A national champion to an English giant: the NFL draft’s most intriguing prospects

Qwan’tez Stiggers, CB, Toronto Argonauts

In recent drafts we have seen players selected from Australia. We got a tight end with no experience from Germany in the sixth round, thanks to Mike Mayock demanding it in the draft broadcast – that really happened! What we haven’t seen is an American-born player selected from Canada. And we haven’t seen an American-born player play yet No college football.

That will change this year. Stiggers was the top rookie in the CFL last season, finishing with five interceptions and 53 tackles in 16 games. He had initially signed to play college football at Division II Lane College before retiring after his father’s death. He then signed with the Toronto Argonauts in 2023 after a stint in Fan Controlled Football, a league where viewers make the play calls through an app. Now Stiggers is on his way to entering the top 100.

But it’s more than just a nice story. The 22-year-old is a dynamic athlete with the ideal build for a modern corner. He is tall, has smooth feet and is a natural playmaker once the ball is in the air.

Not many players have been drafted without playing in college. They usually go in the later rounds and are seen as long-term projects with athletic benefits. Stiggers is different. He is spoiled and eaten by 13 teams during the pre-draft process, despite not being invited to the NFL combine. Teams will travel to Mars if they think they can find a cornerback who can make a difference as a newcomer. In Canada they have found a top 100 player who can make an immediate impact.

JJ McCarthy, QB, Michigan

No player has polarized this cycle more than McCarthy. His proponents see a quarterback with untapped potential, with a big arm, wheels and a fearless nature. His detractors point to McCarthy’s time at Michigan and say he should have produced more with those skills.

McCarthy led Michigan to the national championship with a roster full of future NFL talent – ​​by the time the draft is finalized, the Wolverines’ 2023 roster will likely more players lined up than any team in history. Given the surplus of talent, McCarthy was asked to mind the store, play inside the offense, hand the ball off (a lot) to running backs and play smart, mistake-free football. He rarely threw on third down, largely because Michigan was comfortably ahead in games — or they were so overpowered that they didn’t need third downs.

To some decision makers, McCarthy is the platonic ideal of a quarterback prospect: a talented passer with the athleticism and intangibles that make scouts and GMs purr. He is a proven winner and leader who has been drawing up plays since he was five years old. He told his fellow recruits looking to join Michigan, “If they wanted to party and chase girls, they should go somewhere else,” according to concept analyst Dane Brugler.

However, it is significant leaking from the scouting world refer to anything but McCarthy’s ability to complete passes. Call it the Daniel Jones zone. There are flashes of his college resume, but the quarterback teams want in the pros is different than the one asked at Michigan.

McCarthy could end up being the second player off the board. He could finish third. He might as well become the centerpiece of a trade package where some team – the Giants, the Vikings – mortgages their future to make a trade to select him.

Kiran Amegadjie is a top prospect coming out of Yale. Photo: Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Kiran Amegadjie, OL, Yale

The Ivy League is poised to have the highest draft selection this century. With players like Kyle Juszczyk, Foyesade Oluokun and Michael Hoecht already in the NFL, the Ivy League is well represented – an all-time Ivy League team is as strong as it gets, in some decent coaching opportunities. But Amegadjie is the conference’s first candidate with a shot at being selected in the top 50 since 1972.

With arms so long they look like they were CGI-applied to his body, Amegadjie was a bulldozer at left tackle for Yale. He outplayed lower-level competition in the run game, though he wasn’t refined in pass protection. In the NFL, he’ll likely kick inside to guard, but he has the kind of wingspan and tippy-tappy footwork that gives him a chance to compete for a tackle spot.

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Laiatu Latu, Edge, UCLA

Teams have access to more statistics than ever, but when it comes to final evaluation, GMs fall back on the oldest method of all: watching real games. And when you watch those games, it’s clear that Latu is as gifted as any player in this class.

But there are medical concerns. Latu suffered a neck injury in Washington in 2020 and was forced to retire from the sport. During his break, he underwent multiple neck operations and took up rugby in Seattle. In 2022, he was cleared to return to football and transferred to UCLA, where he clowned around for the next 24 months.

It is the style that grabs you at Latu. He is the most distinctive prospect in recent years. It’s tempting to say that Latu plays at his own pace, but that phrase is usually associated with slower guys. The 23-year-old is explosive in tight spaces. He is good, slow and fast. He plays at the pace that suits him. There are times when he doesn’t even really rush the passerby, at least not in the traditional sense. It’s like he’s playing his own sport, a kind of fusion of that MMA and interpretive dance; he’s all fake limbs and heads and unorthodox approaches to cutting into the backfield.

Latu is stylistically fascinating, but that style has substance. He finished with 27 sacks and 107 total pressures in his two years at UCLA, the highest percentage in college football. His graduation rate of 26.2% in his final year is equal to the highest mark ever. If the surgeries affected his play, it wasn’t visible at UCLA. In two seasons with the team, he did not miss a game due to injury.

Projections currently have Latu as a mid-to-late first-round pick. Grabbing him in the middle of the first round would be like catching sunlight on the second day.

International Pathway Players

Some players inside the competition’s IPP program, like Louis Rees-Zammit, will participate in the competition as free agents. But others are eligible for this year’s draft because they are in their fourth year of high school. Travis Clayton (England), Jotham Russell (Australia) and Bayron Matos (Dominican Republic) are all eligible for selection from the program this year.

Clayton is the kind of enticing tool talent that will leave offensive line coaches weak at the knees. At 6-foot-4 and over 300 pounds, Clayton is a former rugby player and boxer who, if you look hard enough, looks like an NFL tackle.

Given the success of Jordan Mailata, who recently signed a three-year, $66 million contract extension with the Eagles, it wouldn’t be surprising to see multiple teams hand over their final picks to IPP graduates. Mailata’s story is one of a kind: the rare encounter of an undiscovered gem with a relentless work ethic, ultimately culminating in the best position coach in the sport. But Mailata paving the way has opened the door for Clayton to be a late draft pick. The Eagles bet on Jeff Stoutland to develop Mailata’s raw tools when they selected the Australian in the seventh round of the 2018 draft – Mailata introduces himself as a graduate of “Stoutland U”. Other teams are hoping their staffs can do the same and land a developmental prospect at a premium position on a cheap rookie contract.

But the most intriguing prospect of the bunch is Matos. He was recruited to play college basketball at New Mexico, where he played 20 games his freshman year before transferring to USF and moving on to the football team. Before moving to Florida, he had never worn pads or a helmet. Matos practiced as a defensive player at USF, but switched to the offensive line when he came up through the IPP program. Like Clayton, Matos is a giant – 6 feet tall – but one with untouchable leaps who can play on both sides of the ball.