Today's late round gem is Mississippi State free safety Nickoe Whitley. In early December he underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL and as a result missed the NFL scouting combine and Mississippi State's pro day.
Here is what we do know about Whitley.
40-yard dash: 4.59s (as projected by NFLDraftScout)
Strengths: He was a very productive player at Mississippi State notching 229 tackles and finishing as the active FBS leader in INT's with 15. The fact that he managed this success against the nations top talent in the SEC is sure to impress scouts. He is an incredibly tough player. He tore his ACL in week three and played through injury for the remainder of the regular season although it guaranteed he would not be available for the combine. His willingness to sacrifice his draft status to help his team will have to earn him points with NFL coaches. He is a player with a knack for making big plays in big situations. His final collegiate play was game clinching forced fumble in overtime in a game that ensured Mississippi State's bowl eligibility. He shows excellent strength for a safety and has generally good field awareness. He fills aggressively against the run and reacts quickly to underneath passes. He can be a thunderous hitter and has the potential to be an intimidating presence in the middle of the field. He is a ball-hawking safety with soft hands and is a solid open field tackler. He's played as a single-high safety and as an in-the-box strong safety so he would bring versatility to whoever drafts him.
Weaknesses: His injury history is the biggest red flag. He is still recovering from ACL surgery and also missed time in 2011 after rupturing his achilles. He is tight hipped and does not look very fluid when dropping into coverage. He is generally a solid tackler but he will opt for a big hit over a wrap up tackle and occasionally whiffs as a result. His aggressiveness will cause him to over pursue plays on occasion. He does not always correctly read routes and does not have the make-up speed to compensate. There are some character red flags concerning his ability to control his temper. He draws too many personal fouls and was ejected from a game for throwing a punch at an opponent.
Falcons Fit: With their lack of proven players at safety the Falcons may look to add help early and late in the draft. With Whitley's injury and the uncertainty that surrounds him as a result he is likely to fall to the last round of the draft. His swagger, versatility and big play ability would be great addition to the Falcons if he is able to recover from his knee surgery. He was projected to go as high as the first round before last season but his effectiveness was limited by his torn ACL. Opting to wait until December to have surgery means there are gaps in his scouting reports. He is not a pure center fielder like most Falcons fans seem to desire but he is versatile playmaker. If his medical reports show he is rehabbing well he would be worth the gamble seventh round pick.