2014 NFL Draft's All-Sleeper Team
It's time to give some love to the lesser-known prospects of the 2014 NFL draft.
For months, the NFL media sprawl has bombarded folks with names that will be called in the first two or three rounds. Everyone knows about Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel, Sammy Watkins and Aaron Donald, but the draft is about a lot more than those top-tier prospects.
The later rounds are where teams can unearth gems like Jared Allen, Geno Atkins and Tom Brady. Some high-quality players come from even later, including undrafted prospects like Wes Welker, Tony Romo and London Fletcher.
Who are some of those sleepers in this draft?
Here are prospects at each position with potential to dramatically outplay more prominent names drafted above them. None of the players here are projected to be higher than fourth-round selections, and several figure to go undrafted.
Don't snooze on these NFL draft sleepers!
Connor Shaw, South Carolina
Jeff Mathews, Cornell
One of the reasons prospects wind up being sleepers is that they don't put it all together until late in their collegiate careers. Be it a new coach, or injury issues or simply newfound physical and mental maturity, sometimes a guy just blossoms late.
Such is the case with South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw.
Shaw's arm is only average, which relegates him to late-rounder at best. Uneven play prior to his senior season doesn't help. Various injuries, including a shoulder that forced him to miss time in 2013, are a real drawback.
He also suffered some by being in the shadow of Jadeveon Clowney at South Carolina, which is out of his control. Even positive mentions on Twitter, like this one from Joel Klatt of Fox Sports, make the obligatory mention of the big man on campus: "While we watch #Clowney on Pro Day today is more important for Connor Shaw...great competitor with decent skills."
Yet Shaw deserves a long look regardless. Any quarterback who can throw 24 touchdowns with just one interception in the SEC, while also rushing for over 500 yards running coach Steve Spurrier's offense, merits attention.
Shaw sees the field very well and throws accurately on the move. He can create on the run. He's self-aware about his skills. That makes him an ideal candidate to serve as an inexpensive understudy, as noted by Joe Goodberry of Cincy Jungle: "Connor Shaw looks like that typical UDFA Quarterback that starts a few games in year three and provides the 'spark' and 'grit' fans love."
A more cerebral, less mobile option is Cornell's Jeff Mathews. The Ivy League star also happens to have a rifle of an arm.
Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan produced an excellent video on Mathews, whom we watched together during Shrine Game practices. Hunt highlights his ability to drive the ball outside the hashes and across the field with zip.
It's also easy to see his high football IQ, and it comes in a physical package that is almost exactly the same as the more heralded Tom Savage. If he can adjust to the increased speed of the NFL game, Mathews has a real chance.
Tim Flanders, Sam Houston State
Zach Bauman, Northern Arizona
One of my preseason favorites, Sam Houston State's Tim Flanders, has earned some other admirers with his strong blend of agility, balance and vision.
From Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey: "Tim Flanders looks pretty sweet through those cones…fast feet, good balance for a guy his size."
More from Matt Waldman of Rookie Scouting Portfolio: "Tim Flanders, Sam Houston State. If this RB is not drafted there will be a bevy of teams calling to sign. Balance, agility, mature decisions."
His body and running style remind me of Bengals 2013 second-rounder Gio Bernard, though Flanders is not as fast. He played quite well against higher competition, including a monster outing against Texas A&M that you can watch here.
Northern Arizona scatback Zach Bauman might be the shiftiest runner in this entire draft. His quickness in every direction—including a lethal backward jump cut—is exceptional.
Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com was among the many Bauman impressed during Shrine Game practices, noting:
The top running back prospect on Day 1 was Northern Arizona's Zach Bauman on the East Team. Listed at 5-10 and 200 pounds, he doesn't look physically imposing and lacks a power element, but he is quick-footed to make explosive jump cuts and pick his way through the defense. Bauman runs low to the ground with light feet to make decisive moves and finish his runs.
Bauman measured in at just 5'7", and his 40 time of 4.5 flat is not exceptional either. However, his ability to create space for himself with quickness and anticipation, coupled with polished receiving skills, give him a chance to make it as an undrafted free agent.
