NFL teams usually end up making three kinds of selections during the NFL Draft (and the free agency signing period immediately following the draft).

There’s picks that are expected to be day-one starters. Then there are picks that are expected to be future starters or depth. And then there are picks that could be hidden gems. These are usually the late round draft picks and undrafted free agents.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper sees four rookies with mid-state ties as underrated pick-ups.

Here’s a look at those four players and what Kiper had to say about each.

Jared Pinkney — Tight End — Vanderbilt

Kiper’s comments about Pinkney, who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Atlanta Falcons, were particularly interesting.

The highly respected NFL Draft analyst essentially blamed Vanderbilt for Pinkney going undrafted.

“He’s an interesting guy, I thought he’d be a second or third round pick. There were games no one ever looked at Jared Pinkney”, said Kiper on ESPN’s First Draft podcast. 

“How can you not get Jared Pinkney the ball. The guy goes back for his senior year….and no one is looking for him…how can that happen at Vanderbilt? He went from a third round pick to undrafted.”

Ouch.

Pinkney had 50 receptions for 774 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior in 2018.

But in 2019, Pinkney had only 20 receptions for 233 yards and two touchdowns.

Pinkney’s 2018 numbers would’ve been right up there with the top tight ends in the 2020 NFL Draft.

The drop in production, combined with a slow 40 time (4.96), led to Pinkney going undrafted.

Jauan Jennings — WR — Tennessee

Jennings was selected in the seventh round by the San Francisco 49ers, which likely means he’ll have to fight to make the 53 man roster.

But Kiper is betting that Jennings, a Murfreesboro native, will stick with the 49ers.

Kiper pointed out Jennings’ ability to make contested catches as one of the reasons he should make San Francisco’s roster. He also said he thinks Jennings is “quicker than he is fast”, noting that the former Vol plays fast, despite his lackluster 40 time (4.72).

Another interesting thing that Kiper pointed out about Jennings is his “great character”. There seemed to be a narrative that Jennings fell in the draft because of off-the-field concerns, despite the praise he consistently received from UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt last year.

Kiper, however, clearly doesn’t buy into that narrative.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn — RB — Vanderbilt

Kiper continued on his tirade against Vanderbilt when talking about Vaughn, who was drafted in the third round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Ke’Shawn Vaughn didn’t get any help. That Vanderbilt offense was just not getting it done”, said Kiper.

“His stats were down from two years ago, but that had nothing to do with him. That had to do with the talent around Ke’Shawn Vaughn”.

Vaughn rushed for 1,244 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018. He rushed for 1,028 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019 (still really good numbers).

As for Vaughn’s potential in the NFL?

Kiper says that the former Vanderbilt running back runs hard and has enough “wiggle and change in direction” to be successful in the NFL.

Brycen Hopkins — TE — Purdue

Hopkins, a Nashville native who attended Ensworth, was selected in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Rams.

Kiper sees big play potential with Hopkins, assuming he can eliminate his occasional issues with drops.

“If he can stretch the deep middle, he’s a big target, he’s athletic, he’s got length, but he drops some catchable balls….He has to eliminate the drops and be more consistent”

Hopkins caught 61 passes for 830 yards and seven touchdowns as a redshirt senior at Purdue in 2019. He’ll battle with Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett for playing time in Los Angeles.

Featured image via Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports/Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports


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