2020 NFL Draft: Top Sleepers Still Flying Under the Radar with a Month to Go

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistApril 1, 2020

2020 NFL Draft: Top Sleepers Still Flying Under the Radar with a Month to Go

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Every year, draft prospects with low projections come into the NFL and make early statements, proving that we slept on their talent.

    Last year, the Las Vegas Raiders selected defensive end Maxx Crosby in the fourth round. He led the team with 10 sacks and finished second (four votes) to San Francisco 49ers edge-rusher Nick Bosa (43 votes) for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

    Although Bosa took home the award, Crosby put his name on the radar as a Day 3 gem. In a redraft, he would likely go higher than 106th overall.

    In 2016, the Dallas Cowboys selected Dak Prescott in the fourth round. Now, after an Offensive Rookie of the Year honor and two Pro Bowl seasons, he's in talks with the team on a new long-term deal, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

    Let's take a look at Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller's latest prospect rankings and shine a light on players outside his top-50 range. For each position group, we'll focus on a player who doesn't have predraft buzz but has the ability to contribute right away or jump off to a strong career start.

          

QB Anthony Gordon, Washington State

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    Who would have envisioned a quarterback pipeline between Washington State and the NFL?

    Gardner Minshew II earned Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2018, joined the Jacksonville Jaguars in the sixth round of the 2019 draft and replaced Nick Foles as the starter because of injury and poor play. The former Cougars quarterback made 12 starts.

    This year, Washington State's Anthony Gordon will move up to the pros. He's not discussed with top quarterback prospects Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert, but just like Minshew, he's a self-assured passer with an edge. Minshew praised the signal-caller's demeanor, per Crissy Froyd of Titans Wire.

    "I was always impressed with Gordo's confidence and competitiveness," Minshew said. "He also had a lot of arm talent. His confidence in himself gave me a lot of confidence that he would do well after I left Washington State. Guys like to rally around that."

    In one year as a starter in Mike Leach's pass-heavy offense, Gordon threw for 5,579 yards, 48 touchdowns and 16 interceptions with a 71.6 percent completion rate. He's not a mover in or outside the pocket (minus-20 career rushing yards), but his arm talent could lead him to a productive NFL career if he's given the opportunity.

RB Eno Benjamin, Arizona State

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    Eno Benjamin didn't finish his collegiate career on the highest note. During his sophomore term, he put up 1,642 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, along with 263 yards and two scores as a pass-catcher. The Arizona State product couldn't top his numbers on the ground in the following campaign, though.

    In 2019, Benjamin logged 1,083 rushing yards but saw a slight increase in pass-catching production, hauling in 42 receptions for 347 yards and two touchdowns. While his yards per carry fell from 5.5 to 4.3, he put a positive spin on a solid but not a great year, per Darren Urban of the Arizona Cardinals' official website:

    "I think I really, truly developed a leadership skill. I mean, it was not more so about me. It was about what can I do to help the team win. So it was getting five carries, 11 carries, 20 yards, 50 yards -- little things such as if I'm going to run this run, I'm going to run it as fast as I can, knowing I'm not going to get the ball so I can open up someone else."

    Benjamin has the mentality of a running back ready to join a committee, which bodes well for him since most teams use multiple ball-carriers. Yet he can also handle the majority load, as he proved during the 2018 term.

    He ran a 4.57-second 40-yard time at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he's tough to bring down, forcing 146 missed tackles since 2018, per Pro Football Focus. The 5'9", 207-pound running back can make something out of nothing with his tenacity and vision. Don't be surprised to see him lead a backfield at a point in his pro career.

WR Tyler Johnson, Minnesota

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    If you like a speedster who can take the top off a defense, Tyler Johnson isn't a good choice. At 6'1", 206 pounds, he's a bigger wideout with possession pass-catcher traits, but that shouldn't keep him off the field in the NFL.

    Johnson uses strength, instincts and competitive spirit to rip the ball out of the air at its high point. He's athletic in a physical sense—not in agility. Nonetheless, his skill set can help him earn a starting role on the outside or a spot out of the slot.

    Over the past two seasons, Johnson posted huge numbers, racking up at least 1,169 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in both terms. In 2019, he led the Big Ten in receptions (86) and yards (1,318).

    The team that selects Johnson in the draft will see a tough playmaker with the box-out skills of an NBA player in the paint. Quarterbacks will look his way when under duress because of the receiver's ability to snag receptions with his long arms (30⅞ inches) and solid hands in traffic.

TE Colby Parkinson, Stanford

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    The pass-catching tight end has grown in popularity in recent seasons. Zach Ertz, Darren Waller, Mark Andrews and Evan Engram aren't the best blockers on the outside, but they change the complexion of their respective aerial attacks because of the threat to haul in big-time receptions.

    Colby Parkinson could follow in the mold of those tight ends. Don't expect him to knock an edge-rusher on his back, but he can run down the seam or line up outside for a favorable mismatch.

    In 2018, Parkinson caught 29 passes for 485 yards and seven scores. He was a big-play touchdown magnet.

    Last year, Stanford's instability under center likely cost Parkinson some production. K.J. Costello and Davis Mills shared quarterback duties, and the former had head and thumb injuries early in the term. Yet the 6'7", 252-pound tight end didn't drop a pass and came down with the most contested catches (14) among draft-eligible tight ends, per Pro Football Focus.

    Teams that need a tight end with reliable hands will covet Parkinson's receiving skill set. He'll add another dimension to a limited passing attack.