Quincy Enunwa, Nebraska
Matt Hazel, Coastal Carolina
Nebraska wideout Quincy Enunwa fits the bill of a physically imposing, big-play wideout with outstanding athletic metrics. It's curious why he doesn't get more attention, even in a very deep and diverse receiving class.
Curiosity piqued? Check out this piece from Rotoviz, where his physical attributes and athletic ability draw some similarly lofty comparisons.
In a draft process where a similarly productive, less athletically gifted Big Ten talent like Cody Latimer can somehow skyrocket to potential first-rounder, it's befuddling that Enunwa remains a late-round sleeper.
Matt Hazel from Coastal Carolina is another player who, like Flanders and Mathews, shined during Shrine Game week practice sessions. While he's got just average size at 6'1" and 196 pounds, his body control and ability to quickly gain separation stood out.
Those show on tape too. From his scouting report at With the First Pick's Peter Smith:
Hazel does a great job of sinking his hips and planting his foot in the ground and making a sharp turn. This combined with the fact he can read when the opponent is turning and cut off of it, he can create a ton of separation and find himself wide open for an easy play. He is also able to sink and cut sharply when he needs to run an out or cross go laterally to his quarterback.
He's got all the makings of a solid third wideout, and teams will be able to land him in the sixth or seventh round.
Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State
Justin Jones, East Carolina
Colorado State's Crockett Gillmore is easy to spot in a crowd. He's a well-muscled 260 pounds while standing a hair under 6'6", and his dark mane flutters out of the bottom of his helmet when he runs.
Gillmore plays big, even for his size. As noted in his B/R scouting profile by Ryan McCrystal, he's very tough and physical, both as a blocker and receiver. The Texas native also has very strong hands, which stood out during both Shrine Game and Senior Bowl weeks.
Because he lacks great speed and can be mechanical in his movements, Gillmore is not likely to get drafted before the fifth round. The team drafting him there will pick up an immediate contributor and a player who projects quite nicely as the in-line tight, someone to pair with a tight end who has the speed to be a receiving threat from the outside or the slot.
An even deeper sleeper is East Carolina's Justin Jones. There's almost zero chance the former Pirate gets drafted, not after being suspended for his entire senior season.
However, he turned heads with his nearly 6'8", 270-pound frame at the Georgia State pro day (h/t Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post). He's got decent strength and surprising quickness for his length.
While the school never officially disclosed the reason for his missed season, Jones was not noted for being a diligent worker. If a coach can reach him and keep that fire lit, he's got the physical tools to land a spot on an NFL roster.
Danny Kistler, Montana
Michael Schofield, Michigan
While he didn't demonstrate during Shrine Game practices the adept footwork or high upside of another sleeper tackle, McGill's Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Montana tackle Danny Kistler still showed that he improved his lateral agility and hand placement from his Grizzly days.
From the Shrine Game reports from on Detroit Lions Draft:
He’s the tallest lineman on the West, and he fared pretty well in pass protection during the practices. For a taller tackle he did a decent job sinking his hips and uncoiling power from his core. He likely fits in the Waddle role of priority free agent, and with a year on the practice squad could emerge as a viable swing reserve tackle. His ceiling might even be higher than that.
Like Detroit's LaAdrian Waddle a year ago, Kistler is an undrafted player who could pleasantly surprise a team at the next level were he to get some technical refinement. As a bonus, he has experience playing guard.
Michigan man Michael Schofield is a sleeper who will be drafted, likely in the fourth or fifth round. There were times, notably against Alabama in 2012, where Schofield outshined first-round tackle mate Taylor Lewan.
He doesn't have anywhere near Lewan's athletic gifts, but the team that drafts Schofield will get a technically sound player with good length and loads of experience at a high level.
From his scouting report from The Sideline View's Lance Zierlein:
As a pass protector, you can see that Schofield, like his teammate Taylor Lewan, is well-schooled and proficient in that area of his game. Schofield has doeesn't lose leverage as much as you would expect for a taller player and he has enough core strength to play inside.
At worst, Schofield projects as a solid sixth lineman with the versatility to play any spot but center.
Chris Watt, Notre Dame
Zach Fulton, Tennessee
Notre Dame guard Chris Watt offers NFL-ready ability and power. He gets overshadowed by first-round tackle Zack Martin, who flanked the left guard in 37 games for the Irish.
