July 19, 2024

Meet college football’s 12 under-the-radar offensive players who already have NFL scouts buzzing

Every summer, I spend a good amount of time talking to NFL scouts in an attempt to gather a quality perspective on how draft-eligible college players are viewed as prospects by those in the NFL space.

In the coming weeks, I’ll share different pieces of feedback that have come from those conversations. To start, here are 12 under-the-radar offensive draft prospects generating buzz among NFL scouts (listed alphabetically):

Minnesota OL Aireontae Ersery

School measurements: 6-foot-6, 325 pounds

Ersery didn’t begin playing football until his junior year of high school and saw action in just two total games during his first two years at Minnesota. However, in the last two seasons, he has quietly evolved into one of the top offensive tackles in the nation. He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last year and honorable mention all-conference recognition in 2022.

NFL scouts consistently grade him in the top three rounds. Some even view him as a first-round possibility.

“Long, athletic frame,” an NFL scouting source told CBS Sports. “Long arms. Good bulk. Big man. Plays primarily in a two-point stance. Good foot and body quicks and lateral mobility, especially working up to the second level. Waist bender at times that gets overextended in both run and pass. Improved his sustain and finish throughout last season. Good pass pro but needs to clean up technique with hands and feet. Has the talent to mirror speed. High upside and has the chance to ascend.”

Washington State OL Fa’alili Fa’amoe

Official measurements: 6-foot-4 5/8, 292 pounds

After appearing in just one total game in two years as a defensive lineman for Washington State, Fa’amoe moved to offensive tackle in 2022 and now has a shot at going in the top half of next year’s NFL draft. His one question mark: How quickly does he return to form after offseason knee surgery?

“If he didn’t have his knee surgery, I’d tell you he’s a legit second-rounder,” a Washington State staffer told CBS Sports. “Going to have to see how he does this season and how he progresses.”

William & Mary OL Charles Grant

School measurements: 6-foot-4, 300 pounds

Considering Grant’s draft outlook and this current age of college football, it’s amazing that William & Mary was able to keep him from hitting the transfer portal and leaving for a bigger school. A three-year starter for the Tribe at left tackle, Grant was a first-team FCS All-American last season after earning first-team All-CAA recognition in 2022. One of the scouting services used by NFL teams graded Grant as Day 2 pick entering the season.

“With him, it’s going to be all about his play strength and his weight because he’s got the length and the frame,” an NFL scout told CBS Sports. “He looks pretty good.”

Memphis QB Seth Henigan

Official measurements: 6-foot-3 2/8, 205 pounds

Even as a 20-year-old rising junior, Henigan was already on the radar of some NFL scouts entering last season. He only helped his cause after throwing for 3,883 yards with 37 total touchdowns (32 passing and five rushing) against nine interceptions in his third year as Memphis’ starting quarterback. He’ll have a chance to be the top quarterback at the Group of Five level this season and potentially end up going in the first four rounds or so of next year’s NFL draft. A Texas native and son of a high school coach in the state, Henigan capped last season with 364 yards, four passing touchdowns, one rushing score and no interceptions in a Liberty Bowl win over Iowa State.

“He’s got a chance,” an NFL scouting source told CBS Sports. “Arm talent. I don’t even know what the rushing numbers were, but he can move. He’s got good size. And he takes care of the ball.”

It doesn’t hurt scouts also see Henigan’s top receiver Roc Taylor as a draftable talent.

Colorado State WR Tory Horton

Official measurements: 6-foot-1 7/8, 187 pounds

Fans may remember Horton from Colorado State’s near-upset of rival Colorado last year. He posted 16 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown in the Rams’ 43-35 double-overtime loss to Deion Sanders’ team. That’s been far from Horton’s only notable performance at Colorado State, though. He finished last year with 96 catches, 1,136 yards and eight touchdowns after recording 71 catches for 1,131 yards and eight scores in 2022. At least some NFL scouts believe he’ll have a chance to go in the first four or five rounds of next year’s draft.

“Talented guy,” an opposing defensive backs coach told CBS Sports. “Really good hands, great catch radius and runs good routes. Stuggles, though, versus off coverage and when you mix up pictures for him by moving the corners around. He wants you to press him, which clears up his reads. Has to work to understand coverages but a great player.”

Virginia Tech WRs Jaylin LaneDa’Quan Felton

Official measurements for Lane: 5-foot-9 1/8, 192 pounds

Official measurements for Felton: 6-foot-4 1/8, 215 pound

It’s been 16 years since the Hokies produced a receiver taken in the first four rounds of the draft (Eddie Royal in 2008). Now it’s possible that Virginia Tech could have two such players on its roster in 2024. One of the scouting services used by NFL teams has both Lane and Felton with grades in the top three rounds entering the season.

Felton, who transferred to the Hokies last year from FCS Norfolk State, led the team last season with 667 yards and eight touchdowns on 38 catches. He ranked third in the ACC with an average of 17.6 yards per catch.

