NFL Draft Sleepers
Let’s take a look at 6 sleeper prospects at each offensive position.
Quarterback | Richmond
Draft Projection: Round 2
Here me out here. Yes, a prospect with a second-round grade is not necessarily considered a sleeper, but the premium on this year’s quarterback class has rapidly driven Kyle Lauletta up the draft boards. Lauletta is arguably the best small school quarterback in this year’s draft. The 5th year senior was a two-year captain and set Richmond records for all-time passing yards (10,465) and touchdowns in a single season (28). Despite finishing 2017 with a 6-5 record, Lauletta completed 64.9 percent of his passes and threw for 3,737 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.
Raised in a football family, the Richmond standout possesses great football character and acumen. At 6’2, 217 pounds, Lauletta commanded a pro-style offense displaying a quick release and good pocket awareness. Efficient with his reads and progressions, he also has the athleticism to throw on the move when protection breaks down.
The level of competition Lauletta faced may cause concern as he has only one start against an FBS school in his college career. However, during the Senior Bowl, the Richmond standout held his own against top competition. Lauletta completed 8 of 12 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns earning him game’s MVP award.
.@SpiderFootball @kylelauletta showed up big time in Mobile. Never hurts when you get named the Most Outstanding Player at an All-Star game. Sneaky quick release catches your eye #BaldyBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/2BoUM83JRR
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) March 21, 2018
Prior to his meteoric rise, Lauletta was projected as a late day two or early day three prospect. Now he is a lock to be off the boards early in the second round. 26 teams showed up for the former Spiders pro-day back in March. Since then he is has received interest from the Chargers, Cardinals, Dolphins, Vikings, Broncos, and Patriots. NFL Draft Analyst Daniel Jeremiah believes Lauletta could be the heir apparent to Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Additional QB Sleepers:
- Mike White, Western Kentucky (6’5, 224 lbs) Draft Projection: Rounds 3-4
- Luke Falk, Washington St. (6’4, 215 lbs) Draft Projection: Rounds 2-3
- Riley Ferguson, Memphis (6’3, 212 lbs) Draft Projection: Rounds 4-5
Running Back | Oregon
Draft Projection: Round 3-4
This year’s running back class is again stacked with talent. And one player that could be a mid-round steal is Oregon’s, Royce Freeman. As the all-time leading rusher at Oregon (5,621 yards), Freeman averaged 5.9 yards per carry and 60 rushing touchdowns during his college career.
At 5’11, 234 pounds, the former duck possesses a good combination of size and strength. A natural runner showing patience and field vision, Freeman is capable of penetrating between the tackles with a solid burst. Even with an injury-filled senior season, he still ran for 1,475 yards and 16 scores. As a four year starter, the Oregon alum was efficient running for over 1,000 yards in three of his four seasons. At the combine, Freeman posted a 4.54 40-yard-dash, a 34-inch vertical and the third fastest three-cone drill (6.9 sec).
Freeman needs to prove he can handle greater receiving duties as he only caught 80 passes in four years. Additionally, his pass protection will need to improve at the next level. Injuries hampered Freeman’s running ability during his junior year and some believe he never regained the explosiveness he had as a sophomore. He could earn a starting role if his skills as a three-back can be perfected. Freeman’s potential at the next level has garnered high expectations. CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso compares the twenty-two-year-old back, to Chicago Bears RB Jordan Howard. While Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon believes that Freeman could become the next Kareem Hunt or Alvin Kamara. The 49ers and Lions and Eagles have expressed interest in the young running back
Additional RB Sleepers:
- John Kelly, Tennessee (5’9, 205 lbs) Draft Projection: Rounds 4-5
- Mark Walton, Miami (5’10, 188 lbs) Draft Projection: Rounds 3-4
Wide Receiver | Penn State
Draft Projection: Round 3-4
The 2018 NFL Draft does not possess a high amount of elite talent at the wide receiver position. However, teams can still find contributing weapons to add to an offense in the mid to late rounds. Penn State wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton is one of those players.
