With just over a month to go before the draft, all of the show case events have been completed. The Senior Bowl has come and gone, as has the Combine. Most players have also completed their pro day. Players will still meet with teams, and there is a lot of work left to do on the team side of things. Players like Myles Garrett and Solomon Thomas have cemented their status as elite prospects, but most players carry a lot of uncertainty into the draft weekend about what round they may end up in. Here is a look at a few sleepers that are projected all over the board, but could potentially surprise and outplay their draft position in the NFL.
Boise State RB Jeremy McNichols hopes to continue the recent success of Boise State backs in the NFL. Doug Martin and Jay Ajayi both claimed starting roles as rookies, and McNichols has the talent to do the same. He has a short, but compact frame (5'9 214) and has proven to carry a heavy workload, with over 600 touches and 50 touchdowns on offense. He also has impressive quickness and can string together multiple moves to make defenders miss. McNichols has proven to be a standout receiver, and also has experience on special teams. He's not going to overpower or run right by defenders, but his all around ability gives him a chance to be a very productive pro. He isn't getting as much press as many other backs in the draft, but he is a player that could play right away in the NFL despite not being selected until the third or fourth round.
LSU WR Malachi Dupre was one of the top recruits in the nation when he chose to become a Tiger. He has the required size, athleticism, and speed traits to be a playmaker in the NFL. At 6'2 196, he has good length and shows impressive leaping ability and body control to go up and get the football. While not a burner, he has enough speed to get downfield while also being able to make some plays with the ball in his hands. The big problem for Dupre was the lack of talent at the quarterback position during his college career. The Tigers struggled mightily at QB, and it limited Dupre's ability to produce and develop. Dupre will need some time to refine his skills, but as a likely third day pick, he has the potential to outplay guys selected on the first two days of the draft.
Texas AM has had a lot of success getting their offensive linemen to the next level in recent years. Jermaine Eluemunor may not grade out as highly as Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews, or Germain Ifedi, he has plenty of natural ability and potential at the next level. Eluemunor grew up in England and came to the States as a teenager. He's still learning the game as he spent two years at a junior college and only started for one year at AM. His natural strength jumps out at you, and he can be overpowering at the point of attack. He shows good short area mobility for a 330lber, and held his own at guard and right tackle. In the right situation, his standout physical ability could be refined and become a starting NFL offensive linemen. He projects better at guard because of his lack of length, but there is a lot of potential to work with.
USC NT Stevie Tu'ikolovatu was a revelation for the Trojans last year. He came over from Utah as a grad transfer and was immediately installed as the starter. He isn't flashy and isn't going to make a lot of big plays, but he can definitely impact the running game. His 6'1 330lb frame is hard to move off the ball. His natural leverage and strength allow him to take on blockers and control the line of scrimmage. Tu'ikolovatu has the quickess to collapse the pocket at times, but his bread and butter is definitely in gap control in the middle. With offenses spreading defenses out and going uptempo, it limits the need for classic nose tackles in a sense. For teams looking to upgrade their run defense, Tu'ikolovatu would be a smart third day selection.
Florida Atlantic DE Trey Hendrickson has gotten lost in a deep edge rushing class, despite 23 sacks the past two years. He is built well at 6'4 265lbs, and is relentless off the edge. He is a good athlete, who plays with quickness and balance. He gives tackles fits because he doesn't give up and can wear them down with his ability to spin and change direction. While not overpowering, he does play the run well. Hendrickson has been classified as more of a motor guy than an athlete, but he was impressive at the combine, running a 4.65 40 and turning in a 4.20 shuttle time, which was second overall at the position. He's not going to be selected until the draft's third day, but his combination of aggressiveness, determination and underrated physical tools give him the ability to start one day in the NFL.
Lindenwood ILB Connor Harris doesn't jump out at you when you first see him. He's stocky, but short at 5'11 240lbs. Once you watch some plays though, you see him jump out. He's a throwback middle linebacker. He a tackling machine from his middle linebacker spot, doing whatever it takes to bring down the ball carrier. Harris reads the action quickly and wastes no time attacking the man with the ball. He's at his best playing downhill and is not afraid to take on much bigger blockers to make the play. Teams are coveting linebackers that play in space and cover a lot of ground, but there is still a role for linebackers with instincts and leadership ability in today's NFL. His floor could be that of a special teams standout, but don't be surprised if Harris becomes a starter on defense one day.
Central Florida CB Shaquill Griffin has a tremendous package of natural tools in the secondary that allow him to standout as a cover man. He has good size at 6' 195, and turned in one of the best 40 times at the combine with a 4.38 40. It's his aggressiveness that stands out most on the field though. He can jam receivers at the line, but also has the fluidity to stick with them throughout the route. He's not afraid to get physical in coverage, and is also willing to attack a ball carrier in run support. He also shows the ability to locate the ball in the air and make plays on it. Griffin does struggle when asked to play off his man, so there may be concerns about what type of defense he fits into. In the right situation, his tools and cover skills could allow him to outplay many guys selected before him.
Playing for Alabama and being an All American in 2015 do not tend to go along with the term sleeper, but it does apply to Eddie Jackson. A broken leg during the season ended his college season, and he's fallen off the radar as a result. He was never the type of player that jumped out at you physically, but he was always around the ball. Jackson began his career as a corner, before moving to safety. The time spent at corner shows up as a safety. He has the range and ball skills to play in deep coverage. His lack of overall size limits him a bit in run defense, but he is willing to come up when needed. Jackson also has experience as a return man, giving him some versatility to earn a roster spot initially while he proves his worth as a defender.