Do the NFL people overthink it sometimes when it comes to the draft?
Just ask Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who all but stood on the table last year and told teams they would be sorry if they passed on Deshaun Watson.
"Everybody has to make their own decisions, and I respect that," Swinney said. "I'm in the recruiting world, and sometimes we pass on guys who turn into great players. But Deshaun was a guy, to me, who demonstrated such unbelievable leadership and a will to win and character at the highest level and was incredibly productive against everybody we played."
Granted, Watson didn't slip out of the first round, but there will invariably be those players this year who were ultra-productive in college yet, for various reasons, tumble in the draft. As we've done the past three years, we've come up with five players, based on their college production, who will outperform where they're selected in the 2018 NFL draft.
A year ago, Alabama's Dalvin Tomlinson was on this list. He lasted into the second round and wound up leading all rookie defensive linemen with 50 tackles, nine more than Solomon Thomas, who was the third overall pick in the draft by the San Francisco 49ers.
Who are those guys this year? Here's a prediction:
Poona Ford, DT, Texas
The NFL tends to get hung up on measurables and, in turn, can cast a blind eye to the game tape. Perhaps that explains how the 5-foot-11, 300-pound Ford wasn't even invited to the NFL combine. You know the rap -- too short to play among the behemoths in the NFL trenches. Sort of sounds like what we heard about Grady Jarrett when he came out of Clemson, and we know how that turned out. Ford was the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year last season and was extremely impressive at the Senior Bowl. He's a monster when it comes to eating up blocks and mauls opponents in the run game with his powerful lower-body strength. While Ford will never be a prolific inside pass-rusher, he's the kind of 4-3 interior lineman who will play for a long time in the NFL and make some team very happy that it didn't have to spend an early-round draft pick to get him.
Rashaan Gaulden, DB, Tennessee
Gaulden's infamous middle-fingered salute to Alabama fans a year ago in Tuscaloosa might not have been his finest moment (and, yes, Gaulden apologized), but he has a lot of game and was one of the few bright spots for the Vols in an otherwise forgettable 2017 season. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Gaulden can play pretty much anywhere in the secondary. He was outstanding in the nickelback role for Tennessee and has the kind of instincts you simply can't teach, not to mention great ball skills. It's not out of the question that Gaulden could play some cornerback in the NFL. Teams like his length, and as a safety, he has demonstrated good range down the field and shown he can be disruptive in the run game with tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He forced three fumbles and recovered three fumbles last season. Because he's not purely a cornerback or purely a safety, Gaulden will probably go later in the draft than he should. But his versatility will make him one of those players about whom teams will ask themselves in years to come why they didn't snatch him up when they had the chance.
Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern
OK, he's not the Big Ten running back everybody's raving about entering this draft. That would be Penn State's Saquon Barkley. But go back and check out Jackson's tape, and most importantly, his consistency and production. He's Northwestern's all-time leading rusher and became just the ninth player in NCAA history to have four consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. And for all the talk about Jackson not being fast enough, he ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, faster than guys such as Nick Chubb, Bo Scarbrough and Royce Freeman. Jackson doesn't have ideal size (193 pounds) and won't be one of the stronger running backs in the draft, but he's one of those guys who can do a little bit of everything and will have great value for a mid- to late-round selection. As Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald noted, Jackson can catch the ball, pass-protect, make defenders miss and will probably end up being a terrific special-teams player. He's also durable and, according to Fitzgerald, never missed a practice in four years. Sounds like somebody who will play for a long time in the NFL.
Cam Serigne, TE, Wake Forest
Getting with the right team will be critical for Serigne, who's projected to go somewhere in the late rounds and might even go undrafted and have to catch on as a free agent. Either way, somebody's going to get a steal. He's the ACC's all-time leader among tight ends in career receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions. His nine touchdown catches last season tied for the ACC lead, and it's impossible to ignore his consistency over the course of his four-year career. He's never going to be a bruising blocker and is a bit of a tweener, but as Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson points out, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Serigne knows how to set defenders up and knows how to get open. Go watch Serigne run away from the Texas A&M safeties in the Belk Bowl last season and how many diving third-down catches he made during the season to keep Wake Forest drives alive. In time, he'll become some NFL quarterback's best friend.
Fred Warner, LB, BYU
There are more physical linebackers in this draft and guys with bigger reputations for being thumpers, but Warner is super athletic and has the ability to drop into coverage and be equally effective on passing downs, which makes him a commodity. He'll probably slip some because teams don't see him as an edge rusher, but he's always around the ball and ran a 4.64 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. In his last three seasons at BYU, the 6-3, 227-pound Warner had 31 tackles for loss, six interceptions and five fumble recoveries. As a senior, he led BYU with 87 tackles, including nine for loss, an interception and five pass breakups. He has contributed for BYU since his freshman season and could easily evolve into a hybrid player in the NFL with his coverage skills. In fact, some teams might view him as a bigger safety, especially because Warner showed in college that he could cover the slot receiver. He played in two different defenses at BYU under two different staffs and was productive in both. That won't change at the next level.