A four-year starter for the Nittany Lions, Hamilton’s production was overshadowed by star running back Saquon Barkley. However, he was always a reliable piece to Penn State’s offense. Hamilton finished his college career as Penn State’s all-time leading receiver with 214 receptions for 2842 yards. At 6’1, 205 lbs, the twenty-three-year-old is a crafty route runner. He possesses quickness off the line of scrimmage and works himself into space utilizing good release moves. NFL Media’s Steve Smith believes that Hamilton is the best route runner of any receiver in this year’s draft.
Daesean Hamilton's route running is superb. pic.twitter.com/DQOeBv5vT9
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) April 3, 2018
Highly productive since his freshman year, Hamilton hauled in 73 percent of his catches over his college career. The Penn State alum finished his senior season with 53 receptions for 857 yards and 9 touchdowns. He continued to improve his draft stock during Senior Bowl week and gained praise from NFL Draft Analyst Mike Mayock. On top of his efficient playmaking, Hamilton is a team leader. His former head coach James Franklin said: “Whats great about Daesean is its always team first for him.”
At the next level, the young wideout is projected strictly as a possession target. He does not have the speed and burst to create separation as a vertical threat. Regardless, he will be a welcomed asset for any offense in the NFL. ESPN’s Todd McShay projected Hamilton to be taken by The Cowboys in the third-round with the 81st overall pick.
Additional WR Sleepers:
- Richie James: Middle Tennesse State (5’9, 178 lbs) Draft Projection: Round 4-5
- Trey Quinn: SMU (6’0, 212 lbs) Draft Projection: Round 4-5
- Daurice Fountain: (6’2, 210 lbs) Draft Projection: 5-6
Tight End | Central Michigan
Draft Projection: Round 4-5
Much like the wide receivers, this draft class of tight ends is not top-heavy with talent. But there will be some considerable value options that can be found on the second and third day.
Tyler Conklin signed with North Western University in Michigan to play basketball. After one season, he decided to transfer elsewhere to pursue football. Conklin became the starting tight end for Central Michigan in 2016 and didn’t disappoint. He finished with 42 receptions for 560 yards and six scores. At 6’3 254 lbs, the former Chippewa shows good field awareness in the passing game and is a solid blocker. Deceptively fast off the line of scrimmage he has natural hands and is capable of making contested catches.
Conklin’s numbers fell a bit as a senior after suffering a Jones fracture that caused him five games of 2017. Still, he hauled in 35 receptions for 504 yards and five touchdowns. A regional scout for an NFC team believes that injury showed limited value in the evaluation of the young tight end. But at the Senior Bowl and again at the combine, Conklin proved that he is back to full health. He didn’t run the fastest 40 time in Indianapolis but was still a top performer in every other category.
The former Chippewa doesn’t have the speed to stretch the field. While Conklin’s blocking is a huge plus for interested teams, his hand usage will need improvement at the next level. He does not possess the athleticism to be a full-time pass-catching tight end. But will be reliable in short yardage situations to move the sticks. Conklin may be one of the biggest sleepers with the most upside of any prospect. Draftwire Luke Easterling deems Conklin as the most underrated TE in this years draft class.
Additional TE Sleepers:
- Dalton Schultz: Stanford (6’6, 242 lbs) Draft Projection: Round 3-4
- Troy Fumagalli: Wisconsin (6’6, 248 lbs) Draft Projection: Round 5-6
- Ryan Izzo: Florida State (6’5, 250 lbs) Draft Projection: Round 5-6
Offensive Tackle | Humboldt State University
Draft Projection: Round 4-5
It has been 27 years since Humboldt State had a player selected in the NFL Draft. That streak will likely come to an end when Alex Cappa hears his name called next weekend in Dallas.