A late-season knee injury kept Watt from doing more than the bench press at the combine, and that has caused some to forget about him. That's a mistake, because the Chicago native deserves to be a third- or fourth-round pick.
Apparently Mike Mayock of the NFL Network agrees, per Andrew Owens: "Mike Mayock projects Chris Watt to go in the third round, 'which might be a little rich for some teams.' Says 4th might be more realistic."
Fellow Chicagoan Zach Fulton is more of a later-round prospect, but the former Tennessee Volunteer also has a lot to offer NFL teams at guard.
The National Football Post's Greg Gabriel is quite bullish on the right guard, pegging him as a potential second-round pick. That's significantly higher than he's projected by most pundits, but it also shows the upside he offers.
He's a well-liked worker, two attributes that can help him blend right into a NFL lineup. As Wes Rucker of GoVols247 opined: "Also, I’ve said this many times: Whichever NFL team drafts former #Vols guard Zach Fulton will be really glad it did so."
His power and ability to generate movement in the run game give Fulton something legitimate to hang his hat on while he adjusts to the speed of the pass-rushers at the next level.
Matt Armstrong, Grand Valley State
Matt Armstrong from Grand Valley State is a real sleeper at the center position.
He dominated D-II-level competition, starting all four years for a top-notch program that has produced several other NFL players recently. Armstrong won the Rimington Award as the top center at the D-II level.
While he's not NFL-ready, he displays sound technique and quickness. The team that signs Armstrong as an undrafted free agent will have to mold his body, which his NFL.com combine profile notes needs some work.
Armstrong is likely to spend his rookie season on the practice squad, in part to help him get healthy. As noted in a nice piece from Josh Katzenstein of The Detroit News, Armstrong has had two surgeries this offseason and still had to drop out of the combine with a hamstring issue.
Khyri Thornton, Southern Mississippi
Bruce Gaston, Purdue
Khyri Thornton (pictured) gets overlooked in part because he played on one of the worst teams in the nation at Southern Mississippi. The Eagles have lost 22 of 23 games over the last two years, but it's not Thornton's fault.
He's a very powerful interior lineman with a great burst off the snap. Kyle Posey from Bolts From the Blue nicely breaks down his explosion and power in his scouting profile.
When watching Thornton, imagine him in the role Nick Fairley plays in Detroit's 4-3 scheme. In fact, Fairley is a very apt comparison for Thornton. Like the rotund Lion, Thornton doesn't always find the ball well or play in concert with his linemates all the time.
Put him in the middle of a more talented group, and Thornton could quickly emerge as a middle-round gem.
As for a player more suited to play the 3-technique in a 4-3 or even a 3-4 end, don't sleep on Purdue's Bruce Gaston.
Mike Loyko of NEPatriots Draft has already awakened some to Gaston's sleeper status: "Late Round DT Sleeper I'm working on.. Bruce Gaston, DT, Purdue. Nice combo of size, quickness, and upperbody strength."
Like Thornton, Gaston comes from a downtrodden program that waters down his profile. He was more productive when playing next to current Carolina Panther Kawann Short in the 2011 and '12 seasons, which lends more promise that he'll emerge as a quality contributor at the next level.
Ethan Westbrooks, West Texas A&M
Elhadji Ndiaye, Nebraska-Kearney
Another small-college prospect currently flying under the radar is West Texas A&M pass-rusher Ethan Westbrooks. Even after dominating the Shrine Game, where he racked up two sacks, he's still seen as nothing more than a sixth- or seventh-round player.
Part of that is because he's as raw as a freshly picked carrot. While he's blessed with outstanding burst off the snap and natural strength and speed, it's easy to see that he's only been playing football for two years at the D-II level.
That's the basic gist of his scouting profiles on both NFL.com (Nolan Nawrocki) and Bleacher Report (Scott Carasik). He also has some, well, interesting tattoos, including one on his face that could scare off some teams.
Westbrooks is a great candidate to be a practice-squad stash as a rookie while he gets some much-needed technical refinement. His athletic toolbox is fully stocked to eventually become a solid pass-rushing option as either an outside linebacker in a 3-4 or rush end in a 4-3 front.
