2013 NFL Draft Predictions: 7 Players Who Will Be Late-Round Sleepers
The 2013 NFL Draft may be nine months away, but that doesn't mean it's too early to make some bold predictions about seven late-round sleepers.
While it's always fun to examine the marquee prospects, it goes without saying that late-round selections can be just as critical to a team's success as first-rounders.
For anyone doubting the value of late-round picks or even undrafted free agents, Super Bowl XLVI featured a sixth-round legend in Tom Brady, two undrafted stud receivers in Victor Cruz and Wes Welker and a former seventh-round pick in running back Ahmad Bradshaw.
Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley and his go-to weapon Robert Woods will certainly hear their names called early on draft day, but let's take a look at seven lesser-known prospects who should be late-round sleepers this April.
Xavier Nixon, OT, Florida
Florida left tackle Xavier Nixon appeared well on his way to stardom in 2009, becoming the first true freshman to start at left tackle for the Gators since Reggie Green in 1992.
Unfortunately for the former 5-star recruit, the last two years of his career have been frustratingly inconsistent.
Blessed with an athletic 6'6" frame, Nixon has struggled to keep weight on since arriving at UF.
Often checking in at well under 300 pounds, the North Carolina native struggled to anchor against the NFL-caliber defensive linemen of the SEC.
However, the once promising prospect is currently listed at 309 pounds and looks primed to have a rebound year for the Gators.
His underwhelming resume will keep him out of the top half of the draft, but with his athletic tools and upside, Nixon could be a late-round steal.
Russell Shepard, WR, LSU
Much like Nixon, LSU wide receiver Russell Shepard is another former 5-star recruit who's failed to dominate the SEC.
The former dual-threat high school quarterback was mostly used as a running quarterback as a freshman, carrying the ball 45 times for 277 yards and two scores.
In 2010, the 6'1", 185-pounder made the full-time switch to receiver where he racked up a career-high 33 catches for 254 yards.
Strangely, the dynamic playmaker hasn't gotten the ball in his hands that often with the Tigers, but the NFL athleticism is there.
With former No. 1 receiver Rueben Randle now with the New York Giants, Shepard should be a more frequent target and could establish himself as a high-upside late-round sleeper.
Washaun Ealey, RB, Jacksonville State
The name Waushan Ealey shouldn't be unfamiliar to SEC fans as the current Jacksonville State running back was once the top dog at Georgia.
After leading the Bulldogs in rushing in 2009 and 2010, the 5'11", 215-pounder was granted his unconditional release by the school on May 9, 2011.
Although Mark Richt's squad lost its starting tailback, it also rid itself of a player who had been suspended on several occasions during his time in Athens.
In his first season at Jacksonville State, Ealey wasted no time dominating the competition, racking up 1,082 rushing yards.
Ealey's production and solid frame should make him an intriguing late-round flier for a team in search of a tough, hard-charging back.
John Boyett, S, Oregon
While he won't be taken in the second round like former Oregon Duck safeties Pat Chung, T.J. Ward and Jairus Byrd, senior John Boyett should claw his way into the late rounds of the 2013 draft.
The 5'10", 202-pounder brings a tenacious attitude from his free safety position.
After breaking into the starting lineup in 2009, the California native has developed into one of the better defenders in the Pac-12.
In three seasons as a starter, Boyett has posted 276 tackles, nine interceptions and 29 passes defended.
With a stacked safety class, the Ducks' defensive leader won't go in the first half of the draft, but he'll make a team very happy in the final few rounds.
Baker Steinkuhler, DT, Nebraska
Once Jared Crick went down with a season-ending pectoral injury in October, Nebraska defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler elevated his game.
Checking in at a menacing 6'6", 290 pounds, the senior interior lineman is the son of Dean Steinkuhler—a former offensive lineman for the Cornhuskers who won both the Outland and Lombardi awards in 1983.
Since he broke into the starting lineup in 2010, the powerfully disruptive Nebraska native has piled up 86 tackles, 5.5 sacks and eight quarterback hurries.
Although Steinkuhler may go earlier than some of the other prospects on this list—he's currently the 173rd-ranked player on CBS Draft—I wouldn't consider him an early-round talent.
His hustle, frame and pedigree should make him a valuable contributor, and he is the epitome of a late-round steal.
Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati
The University of Cincinnati has quietly produced two of the league's better pass-rushers in Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Trent Cole and Houston Texans outside linebacker Connor Barwin.
Both players wrecked havoc on collegiate quarterbacks before moving on to terrorizing NFL signal-callers.
Although he's currently rated as the 26th-best defensive end by NFL Draft Scout, Walter Stewart has a chance to be the next great pass-rusher to emerge from the Bearcats program.
Tipping the scales at 6'4", 248 pounds, Stewart has the requisite size to make the transition to 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level.
Coupled with his quick first step and improving instincts, the senior pass-rusher should prove to be a big-time sleeper in 2013.
Adrian Bushell, CB, Louisville
When Adrian Bushell hears his name called late in the draft, it won't be because he lacks top-end talent.
In fact, the former 3-star recruit was once a member of the Florida Gators before he transferred to Louisville.
Although he was plagued by some off-field issues at Florida, he was once vying for a starting spot opposite Janoris Jenkins.
Last season, the 5'10", 190-pounder made a big splash in his inaugural season with the Cardinals, registering 50 tackles, three passes defended and an interception in just nine games.
With a solid frame for a corner and 4.4 wheels, Bushell should continue to improve his stock for the 2013 draft.