Lane, who transferred to Virginia Tech last year from Middle Tennessee, had a team-high 41 catches for 538 yards and six touchdowns.

“Jaylin Lane is one of my favorite guys coming back,” an NFL scout told CBS Sports. “They’ve got him in the 4.3s (in the 40-yard dash) and I think sometimes you can definitely see that on tape. I think he’s a starting slot (in the NFL). He’s a tough kid, but the speed, you can’t really replicate that to me. I really like him. I’m a fan of his. 

“But I like Felton as well. Probably has more upside when you’re talking about (the size), looks pretty, runs well, gets behind defenses. He’s still raw. Obviously he was at Norfolk State two years ago, so glad he came back. He was thinking about coming out, but those are two guys I’m high on. I probably like Lane more, but Felton’s got the higher upside.”

UConn OL Chase Lundt

School measurements: 6-foot-8, 305 pounds

UConn has produced three top-three-round picks in the last five years. Lundt, a three-year starter for the Huskies, might be the next one. At the very least, Lundt looks like a guy who will be off the board by the end of Round 5.

“I think he’s a Day 3 guy right now with the arrow pointing up heading into the season,” an NFL scout told CBS Sports. “I think he’s got the potential to move up to Day 2. I don’t know if it’s there right now in my opinion, but you definitely like what you see when you get to see him. Big, tall guy and I like his compete and I think he’s got good feet for his size to be honest. He moves pretty well to be as tall as he is and he has some explosion off the line of scrimmage.”

Rutgers RB Kyle Monangai

School measurements: 5-foot-9, 210 pounds

If you didn’t realize that last year’s Big Ten leader in rushing came from Rutgers, you’re probably far from alone. Despite a questionable supporting cast and a ton of competition from a loaded group of backs in the conference, Monangai led the Big Ten with 1,262 rushing yards while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He eclipsed the 100-yard mark seven times — including five games with at least 140 yards on the ground — while helping the Scarlet Knights record their first winning season since 2014. Monangai ended the year with 163 yards and a touchdown in Rutgers’ 31-24 Pinstripe Bowl victory over Miami

In what’s shaping up to be a deep class for the position, Monangai is one of as many as 10 running backs NFL scouts could see going in the first three or four rounds.

“Productive,” an NFL scout told CBS Sports. “I know that O-line was pretty bad and the quarterback play was iffy so it was very impressive the year he had. He’s explosive. He’s got some suddenness with him. I like his lateral burst. I think he’s got a feel for that next defender. And he’s got home run ability. He can take it all the way.”

Maryland WR Kaden Prather

Official measurements: 6-foot-4, 211 pounds

Despite only ranking third on his own team in receiving last year, at least some scouts believe Prather has the talent to come off the board in the first few rounds of next year’s NFL draft. The West Virginia transfer had a touchdown catch against Ohio State in a game that Maryland trailed by just three in the fourth quarter. He also tallied 81 yards on three catches against eventual national champion Michigan.

“I like Prather,” an NFL scout told CBS Sports. “I see Prather in the same way I see Felton at Virginia Tech, big guys that just need polish. Felton’s probably a little faster, but Prather’s got the ball skills. He’s a red zone target to go up and get it.”

With Prather and Tai Felton, Maryland is set to boast one of the more talented receiver tandems in the Big Ten. At least some scouts have Felton, who accumulated 723 yards last year, with grades in the fourth-round range.

Utah State WR Jalen Royals

Official measurements: 5-foot-11 4/8, 193 pounds

Aside from former LSU standout and recent Jacksonville Jaguars first-round draft pick Brian Thomas, there wasn’t a wide receiver in the FBS last year with more touchdown catches than Royals. It was part of a breakout season for the junior college transfer, who went from finishing without a single catch in his first season at Utah State in 2022 to accumulating 71 catches, 1,080 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. 

Some NFL scouts believe he could be a sleeper pick in next year’s draft. During one particular three-game stretch against Fresno State, Colorado State and UConn, Royals tallied 20 total catches, 450 yards and seven touchdowns.

“He is a good player,” an opposing defensive backs coach told CBS Sports. “More quick than fast. Has a really good catch radius for a player that is not super tall. Runs good routes but is pretty good after the catch. Elusive player with great catch radius are his biggest strengths.”

Houston QB Donovan Smith

Official measurements: 6-foot-4, 237 pounds

Looking for a quarterback who could end up rising up draft boards during the season? Smith is one worth following. Although he was up-and-down some during his first season at Houston (with 28 total touchdowns but also 13 interceptions), a good number of scouts are very intrigued with the Texas Tech transfer.

One of Smith’s top performances last season came against eventual Big 12 champion Texas, where he threw for 378 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-24 loss.

“I really like the Houston quarterback,” an NFL scout told CBS Sports. “He looks like a potential starter (at the NFL level).”