2011 NFL Draft: 10 Sleepers Who Have the Stuff To Be NFL Stars
It's no easy thing going through three days of NFL draft talk, but it's even harder when you have no idea who the guys being drafted on Day 3 are.
The following list is comprised of players who you probably don't know that are primed to succeed at the NFL level given the proper tutelage (unless you are indeed a diehard draft junkie like myself).
If you hear your team call one of these players' names, then surely your team and its scouting staff have done a fine job at finding a diamond in the rough.
10) Brandon Fusco, C, Slippery Rock
Brandon Fusco is a name not very many people know.
That truly is a shame.
Finding NFL-type depth in the draft is tough, but Slippery Rock center Brandon Fusco is a name flying under the radar.
Fusco, who stands at 6'4" and weighs 302 pounds, played against inferior competition in college in the Division II Pennsylvania State Conference, but he held his ground in the Senior Bowl game and continued to impress scouts afterwards.
Fusco is an above-average athlete for the center position and gets off the snap at an amazing speed.
When blocking, Fusco has a mean streak and gets very aggressive. He stays on his blocks well and does a good job sealing defenders from the ball.
Weighing over 300 pounds, Fusco maintains a solid knee bend and his lateral movement and slide are top notch.
Fusco also started all 44 games that Slippery Rock played during his tenure with the school.
With the burly center snapping the ball, Slippery Rock managed 165 rushing yards a game in 2010.
If he could work on his upper-body strength and his point of attack, he would be a deep-second-round selection for a team looking for an eventual starter at the C position.
9) Robert Housler, TE, Florida Atlantic University
It looks like after not ever having a player drafted in the NFL, the Owls of Florida Atlantic will now have their second player in as many years selected by an NFL team. (Last year, QB Rusty Smith was selected in the sixth round by the Tennessee Titans).
Robert Housler has great size and speed for the tight end position. He ran the fastest of any tight end at the combine, which is a sure-fire way to get one of 32 teams to pick you.
Housler's route-running is the best of the tight ends available in the draft and he reaches his top speed right away. He can get down the field quickly and go up and make the catch with his hands.
Housler gives you options also, as he can be a flex tight end, split out wide or go in motion.
Obviously that begs the question about his blocking skills, and that is where Housler needs work.
He will be an investment pick, one that may take a few years to groom properly, but Housler has the football IQ and the physical tools to make it happen.
Late-fifth round–early-sixth round
8) Rashad Carmichael, CB, Virginia Tech
There are some athletes in college football you just can't ignore.
One of those is Rashad Carmichael out of Virginia Tech.
There are many aspects of his game which need some work, but there is no doubt that Carmichael has the tools to be a successful corner in the NFL.
His 10 INTs in the last two years don't speak enough for his high-motor, high-energy type of play.
Carmichael's closing speed is some of the best coming out of the draft this year (as is shown in the video). His overall speed will allow him to run with any NFL receiver downfield.
He needs a lot of work with his tackling and could add a good 15 pounds of bulk, otherwise he will be bullied by bigger NFL receivers.
Carmichael is adept at playing in both man and zone coverage and also has kick-return experience, which is something teams are always looking for deep in the draft.
7) Lee Ziemba, OT, Auburn
Drafting late, teams look for something that sets players apart from their competition.
For Lee Ziemba, it's his aggressive playing style at the tackle position.
Ziemba is not afraid to play dirty and do the job that needs to be done on the offensive line; he always stays on his blocks and gives the play his complete 100-percent effort.
He drives well and run-blocks exceptionally well. In the pass-blocking scheme, his arm length works to his advantage and he slides rather well, tending to always stay in front of his defenders.
The knock on Ziemba is that he tries to get a head start, getting flagged 19 times in his college career for false starts.
He tends to overextend or rise up when pass-blocking. If he could add another 10–20 pounds to his frame, he might find it easier to be a consistent anchor on the offensive line.
He will most likely be a right tackle in the pros, but with the right work, he could be a left tackle after a couple years of progression.
6) Edmond Gates, WR, Abilene Christian
One word comes to mind when Edmond Gates is the subject of conversation: fast.
Gates can fly at rates that will have teams foaming at the mouth if he is available when they select late in the draft. He ran the best of receivers at the combine with a 4.37 40-yard dash.
Gates is quick off the line of scrimmage, has a tremendous burst and is extremely hazardous for opposing defenses in the open field.
In his senior campaign with Abilene Christian, he averaged 17.9 yards per catch and scored 13 touchdowns, making big play after big play and surpassing 100 yards in a game seven times.
The first knock on Gates is his age, as he will be 25 years old when Week 1 rolls around.
Also, his short arms lead to him dropping some easy passes. His route-running could use some work too, especially the first 10 yards from the line of scrimmage.
Gates can also be a return specialist and cause headaches for opposing special-team coordinators.
5) Derrick Locke, RB, Kentucky
Locke is one of the fastest running backs in the draft, and as the theme goes, speed always gets drafted.
Standing at only 5'8", Locke can make the first man miss and more. He can outrun oncoming defenders, get to the edge and bounce off would-be tacklers.
