A sleeper should not be on your immediate radar. A sleeper should be, by definition, tucked away under a serious blanket of almost complete anonymity. If you have heard his name more than once, chances are he's not a sleeper.
If your buddy tells you, "keep an eye on Brian Price of UCLA. He's a beast"! Ummm, that's not a sleeper.
However, if the guy eating peanuts at the bar says to you, "Ya know, I think that kid Porter from La. Tech could be the next Willie Parker," and you find yourself saying "Who?" Then that is a sleeper.
These guys may or may not be at the NFL combine. They may or may not be called on the first day of the draft, but eventually, you will know their names. And when that happens, look out—because you may very well be a witness to history in the making.
Mariani has nice size and great versatility. He's not the quickest kid on the field, but he does run a 40-yard dash in the sub-4.5 range, which makes him a decent bet to fill in as a slot receiver for any team in the league.
In his senior season, he grabbed 81 catches for more than 1,400 yards and 14 scores. That's more than 18 yards per catch on the season.
Sure, he played at a smaller school against lesser competition than, say, a Jordan Shipley of Texas. But last I checked, the ability to run and catch has more to do with a player's success than the school the player reps—just ask Terrell Owens.
Mariani has playmaking talent, and in the early going, special teams value as well. That makes him a legitimate prospect for any number of NFL teams.
Collins won't be the fastest back on the field, not by a long shot—his 4.5 40-yard dash won't wow too many scouts. However, speed isn't always the most important factor when sizing up a back, and Collins, at 5'11" and 225 pounds, is a solid back to handle short-yardage and goal-line duties.
As a senior at Toledo, he was All-MAC Third Team after rushing for 900-plus yards. That may not seem impressive for a MAC player, but the Rockets were more prone to go to the air than the ground, so Collins made the most of every opportunity—his effort netted him nearly six yards per carry.
He's got better-than-average vision, and despite his 4.5 speed, he's elusive and capable of breaking off long runs if he has the space. He's definitely a gamer.
Unfortunately for Jake, the Buckeyes not as big on the TE spot as an offensive option as they are on him being a blocker. Ballard made his appearances—sparingly—but he still managed to showcase some good athleticism in those moments.
He's got the frame and hands to be a nice red-zone target for any team looking for a big body in the end zone. Aside from that, did I mention he was a phenomenal blocker? He may not start right away, but his intangibles make him a worthy look.
Nichols may be slowly appearing on some radars after his solid performance in the East-West Shrine Game, but that still didn't get him an invite to the NFL combine. That said, he's not discouraged; after all, Tony Romo wasn't invited either, and he seemed to do all right.
Nichols has decent size and can throw the ball as well, if not better, than many of his counterparts. He's mobile enough to make plays with his feet, and he's heady enough to know when a scramble is more suitable than a pass.
His downside may be his inability to distinguish all types of coverages. He can be baited into throwing bad passes, but that isn't anything that cannot be corrected. He also could be a bit shorter than some teams would like.
He's a project that will need a bit of grooming, but he has a very high ceiling for the team that's willing to roll the dice.
Porterie has the arm to make things happen on offense. Many might take a look at his TD:INT ratio and run quickly in the other direction, but those people would be forgetting to consider how often the Lobos were playing from behind—they were 1-11 last season.
Porterie isn't mobile or particularly adept at escaping the pocket with grace, but he's got a good feel for the game and could thrive in the right situation.
Cottam is in the same boat as Ohio State's Jake Bullard—he's been a blocker more than a pass catcher. Add to that his history of being a bit injury-prone. Still, even with all of that, he is 6'8" and 280 pounds and can get down the field.
His ability as a run blocker may make him an attractive look for teams that utilize two-tight-end sets, but he should not be overlooked as a potential weapon on offense as well. His size and athleticism make him a dangerous target for any secondary to try to corral.
A former walk-on for the Huskies, Easley is the quintessential feel-good story. He worked hard to make a place for himself in the starting lineup, and it paid off for him in his senior year. He amassed 533 yards on 24 catches—an average of 22 yards per catch.
He needs polishing and could stand to work on his routes, but he gets off the line well and uses his size to good advantage against the opposition. He's been invited to the combine, so obviously he must be doing something right.
If he can show that he can catch the ball with consistency, the sky's the limit.
A lot of people tend to forget that McNeal was at Miami before he decided to transfer to SMU to be closer to family. Playing against somewhat mediocre competition, Shawnbrey looked like a man amongst boys—showcasing his speed, power, and explosiveness at his chosen position.
He also showed that he could catch passes out of the backfield—making him a sure bet to be in the game on passing downs, too. Add to that his ability on special teams as a return man, and he's got to get a look from quite a few teams.
I don't know that he can be an every down kind of back, but he's got the versatility to be useful to any team looking for a rusher who has as much value with his hands as he does with his feet.
Sapp has good hands, exceptional body control, and enough physical presence to keep just about any DB honest against him in press coverage. He was a standout player in the Sun Belt last season, hauling in 40 passes for 784 yards (19.0 ypc).
He's not blazing fast, but he is deliberate with every step and looks fluid when he runs the ball. Furthermore, his lack of a fast 40-yard dash time does not negate his ability as a deep ball threat.
Overall, he's the total package—and that, coupled with his frame, could make him an attractive option for teams looking for some depth at wide receiver next season.
N.C. State didn't seem to have to much offense this season, but the flashes I saw of Eugene were enough to sell me on his ability as a ball carrier.
He's not fast, but he's a patient runner who knows how to let the holes develop for him. Even more, he's got good field vision and hits the holes with confidence. His size is a tad smaller than you'd like to see out of an every down back, but it's nothing that cannot be overcome.
He's a very underrated talent with loads of upside at the next level.