We've all heard about Geno Smith, Luke Joeckel and Star Lotulelei with respect to the 2013 NFL draft.
It's the guys you haven't heard of, though, who will dominate the last six rounds of the draft in April. Heck, some of the prospects not on your radar are on the radars of all 32 NFL teams and might end up being first-round selections before the draft is done.
College games, the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine have all given players a chance to shine with respect towards their NFL abilities. All that's left between now and the draft are a few pro days and some loose ends to tie up by bringing prospects to town for a visit before heading to Radio City Music Hall in April.
While the big names will continue to dominate your searches for the first round of the NFL draft, don't be surprised if the following five names start to creep up as great value picks, underrated sleepers and even dark-horse first-rounders by the time this process is finished.
So goes the nature of being a sleeper in any sport.
Nevada SS Duke Williams
I saw Williams when Nevada visited WAC foe Texas State in September, and the 6'0", roughly 200-pound safety did not disappoint in leading the Wolf Pack secondary. He had seven total tackles, two passes defensed and an interception that was called back. He looked like the most athletic player on the field for much of the contest.
To be fair, mid-major success in football doesn't always translate to the NFL. With March Madness sweeping the nation right now, small-time prospects like Williams with good measurables are going to attract the eye of many teams looking for safety help.
Additionally, safety might be the most unpredictable position in the draft this year.
Kenny Vaccaro has received the most press, followed by guys like Matt Elam, Eric Reid and Jonathan Cyprien. Once the dominoes start to fall, there's no telling where scouts rank Williams in that mix, particularly after a 4.52 40-yard dash, a 37.5" vertical jump at the 2013 NFL combine and an impressive senior season at Nevada.
Williams played his best in big games last year, recording double-digit tackles against two bowl teams (Boise State and Air Force). He's got sprinter speed and closes on the ball well when it's in the air. He should be an attractive mid-round pick for a team looking for depth in its secondary.
Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell
Many forget that Le'Veon Bell was a Heisman trophy candidate after the first week of the 2012 season.
He tapered off after that but still went on to rush for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns during his final season with the Spartans. Bell has been relatively quiet as a prospect since then, giving way to other highly touted backs such as Giovani Bernard and Eddie Lacy.
However, he's starting to creep back up into the top-round mix, especially after glowing recommendations from NFL Network's Bucky Brooks, who compares Bell to new Atlanta Falcons running back Stephen Jackson above, writing that he has quickly become the best overall back in the 2013 draft class (via NFL.com).
A fierce college back, Bell's size (6'2", 230-plus pounds) makes him an automatic candidate to stay on the field for all three downs of a possession. While most teams have designated third-down backs these days, Bell is a guy who can both get you yardage on first down and mix it up in the trenches on third and fourth if necessary.
After falling off the map a little bit following a hot start, Bell still finished the season as one of the most decorated backs in the country. His collegiate success and NFL body are going to be hard to pass on in the first few rounds of the 2013 draft, particularly after the first wave of team needs are met in rounds one and two.
Oregon OT Kyle Long
When your father is in the Hall of Fame, and your brother wreaks havoc on the defensive line with the St. Louis Rams, you are probably going to start gaining steam as a prospect during this lull period between the free agency madness and the draft.
That's exactly what Oregon offensive tackle Kyle Long has done, after impressing us all with his raw athleticism and ability to learn new positions quickly while at Oregon under new Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.
As noted by Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports in his write-up about 50 of the best prospects in this year's draft, Long's story from Florida State pitcher to Oregon OT is quite remarkable. Under the watchful eyes of both father Howie and brother Chris, Long will now have to adjust to the NFL after his request for another year of eligibility was denied by the NCAA.
Lane Johnson gets a lot of press as the most athletic offensive lineman in this class, but guys like Long and Terron Armstead are right on his heels. Long, in particular, picked up the entire Oregon offense enough to start four games at left guard and be a swing tackle for Kelly despite missing training camp and being at a huge disadvantage to the rest of the group.
Of course, being 6'6" doesn't hurt either.
While Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher are grabbing early headlines as the best tackles in the draft, teams that don't make those two picks are still going to need help at tackle. That makes Long a sleeper pick to be taken early in the second round—and a deep sleeper to wind up somewhere in the late first if the tackle pool is heavily depleted.
Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib
NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell has a message for Geno Smith: He's taking Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib over the West Virginia product.
That's high praise but a man like Cosell has the credentials to make those kind of claims.
Playing in Syracuse's pass-happy offense, Nassib lit up opposing teams over his past two seasons with the Orange. He threw for over 3,700 yards and 26 touchdowns during his senior season in New York and impressed again at the Senior Bowl and NFL combine.
While his motion is unorthodox and his arm strength leaves something to be desired, Nassib's place in a spread offense, his size and ability to sling it all over the field are going to be positives when teams look at which QB should be taken behind Smith—or if another is worthy of being the first QB selected.
The Buffalo Bills have been mentioned quite frequently over the past few weeks with regard to Nassib, in large part because former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone is the new lead dog in Buffalo. Scott Wright notes that Nassib to the Bills is a strong possibility right now in NFL draft circles:
Scott Wright @DraftCountdown
Assumption is #Bills may pass on a QB in Round 1 and reunite Ryan Nassib with Doug Marrone in Round 2. Not sure Nassib lasts to #41 though.3/28/2013, 7:29:32 PM
Nassib played well against top competition and led his team to a bowl victory over West Virginia in 2012, factors that should be in play as teams ultimately move him ahead of other names that have more prestige.
Auburn DE/OLB Corey Lemonier
Defensive end is a loaded position this year.
Ezekiel Ansah, Dion Jordan and Barkevious Mingo headline a group of pass-rushers who will likely be selected in the first round. But do not—I repeat, do not—sleep on Auburn's Corey Lemonier.
At 6'4", 255 pounds, Lemonier is a physical freak.
Joel A. Erickson of AL.com was at Auburn's Pro Day earlier in March, and he noted that Lemonier's skill set could be used for both a 4-3 scheme and 3-4 scheme at the next level. He tested as a 3-4 outside linebacker at the pro day, but could put on/take off weight either way depending upon which team makes him its selection.
With the ability to get to the QB as a rush end and the ability to drop as a 3-4 backer in tow, his versatility could be a major selling point for a team looking to add depth and a new layer to its defense. He isn't the most popular pick at his position—like the rest of these guys—but each should be given an opportunity to make an NFL roster next season.
And most might go earlier in the draft than you would think.
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