It's easy to say that because he never had a 1,000-yard season in college that he won't be a success in the NFL, but he never took more than 200 carries in a year and he averaged 5.3 yards a carry as a senior, with 10 touchdowns against some of the best collegiate competition.
Even better is the fact that Locke is fresh and is not coming off a collegiate season when he took the brunt of the blows carrying the ball for his offense.
Locke was a track athlete in high school, and when he gets to the second level and some open field, you can see why he was recruited to play football.
Locke's draft value reminds me of that of James Starks, last year's savior at the running back position for the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.
Starks was drafted in the sixth round and was an afterthought, but after injuries to many of the Packers running backs, Starks got his opportunity.
Locke is probably a 3rd-down or change-of-pace back to start off, but if he can withstand the hits from NFL defenders, he may be a steal for a team in the draft.
4) Casey Matthews, ILB, Oregon
It's hard to call Casey Matthews a sleeper because of his brother's recent success, but it is amazing how Matthews is still a player teams have doubt about.
Matthews totaled 245 tackles, four interceptions and eight sacks in his tenure at Oregon and was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award and Lott Trophy in 2010.
He also never missed extended time due to injury, which NFL teams like.
Matthews has been known to play without fear and is not afraid of contact.
Speed seems to be his only issue, and although his pass-rushing is not questioned, in most cases he was untouched in his effort.
His intangibles are to die for. When people talk about Casey Matthews, you always hear words like "intuition" and "instincts."
Many of the aspects that scouts are overlooking are also things that weren't talked about when Clay Matthews was in the draft process; Clay was completely off the radar until his stellar senior season at USC.
It will be interesting to see if a team takes an early flyer on Casey, based solely on the hype of his bloodlines, and potentially snags him in Round 3.
3) Owen Marecic, FB/LB, Stanford
What would you say if I told you that your team could draft the most versatile player in college football?
Hopefully you would know the name Owen Marecic.
He was the winner of the 2010 Paul Hornung Award, given to the most versatile college player in the country, while playing fullback and linebacker in each game in 2010 for the Cardinal.
There is no way to find a player with a higher motor than Marecic, a high-energy player who brings his 100 percent to every play.
Against Notre Dame last year, he scored an offensive and defensive touchdown.
Marecic will stick to being a fullback in the NFL. He fights for every yard and was a great lead-blocker in the college game. In his last two years with the Cardinal, Marecic punched in nine touchdowns on offense.
He doesn't have blazing speed and is physically limited, but he will surely see time as a special-teams contributor on day one.
It may be worth it for some team to pick him up in the fourth round, as Marecic is in the conversation as the biggest potential steal of the draft.
2) Greg Romeus, DE, Pittsburgh
Usually when seniors get injured and don't play much in their last collegiate seasons, their draft stock tends to slip a bit (unless you are Sam Bradford, of course).
Such was the case with Greg Romeus after he tore his ACL in November after missing seven games due to back surgery.
In 2008 and 2009 though, Romeus had 15.5 sacks and forced four fumbles while wreaking havoc in the backfield.
Romeus stands at 6'6" and weighs 265 pounds. He can drop back into coverage or bull-rush the offensive lineman and stop running plays in the backfield; he totaled 27 tackles for loss in his '08 and '09 campaigns.
Romeus is extremely athletic and his pass-rushing skills are consistent. He times the snap well and bull-rushes with extreme strength. He can control blockers and gets excellent leverage. He was also double-teamed quiet often at Pitt.
The question with Romeus is: Can he come back from back and ACL surgeries to be effective in the NFL and also be durable?
He may be a huge question mark, but the All-Big East Second-Team selection for the 2008 season, All-Big East First-Team selection for the 2009 season and Co-Defensive Player of the Year is worth taking a risk on, especially if he falls to the fifth or sixth round.
Late-third round–early-fourth round
1) Tandon Doss, WR, Indiana
No player is flying under the radar as much as Tandon Doss.
Doss poses a problem for teams everywhere on the field; he is tough to cover one-on-one down the field, but also isn't afraid to go across the middle.
He can run out of the backfield, as he averaged nine yards a carry in 2009 and almost six yards a carry in 2010.
He can also return kicks, averaging 24.8 yards a kick in 2010.
Against Michigan last year, Doss had 15 catches for 221 yards.
Let's also not forget that he did all this while playing for the University of Indiana, which virtually had no other NFL prospects on its offense.
He is a complete route-runner and a crafty player with hands that can pluck the ball right out of the air.
He may not be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, but he can be a dangerous No. 2 or slot receiver for a lucky team.
If Doss could add some bulk to his frame and learn to be more physical when the ball is in the air, he could be remembered as the steal of the draft when it's talked about years from now.
Gold Amongst the Remains
The NFL draft gives fans a time to sit down, relax and celebrate.
It is better to celebrate though when you know exactly who your team needs to draft throughout the entire draft.
If even one of the players mentioned is drafted by your team come the end of April, just know that, while he may likely not be a day-one impact player, your team is headed in the right direction and has found gold where usually there is only silver and bronze.
Feel free to comment and discuss! Follow Zack on twitter @ZackDuarte