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2016 NFL Draft: Preseason Gems 2

A collection of truly excellent college players to watch for in the 2015 season, and 2016 draft.

Got a love Jones for big WR?
Got a love Jones for big WR?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been meaning to get another edition of "Gems" together for a few weeks now, but it’s been slow finding enough guys to warrant an entire story. I think I finally have enough. And I’m actually very excited about a few of these. Where shall we begin? How about an appetizer? Just a little amuse bouche…

This is a really tiny little highlight tape from a small-school cornerback, who may end up being the 2016 version of Tray Walker. Last year I kept quiet on Walker, but this year I’m going no-holds-barred. From Southeastern Louisiana, this is 6’3"/200lb CB Denzel Thompson:

Thompson had 43 tackles, 4 INT, 12 PBU, and 2 FF in 2014. His 40 doesn’t look special, but his vert looks sick on that blocked FG, and there is no doubt in my mind he has 33"+ arms. Look at him box out the WR and sky for the INT at the 1:20 mark.

It’s very early, but I’m already very pleased with the potential for the 2016 CB class, overall.

Jalen Ramsey of FSU is a special talent now being unleashed as a CB after two years playing Safety.

Xavien Howard of Baylor is 6’2"/200, posted 4 INT and 13 PBU last year, and will be an eligible Junior.

Kendall Fuller (6’0"/190) continues the long run of Fuller brothers coming out of VT if he declares.

Vernon Hargreaves of Florida is already high on most CB draft boards, but at 5’11"/195 is lower on mine for the Hawks.

And I previously wrote about Cameron Sutton from Tennessee.

Those are the Juniors. For Seniors, watch for Taveze Calhoun, Virginia’s Maurice Canady (6’2"/190), and Minnesota’s Eric Murray (6’0"/195):

Jumping to the opposite side of the ball, I’ve got two WR tapes I’ve found this offseason that I’m liking. We’ll start with the big, 6’3"/215lb target that Seahawk fans have coveted forever, but that PCJS have never drafted. This is Cayleb Jones from Arizona.

Jones will be a Junior in football years, but he redshirted in 2013 after transferring to Arizona from Texas. In his first year as a Wildcat in 2014, Jones tallied 73 catches for 1019 yards and 9 TD. Another year like that, and I think he declares early.

I wouldn’t expect Cayleb to run a 4.4 forty time, but if he can consistently win that jumpball like he did vs Boise State and USC, and break a few tackles, you’ve got what you need from him.

My second WR find is reminds me of a blend of Tre McBride and Justin Hardy. He’s listed at 6’0"/200, but looks slighter than that to my eye. He moves like Hardy in the sense that he’s never getting so much separation that he’s "wide open", but he ALWAYS seems to be open enough. This is Coastal Carolina’s Bruce Mapp:

Mapp finished 2014 with 71 catches, 959 yards, and 6 TD. He will be a redshirt Junior this year, and coming from Coastal I don’t think he’ll declare. Just an early, early sleeper. I really like what I’m seeing from him in body control and field awareness. In a lot of college WR tape, you see them making the one foot in catches…those count in college but would be incomplete in the NFL. I like that Mapp regularly gets both feet in. He’s literally one step ahead.

Staying on offense, I’m REALLY intrigued by this first game I’ve seen from Ohio State TE Nick Vannett. Listed at 6’6"/260, he looks like he’s moving exceptionally well for that size.

Ohio State didn’t really use either Vannett or 2015 pick Jeff Heuerman very much, so his 19 catches, 220 yards aren’t anything to write home about. But I do like that 5 of his 19 catches were TD’s.

I had a running back in mind I was going to include in this piece, but as I was writing it, it sort of occurred to me, "the next RB Seattle drafts will be the heir to Beastmode…he will HAVE to be special." I don’t think the guy I was thinking of for this Gems is special enough. If that makes sense.

I’ve got one more player on offense, and one more on defense. I’m very high on both of these guys.

On defense, this is a 6’3"/220lb OLB that plays all over the place for ECU. Really high motor, plays with aggression, and reportedly runs a 4.3 forty with a 36.5" vertical. I mean, Zach’s still in grad school thesis purgatory and hasn’t started on 2016 SPARQ guys yet, but I can already tell you…this guy is high on it. I've been tracking him for a year.

In 2014, Montese contributed 68 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 3 sacks, and 4 PBU. ECU lines him up at DE, they put him over a WR in the slot, and he’ll play a traditional standup OLB, and in none of these roles does he look out of place.

He doesn’t look overpowered rushing a 300lb OT, he doesn’t look too slow to keep up with WR. This versatility...with speed, with power, with length…this is a Seahawk guy to a tee.

And finally today, we get to look at a guy I’ve been sitting on for about a month now while waiting to find enough other players to make this a full Gems piece. You’ll be shocked when you see who he is and where he’s coming from (and many of you will be thrilled).

From Washington State University, may I present Senior OL from Spokane, WA…Joe Dahl.

Originally, a recruit to Montana, Dahl transferred to WSU in 2012…sat out that year per NCAA transfer rules…started 12 games at LG and one at LT in 2013…then, as a Junior, started all 12 WSU games at LT last year. Over the entire span of the 2014 season, Dahl allowed one sack. One.

Listed at 6’4"/303, Dahl is well short of the NFL standard of about 6’6"/313 for an average LT. I think that will keep him from playing there in the pros. But he HAS the ability. He reminds me of Zack Martin in that way.

I liked Martin’s tape at LT in 2013, but I always had that feeling his size (6’4"/308) and length (only 32 ¼" arms) would put him at OG. Maybe Martin could still be an okay LT, but he’s literally been an All-Pro and Pro Bowl player at RG in his rookie year. Tough to argue with that. Dahl can have that same trajectory. Not necessarily at RG, though. There will be teams that want him at LG. And that is the tape we’ll look at today.

This is 2013 tape of WSU vs UW. Dahl is a sophomore here, he’s playing LG (jersey #56), and much of the game he’s lined up across from Danny Shelton. So it’s a GREAT tape to study Dahl (plus, it’s All-22 tape…always a bonus).

Oh, there is another reason Dahl probably is a guard at the next level…he doesn’t use a kickstep at LT. Maybe that’s a Mike Leach thing. But if you ever watch any of his 2014 tape, it’s worth noticing.

I love Dahl’s balance. He’s got great communication and sense for line-calls before the snap. I don’t think we often hear about OL having great timing, but Dahl does…he knows when to switch from chipping a 5tech to picking up a stunting LB, etc. I think the athleticism is apparent. He’s one of the best, if not THE best, OL I’ve seen so far in terms of getting to the second level and finding work (watch him clear out John Timu at 2:03). My only negative: I would like to see just a hint more aggression/finish from him.

Another cool thing about Dahl…no one’s talking about him. I mean, no one’s talking about any of these guys…that’s part of why I’m bringing them to you first…but of these guys, I think Dahl has the best shot at climbing into the 1st round by draft day 2016.