There are many reasons for a slide down the draft boards -- if football is a game of inches, the draft evaluation process is a game of milliseconds and millimeters. Run a 40 just out of the comfort zone, break off that route just a hair too slow on the film, fail to hit those few extra bench press reps, and the draft board becomes a very nebulous place. In two parts, we're going to establish a team of starters on each side of the ball with players who live under the radar and might blossom in the pros. (Projected draft spots, from high to low, are in parentheses, all players have third-round projections or lower)
Quarterback: Zac Robinson, Oklahoma State (4-6) -- He may have benefited from throwing to Brandon Pettigrew(notes) and Dez Bryant, but Robinson looked pretty good after Pettigrew left for the NFL and Bryant got suspended. He can run more than a bit (19 carries for 109 yards against Texas Tech in November), shows decent accuracy, and has a much better arm than the usual spread offense quarterback. Robinson impressed during drills at the combine (I ought to know -- I wrote the pool report on him) with his ability to take longer drops and throw comfortably downfield. He'd be a good developmental pick for a team looking for a possible fringe starter down the road.
Running Back: Lonyae Miller, Frenso State (3-5) -- Miller never established himself as a starter behind Ryan Mathews, but that could be said of nearly every running back in the nation if they were put behind the NCAA's leading rusher in 2009. In limited duty, the 6-foot, 221-pound Miller flashed interesting explosiveness, rushing for over 800 yards in 2008, and over 5.5 yards per carry on 374 collegiate carries. Miller ran a low combine time of 4.43 and could be a great option in any running back committee.
Running Back: Joe McKnight, USC (3-4) -- If Miller's our "thunder" back, let's make McKnight Mr. Lightning. A dynamic outside runner with sub-4.4 speed on a favorable surface, McKnight will give a little shiver inside if required as well. Not powerful enough breaking tackles in space to overwhelm even with his quickness and elusiveness, he may be a Reggie Bush(notes) type drafted three rounds lower. At that price, he's a bargain player that a creative team can move around to different skill positions.
Offensive Tackle: Ed Wang, Virginia Tech (3-5) -- Wang is getting a lot of NFL pre-draft interest for his size (6-5, 315) and raw athleticism. He had 35 career starts at VT, but he'll need some finishing work at the next level -- his team's offensive schemes allowed the former tight end to survive various technique issues that will hold him back in the NFL. He's also struggled with penalties, but with the right kind of zone-blocking coach, Wang could develop into a starter over time.
Offensive Tackle: Kyle Calloway, Iowa (4-6) -- He's no Bryan Bulaga, but the massive (6-7, 325) Callaway was also coached up by Kirk Ferentz, who's engendered NFL respect for years for his ability to mentor technically sound offensive linemen. A natural zone blocker who excels at the second level, Calloway projects well at right tackle in the right system.
Guard: Zane Beadles, Utah (3-5) -- Beadles is an NFL tweener -- he won't be agile enough to play tackle, but there are questions about his ability to hold up at guard. He'll need to adjust to pro offenses and get his hand on the ground (he could be yet another guy benefiting from spread line splits and two-point stances) but he's a smart player with a great attitude. If he fails in the pros, it won't be for lack of trying.
Guard: Marshall Newhouse, TCU (3-5) -- Newhouse's stock is rising as more people see what he can do. At 6-4 and 320, he has 5.0-40 speed and the kind of agility that has some people thinking he could kick out to left tackle. Given the recent market for guards that can do things in space, Newhouse might be best off staying put at left guard. Good bloodlines, too -- his uncle, Robert Newhouse, played fullback for the Dallas Cowboys for 12 seasons.
Center: Eric Olsen, Notre Dame (3-6) -- People make a fuss about Jimmy Clausen's experience in a pro-style offense, but it's just as important and beneficial for a center to make line and protection calls in a more complicated system. That's where Olsen, who Charlie Weis called "the heart and soul" of the Fighting Irish line, comes in. He's not a prototypical player in a physical skill sense -- not in Maurkice Pouncey's league. But he's determined, tough and nasty. Add those qualities to his football intelligence, and Olsen's a good bet to benefit the team that takes him.
Wide Receiver: Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas (3-6) -- Surprise, surprise -- there's more than one receiver named "Dez" in the Big 12. Briscoe was another sleeper guy who really impressed at the combine, showing excellent hands and route-running skills. He's not a quick receiver off the line, but he's effective in the end zone and tough in traffic. He'll be a good third-to-fourth receiver with an opportunity to do more.
Wide Receiver: Armanti Edwards, Appalachian State (4-6) -- The only two-time Walter Payton Award winner in the history of the Football Championship Subdivision, Edwards made his bones in college as a Seneca Wallace(notes)-style quarterback. But as Wallace tried to do in the pros from time to time, Edwards might make a move to receiver, using his outstanding agility and 4.4 speed to make things happen downfield. Like Pat White(notes) and Josh Cribbs, Edwards will be scouted heavily by teams with a preference for option routes.
Tight End: Fendi Onobun, Houston (3-7) -- From Tony Gonzalez(notes) to Antonio Gates(notes), NFL teams turn to the basketball court to find future tight ends. So it is with Onobun, who played four years of hoops at Arizona and took advantage of a rule that allows college-eligible athletes to transfer to a different school to play a different sport for a fifth and final year. He caught only two passes for 33 yards and one touchdown in 2009, but he blew everyone away at Houston's pro day with his athleticism. He's a project player in a football sense, but the payoff could be enormous, and NFL personnel people are taking note.