2016 NFL Draft Sleepers
For an NFL team to put themselves in contention for a Super Bowl championship they have to unearth a handful of late round or undrafted players who eventually become starters. These unheralded draft selections come at a reduced cost on the salary cap which allows for an NFL franchise to use the savings and lock up current stars to long term contracts.
A couple of our sleepers selection from last year went on to have outstanding rookie seasons, Tyler Lockett, Preston Smith, Zach Vigil, look to have bright futures ahead of themselves. Players such as Zach Vigil went undrafted, yet he was able to make it onto the roster and record three starts last season for the Miami Dolphins.
The teams that win consistently and continue to develop well-built and deep rosters are the teams that are able to select players in the later rounds that other teams miss. Most of these players are overlooked because they lack some physical quality such as being too small, not fast enough or they don't have the one physical trait that will separate themselves from the other players in their own position group. Most players who are drafted in the later rounds who go on to have successful pro careers were dominant college players.
The ability to find valuable and consistent performers in the later rounds of the NFL Draft can be the reason a team goes from an underperforming team who misses the playoffs, to a championship caliber franchise. The Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers have proven that you can still reach the Super Bowl with stars who came from the later rounds or undrafted ranks.
Below is a short profile on some players who haven't gotten the publicity that they deserve, but could turn out to be the hidden gems that your favorite franchise needs to help them win a Super Bowl.
Sterling Shepard (WR, Oklahoma):
At 5'10” and 194 pounds, Shepard isn't the biggest or fastest wide receiver on the field. It's his quickness and sudden changes in direction or coming back to the football that leave defensive backs scratching their heads.
The double move and his ability to run curl and slant routes in addition to his athleticism and skill set makes Shepard an ideal slot wide receiver in the NFL. He has excellent awareness of both the yardage needed for a first down and the sidelines, making sure to stay inbounds and follow through with the catch.
Shepard has the best chance at mirroring the production and impact on his next team as Tyler Lockett had on the Seattle Seahawks last season. With Shepard's ability to be a starting slot wide receiver next season, he is projected to have 85 receptions for 1,053 yards next season.
Shepard is a first round caliber prospect, but his lack of size and stature will scare off a few teams. Shepard could fall all the way to the third round, even so he will likely make a major impact for one lucky NFL franchise next season.
Daniel Braverman (WR, Western Michigan):
In some shocking news, Daniel Braverman decided to forego his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft. Braverman is one of the better slot wide receiver prospects in this year's draft class.
A smaller wideout, Braverman is listed at 5'10” and 177 pounds and uses his short area quickness and elite route running to gain separation from defenders. Braverman's reliability to go across the middle and become an open target helped sustain drives and keep the offense on the field.
Last season he had a total of 39.9 percent of the receiving market share, the third highest rate in this year's draft class.
Braverman will likely drop down a few draft boards due to his weight being less than ideal. What he lacks in size and bulk, he makes up for it with precise route running and solid hands.
Teams such as the Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals have brought Braverman in for a visit. He will most likely by a Day-3 draft pick, but he has the ability to make an immediate impact next season.
David Morgan (TE, UTSA):
Coming from a program in its infant stages (UTSA just started their football program five years ago and they only recently joined the FBS two years ago) Morgan was the shining star for the upstart program in 2015, winning second-team All-Conference USA.
He was one of the leading receiving tight ends in the country last season with 45 receptions for 566 yards and five touchdowns. 60 percent of Morgan's receptions resulted in a first down, putting him in the top ten amongst draft-eligible tight ends.
A sure-handed receiver, Morgan had only three dropped passes over the past two seasons. In addition to his excellent catching abilities he is a stout and physical blocker at the point of attack. Most tight ends that come from college are deficient in their blocking technique and abilities. Not Morgan. He can be a three down player if called upon next season.
The versatility, production and athletic ability boxes are all checked off in Morgan's scouting report. NFL teams should not underrate Morgan's ability to be an instant impact performer at the next level. Likely a late round selection, Morgan could be a major hidden gem for one tight end needy team this season.
