The 2014 NFL draft will produce its fair share of heroes every single round. The players that leave fans wondering why they spent so long waiting by their phones for an NFL GM to finally call. The teams that slept on them in the earlier rounds will kick themselves for passing up many chances. It's an annual tradition in the NFL. So is the monumental task of evaluating all that talent.
Whether it's Robert Mathis in the fifth round in 2003, Alfred Morris in the sixth round in 2012, or that guy Tom Brady whom everyone seems to like so much even to this day, there are potential gems hidden in every round of the draft.
The 2014 class should be no different when it comes to surprise standouts emerging from each round, especially as teams get better at molding raw athletes into productive pigskin players.
Here are the top sleeper prospects for each round, as well as predictions for where each of those prospects will end up.
|1||Kony Ealy||DE||Missouri||Denver Broncos|
|2||Stanley Jean-Baptiste||CB||Nebraksa||San Diego Chargers|
|3||Bruce Ellington||WR||South Carolina||Atlanta Falcons|
|4||Aaron Murray||QB||Georgia||Cincinnati Bengals|
|5||Jordan Zumwalt||LB||UCLA||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|6||Bryce Quigley||OT||San Diego State||Miami Dolphins|
|7||Larry Webster||TE||Bloomsburg University||Philadelphia Eagles|
Ellington is the perfect hidden gem, tucked away in the middle rounds of the draft and standing at just 5'9". He's just short enough to be overlooked when stacked up against the larger wide receiver prospects, but fast enough and sharp enough to outrun them all.
He posted 49 receptions for 775 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013, all while contributing to South Carolina's basketball team as a backup point guard.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah is intrigued by Ellington's outstanding athleticism.
Bruce Ellington is 1 of the most intriguing players in the draft. HS State champ as QB, starting PG at South Carolina... Will excel in slot— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) May 4, 2014
Ellington recently worked out for the Atlanta Falcons, and his agent Tory Dandy talked up his ability to Ryan Wood of The Post and Courier. Via Wood:
"He had a tremendous workout today," Dandy said. "They definitely speak very highly of him. He felt very good about the workout."
Ellington would be an absolute weapon as a slot receiver, and this makes him the ideal fit for the Falcons in the third round. Pairing Ellington's speed with Julio Jones on the outside would create some difficult matchup problems for NFL defenses. Matt Ryan could use a new weapon on offense should they struggle to replace Tony Gonzalez, as Ellington could stretch the field or serve as a speedy checkdown option.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste is an incredible athlete who flies under the radar due to relative inexperience and the numerous cornerbacks ahead of him on big boards with first-round grades.
He's a converted wide receiver who notched just 17 starts during his time at Nebraska. He improved with each passing season, and tallied four of his six career interceptions in 2013. Still, scouts may overlook Jean-Baptiste due to the paucity of starts, a potential signal for a steep learning curve once he hits the league.
But Jean-Baptiste is a physical marvel. In addition to standing 6'3", Jean-Baptiste showed monstrous leaping ability at the NFL combine. His 41.5" vertical jump blew away the cornerback competition at the combine.
Paul Schrager of FoxSports.com likes Jean-Baptiste's size and potential.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, the corner out of Nebraska, is a fascinating prospect. 6'3, 220. Teams want the next Sherman now. Could go Day 1.— P. Schrager (@PSchrags) April 24, 2014
If the San Diego Chargers drafted Jean-Baptiste, they would land a player who would immediately upgrade their size at their weak cornerback position or potentially transition into a strong safety role alongside Eric Weddle. Jean-Baptiste would be the most athletic player they've had at cornerback since Antonio Cromartie.
When it comes to the quarterback discussion, all anyone can talk about is Teddy Bridgewater's free fall, Johnny Manziel's attitude and how Blake Bortles looks like a quarterback straight out of central casting who just needs to be coached up a bit.
Lost in the shuffle is Aaron Murray of the University of Georgia. A four-year starter in college, Murray finished with 12,885 yards, 119 touchdowns and just 40 interceptions. The standout quarterback is longer on experience and highlight-reel footage than many of the contemporary signal-callers projected to go ahead of him.
His best season might have been in 2012, when he led the NCAA with 10.1 passing yards per attempt, according to Sports-reference.com.
Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller compared Murray's pocket presence to that of Drew Brees:
People want Johnny Manziel to be Russell Wilson or Brees, but Aaron Murray's ability to step up in the pocket is more like Brees-like— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) May 1, 2014
The Bengals would do well to steal Murray in the fourth round. Murray could provide a nudge to Andy Dalton, but wouldn't necessarily be thrusted into a starting position if Dalton went down. The Bengals could count on Jason Campbell or Josh Johnson to shoulder the load while Murray continues to develop.