By Justis Mosqueda
With the draft cycle just about ready to kick into overdrive with college football beginning next month, preliminary grades for incoming seniors have started to surface. Even non-draft writers, such as Fox Sports’ Stewart Mandel are getting in on the action this year.
With almost a summer’s worth of film study finished, one begins to develop opinions that may be contrarian, for better or for worse, on the relative scale of the consensus media grades currently being shelled out. When studying these lists, three senior prospects seem to be the most disproportionately undervalued than others.
Zach Hodges, DE, Harvard #99
It seems as though every season there’s a singular Ivy League prospect that everyone pays attention to, and this year is no different. What makes Hodges different, though, is his pure athleticism. Since his sophomore season with the Crimson, he’s been on numerous All-American lists. Returning as the Ivy League’s Defensive Player of the Year and sack leader, which he shared with 2014 fifth rounder Carauan Reid in 2013, Hodges is poised to go out with a bang in his final season. His ability can’t be matched at his level of competition, and his teammates said he “scared the s*** out of everyone”, even as a freshman. It would be to no one’s surprise if Hodges had a meteoric rise like former Southern Mississippi player Jamie Collins did, as they have similar bodies and styles.
Hau’oli Kikaha, DE, Washington #8
Likely a draftable player had he declared in 2014, Kikaha, who played under the last name of Jamora until 2013, is incredibly talented, but has one major question. With two reconstructive knee surgeries on his resume, it seems likely that the reason he returned to school for a final season was to prove that his health could stay consistent for back-to-back seasons, improving his draft stock. Kikaha was a former judo champion, and the background shows up in hand fights with Pac-12 offensive linemen. Named to the Bednarik Award watch list, he’s no secret, only and undervalued prospect in a class underwhelmed by top-tier senior pass-rushers. With 13 sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss in 2013, Kikaha is on the right track to cementing his name in Washington’s record books in 2014.
Wes Saxton, TE, South Alabama #13
The returning leader in tight end receptions in the FBS is also second in returning receiving yards, only behind Michigan’s Devin Funchess. More of a move player than throwback tight end, Saxton is likely to repeat similar numbers in 2014, or improve them, as South Alabama’s quarterback play will take a talent jump with Brandon Bridge taking over for the Jaguars. With only one year of major production out of the Sun Belt Conference, it’s understandable why he’s not a staple in the class’ conversation, but he will be by the end of the season. Saxton originally played at Itawamba Community College, where he turned down Southeastern Conference offers from Arkansas, Mississippi, and Mississippi State to play for South Alabama. Saxton is also on the Mackey Award watch list, the award for the most outstanding collegiate tight end.