2021 NFL Draft: Top Sleepers Still Flying Under the Radar with a Month to Go

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2021

2021 NFL Draft: Top Sleepers Still Flying Under the Radar with a Month to Go

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    The 2021 NFL draft starts April 29, and the Jacksonville Jaguars are still widely expected to take Trevor Lawrence first overall.

    The New York Jets should select Zach Wilson next, and with the San Francisco 49ers surrendering three first-round picks to move up to No. 3, they're surely going after a QB too.

    However, as always, several quality prospects are flying under the radar. The guys we selected, listed in alphabetical order, aren't currently projected to be first-rounders, but they could end up being steals.

Richie Grant, S, Central Florida

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    While no one is going to consider Central Florida an NFL factory, it has put several quality players into the league, including recent first-round picks Mike Hughes and Breshad Perriman. Safety Richie Grant isn't likely to be a first-round selection—he's not ranked on Bleacher Report's top 150 prospects list—but he could have a fine pro career ahead of him.

    Listed at 6'0" and 194 pounds, Grant may be a bit smaller than a typical NFL safety. However, he produced in nine games this past season, amassing 49 solo tackles, five passes defended, three interceptions and 3.5 tackles for loss.

    "Overall, Grant needs to iron out some consistency issues, but he has NFL starting-level range, eyes and ball-hawking tendencies," The Athletic's Dane Brugler wrote. "He projects as a single-high or split safety who will compete for starting reps as a rookie."

    It wouldn't be a shock to see a team snag him at the bottom of the first round, and he should be a Day 2 selection at worst.

Walker Little, OT, Stanford

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    Stanford offensive tackle Walker Little may be flying under the radar now, but that wasn't always the case. There was a time when he was considered a first-round selection and an early starter at left tackle.

    "Little is a plug-and-play blindside protector," draft analyst Matt Miller wrote for Bleacher Report back in April 2019.

    Miller had him as the No. 2 overall pick in his way-too-early 2020 mock draft.

    However, Little has slipped into relative obscurity since then because he hasn't been on the field. He appeared in just one game in 2019 before suffering a season-ending ACL injury. He decided to forgo the 2020 draft and return to college, but he then opted out of the 2020 season.

    Once considered a first-round prospect, Little is now ranked just 72nd on Bleacher Report's top 150 list.

    Listed at 6'7" and 320 pounds, Little has the size to succeed as an NFL blocker. While he may need to get back into the swing of things after nearly two full years off the field, the physical traits and skill set that once put him on the first-round radar should largely remain intact.

Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State

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    While this draft class is perceived as loaded at both quarterback and wide receiver, not many running backs are getting first-round buzz. Oregon State's Jermar Jefferson certainly isn't one of them, though he could be a tremendous mid- to late-round acquisition.

    "He's going to be a Day 3 pick, but he can play—he hasn't been talked about enough over the past year," ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. wrote.

    Listed at 5'10" and 217 pounds, Jefferson has shown he can get tough yards on the ground. He amassed 858 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in just six games this past season while averaging 6.45 yards per carry.

    He has just 18 receptions over the past two years, which is why he'll likely get pushed down draft boards—he's ranked 109th on Bleacher Report's top 150 list. However, he can be an early and consistent contributor even if he's never an every-down back.

Cade Johnson, WR, South Dakota State

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    Because this year's draft class is both talent-rich and deep at receiver, South Dakota State's Cade Johnson has largely been overshadowed. Not playing in 2020 certainly didn't help, and Johnson is ranked 132nd on Bleacher Report's top 150 list. However, whichever team drafts him on Day 2 or Day 3 is going to get a heck of an offensive weapon.

    Listed at 5'10" and 180 pounds, Johnson is certainly on the smaller side. However, he's proved to be both a shifty slot target and a viable deep threat. Between 2018 and 2019, he amassed 139 receptions for 2,554 yards and 25 touchdowns.

    With the Jackrabbits playing spring ball and Johnson focused on the draft, we haven't seen him in a game in over a year. However, he was present at the Senior Bowl and made a strong impression in Mobile.

