NFL Draft Watch: 11 Crystal Ballers

It's apparent who the top players in the country are at this point. But every year there are sleepers; Crystal Ballers, players like Central Washington QB Mike Reilly (pictured left), who fly under the radar, but have a chance to shine at the next level.'s Chris Steuber identifies 11 Crystal Ballers to keep an eye on throughout the draft process.

QB, Mike Reilly, Central Washington

The best senior quarterback in the country is Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, but Central Washington's Mike Reilly isn't far behind him. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Reilly is an efficient signal caller who completed 65.2-percent of his passes this season for 3,706 yards, 37 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Not only can he beat you with his arm, but he makes plays on the run, as he rushed for 415 yards and four touchdowns. It's hard to imagine that Reilly could elevate his stock into the early portion of Day Two (third round). But with a solid offseason, there's no reason to believe that he couldn't be a fourth round selection next April.

Donaldson continues to climb up draft boards with his impressive production.
Western Illinois Athletics

RB, Herb Donaldson, Western Illinois

Although he doesn't possess elite speed, Donaldson is a productive runner who uses his bulky frame (5-foot-10, 222 pounds) to his advantage. He's tough between the tackles and is a workhorse out of the backfield. With one game remaining, he's rushed for 1,549 yards on 284 carries and 20 touchdowns, which included a 41-carry, 243-yard, three touchdown performance this past weekend against Illinois State. The downside to Donaldson is that he doesn't have game breaking speed, the low amount of carries he's received during his career and that he takes too many hard hits. With that said, teams will compare Donaldson to Buffalo Bills 2008 sixth round pick Xavier Omon; Donaldson will receive attention in the sixth round next year from teams.

TE/FB, Mark Hafner, Houston

Even though Hafner is primarily playing tight end for Houston and racking up some impressive numbers - 73 catches for 782 yards and 11 touchdowns - his game translates well to being a fullback at the next level. At 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, Hafner is a tremendously gifted receiver, a strong blocker and has the speed to carry the ball. Hafner's game is reminiscent of former NFL fullback Kevin Turner, who was extremely effective as a receiver out of the backfield in the West Coast offense. Hafner's versatility will increase his chance of being selected in the fourth or fifth round.

WR, Jamarko Simmons, Western Michigan

Simmons is a talented, physical receiver who has great size (6-foot-2, 234 pounds) and soft hands. He provides a quarterback with a big target and uses his body to muscle up defenders over the middle. Two weeks ago against Illinois, Simmons had a career game where he caught 11 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown and with one game left he's totaled 92 receptions for 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns. Simmons is a mid-round prospect with plenty of potential, but he lacks straight-line speed.

OT, Troy Kropog, Tulane

An athletic, dependable left tackle, Kropog has become a complete player and is a major reason for Tulane's successful rushing attack over the last few years. Even though he's suffered some shoulder injuries during his career, he's still very strong and handles defenders easily at the line. At 6-foot-6, 315 pounds, Kropog is coming on strong, and at this point, is a mid-round selection, but with a solid offseason, he could ascend into the third round.

DE, Marcus Benard, Jackson State

With pass rushing defensive ends at a premium in the NFL, a player like Benard, who's 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, won't go unnoticed just because he's from a small school. After spending two years at Grand Rapids Community College, the transition to Division I-AA Jackson State was easy for the player nicknamed "King Kong." Last season, Benard recorded 45 tackles, 13.5 for a loss and nine sacks; this season, he's surpassed those numbers after a monster game against Alabama A&M where he had 14 tackles, five for a loss, 3.5 sacks and a fumble recovery in which he returned for a 12-yard touchdown. Benard, with one game remaining, has 65 tackles, 18 for a loss and 13 sacks. He will likely be a fifth or sixth round selection.

One of the nation's premiere pass rushers, Hunt continues to prove his worth week after week.
Houston Athletics

DE, Phillip Hunt, Houston

One of the nation's most dominant pass rushers that not many people are familiar with, Hunt has posted some incredible numbers over the last two years. As a junior last season, Hunt had 55 tackles, 18 for a loss and 13 sacks. This season, his numbers are down a bit, but still dominant recording 41 tackles, 14.5 for a loss and 10 sacks. At 6-foot-1, 258 pounds, Hunt plays with a high motor and is relentless attacking the quarterback; his ability compares well with Denver Broncos DE Elvis Dumervil. Hunt is a mid-round prospect who has the talent to climb the charts.

DT, Louis Ellis, Shaw

At 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, Ellis is the most intriguing defensive line prospect in the country. The catch is that he plays at the Division II level; starring for powerhouse Shaw. But don't let that fool you, because Ellis is a legitimate prospect. He's extremely quick off the line and plays with great leverage; he's dominated the competition for two years. Ellis emerged on the scene last season, as he finished with 65 tackles, 22.5 for a loss and eight sacks. He replicated his production from a year ago this season, finishing with 64 tackles, 20.5 for a loss and eight sacks. At this time, Ellis is a late round prospect, but if he continues to show his promise during the offseason his stock will skyrocket.

MLB, Frantz Joseph, Florida Atlantic

A former Boston College recruit, Joseph transferred from BC after his freshman year and has shined over the last two seasons at Florida Atlantic. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound tackling machine, is an instinctive linebacker, who diagnoses the action very well and attacks the line of scrimmage. Entering this season, Joseph was coming off of a 131-tackle (12.5 for a loss), two sack junior campaign and is on pace to enjoy that same success this season, as he has 114 tackles, seven for a loss and half a sack with two games remaining. Joseph's stock is continuing to climb and could ultimately soar into the fourth or fifth round.

CB, William Middleton, Furman

An experienced, versatile playmaker, Middleton doesn't have elite size (5-foot-10, 186 pounds), but he's aggressive, fast and makes a lot of plays; he's a stat sheet stuffer. In 11 games this season, Middleton has registered 88 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, five sacks and four interceptions. Middleton has what it takes to be a quality corner at the next level, and if given the opportunity to showcase his talents this offseason, he could be a steal just like Brandon Carr (fifth round pick from Grand Valley State) was last year for the Kansas City Chiefs.

FS, Javorris Jackson, Savannah State

On the field, Jackson's size (6-foot-4, 216 pounds) is the first thing that grabs your attention, but off the field, his story is inspirational. In 2002, Jackson was shot twice in the back while in the driver's seat of his car. He was rushed to the hospital, and after a seven-hour surgery, doctors told him that he was lucky to be alive and that he would never be able to play football again. But after three years of strenuous rehab from the incident, Jackson, whose brother is Atlanta Falcons DT Grady Jackson, attended Vermilion Community College in Ely, Minnesota and began his path back into football. After two successful seasons at VCC, he signed with Savannah State and is now considered an NFL prospect at 28 years old. So far this season, Jackson has 71 tackles and four interceptions with three games remaining. He has a lot of ability, but Jackson is a tweener, and to make an NFL roster at his age, he will have to prove himself on special teams. A team may be willing to use a late round draft pick on Jackson, but at this time he will be a priority free agent.


A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber's features are published across the network and on If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at:

Scout NFL Network Top Stories