- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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The NFL draft is just a day away, which means an end to the myriad projections, debates and mock drafts, but it’s just the beginning for the players stepping into the next phase of their careers. With that in mind, here are the ACC players we think are most likely to outperform and underperform their draft positions.
Player most likely to outperform his draft position: Georgia Tech wide receiver DeAndre Smelter
This year’s draft is loaded with talented receivers, with as many as nine wideouts projected as possible first-rounders. Smelter isn’t anywhere in that mix for myriad reasons, but his potential impact in the NFL could be big.
The physical skill set for Smelter is obvious. He’s big (6-foot-3, 226 pounds) and has good hands and above-average speed to get separation from defenders. As a former top baseball prospect, his athleticism is exceptional. His quick transition onto the football field late in his career also underscores his smarts and work ethic, so when it comes to the intangibles, Smelter’s got it all.
Still, there are obvious concerns. While Smelter did have a big season in 2014 (35 catches, 715 yards, 7 TDs), it was his first full season as a starter and only his second playing college football at all. He proved to be a quick study, but he’s still lacking in experience. Moreover, the time he has spent on the field was in Georgia Tech’s option offense, which certainly demonstrated his downfield blocking skills and ability to get open on the deep ball, but may not have been the best way to showcase his full skill set. Lastly, Smelter injured his knee late in the season -- forcing him from Tech’s bowl game and the NFL combine.
Smelter should still find a home on draft day, but it’s likely his name won’t be called until the middle or late rounds. That’s fine. Plenty of talented receivers have slid down draft boards only to blossom at the next level, and Smelter has the skill set and smarts to make that happen.
Player most likely to underperform at his draft position: Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams
It’s not that we don’t like Williams’ potential. Jimbo Fisher has raved about the former FSU corner’s NFL stock for years. Still, the jury is still out on how consistent a performer Williams will be.
In 2013, as Florida State marched toward a national title, the Seminoles’ secondary was outstanding -- leading the nation in pass defense and interceptions. Williams was a key part of that success, with opposing QBs completing just 22 of 57 passes thrown his way. But a year later, that success largely evaporated. Williams didn’t have the luxury of an effective pass rush up front, and his success in the secondary dipped dramatically. FSU finished 84th nationally in yards-per-attempt allowed, and while Williams did have 10 pass break-ups, he was also burned far too often.
If Williams can be consistent, he can blossom into a star at the next level. If he continues to have up-and-down performances as he did in 2014, NFL coaches won’t have much patience.
233dDavid M. Hale