As I mentioned in yesterday’s look at possible Round 2 sleepers in this year’s NFL draft, part of the problem with predicting later-round draft picks is that you never truly know the mindset of each individual team.
Some teams might have a player like Dontay Moch rated as I had him yesterday (a second-round pick), but others would pass on him until the fifth or sixth round.
Along those same lines, predicting a later-round steal becomes doubly difficult because it depends almost as much on the players as the system that he goes to in determining whether or not his value will be that high.
Take Danny Woodhead. Beyond the obvious characteristics that led to him being undervalued (his size and the relative obscurity of his school), he eventually wound up on the Jets.
They were a team that, at that point, had no real need for a running back (being stocked with a combination of Thomas Jones/LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene during Woodhead’s tenure in New York).
Yet when he got to New England, a team stricken with injuries at the running back position, he immediately found a place. On top of that, New England’s offensive versatility suited Woodhead much more than the power running style of the Jets.
It was the system plus the player that created the Danny Woodhead that New Englanders loved last season. Without that perfect combination, he’d still just be an anonymous guy who was trying to make it in the NFL.
Predicting draft picks in the third round is similar. It takes a good environment that’s conducive for the player to develop.
Yet it also takes a good player to develop once he’s in that environment. So off we go with Round 3 sleepers.
Quan Sturdivant, ILB, North Carolina
Sturdivant is a great example of someone who was devalued for the wrong reasons. There are questions about his character stemming from a 2010 arrest for marijuana. But then again, if we judged everyone on smoking pot, Barack Obama wouldn't be president. Basically, I could think of about a million things worse in terms of character issues (he doesn't beat his girlfriend, for example).
Also, people question his athleticism. Yet I don't rate this because, even after missing five games with a hamstring injury this past season, he still ranked third on the team in tackles (61) and had 8.5 tackles for loss.
His instincts are good, and he's able to play both inside and outside linebacker. Added to that, he's rocked special teams even after becoming a starter. All of that adds up to make him valuable to any NFL team on day one.
Clint Boling, OL, Georgia
As any New York Giant fan will tell you from last season, two things are important for an offensive line. First is being able to protect your quarterback (duh) because Eli Manning is simply a bad quarterback when rushers are in his face (which, to be fair, is the same for any QB this side of Ben Roethlisberger).
Second, a crucial factor for offensive linemen is that they be versatile. They must be able to play multiple positions because injuries are inevitable.
Clint Boling is a great example of someone who can be valuable simply because he’s able to play multiple positions. This past season as a lineman at Georgia, he started six games at left tackle, five at right guard and two more at right tackle. Playing against SEC opposition every week proves that this isn’t simply a fluke situation.
The major concerns are over his size and strength, but I’d rather those as the worries than toughness or work ethic (both of which are rated high for Boling).
Curtis Brown, CB, Texas
Brown (along with teammate Aaron Williams) could very well slip into the classic Texas cornerback mold. They don’t look overwhelming on paper, but in reality they’re solid NFL players. Think of Nathan Vasher and Aaron Ross (both helped their respective teams to Super Bowls, with Ross winning his).
Brown, coming from the Big Ten, has certainly played against top competition. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s used to the enormous spotlight of having played in front of packed stadiums throughout his college career. As high as some people are on small-school prospects, it’s occasionally good to pick someone who’s used to the limelight.
He also possesses good ability not just to cover in man coverage, but also to play fluently in a zone (something that makes him valuable to a higher percentage of NFL teams.) According to scouting reports, Brown also has a short memory of mistakes, which is always critical for any defensive back.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma
Continuing the theme so far of third-round picks being versatile, there are few potential draft picks more versatile than Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray. He not only rushed for over 1,200 yards in 2010 but also caught 71 passes for more than 500 yards and five touchdowns.
That pass-catching ability puts him ahead of other running backs in similar positions.
The concerns around Murray are his lingering injury issues. I can't sugarcoat this part. He's had multiple surgeries and has also had hamstring and ankle injuries. But this is a lot of the reason why he'll still be on the board at this spot, so if he can stay on the field, he'll be a quarterback's best friend.
Austin Pettis, WR, Boise State
In most drafts there will be at least one wide receiver who draft experts think isn't athletic enough to hack it at the next level but mysteriously is fine. Pettis might be that guy.
He doesn't wow anyone with his speed (a very pedestrian 4.6 in the 40), yet he's been extremely productive for Boise the last few seasons (33 receiving touchdowns over the last three seasons).
He also has something that only shows up on tape and not at the combine: route-running savvy. He doesn't just run routes the way they're drawn up. He can run routes that get him open (a novel concept).
I think he could be an effective receiver in the right system, where timing and his aforementioned route-running is prioritized over one-on-one athleticism.