Coverage of the 2017 NFL Draft has focused on the high-profile guys; the next crop of potential franchise quarterbacks, diva receivers and lineman that run like fullbacks and hit like freight trains. Beyond the hype machine, every draft has a pool of sensational players with captivating stories and inspirational journeys that will assert themselves at the next level. They just haven’t been run through the social media moshpit yet.
Here are a few players with interesting story lines that could make some noise on Friday and Saturday.
Amara Darboh, WR, Michigan
The New York Giants are seeking big-body receivers to complement Odell Beckham Jr’s explosiveness. Darboh is physically gifted (6′ 2″ with 32 5/8-inch arms) and excelled while playing in Michigans pro-style passing system.
But more remarkably, Darboh has a life resilience and a toughness that has given him a mental edge on most competitors. The pressure he encounters in a game is nothing compared to the pressures of his early childhood growing up in the midst of a brutal civil war in Sierra Leone. Darboh was orphaned at the age of 2 when both of his parents were killed.
With a group of family members, he bravely walked to Gambia, then Senegal, where they found refuge. In 2001, he moved to Des Moines, Iowa, where he was sponsored and eventually adopted by a family who helped fuel his talents and zest for life.
One thing you know about Darboh is that the kid can handle pressure and thats half the battle in the NFL.
Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
With all of the controversy still surrounding Joe Mixon — his physical confrontation with a female student, when he will be drafted or whether or not he should be drafted at all — we have forgotten that Oklahoma had two NFL-ready running backs tearing it up for the Sooners in 2016.
Mixon gets the headlines because media follows the negative story like a fly on poop, but Samaje Perine is no slouch and has a shot to be a fine NFL ground-pounder.
Dude finished school as Oklahomas all-time leading rusher, breaking the great Billy Simms record, finishing with 4,122 career yards.
Perine has ridiculous strength as his 30 bench reps were the best of all combine running backs. While Leonard Fournette is considered the Ezekiel Elliott of this years Draft, Perine is not far behind. He lacks Fournettes explosiveness but as a projected third or fourth-round pick, the 5-foot-11, 233-pound workhorse could make the name Mixon irrelevant once he hits the NFL scene.
Jonnu Smith, TE, Florida International
Smith had 39 catches for 441 yards and three touchdowns through the first nine games of the 2016 season. He was rated as one of the top tight ends in the country and considered a top tier NFL prospect. He was named to the preseason watch list for the John Mackey Award, given to the nations best tight end, this year and last year.
Then November came and everything changed.
Smith was forced to miss the rest of the season after his girlfriend, who was five months pregnant with his child, poured boiling water on him in a jealous rage.
She was arrested and charged with aggravated battery. Smith suffered burns on his head, neck, back, shoulder and arms and the injuries were another in a lifetime of cutting moments and burning pains.
Smiths father, a tow truck operator in Philadelphia, was killed on the job in a freak accident when Smith was four years old. FIU was his only scholarship offer, but he quickly showed that he belonged at the D-1 level. In 2014, he led all college tight ends with 61 catches, but a torn ACL wrecked his promising 2015 season.
Smith’s burns are healed. The talented TE is looking to rebound from another life-altering situation and hopes to get drafted as a mid-round pick.
Tarik Cohen, RB, North Carolina A&T
Darren Sproles has carved out a long and successful NFL career for himself at just 5-foot-6. Sproles is one of the most remarkable athletes in NFL history. North Carolina A&T running back Tarik Cohen is trying to duplicate Sproles odds-defying NFL groundwork.
The 5′ 6″, 179-pound gridiron terror acquired some brief fame thanks to a YouTube video calling him The Human Joystick.”
Then a video of Cohen catching two footballs while doing a back flip also went viral and the obviousness of his superior and freakish athleticism added some perspective to the three straight seasons of 1,400-plus yards rushing, plus a school-record 59 career touchdowns he accumulated playing at the unheralded HBCU.
Zane Gonzalez, K, Arizona State
Kickers never matter in the NFL until they matter, like in the closing seconds of a playoff game. So Gonzalez, this years top prospect, who set FBS records for most career field goals made (96), will obviously get a good look as an early draft choice.
Statistically, he seems like a keeper. Maybe even a steal depending on how late he goes. Over the past two seasons, 75 percent (126 of 167) of his kickoffs have gone for touchbacks, and as a senior he went 13-for-15 from 40-plus yards.
Dudes with exceptional legs can be essential X-Factors for the right squad. We also know that theres no statistic that can predict how a college phenom at any position translates to the pros.
Look no further than last years draft when for the first time in 11 years, a kicker left the board in the first three rounds, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Florida State’s cant-miss kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round with the No. 59 overall selection. The Buccaneers even traded up to get Aguayo, who set the all-time NCAA D-I record by converting 267 of 276 of his kicks for a 96.73 percent clip. In his rookie season with the Bucs, Aguayo converted just 22 of 31 field goals and is now fighting for his job.
The last kicker to be taken as early as Aguayo was Mike Nugent, a second-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft by the New York Jets , but he was no Morten Andersen either.
Its always a risk with kickers, but maybe Gonzalez pans out.