The Biggest Sleeper at Every Position in the 2013 NFL Draft
Missing on first-round picks is a great way for NFL general managers to lose their jobs, but hitting on late-round picks is how the men are separated from the boys in NFL front offices.
So, what is a sleeper?
Many might quibble about the definition, but for the purposes of this article I went with this: a player who is likely to be selected on the third day of the draft and is considered to have an uphill battle to contribute early on in his NFL career, yet has the skills necessary to make an impact on the league.
Of course, for those sleepers to awaken, a lot has to happen. Sometimes the right fit comes along, an injury opens the door or a coach lights a fire under their bums that inspires these prospects to new heights.
Whatever does it for this crop of guys, here is a player from each position who should be at the top of your draft board toward the bottom of the draft.
Quarterback: Matt Scott (Arizona)
Matt Scott has become a favorite of the draft community as a great dual-threat quarterbacking prospect—the perfect blend of running and passing to fit into the ongoing trend of zone-read offenses making their way into the NFL.
Last season, Scott ran for 506 yards and six touchdowns. Sure, lots of college quarterbacks ran for more yardage, but none have the natural arm talent and throwing ability of Scott. He passed for 3,620 yards past season and completed over 60 percent of his passes.
Remember, as talented as guys might be running the football, there is little room in the NFL for passers who can't pass. Running complements the throwing ability, not the other way around.
He is a work in progress, but Scott has a real chance to see limited action this year if his new team commits to some zone-read looks. That could lead to even greater opportunities down the road.
Running Back: Mike Gillislee (Florida)
In the ongoing specialization of running backs, it's easy to overlook the guy who does the little things well.
It's may be difficult to be a sleeper from a major SEC school like Florida, but Mike Gillislee has been overshadowed for years—first by teammates like Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, and then by a bunch of one-tool backs ranked ahead of him in this draft class.
The little things Gillislee does well? He is a competent pass-blocker and pass-catcher—great for third-down work. He has good burst to the hole to make up for less-than-ideal acceleration and top-end speed. He also fights hard for extra yardage and has enough agility to make defenders miss.
Gillislee might end up as the highest-drafted player on this list as teams realize they can get starter's production out of him as a mid-round pick.
Wide Receiver: Conner Vernon (Duke)
If every NFL fan were to look back at his favorite team's history, no doubt there was one of "those guys"—a receiver who fit all of the scouting criteria, but when push came to shove, couldn't come down with the ball when it mattered the most.
Sometimes, catching the ball and being able to do something with it afterward is the end of the conversation when looking at a late-round wideout.
Conner Vernon finds ways to get open with acceleration in and out of his routes. He's not flashy, but he showcases solid lateral athleticism once the ball is in his hands and extends plays further than expected on almost every catch. He high points the ball well and can play both inside and outside in multiple receiver sets.
If Vernon lands on a high-volume, high-octane offense, he could easily outperform many (if not most) of the receivers drafted above him.
Tight End: Joseph Fauria (UCLA)
At 6'7" and faster than most linebackers asked to cover him, Joseph Fauria is a matchup nightmare when he wants to be and should benefit from better coaching in the NFL than he ever received at UCLA. He'll likely be drafted as a No. 3 "move" tight end, but he could easily work himself into a more steady rotation because of his elite physical tools.
Look for Fauria to make an impact busting the seams of opponents' defenses and terrorizing defensive coordinators in the red zone.
Offensive Tackle: Reid Fragel (Ohio State)
Reid Fragel is a flavor of the month for some in the draft community as they search for mid-to-late-round prospects who have starter's upside. Fragel—a former tight end who often gets the job done in spite of his poor technique—is a high-reward player who would be an extremely low risk if he's drafted in the fifth round or lower.
Because of his size (6'8"), Fragel might fit best in an offense—like the New England Patriots or New Orleans Saints—that utilizes a lot of two-point stances from their pass-protectors and less in-line run-blocking.
