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    Richner: Draft Sleepers

    by Matt Richner, NFL Draft Expert
    Last Updated: 2/25/2016 7:35 PM ET
    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 actually pretty dominant players in college.

    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 and New England Patriots proved once again that having a roster with a mixture of late round and undrafted free agents doesn't mean you cannot be successful in the NFL. Malcom Butler, the Super Bowl hero went undrafted, but still found himself making one of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history.

    Below is a short profile on some players who haven't gotten the publicity that they should, but could turn out to be the hidden gems that your favorite franchise needs to help them win a Super Bowl

    Titus Davis (WR, Central Michigan): With the second highest wide receiver score in this draft class at 14.91, Davis has been a consistent playmaker through his college career. He finished his career with 204 receptions for 3,700 yards, an 18.1 YPC average, and 37 TD's. He recorded 148 first downs, giving him a first down rate of 73 percent.

    Davis is a playmaker who has repeatedly shown the ability to take over a game and become a scoring machine. I know a number of coaches who were impressed with Davis' game speed and ability to get in and out of his breaks. He likely won't be a first or second day pick, but give him some time and a decent quarterback and Davis will become a starting caliber wide receiver in the NFL.

    Kasen Williams (WR, Washington): In his first couple of seasons at the University of Washington, Williams was proving why he was one of the nation's top recruits. At 6'3” and 217 pounds, Williams is a big, physical wideout who excels in run blocking and shedding would be tacklers. A horrific leg injury sustained halfway through his junior season halted his progress. He didn't return to his old form during his senior season, some of that can be attributed to erratic play by the starting quarterback.

    Williams still finished school ranked in their top five in receptions, and he would have set numerous other school single season and career marks if he hadn't sustained his injury. While he might not be selected until the final rounds or become a priority free agent, coaches will be enamored with his ability to run block and be a go to target in the red zone. Williams will have to prove once and for all that he is completely healthy. If so, one organization might have picked a solid starter and a player who can be an instant contributor.

    MyCole Pruitt (TE, Southern Illinois): In terms of just pure statistical grading Pruitt outperforms almost every other tight end in this class. Pruitt finished his career with 221 receptions, for 2,601 yards, and 25 touchdown receptions. A two-time FCS All-American, Pruitt dominated the lower division, exactly what a NFL caliber prospect should do.

    As a run blocker, Pruitt has a ways to go to be ready for the challenges of blocking a linebacker coming off the edge. In terms of pass catching, Pruitt is capable of stepping in and becoming a target and a secondary option. A smart player, he understands where the soft areas are in zone coverage and does a good job at making himself available to the quarterback. Most likely a day three selection, Pruitt could become one the statistical leaders amongst rookie tight ends if he finds the right system.

    Preston Smith (DE, Mississippi State): Blessed with prototypical size and speed at 6'5” and 271 pounds for the traditional 4-3 defensive end scheme. Smith has the long arms and strength that makes some scouts drool over his abilities.

    In terms of statistical production, Smith just barley makes it over the bar, with 103.5 tackles, 27 TFL, 16 sacks, 7 PB, 5 FF, 2 INT, and 2 blocked kicks. Smith had a total of 63 impact plays, an average of 1.34 impact plays per game.

    He won't get pushed off his spot, showing the strength to hold his edge and not allow runners get to the outside. He has the speed along with the strength to slide inside and rush from the interior if called upon.

    Smith isn't the most polished pass rusher, but he has the tools and measurables that suggest he could develop into a quality starting defensive end. Likely a third round selection, look for Smith to take a season or two to develop before becoming a starter.

    Max Valles (OLB, Virginia): Max Valles is an energetic youngster who is more raw than refined, but has shown already that he is a force to be reckoned with. With only 22 games played, the redshirt sophomore decided to declare for the NFL Draft even though he lacks technique and the refined skill set as an outside linebacker.

    What makes Valles such an intriguing prospect is at 6'5” and 251 pounds he has the long lean frame similar to an Aldon Smith, who like Valles, came out as a redshirt sophomore.

    Valles had 55 tackles, 18 TFL, 12 sacks, 12 PB, 4 FF, and 1 INT for his career. His pass breakup total is tied for second highest in this draft class amongst all outside linebackers. Valles had a total of 47 impact plays, an average of 2.14 impact plays per game, second highest amongst all outside linebackers.

    He is a raw talent who might need a season or two to grow and develop into the prospect that most scouts believe he can be. Valles is probably not a first or second day selection, but a team who is willing to put in the time and development with him could get themselves the steal of the draft.

    Zach Vigil (Utah State): Another highly productive linebacker who is capable of making plays all over the field, but gets knocked because he didn't measure well at the combine. Sounds like someone else (Chris Borland) who fit the same mold. Vigil was the heart and soul of a tough, physical, punishing defensive unit for Utah State.

    At 6'2” and 240 pounds, Vigil is a tackling machine, with a total of 276 tackles, which ranks him fifth compared to other inside linebackers in this class. Vigil had 42.5 TFL, 16.5 sacks, 6 PB, 5 FF, 2 INT and 1 blocked kick. He had the highest total impact plays (75) and impact plays per game average (1.63) amongst all draft eligible inside linebackers in this draft class.

    His ability to rush the quarterback and successfully take them down along with his strength of dropping into coverage, makes him a three down linebacker. He might not be the fastest and certain techniques need to be refined but he is a player who can be a playmaker and a leader for his team.

    Look for Vigil to be a late day three selection, and a player who will likely succeed initially on special teams as he works his way up the depth chart.

    Troy Hill (CB, Oregon): Teammate Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has garnered much of the attention from the media leading up to the draft. In talking with a handful of head coaches around the league, Hill has been the player who has jumped off the tape more than any other Oregon prospect this year. A payer who shows an elite quickness and ability to break on the ball that is rarely seen in a college corner.

    One of the toughest targets not only on his own team but in college football, Hill led the FBS in pass breakups last season (18).

    Hill has run into some off-field trouble and has been suspended from the team, which has made teams wary of his ability to stay on the straight and narrow. He plays with an aggressive nature that toes the line, and has been known to battle with opponents after the whistle.

    Similar to a Brent Grimes, Hill will have to walk the line between an ultra-aggressive corner and someone who won't cross the line or become a distraction for his team. He is capable of shutting down opponent's top target, Hill averaged 1.24 impact plays per game during his college career.

    His game tape and statistical production suggest that Hill is a second or third round caliber corner. His off-field behavior will drop him a few rounds. If a team can keep him out of trouble, they might have found the next great nickel corner in the draft.

    Other Sleeper Prospects
    Karlos Williams (RB, Florida State)
    Matt Miller (WR, Boise State)
    Jake Kumerow (WR, Wisconsin-Whitewater)
    Andrew Gallik (OC, Boston College)
    Rakeem Nunez-Roches (DT, Southern Mississippi)
    Davis Tull (DE, Chattanooga)
    Marcus Rush (DE, Michigan State)
    James Sample (FS, Louisville)
    Tra'Mayne Bondurant (SS, Arizona)
    Ben Heeney (ILB, Kansas)

    Most of these players are going to be mid to late round draft selections, a few could even slide out of the draft all together. The successful teams can overlook a player who is a half inch too short or a tenth of a second too slow in his forty-time. The best indicator of future success is past performance. All of these players have shown the consistent ability to be productive over an extended period of time during their college careers.

    They might not steal the headlines following the draft, but in time, a few late round draft picks and priority free agents will eventually become starters and key contributors across the NFL.
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