Westbrooks clearly has a strong desire for football. In an interview with Scott Bischoff at New Era Scouting, he said:
Football to me it’s life and by that I mean, I played football with Pop Warner in my seventh grade year in junior high and even before then I watched it on TV and that’s what I’ve been wanting to do since I was little was play football in the NFL. I’m psyched that I get an opportunity and chance to do that, it just excites me beyond measure. To me football is just one of those things you love it, I mean, you love it until the game is through with you and that’s all I’m really trying to do is play until the game tells me it doesn’t need me anymore. To me, football is my first love, it’s everything.
Elhadji Ndiaye is even more obscure, but he could wind up making an even bigger impact. The Nebraska-Kearney product garnered attention at the All-Star Bowl, where his raw speed and ability to flatten around the corner had some NFL teams buzzing.
Bleacher Report's Chris Gazze profiled him shortly thereafter, including him on a list of potential Pittsburgh Steelers draft sleepers.
Another profile, this one from NFL Draft Diamonds' Shaun DePasquale, notes that the Senegal native works out with his good friend, Lions first-rounder Ezekiel Ansah, and that he purportedly clocked a 4.37 40-yard dash at 255 pounds.
Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State
Jayrone Elliott, Toledo
One of the big hurdles that many late-round picks must conquer is proving that they can hang with the big boys. Colorado State's Shaquil Barrett checked off that box with authority, posting a monster game against presumed first-round tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and Alabama.
That's Barrett above slamming AJ McCarron into the turf, one of the two times he was in on a sack against the Crimson Tide.
Barrett doesn't have ideal size; at 6'1" and an unchiseled 251 pounds, he's shorter and squatter than most 3-4 defenses prefer. Yet he's incredibly quick to react to a play and consistently takes good angles to the point of attack.
If a team can coach him up on pass-rushing intricacies and transform some of his weight to more functional muscle, Barrett is a sixth- or seventh-rounder who can readily contribute as a situational rusher.
Toledo's Jayrone Elliott is another guy for whom the game finally appeared to slow down as a senior. He always flashed nice athleticism and fast-twitch muscle during his Rockets career, but he lacked consistency and focus. He often played defensive end like a cat trying to catch a laser point on a wall.
In 2013, it clicked. He added about 15 pounds and wore it well, gaining strength without losing litheness. Now a hair over 6'3" and a cut 255 pounds, Elliott developed better hand usage and an ability to get free from blockers.
He played both end and linebacker at Toledo, including some instances of lining up over the slot. His ability to play in space and his closing speed should allow Elliott to contribute in packages as well as on special teams.
Because Elliott is a late bloomer as a football player, he figures to go either very late in the seventh round or as an undrafted free agent. His potential is much greater than that.
Roosevelt Nix, Kent State
It's hard for a four-time first-team All-Conference player at the FBS level to go under the radar, but that's the case with Kent State's Roosevelt Nix. Part of the problem is that he's incredibly hard to peg down.
Nix played defensive tackle for the Golden Flashes despite being 5'11" and under 270 pounds. As noted by Hustle Belt's Bryan M. Vance, he dominated right away as a 237-pound freshman.
Now at 248 pounds, he proved in postseason workouts he has the agility to play linebacker. That's probably his best bet to make it in the NFL. While he'll always be short, his incredible quickness and nose for the football can serve him well playing as a 3-4 inside backer on a blitz-heavy team.
Or Nix could really take to playing in space and become the next London Fletcher. Anyone who watched Nix tear apart the MAC the last few years would not doubt his ability to do so.
Nevin Lawson, Utah State
Qua Cox, Jackson State
Utah State cornerback Nevin Lawson is probably the least drowsy name of the sleepers here. He's got the potential to crack the bottom of the third round, though it's more likely he waits until the late fourth or early fifth round.
Even at his highest draft slot, Lawson is a steal.
While many smaller corners have to make the adjustment from playing outside in college to the slot in the NFL, Lawson has already racked up years of experience playing inside. Even better, he can jam the slot receiver, showing that he knows how to control the receiver's release.
