The uncertainty of this offseason has many of us questioning if the pro football season will be able to return to a sense of normalcy. The only thing that is certain right now is that the NFL draft will take place as scheduled beginning April 28th.
Since that is about the only positive news for NFL fans, let’s take a look at some potential selections from the 2011 NFL draft who might make for intriguing sleepers in the mid-to-late rounds.
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB Oregon State
Once thought of as a potential top-five runner for this draft, Rodgers saw his draft stock tumble when he run a disappointing 4.64 second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. He did, however, perform well at the other combine drills, showing his patented burst and agility. At Oregon State’s March 11th pro day, Rodgers improved his 40 time by running a 4.47.
The diminutive Rodgers (listed at 5′6″ and 196 lbs) has shown very good change-of-pace speed and will be able to hide behind gigantic NFL linemen. His excellent vision and ability to change direction quickly would fit into a variety of NFL offenses.
He’s also a solid receiver and has shown some amazing durability and toughness for someone of his size. Rodgers has the ability to also make an impact in the return game.
Quizz’s stature will likely mean that he will never be a three-down featured NFL running back. It may also hamper his ability to be an effective blocker out of the backfield.
He is probably best suited in a change-of-pace role with a team that will use a tandem or committee approach to its running game. But in an era where nearly all NFL teams use multiple runners and smaller backs with speed are excelling like never before, that might be the perfect scenario.
Projected Round: Third to fourth
Dontay Moch, DE/OLB Nevada
Dontay Moch’s NFL combine performance caused him to shoot up draft boards. He showed amazing speed and explosive potential with a position record-tying vertical leap, and blazed through a 4.45 40-yard dash—an incredible time for a linebacker.
Moch’s breakout performance at the combine has him being labeled as the proverbial “workout warrior." While few question his speed or athleticism, many talent evaluators question Moch’s ability to develop more pass-rush moves, coverage skills and the ability to shed blockers.
Some teams may also feel that his elite speed as a pass rusher may force him to move to defensive end, where there are concerns about his ability to gain the weight necessary to be effective at the next level.
With so many questions, he’s drawing comparisons to recent NFL-bust Vernon Gholston.
Dontay Moch is a classic case of the draft-day wild-card. A team that is high on his upside and feels they can help him develop could select him as high as the second round. He could also just as easily slide all the way into the fourth round if teams question whether his athleticism will translate to the NFL.
Projected Round: Second to third
Edmund Gates, WR Abilene Christian
Quick: Which wideout had the fastest 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine?
Few people would have guessed that Edmund Gates' 4.35 would be the correct answer. Gates was a big-time producer for the small school Abilene Christian. He put up over 1,100 receiving yards and 13 touchdown grabs and finished his senior season in the top three of most of the Wildcats’ all-time receiving marks.
Along with his blazing speed, Gates has the size (6’0″, 192) to play in the NFL. His solid hands and elusiveness will make him an excellent downfield threat, especially for teams looking to add a deep or vertical passing element to their offense.
Gates was originally recruited as a college basketball star, so he could be a candidate for fade and jump-balls in the end zone.
Being a small-school player means that Gates will be considered a raw prospect. He will likely need to work on route running, blocking and could have some difficulties learning an expanded playbook.
Though he has a solid set of hands, a lack of concentration at times has led to some untimely drops. Also of note, Gates will be 25 years old in June.
Small school or not, having the top 40-yard dash time at the wide receiver position and having 22 teams send reps out to attend your pro day workout means that NFL teams have taken notice. Gates is often compared to former fellow Wildcat Johnny Knox and could easily sneak into the bottom of the third round.
Projected Round: Third to fourth
Marcus Cannon, OG TCU
Teams looking for a massive man to plug into their offensive lines need to look no farther than TCU’s Marcus Cannon. Cannon (6’5″, 358 lbs.) is a monster who has shown excellent run-blocking abilities, versatility and a mean streak. He’s an ideal fit for any team’s front five.
As a senior in 2010, Cannon played an excellent left tackle for the undefeated Horned Frogs. The previous season, he played right tackle and did not allow a sack. He was able to dominate at both tackle spots for one of the top football programs in the NCAA.
Cannon has excellent strength and is a dominant run-blocker. He looked good through all the NFL combine drills and has excellent athleticism for a man of his size. He might be projected to play anywhere on the offensive line, but most scouts feel that he would be ideally suited at right guard.
Considering his massive size, there are concerns that Cannon may have to watch his weight. Also, as is the case for most rookie offensive linemen, he may struggle to adjust to the speed of pass rushers at the NFL level.
Marcus Cannon is rising up draft boards and has solidified himself as a top-10 offensive lineman in the 2011 NFL draft. Look for him to be selected in the top half of the second round, but don’t be surprised if he goes even earlier.
Projected Round: Second
Jalil Brown, CB Colorado
In a draft that is said to have good depth at the cornerback position, Colorado’s Jalil Brown is still flying under the radar. Brown is a big (6’1″, 206 lbs.) corner who really improved his draft stock by running a 4.46 second 40-yard dash at Colorado’s pro day.
Brown does a good job of using his size and strength to his advantage by making it difficult for opposing receivers to separate from him in man-to-man or press coverage. His size also allows him to play with confidence in the run game while his speed allows him to turn and run with most wideouts.
Playing opposite of teammate Jimmy Smith forced most teams to place their top receivers opposite of Brown and he more than lived up to the challenge. He had three interceptions and broke up five other passes and was named by the Big 12 coaches as Honorable Mention All-Big 12 Defensive Team.
Most NFL teams will look to add depth to their secondary this April, and Jalil Brown will make an excellent addition as a potential impact starting cornerback. He could sneak into the top 10 or 12 corners selected and should expect to hear his name called as early as the fourth round.
Projected Round: Fifth
Be sure to check the current NFL depth charts to see where these five sleepers ended up.
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