Predicting draft selections is incredibly tough, but predicting sleepers to breakout can be a bit easier. I take a look at ten players that are projected to go later in the round that could make an instant impact wherever they are drafted. Some of these names have a chance to go higher as we are just a few months away from the draft, and of course the combine and other scenarios can change things. Take a look at who I believe will be a steal in the later portion of the early rounds.
Lineups Analysis: Playing on a team that won a national championship, it is hard to see him on a list of underrated players. However, Christian Wilkins play on the field is only scratching the surface of what he could bring to an NFL franchise. To me the most amazing thing is that he spent last summer as a substitute teacher in a public-school district near the Clemson campus. According to the National Football Foundation, he has given his time to charities like Habitat for Humanity and the Colleges Against Cancer Relay for Life.
Wilkins recently gave a speech, in which he said the best kind of people are the ones “who do things right in the community, who serve others, who just have the total package.” His coach, Sweeney also agrees that Wilkins has extremely high character. He told NFL.com that “He’s either going to be the president, or he’s going to know him,” On the field, he was PFF second highest graded interior defensive linemen behind Quinnen Williams. That shows he plays with a very consistent motor. In 2018, he also had 40 pressures on 286 pass rushing snaps. With Wilkins I would forget about team fit because I strongly believe that wherever Wilkins goes, he will be productive.
Lineups Analysis: With all of these Iowa tight ends having success in the NFL, parents of top tight end recruits should stock up on corn and send their kid to Iowa City. And the best part for Hawkeye fans, is that this April, T.J Hockenson and Noah Fant could somehow both be first round picks. I wonder if Iowa’s tight end coach gets a raise? Hockenson won the John Mackey award in 2018, and the cool part about Iowa is that their tight ends actually are tight ends. By that I mean, their usually not labeled big slot receivers and their able to do cool things like block defensive ends, chip pass rushers, which provide more to their overall game.
Draftnetwork.com had this to say about what Hockenson’s competitive toughness shows on film, “Love his play demeanor and is one you’d love to clone ten of for your offense. Functional strength is exceptional, as is his relentlessness to get under the pads of defenders. Works hard to reset his hands and establish his base to uproot.” Many scouts have said that his teammate Noah Fant has better top end speed, but Hockinson’s size, strength, and athletic ability are superior to his teammate. Hockenson is currently the number one tight end according to Scouts Inc and should be a fit a great fit for a tight end needy team. I bet Cowboy fans would love to see the next Jason Witten.
Lineups Analysis: All year I kept hearing about Greedy Williams being the top corner taken. However, in the SEC East, there was a corner making a name for his own. He may not be 6’3 like Williams, but Georgia’s 5’11 Deandre Baker looks to me like the yearly case of the sub 6′ corner who is slept on early in draft season. And if you’re looking for production over traits, then Baker is your guy as well. Baker was a 2018 consensus first team All American and was the winner of the Jim Thorpe award. He also showed he could play well on the brightest stage, like the 2017 National Championship Game, where Baker held Atlanta Falcons first round pick Calvin Ridley to just 32 yards.
Scouts have also said that Baker plays more physical than Williams and isn’t afraid of lowering the boom over the middle. With two years of elite CB play on film with good performances vs quality wide receivers, I believe Baker could skyrocket up draft boards with a good combine. He’s similar to Denzel Ward as both are sub 6’0 and played at big schools against top competition. Ward was the first defensive player picked last year, and his 4.32 forty time had much to do with that. With how valuable competent cornerback play means to a franchise, a team looking for a decent number 2 or elite number 3 corner should definitely look into Baker’s services.
Lineups Analysis: When Josh Jacobs first arrived at Alabama, he spent his first few months sleeping on the floor in his dorm room. Not because he didn’t have a bed, but because after years of sleeping on couches, motel floors and in the back seat of his father’s Chevy Suburban, he just happened to be more comfortable there. That is only part of the story detailing the obstacles he has needed to overcome. His dad used to drive around finding the best nightly rates at places that still served continental breakfast so his kids could eat before school.
Forget about the football reality he faced as a 3-star running back recruit out of a little-known high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jacobs knew the second he got that Alabama offer, that other schools would take note. “I got my three stars when Alabama offered,” Jacobs said in an interview. “But before then, I didn’t have any stars.” Jacobs has proven capable of doing a bit of everything over his three seasons with the Crimson Tide, even though he’s received under 100 carries in each. One NFL scout said “He has the best skill set of any of the running backs on Alabama’s roster. That is really saying something, and a lot of that is from watching the Crimson Tide in practice.” Under-recruited and over-performed on the biggest stage, what more could you want? To me, the better the line and the quarterback, the better situation it is for Jacobs.
School: Old Dominion
Lineups Analysis: Ximines didn’t play football until the ninth grade. That year he was a 5-foot-8, 150-pound safety on the junior varsity, and didn’t play a snap all season. His sophomore year, he came back six inches taller and 30 pounds and by the end of the year, he was a varsity starter at defensive end. Once on campus at ODU, Ximines had to pack on another to pack on 30 pounds and is now being considered as a first round pick. One of his coaches agrees saying “he practices at such a high level, and just challenges the offensive linemen in practice, so it raises the level of everybody’s performance.” Ximines had quite the development at ODU.
