With the draft only one day away already, this is my last chance to discuss who I have graded out to be potential sleepers at the next level.
While some of their projections may still be relatively high, I don't believe they are getting drafted where they should be.
These guys might not got a ton of love now, but I'm willing to bet many of them will be surprising looking back three years from now.
DT/NT Jurrell Casey, USC (Projected: Third to Fourth)
Casey is one of the most violent defensive tackles I've ever scouted. He tries to take out ball carriers. He uses his hands well to disengage blockers and he has outstanding quickness. His burst off the snap will be difficult to handle and he can only be described as relentless when fresh. I actually have him graded out to be first-round talent and I believe he'll end up becoming one of the top guys in this class.
OT James Carpenter, Alabama (Projected: Late Second to Third)
As crazy as it may sound, I've felt for some time now that Carpenter is the best offensive tackle in this draft class. While he doesn't have the upside of a Tyron Smith or Nate Solder, Carpenter is an NFL-ready guy. He has quick feet to mirror the defender and can get after it when run-blocking.
His impressive talent aside, just look the intangibles. He's not the self-aggrandizing type. He's described by Coach Nick Saban and teammates as having a quiet, unassuming nature.
I feel the most impressive thing about him is his ability to adjust on the fly. He transferred over from Coffeyville CC in 2009 and started every game for a National Championship team in the SEC. He finished his career in Tuscaloosa with 27 starts in 27 games.
CB/FS Rasi-I Dowling, Virginia (Projected: Second)
Most had Dowling pegged as a first-round talent heading into his senior season, but knee and hamstring injuries ruined his season. He officially got shut down with a fractured ankle. It appeared from his workout this offseason that he is fully recovered.
Dowling has good ball skills and is one of the best tacklers I've seen at the corner position. He has good hips for transition, which is somewhat surprising given his taller size. He can get taken on double-moves, but he has the work ethic to overcome that. He loves the physicality of the game and is a leader that isn't afraid to speak his mind.
I feel he has an even higher ceiling shifting to safety, but he can be effective at either position. His coach described him as a guy you'd dream about your daughter bringing home. Dowling has all the talent and intangibles to make an impact at the next level, provided he can stay healthy.
QB Jake Locker, Washington (Projected: Late First to Second)
While calling a potential first-round guy a sleeper may be a bit extreme, I feel that Locker will over-achieve given his draft status. Evaluators have done everything possible to poke holes in his game, but I feel that he will end up becoming the best QB in this class.
The argument that he's inaccurate is overdramatic. While there are some throws he misses, they are more the result of footwork than lacking a natural touch on the football. I've seen him make all the throws and he can put the ball where he wants to when his footwork is consistent.
He obviously has the tools to be a threat running the ball and his leadership qualities aren't questioned. I believe one of the most important attributes a QB can have is a love for contact. That is a redeeming quality that tends to separate who can take a beating in this league. Steve Young had it, as Tom Brady does now. Locker gets amped up taking a bit of a lick.
TE Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin (Projected: Late Second to Third)
While I've heard some reports that his stock is recovering, I'm not really sure why it was dropping to begin with. He's built in the mold of the modern TE, but he is surprisingly physical when run-blocking. He has natural hands and the ability to stretch the field. He's also a good route runner and can create separation. He shows explosion off the line and has good speed for the position. Kendricks should become a good player in the NFL.
ILB Casey Matthews, Oregon (Projected: Fourth)
People like to doubt Matthews by saying he's not his brother. That, of course, is very true. However, that isn't really a reason to diminish what Casey can do on the football field. He lacks great speed, but you could hide that a bit inside in a 3-4 scheme. He's a howitzer when he's blitzing and he can be effective in zone coverage.
Matthews always seems to make a big play when his team needs it. He makes up for his speed by having unteachable instincts. I feel he'll become a solid starter at the next level.
RB Allen Bradford, USC (Projected: Fifth to Sixth)
This projection doesn't hold much weight, because I've seen him go anywhere from the third round to potentially going undrafted. That point aside, Bradford has the potential to be a workhorse back at the next level.
Due to injuries and circumstance, Bradford really never got a chance to shine. When given the opportunity, he has exploded. I'm not usually a stats guy in terms of using it as part of the evaluation, but he averaged 7.2 yards per carry last season while splitting carries. He'll have to prove he can handle the load and stay healthy, but at the very least he should be a very solid back in a RBBC.
WR Austin Pettis, Boise State (Projected: Third to Fourth)
Personally, I view Pettis as the second-coming of WR Anquan Boldin. Despite having glue hands and a 65-catch, 1,011 yard season (13 TD) to finish his career, the FSU-product slipped to the second round as a result of his lack of timed speed. What a steal that ended up being for the Cardinals!
Pettis has been very productive at Boise State and finds himself in a similar predicament. He ran a 4.56, but he has 4.4 hands. He is a highlight reel waiting to happen and I feel he'll be very productive in a No. 2 role, much like Boldin.
FS Mark LeGree, Appalachian State (Projected: Sixth to Seventh)
LeGree's knocks are that he played at a small program and doesn't have great hops. His instincts and ball skills give him a chance of being a pretty good player at the next level. He had 20 picks in three seasons at Appalachian State. He jumps routes and diagnoses plays. He's a hitter and throws his body all over the field.
He dominated his level of competition, which is usually a best indicator of whether or not the can make the jump. He'll probably have to redshirt his first year, but I look for him to become a starter at the next level.