A dominant force for the Lumberjacks, Cappa never missed a start in 43 career games. A first-team Division II All- American, he was named GNAC Offensive Lineman of the Year four seasons running. At 6’5 305 lbs, he has adequate size, combined with lateral quickness and flexibility for the tackle position. Cappa brings attitude and toughness to his game constantly finishing on every snap. He displays good fundamentals as well as efficient handwork at the point of attack. The former Lumberjack led an offensive line that surrendered 1.73 sacks per game, the lowest amount in the conference.
Cappa continued to raise eyebrows during Senior Bowl practices. Though dominant against lower competition, he didn’t look out of place against some of the top players in the country. Matt Miller from Bleacher Report deemed Cappa one of the “biggest moneymakers” during Senior Bowl practices. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock praised the young lineman saying “This guy has the nastiest tape I’ve ever seen.” Cappa showed versatility during the Senior Bowl game playing left tackle and both guard positions.
— Charley Casserly (@CharleyCasserly) March 2, 2018
Cappa was unable to replicate his Senior Bowl hype at the NFL Combine. While he had his moments during the workout period, he tested in the fifth percentile among offensive lineman. Cappa is a better run blocker than pass protector and will need to refine his protection skills at the next level. He could kick inside and be used as a guard if needed, however, coaches will likely view him as a right tackle in the pros. The Minnesota Vikings brought in the twenty-two-year-old lineman for a private workout earlier this month.
Additional OT Sleepers:
- Brandon Parker: North Carolina A&T (6’7, 314 lbs) Draft Projection: Round 4-5
- Desmond Harrison: West Georgia (6’6, 288 lbs) Draft Projection: Round 5-6
- Jamarco Jones: Ohio State (6’5, 310 lbs) Draft Projection: 3-4
Offensive Guard | Center-Michigan State
Draft Projection: Round 6-7
Michigan State has had at least one player taken in the NFL draft each year dating back to 1967. Spartans guard Brian Allen is looking to be the next player on that illustrious list.
Considered one of the best centers coming into 2017, Allen started all 13 games last year for the Spartans. Though versatility is something the young lineman has never lacked during his college career. Allen has played every interior line position at some point going back to his red-shirt year as a freshman. A second-team All-Big Ten pick in 2017, the former Spartan is physical at the point of attack. A former high-school championship wrestler, Allen beats his opponents with a combination of power and leverage.
An NFC area scout called Allen the “Bully of the Big Ten” because of his tough mentality he brings to every game. The twenty-two-year-old possesses solid instincts in pass protection and maintains balance through his blocks. He does a nice job pulling from the center position and quickly getting up to the next level. Pro Football Focus awarded Allen with an 86.5 overall grade for his 2017 performance.
MSU C Brian Allen had the fifth-highest grade among all 2018 NFL Draft centers a season ago pic.twitter.com/jEJyEKWFG0
— PFF College (@PFF_College) March 28, 2018
During the East/West Shrine game practice week, Allen showed good fundamentals and football IQ. As the only Spartan invited to the NFL Combine, Allen ranked 8th among offensive lineman in bench press drills (27 reps). He added a 5.34 forty-yard-dash, a 7.81 three-cone drill and a 26.5 vertical jump.
Allen is not the ideal size for NFL center at the next level. At 6’1, 300 lbs he is slow off the snap and doesn’t have the arm-length to gain control on contact. Needs improvement with his foot quickness and athleticism and is best suited for a power run scheme. If not for physical limitations, the former Spartan would be in the conversation for an easy Day 2 selection. One thing that is undeniable is Allen plays with a character and attitude that all teams covet. He would be a quality selection as a back-up in the late rounds of the draft.
Additional OG/C Sleepers:
- Tony Adams: NC State (6’2, 322 lbs) Draft projection: Round 5
- Colby Gossett: Appalachian State (6’5, 311 lbs) Draft Projection: Round 4-5
Thanks for Reading
Jake has been covering sports for the past 10 years. He has written and contributed to several sports blogs and podcasts, centralized around the NFL and the NFL Draft. Just like anyone else, Jake has always been a fan first and foremost. Sports is his passion and he enjoys creating appealing content that readers can enjoy.