Over the next few months we are going to hear names like Star Lotulelei, Damontre Moore and Manti Te'o when it comes to the NFL draft. The stars are what make this a must-see event, but the less-heralded players give it the staying power to keep us paying attention after the first round.
With over 250 picks in the draft, we know that only a small fraction of them will turn into quality NFL players and an even smaller portion of those players will turn into stars.
This is a league built on depth more than anything else, so it is imperative that teams hit on more than just their first-round selection if they want to have any chance to compete for a Super Bowl in the not-too-distant future.
As we make our way to the Scouting Combine in February, here are the potential sleeper picks we are keeping a close eye on.
Quarterback Landry Jones (Oklahoma)
Measurements (via SoonerSports.com) : 6'4", 218 pounds
2012 Stats: 3,989 yards, 29 TD, 10 INT, 65.5 completion percentage
In one of the weakest quarterback classes in recent memory, teams with the greatest need for a quarterback are more likely to reach or trade down in order to get someone they feel will be the right leader for their offense.
There is another option that doesn't get talked about that much: waiting. There is no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in this class, so why shouldn't a team like Kansas City fill one of its many, many holes with the No. 1 pick and go after a quarterback later?
Jones could be one of the best value picks we have seen at the quarterback position in a long time, right up there with Russell Wilson last year. His stock seems to have slipped a bit this year, though his accuracy seems to have gotten better.
All the skills and attributes that can be measured (height/weight, accuracy, arm strength, pocket presence) are all at least above average for Jones. He has been incredibly durable, starting every game for the last three years.
He could sneak into the first round, but right now he looks more like a mid-second round pick. In a league where quarterback play is everything, Jones could be the best value on the board in this year's crop.
Wide Receiver Cobi Hamilton (Arkansas)
Measurements (via ArkansasRazorbacks.com): 6'3", 209 pounds
2012 stats: 90 receptions, 1,335 yards, 5 TD
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In a disastrous season for Arkansas, Hamilton was one of the few bright spots. He also increased his draft stock dramatically, though he is still fighting to get in the category with first-round talents like Robert Woods and Justin Hunter.
Hamilton lacks elite top-level speed, but he makes up for it with great hands and the ability to make catches in traffic. He does need to work on getting a better jump off the line, though that is hardly the biggest knock a receiver can have coming out of college.
It would also be in Hamilton's best interest to add a little more bulk to his frame. His size and length is outstanding, but a little more muscle would help him be more physical off the line to get that push he needs.
Cornerback Tharold Simon
Measurements (via LSUSports.net): 6'3", 193 pounds
2012 stats: 43 total tackles, 4 INT, 8 passes defended
LSU has a knack for developing NFL-caliber cornerbacks. Simon is certainly not in the Morris Claiborne category as far as pure talent, but he offers plenty of upside and great size for the position.
Simon's best attribute is his ability to tackle in the open field, which really is a lost art among NFL defensive backs today. His long limbs make it easier for him to wrap up and drive opponents into the ground.
Areas where Simon needs to improve include reading the quarterback and going after the ball. He doesn't play the ball very well, getting lost on an island when he is in single coverage. He doesn't use his strength to really get in the face of his opponent.
He could end up sliding into the third or fourth round of the draft, depending on what he shows at the Combine. It will take him time to develop, but if he hits, he could be a starter for a long time.