    "Nearly uncoverable in Senior Bowl one-on-ones—when he wasn't shaking free defenders, he was making contested grabs and/or tiptoeing the sideline," Yahoo Sports' Eric Edholm wrote. "Footwork and route running looked even crisper and sharper there than in 2019 tape."

    Johnson could be a perfect target for teams not looking to pursue DeVonta Smith or Ja'Marr Chase on Day 1 but still seeking an impact receiver.

Davis Mills, QB, Stanford

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    With Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, Trey Lance and Justin Fields headlining the quarterback class, Stanford's Davis Mills has slipped below the radar. He also has only 14 games and 438 career pass attempts on his resume.

    Davis still figures to be a fine developmental prospect, and in a different year, he'd probably be getting much more attention.

    "A loose, well-built passer, Mills shows the ability to scan, operate from various platforms and throw with touch/anticipation. He is one of the best middle-of-the-field passers in the draft, but he needs time to grow and eliminate the 'what are you doing?' plays from his tape," The Athletic's Dane Brugler wrote.

    A series of knee injuries in high school and college could also be a red flag. However, the 6'4", 225-pound passer has both the size and the athleticism to grow into a quality NFL starter.

    After an impressive pro day—one that included a 4.58-second 40-yard-dash—Mills' stock could be on the rise. However, he's still overshadowed by the top five quarterback prospects and highly unlikely to land in Round 1.

Aaron Robinson, CB, Central Florida

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    Another Central Florida product and one of only two players on this list to be ranked inside Bleacher Report's top 100 prospects, Aaron Robinson is an intriguing defensive prospect.

    Listed at 6'1" and 193 pounds, he has the perfect length of a modern NFL cornerback with the skills to match.

    "Robinson is a versatile defender that can function in both man and zone coverage and he will make the run defense better with his ability to fill and defend the D-gap," Joe Marino of The Draft Network wrote. "Overall, he's a physical player with quick feet and sufficient athleticism."

    While Robinson may not have the ball skills of an elite perimeter cornerback—if he did, he'd be in the first-round conversation—he isn't likely to be a major liability in coverage. Last season, he produced six passes defended to go with 31 solo tackles and a fumble recovery.

    Like teammate Richie Grant, Robinson should be a Day 2 selection.

Chris Rumph II, Edge, Duke

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    Ranked just 113th on Bleacher Report's top 150 list, Duke's Chris Rumph II should probably be getting more attention than he is. There is no "sure thing" edge-rusher in this class, but he has the potential to be one of the draft's better options.

    Listed at 6'4" and 235 pounds, Rumph may not be an edge-setting defender in the NFL, but he possesses enough size to rush from the perimeter. However, it's his technique and footwork that make him a true sleeper prospect.

    "Rumph is a rare cat. He plays like a tenth-degree blackbelt with his hands and has a springy, oiled-up lower half," CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso wrote. "That blend of deeply advanced skill and inherent talent leads to him being in the same unblockable edge-rusher echelon as the Bosa brothers and Chase Young among those I've scouted. Seriously."

    Rumph flashed his potential with the Blue Devils, amassing 14.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss over the past two seasons. Expect him to continue making plays in the backfield in the pros.

Payton Turner, Edge, Houston

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    While Chris Rumph II may be best suited as a speed-rusher off the edge, Houston's Payton Turner has the size and the skill set to be a penetrator from the end or defensive tackle position.

    Listed at 6'6" and 270 ponds, Turner is built to set the edge, attack the quarterback and stonewall ball-carriers. He played a variety of positions for the Cougars and has the skill set needed to succeed in virtually any scheme. However, he could take time to develop.

    "The best components of Turner's game are his length, physicality, power, hand combatting skills and motor. Those traits give him appeal as a pass-rusher and run defender," The Draft Network's Joe Marino wrote. "With that said, he needs to clean up his stance, release from his stance, pad level, processing skills and develop more rush variety."

    While Turner did have five sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss in just five games this past season, he's more of a high-upside prospect than a finished product. Still, his versatility and four years of experience shouldn't be ignored.

    In a class without a sure-thing pass-rusher, he will be worth a long look on Day 2.