As B/R's Matt Bowen articulated in this great breakdown of the Cover 2 scheme, that trait is a key to playing in most defensive schemes, whether it's zone or man-to-man coverage.
Lawson is functionally strong for his size, and he's a very fluid athlete. From his scouting report from With the First Pick's Peter Smith:
He has a strong build with a good amount of strength particularly in his upper body. Lawson has tremendous hips and overall fluidity as well as feet and body control. His speed is good but he makes it look better because he is so quick and able to correct himself so easily.
He can be grabby, but he's also an exceptional blitzer. Lawson registered nine tackles for loss and two sacks in his final two years with the Aggies.
A later option, one who is more of a project, is Qua Cox from Jackson State.
Cox drew one of the more interesting player comparisons in any scouting report I've seen this year. Jared Stanger of Field Gulls described him as "the DB version of Steve Smith."
It's an apt comparison, because they both play as if they're trying to seek out justice against all who wronged anyone they love on every single snap. His feistiness will serve him well as he adapts to playing against NFL wideouts.
Stanger also notes a "poor man's Jason Verrett," and that fits too. Like the TCU stud, Cox is undersized but plays with solid technique and is incredibly quick on his toes. He stepped right into emergency-substitute duty during Senior Bowl week and looked like he belonged.
Even as an undrafted player, Cox is a guy to keep an eye on.
Daniel Sorensen, BYU
Avery Patterson, Oregon
BYU safety Daniel Sorensen has one staunch advocate in former NFL player and current Bleacher Report writer Ryan Riddle, who boldly stated: "Daniel Sorensen will be a starting safety in the NFL & a good one. #VaultMe."
Fellow B/R analyst Ian Wharton also had nice things to say about the former Cougar in his draft profile. One key point Wharton makes:
Played very well in the role BYU needed him to play, which was a Cover 2 safety that defends the seam routes and outside posts. His ability to “win” within a specific role gives him value to many teams because he can be trusted to perform consistently.
Having one viable NFL skill is something that late-round prospects need in order to find a role, and Sorensen has that. He's also proven to be quite dynamic on special teams, another facet that third-day prospects need.
His draft projections are all over the place, which tends to indicate that nobody has a bearing on how NFL teams view him.
Avery Patterson has a higher profile, though he still qualifies as a sleeper. The Oregon safety lacks size at just 5'8", and that has caused too many people to prematurely write him off. As B/R's Chris Trapasso tweeted, that's a mistake: "There's an epidemic of DBs who struggle to tackle in space, vs. the run and on WR screens. Avery Patterson thrives in all those areas."
The Ducks defense featured many draftable talents over the last few years, so it's easy for Patterson to fall through the cracks. Yet when watching other guys, like linebacker Bo Lokombo or corner Terrance Mitchell, Patterson consistently flashes playmaking ability and football IQ.
His size likely limits him to being a late-round pick, but he has the chance to dramatically outplay that status.
Richie Leone, University of Houston
University of Houston punter Richie Leone is not likely to be drafted, but that doesn't mean he won't make it in the NFL.
What makes Leone stand out is his control. He downed over 50 percent of his punts inside the opposing 20-yard line in his final two seasons, with just eight touchbacks. That's a great ratio that proves he can pin teams deep and flip the field.
He's also shown a big leg as a kicker. A decent rate of 47 percent of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. He's a little too erratic to handle more than emergency duty as a field-goal kicker, but it's nice to have a punter who can double as a kickoff specialist.
Cairo Santos, Tulane
Tulane kicker Cairo Santos is one of the smallest prospects in this draft. At just 5'8" and 164 pounds, the Brazilian native looks diminutive even for a kicker. His legs are not well-defined or particularly long.
Then you watch him kick the ball. His kickoffs are fantastic; he led the nation in touchback percentage in 2013. As noted by NOLA.com's Jim Kleinpeter, all but two of his kickoffs wound up in the end zone.
His accuracy is strong to beyond 50 yards, and he's money in the bank inside 45 yards. Santos proved he can be clutch, nailing game-winners in consecutive weeks last season.
He also has a very interesting back story, nicely detailed by Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune.
All statistical data and draft history is courtesy of NFL.com.