OL Ben Bartch, Saint John's (Minnesota)

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    There's a good chance you didn't watch a lot of Ben Bartch at the collegiate level. He didn't play at a Power Five program but made a name for himself at Division III Saint John's (Minnesota). Fellow Johnnies offensive lineman Dan Greenheck praised his former teammate for quality performances against players from FBS programs at the Senior Bowl, per Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

    "Ben looked really good against guys from Florida, Alabama, big-time programs," Greenheck said. "What you heard were the football people talking about his footwork and hand placement.

    With active hands and lateral movement, Bartch should be able to handle the big leagues at either tackle position. Over the last two terms, he lined up on the left side at Saint John's. According to Pro Football Focus, the 6'6", 309-pound offensive lineman allowed just four quarterback pressures in 2019 in the 12 games it graded.

    Teams will see Bartch's sound technique and athleticism on film, but he has some grit and drive as well. He drank a repulsive weight gain shake to put on about 60 pounds during a transition from tight end to offensive tackle. The added weight will help him hold his base against bigger and stronger competition.

EDGE Curtis Weaver, Boise State

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    On the edge, Curtis Weaver isn't going to beat offensive linemen with power. He's an instinctive pass-rusher without strong physical tools. The 6'2", 265-pounder fits the profile of a 3-4 outside linebacker, but 4-3 base teams may use him on the weak side of the formation.

    At the combine, Weaver ran an impressive seven-second three-cone drill with a 4.27-second 20-yard shuttle, which showed his fluid movement and ankle flex. Those numbers bode well for his ability to bend around tackles on the edge and take a swipe at the quarterback.

    Through three collegiate seasons for Boise State, Weaver recorded 34 sacks, six pass breakups and two interceptions, but he'll face tougher competition outside the Mountain West Conference.

    Weaver doesn't have much push against the run, so teams may not use him in a three-down role, but he can immediately add some pocket pressure in passing situations. If he adds some strength, the young edge-rusher could bookend a four-man front with his hand in the dirt.

DT James Lynch, Baylor

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    Out of his stance, James Lynch has one motive: Disrupt whatever is going on in the backfield. He's a gap-shooter who's going to put quarterbacks and running backs on notice in clear one-on-one situations.

    Lynch had a breakout 2019 season, logging 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. He went on full attack mode, and his approach paid off in production.

    With a 6'4", 289-pound frame, Lynch could play defensive tackle in an even-man front or slide out to the end among three down linemen.

    Lynch would perform at an optimal level in a spot where he can utilize his get-off skills and aggressive pursuit near the point of attack in a 3-technique role. That would allow him to match up mano a mano and manhandle the opposing player.

    On the pro level, Lynch may need more discipline against slow-developing run plays, but his prospective coaching staff could teach him to key in on those situations and make the necessary adjustments to avoid giving up chunk yardage on the interior.

    Coming up the middle, Lynch will give quarterbacks nightmares.

LB Logan Wilson, Wyoming

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Logan Wilson has the skill set of a modern-day linebacker with the body of an old-school thumper.

    At 6'2", 241 pounds, Wilson covers a lot of ground and finds the football against the run or pass. He can tackle in the open field, fight through scrums for stops and lay a hit with his shoulders squared up to the opposition. If a quarterback tosses up an ill-advised ball to a pass-catcher in the middle of the field, the Wyoming product could haul it in for an interception.

    In four collegiate seasons, Wilson registered 409 tackles, 34.5 for loss, 14 pass breakups and 10 interceptions. Teams may question if the small-school Mountain West Conference standout's production translates to the NFL, but he's worth a Day 3 pick because of his clear upside in a three-down role.

    Wilson's average foot speed (4.63-second 40-yard time) may push him to the strong-side linebacker spot, but he should have a shot to become the quarterback of a defense because of his play recognition and natural instincts.

CB Amik Robertson, Louisiana Tech

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    In today's NFL, offenses will roll out three wide receivers and force defenses to cover an X-factor in the slot. Amik Robertson can combat that personnel grouping with his ball skills.

    At 5'8", 187 pounds, Robertson is destined to line up inside on the pro level. He could become one of the best in the slot position. Despite his small frame, the Louisiana Tech product isn't afraid to attack near the line of scrimmage, racking up 23 tackles for loss and four sacks at the collegiate level.

    Robertson's natural play recognition will garner trust and put apprehensions about his size to rest. In coverage, he'll snatch passes away from wide receivers who don't attack the football at its high point or stick his hand in passing windows for knockdowns.

    Coming out of Conference USA, Robertson didn't face top-level competition every week, but his ball-hawking skill set should translate in the big leagues. He picked off 14 passes, returning three for touchdowns, through three terms.

S Julian Blackmon, Utah

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    Before the 2019 season, Julian Blackmon went through a transition. He packed on 15-20 pounds to his frame and moved from cornerback to safety. The Utah product's recent position switch may raise some eyebrows concerning scheme fit with limited experience in a new role.

    Nonetheless, Blackmon maintained his ball-hawking tendencies, logging four interceptions and four pass breakups. He didn't lose a step with the added body mass either.

    At 6'1", 204 pounds, with ball-tracking skills and no hesitation to strike with force, Blackmon can fill both safety spots. Because of his experience at cornerback, he should be able to line up in the slot on the pro level.

    Blackmon will likely come off the board on Day 3. He suffered a non-contact knee injury during the Pac-12 Championship Game. With limited access to players and medical updates, teams may take a conservative approach with prospects on the mend.

    General managers should focus on Blackmon's raw traits and potential development. He'll go through some growing pains at safety, but the ability to produce impact plays shouldn't fade with a good coaching staff.