Javon Hargrave (DT, South Carolina State):
Another small-school prospect who despite playing at a lower division was almost unstoppable. Javon Hargrave cast aside anyone who stepped in his path and made sure to make an impact on almost every defensive snap the past two seasons.
In 45 career games, Hargrave recorded 147.5 tackles, an average of 3.3 tackles per game, tied for first amongst draft-eligible defensive tackles. He contributed 63 tackles for loss, 37 sacks, nine forced fumbles, and two pass break ups.
He amassed a total of 129 impact plays throughout his college career, an average of 2.9 impact plays per game, the highest career total and average amongst all defensive tackles in this year's draft class.
Hargrave is able to slip his way into opponent's backfield using his speed and quickness off the line of scrimmage to blow past blockers. He displayed the strength to hold his ground and throw aside blockers with ease as he put pressure on opposing ball carriers.
NFL teams will question whether Hargrave can dominate at the next level like he did against FCS level competition. These same questions were asked of Jared Allen, Robert Mathis, and John Randle, all players who showed to be excellent pass rushers and dominate lower level competition. Each of these players were selected in the later rounds of the NFL Draft, or in Randle's case, passed by all together.
Hargrave stock has begun to climb in recent weeks with his performance at the NFL Combine and at his Pro Day. Look for teams such as the Green Bay Packers or Baltimore Ravens as possible landing spots for Hargrave.
Jeremy Cash (SS, Duke):
One of the top ten overall ranked players in this year's draft class. Cash is an extremely versatile and talented safety prospect who can line up almost anywhere on the football field. Cash moves around the field with ease and will line up all over the field at every defensive position, from defensive tackle to outside linebacker.
While he might lack the hair and maybe a little of the flair, Cash's ability to line up at multiple positions and seemingly always be around the football is reminiscent of a young Troy Polamalu. On any given play, Cash can line up anywhere on the football field, coming in on a delayed blitz or shutting down an opponent's top offensive target.
It's his ability to play in the box and shut down an opponent's rushing attack that separate Cash from your typical ball-hawking safety prospects.
He amassed a total of 106 impact plays, an average of 2.4 impact plays per game. Cash has the highest impact play average amongst draft-eligible safeties.
While he might not have the top end speed like an Earl Thomas or a Tyrann Mathieu, Cash's ability to play in the box and drop into coverage makes him one of the most complete safety prospects to come through the ranks in a long time.
A few national draft reports suggest Cash might drop all the way to the third round. Teams are worried about his lack of top end speed. One lucky defensive coordinator will quickly see that Cash has the makings of a future Pro Bowler and someone who could be a quality long term starter in the NFL.
Jatavis Brown (OLB, Akron):
Brown is an undersized outside linebacker who lacks the height, weight and speed measurements that most teams are looking for in their next starting linebacker. What Brown lacks in measurables, he more than makes up for in production and the consistent ability to be a playmaker on defense.
Even though Brown earned MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors, Brown was not invited to the NFL Combine. He started all 12 games in 2015 and led the team in tackles (89), TFL (20) and sacks (12). He is an absolute beast when he steps on the football field and is capable of defending the entire field.
Brown's speed and quickness jump off the tape when watching him play. He can knife through traffic and lay a thundering hit on a ball carrier. He broke the school record for tackles for loss (41.5) and sacks (18), both previously held by former NFL All-Pro, Jason Taylor.
His play on the field suggests that he should be a second round selection. In all likelihood, he could drop all the way to the fifth or sixth round.
Other Sleeper Prospects
Jake Rudock (QB, Michigan)
Travis Greene (RB, Bowling Green)
Mike Thomas (WR, Southern Mississippi)
Scooby Wright III (ILB, Arizona)
Ejiro Ederaine (OLB, Fresno State)
DeAndre Houston-Carson (FS, William and Mary)
Willie Henry (DT, Michigan)
James Cowser (DE, Southern Utah)
Matt Judon (DE, Grand Valley State)
Mike Hilton (CB, Mississippi)