If Fragel gets the right fit and some good coaching, he could be a truly special player down the road..
Interior Offensive Line: Manase Foketi (OG West Texas A&M)
Manase Foketi could have entered this draft class as a prospect from Kansas State, but he chose to transfer away from the program to be closer to home (via Sporting News) and because of problems with the front office.
Kansas State refused his request to transfer (because the NCAA is all about the kids), and Foketi became a dominant offensive lineman at the Division II level.
He's a "dancing bear" in the truest sense of the term—a mammoth of an individual who manages to look like Baryshnikov in the trenches. While he won't be able to manhandle defenders in the pros like he did this past season, he'll be a valuable late-round addition who could end up starting by his second year at either guard or tackle.
Defensive Tackle: William Campbell (Michigan)
If you read the recruiting report on William Campbell from his high school tape, it will sound almost identical to the scouting report on him now. Campbell is a physical specimen who easily aces the "look test" and has a ton of upside. He needs to find a pass-rushing move other than the bull rush and needs to utilize his hands better against the run.
Campbell hasn't really progressed as a player over the past four years and may never do so. Yet, plenty of defensive line coaches are going to watch tape on him and salivate over the idea of being the one to turn this lump of coal into a shiny diamond of defensive line havoc.
Defensive End/Outside Linebacker: Ty Powell (Harding)
I wrote about Ty Powell in my "most unheralded prospects" column, and I couldn't resist doing so again. Powell is a fantastic athlete with collegiate experience at all three levels of the defense. Sure, he went to Harding, but small-school prospects who shine in the pre-draft process are the whole reason for things like the combine and pro days.
How athletic is Powell? He was a high school state champion at quarterback and cornerback. Now, he's just barely scratching the surface of the linebacker position and has natural pass-rushing ability and ball skills to boot.
Powell should take a few years to contribute heavily (good thing he should be a special teams stud), but with the right coaching, he has as much upside as anyone in the draft.
Linebacker: Keith Pough (Howard)
One of my first impressions of Keith Pough was at the East-West Shrine Game, as he took control of his peers in the first practice session and started moving them around like he was an old pro who knew every wrinkle of the defense. This, of course, was with almost exclusively higher profile players from much more prestigious football factories.
Pough is a rangy linebacker who can get sideline to sideline (perfect for stopping those zone-read quarterbacks) and is comfortable in space. He isn't a pro at shedding blocks, but plenty of linebackers drafted in the first and second round have that same issue. Pough's bare minimum of possible impact is somewhere around "top special teamer," but he has the upside of a long NFL career as a starter.
Cornerback: Will Davis (Utah State)
Will Davis comes from a school (Utah State) that plays almost exclusively press-man coverage and loves to get in the faces of its opponents.
The problem, however, in scouting corners from small schools like Utah State is that it's a lot easier to throw receivers around in the WAC (and the Big West before that) than in the NFL. Davis did throw up 16 reps of 225 pounds at the combine, so he may have a chance to buck that trend and be the physical cornerback NFL teams are looking for.
Davis has good ball skills and fluid motion in and out of his peddle. He's doesn't have the most polished footwork, but that is almost to be expected out of all but the best corners in any given class. He's stronger than his frame would indicate and a sure tackler.
He could earn a spot in sub packages during his rookie year regardless of how late (or early) he is drafted in April.
Safety: Cody Davis (Texas Tech)
Cody Davis was the best player on a terrible Texas Tech defense. Because of that, Davis often took the blame for runs that should've been stopped at one of the first two levels or passes that were another man's responsibility.
Davis recently tore up a super regional combine and earned extra looks from a bunch of teams in the following couple of weeks. At one point, Davis may have been considered a late-round pick or priority free agent, but now he could actually go in the fifth round and no one would bat an eyelid.
He has the athleticism to cover and is a sure tackler—things far too many NFL safeties seem to lack.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.