From being an underweight freshman to being considered a first round pick and is a shining example of a player working hard to get better, a great mentality to carry over into an NFL training camp. One of his coaches agrees saying “he practices at such a high level, and just challenges the offensive linemen in practice, so it raises the level of everybody’s performance.” With a great combine, Ximines could potentially shoot up draft boards with every defense looking for pass rushers.
School: Mississippi State
Lineups Analysis: Abram is a 6’0, 215-pound senior that has bounced around during his college career. He began at Georgia then spent a year in Junior College in 2016, and then finally landed at Mississippi State for his last two seasons. Now he is being considered the best safety prospect in this class, and unquestionably the most physical. He collected 96 tackles, three sacks, and two interceptions at MSU. He’s also been heralded as “the hardest hitter in the SEC” according a youtube video. Highly aggressive to a fault, Abram will occasionally come in hot and out of control with inconsistent angles. Which make it difficult for him to consistently square up the ball carrier.
Some scouts have also said that Abram’s ability as a single-high safety is underwhelming and he has limitations in man coverage. But thedraftnetwork.com considers Abram’s a “Tenacious, physical and aggressive player with violent intentions as a hitter. He is willing to crowd tight ends at the top of routes, and his hitting power is good with a frame meshes well with his style.” Abram is another player who could benefit from a good 40 time at the combine and be potentially seen as a dime linebacker as well. Ultimately, I believe a team should draft him with the philosophy of enhancing his strengths and easing his limitations.
Lineups Analysis: With three defensive linemen projected to be first round picks, it’s no surprise that a Clemson cornerback should be benefit from quarterbacks being under constant duress. The first cousin of former Heisman Trophy-winner at Louisville and current Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson decided to join his relative in the NFL instead of returning to Clemson for his senior season. Mullen is an intriguing prospect just like his cousin because of his physical traits that are very useful in today’s NFL. He was a second-team all-conference pick in 2018.
He started 14 of 15 games played for the national champions. Mullen posted 37 stops, four for loss, an interception and four pass breakups as a junior, finishing the year as the title game Defensive MVP with 6 tackles, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble to help shut down Alabama’s offense in the second half. Some scouts have been concerned that Mullen hasn’t played up to his athletic potential. Even though I think Mullen could best be suited as a developmental cornerback, he would really benefit from a strong pass rush if forced to play early in his career. The fact that he played in big games with big competition and lots of pressure, should tell you he is battle tested and shouldn’t be overwhelmed by his step up in competition.
School: NC State
Lineups Analysis: Bradbury came to NC State as a tight end recruit and leaves as an outstanding NFL interior offensive line prospect. His technical refinement and consistency is even more impressive considering he is fairly new to his position. Given the relatively low value of interior offensive linemen, he will most likely be a day two pick. However according to Todd Mcshay “he’s a steady player with very little downside. He needs to improve his strength at the point of attack, but he’s really quick and athletic. Bradbury also has the football intelligence that you look for in a center.
He is best suited for an offense with a zone-blocking-heavy scheme.” A team looking for a plug and play center will strongly consider drafting Bradbury. Daniel Jeremiah also said Garrett Bradbury has the athleticism of Jason Kelce, lateral movement of Ryan Kalil and has been blowing teams away in the meetings with his football IQ. With Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil announcing his retirement, the Carolina Panthers could take the local guy to be their heir apparent.
School: South Carolina
Lineup Analysis: Personally, I take much more from the senior bowl than I do the combine. I have always felt the combine was more beneficial for players medical and interviews. While the senior bowl provides tape of players going against other potential draftees. Each day of the 2019 senior bowl, more highlights emerged of the South Carolina Gamecocks football star putting defenders on skates and pulling in big grabs. When it was time for the actual game, Samuel made a name for himself. He showed the ability to separate quickly and get vertical when necessary, especially in the red zone.
Samuel has been victimized by poor quarterback play at South Carolina but still showcased that he is an outstanding route runner to all levels of the field. His blend of ball skills and post-catch ability make him an intriguing weapon either outside or in the slot. Samuel told NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero he developed a bit of a rapport with West Virginia quarterback Will Grier. If a team drafts Samuel, they could possibly draft Grier in a later round taking advantage of that rapport. As far as production he caught 62 balls for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns this season for the Gamecocks.
School: Mississippi State
Lineups Analysis: With the dominant play of Jeffrey Simmons, Montez Sweat will be considered the other Mississippi State Bulldog pass rusher in the draft. However, with a team that already has a couple of quality rushers, I believe he could be very productive with a team that has a luxury of playing him on a limited snap count. Sweat played his first two years of college ball at Michigan State before transferring and playing his last two years of at the southern MSU. According NFL Draft Network, Sweat has a “terrific ability to lock horns with offensive tackles and his length/wingspan leaves space open to duck back across the face of the block. He can also challenge a ball carrier in outside-in leveraged reps or as a potential two-gap defender.”
Coaches love defensive ends that could set the edge effectively, and part of that has do with what scouts are saying is his best asset, length. That length allows him to have great extension in his attack of blocks. Which is why I believe he would project best in a scheme that lets him play with his hand in the dirt, avoiding coverages.