot specialist rather than a true perimeter cornerback. That obviously would push his value down the board. However, given his experience and big-game resume he has the type of game to potentially bust out of that stereotype and become a star.

Brett Rypien, quarterback, Boise State

Blessed with NFL bloodlines (nephew of former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien), this prospect will be fighting an uphill battle throughout his career at the next level. Rypien’s big issue is that he is physically average. Whether we’re discussing his arm strength, his size, or his ability to scramble, he will never wow you.

However, the NFL is full of success stories from men who were not physical marvels. Rypien possesses the intangibles of an NFL starter — he has outstanding football knowledge, was a proven leader who started four years for the Broncos, and is tough as nails. It might be a bit much to suggest he’ll ever become a star. Yet a long NFL career could be in the works.

Jimmy Moreland, cornerback, James Madison

This small-school star has big-school talent. A veritable ball hawk who left the James Madison football program as the all-time leader in interceptions (18), he has an incredible nose for the ball. NFL scouts saw this firsthand during Senior Bowl week, as Moreland stood out on a regular basis.

The big issues that will likely make Moreland a Day 3 pick are that he is not big (just 5-foot-10 and 179 pounds) and that he has an off-field red flag stemming from a larceny charge that cost him the 2015 season. Still, Moreland has the skill to become an impact cornerback in the NFL.

Ulysees Gilbert III, linebacker, Akron

In today’s NFL, undersized is the new normal at linebacker. Players who fly from sideline to sideline and possess the ability to cover are prized possessions. Last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, Indianapolis’ Darius Leonard, was just 234 pounds.

This brings us to Gilbert, who is a bit under that at 230 pounds. He runs a sub-4.5-second 40 and is tremendous in pursuit. He’s not going to ever be dominant at the line of scrimmage going against NFL linemen. Yet in the right defense where he can run and chase, he has the potential to become a lightning rod.

Andy Isabella, wide receiver, UMass

There is a big split in the scouting community regarding Isabella. The issues that will keep him from being an early-round draft pick are related to size (5-foot-9 and 188 pounds), and questions about his hands. He’s a body catcher, which could potentially become a problem at the NFL level.

Nobody will deny he possesses game-breaking speed (ran a 4.31-second 40) or that he isn’t a tough player to bring down in the open field. There’s no arguing against his production last year at UMass, either — he hauled in 102 catches for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Justin Hollins, EDGE, Oregon

In terms of natural physical abilities, Hollins stands out. At 6-foot-5 and 245, he has prototypical size and length, with the frame to add more muscle. Running a 4.5-second 40, he also has quickness and speed to become a nightmare off the edge.

Despite all that potential, Hollins never put it all together and dominated during his tenure at Oregon. In four seasons, he tallied just 14 sacks. That said, he showed the ability to create turnovers with two interceptions and seven forced fumbles, including five last year. He’s an intriguing prospect who will likely be a Day 3 pick.

Benny Snell, running back, Kentucky

Even in a draft that is devoid of generational talent at running back, Snell is being touted by most as a late-round pick. Given his production at Kentucky — 4,089 yards and 48 touchdowns from scrimmage the past three years — that’s pretty crazy.

Snell doesn’t possess elite speed and isn’t going to juke defenders out of their shoes. He’s a powerhouse who relies on patience and blocking up front, yet he did break off some huge runs despite that. So, he’ll be a bit scheme-dependent. But in the right scheme he could become an impact player as a rookie.

Jaylon Ferguson, EDGE, Louisiana Tech

It’s a shame we didn’t get to see Ferguson at the combine. He had his invitation revoked due to an old arrest for a fight during his freshman year. A powerhouse of a defensive end at 6-foot-5 and 271 pounds, Ferguson racked up big-time numbers at Louisiana Tech the past four seasons (45 sacks and 67.5 tackles for loss).

Likely a late Day 2 or early Day 3 pick in the draft due to the incredible depth and talent on the edge in this year’s draft, Ferguson has the game to become a dominant NFL starter.

Tyree Jackson, quarterback, Buffalo

In a draft that features so many question marks at the quarterback position, Jackson stands out as a potential star. He’s nowhere near ready to jump into the NFL game and start. Accuracy issues (55.8 percent passer at Buffalo) stemming from mechanical lapses will have to be corrected.

Yet the latent talent is there, just waiting to be tapped. Jackson is huge. At 6-foot-7 and 249 pounds, he towers over the other quarterbacks in this year’s draft class. He’s also very fast and wowed with a 4.59-second 40 at the combine. Yet it’s Jackson’s cannon of an arm that gives him the potential to become an NFL star.