The scouting process for the NFL draft is far from flawless and, often, it is the sleepers in the draft that make a bigger difference than those taken in the top 10. Everyone expects a top-10 selection to be a superstar, but when a guy is taken in the second half of the first day or later it is a pleasant surprise.
Each of the last two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks were taken well beyond the first round—although that is set to change for Super Bowl 50—and both the Patriots and Seahawks built mini dynasties off of good draft selections beyond the marquee positions.
Let’s take a look at some of the players that might fit that mold for some teams. They won’t necessarily fall beyond the opening round, and one or two might end up in the top 10 by the end of the process, but these three college stars have the potential to be big-time sleepers in the draft.
|2016 NFL Mock Draft|
|1||Tennessee Titans||Laremy Tunsil||OL||Ole Miss|
|2||Cleveland Browns||Jared Goff||QB||California|
|3||San Diego Chargers||Joey Bosa||DE||Ohio State|
|4||Dallas Cowboys||Myles Jack||LB||UCLA|
|5||Jacksonville Jaguars||Jalen Ramsey||DB||Florida State|
|6||Baltimore Ravens||Ronnie Stanley||OL||Notre Dame|
|7||San Francisco 49ers||Laquon Treadwell||WR||Ole Miss|
|8||Miami Dolphins||DeForest Buckner||DE||Oregon|
|9||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Shaq Lawson||DE||Clemson|
|10||New York Giants||Vernon Hargreaves||CB||Florida|
|11||Chicago Bears||A'Shawn Robinson||DT||Alabama|
|12||New Orleans Saints||Mackensie Alexander||CB||Clemson|
|13||Philadelphia Eagles||Emmanuel Ogbah||DE||Oklahoma State|
|14||Oakland Raiders||Leonard Floyd||LB||Georgia|
|15||Los Angeles Rams||Paxton Lynch||QB||Memphis|
|16||Detroit Lions||Taylor Decker||OL||Ohio State|
|17||Atlanta Falcons||Reggie Ragland||LB||Alabama|
|18||Indianapolis Colts||Jack Conklin||OL||Michigan State|
|19||Buffalo Bills||Robert Nkemdiche||DL||Ole Miss|
|20||New York Jets||Ezekiel Elliott||RB||Ohio State|
|22||Houston Texans||Carson Wentz||QB||North Dakota State|
|23||Minnesota Vikings||Michael Thomas||WR||Ohio State|
|24||Cincinnati Bengals||Kenny Clark||DT||UCLA|
|25||Pittsburgh Steelers||Eli Apple||CB||Ohio State|
|26||Seattle Seahawks||Darron Lee||LB||Ohio State|
|27||Green Bay Packers||Jarran Reed||DT||Alabama|
|28||New England Patriots||Sheldon Rankins||DE||Louisville|
|29||Arizona Cardinals||Noah Spence||DE||Eastern Kentucky|
|30||Denver Broncos||Jonathan Bullard||DE||Florida|
|31||Carolina Panthers||Jason Spriggs||OL||Indiana|
Top Potential First Round Sleepers
CB Mackensie Alexander
This one might seem a little bit like cheating seeing as there is a chance Mackensie Alexander ends up being taken in the top 10 or even closer to the top five of the upcoming NFL draft, but at this point in the process he has the same chance of falling down as low as the late first round.
In a class with defensive backs of the calibre of Vernon Hargreaves, Jalen Ramsey, Eli Apple and Kendall Fuller, there is a lot of potential fluctuation with who goes where, but it would be a huge mistake if teams let Alexander slide down their draft boards.
He is a little shorter than most NFL scouts would like out of their top-tier draft picks at cornerback, but Alexander more than makes up for it with talent. Arguably the best cover corner in the draft, the Clemson standout has no right going any later than the top 10 but could get lost in the shuffle with the other star cornerbacks.
DE Noah Spence
When it comes to sleepers, there are many different reasons that teams and scouts end up overlooking a talented prospect, but time and time again a pair of reasons seem to come to the forefront. Off-the-field issues and small-school competition both make teams extremely wary of selecting a player, regardless of their talent.
Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence, has to deal with both of those issues and could be an all-time sleeper as a result. Dismissed from Ohio State for numerous failed drug tests, Spence ended up at the FCS school and was absolutely dominant for the Colonels.
One of the more naturally talented players at his position, Spence might be lacking the size of a player like Joey Bosa—his former teammate—but has the speed to make up for it and could be an immediate success for whatever team drafts him, even if he falls out of the first round.
DT Jarran Reed
Poor Jarran Reed. The former Alabama Crimson Tide defensive tackle has had a rough time—you know, outside of the national title and the fact that he is going to make it to the NFL this year where he will make lots of money—in terms of his draft prospects.
He has managed to rise rapidly through the ranks, from a player who wasn’t making any prospect lists at Eastern Mississippi Community College to a near lock to the go in the first or second round at Alabama. But because of where he played and who he played with, Reed is largely overlooked.
Thanks to the likes of Reggie Ragland and A’Shawn Robinson, Reed can sometimes feel like the forgotten man, but he shouldn’t be on draft day. He might not be the best pass-rusher in the world, but if a team needs a player to clog the middle and stop the run there are few better in this class than the Alabama defensive tackle.