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NFL Draft Sleepers

By: Robert Davis

As the Bowl Season finishes up, many players have left their final on field impression for scouts. There are still a few all star games, the combine, and workouts to impress but the bulk of their resume has been completed. There are still players that have flown under the radar and have not received the acclaim they earned on the field. Here are a few sleepers to keep an eye on as the draft approaches, and as they begin their career at the next level:

Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
Davis was on his way to a potential first round draft grade after a sophomore year in which he ran for over 1,300 yards and 13 scores on the ground until a broken ankle wiped out his 2011 season. He redshirted the year, and hoped for a big 2012. It didn't quite happen that way. Davis ran for just 377 yards and two scores, while averaging only 3.9 yards per carry. Before the injury, Davis was an aggressive runner with tremendous speed for a 220lb back. He had the ability to make defenders miss and was a threat for a big play every time he touched the ball. While not a power back despite his size, the authority he ran with and speed allowed him to fall forward at the end of his runs. This past season, he was more hesitant and did not possess the same agility on the field. Davis will have to show teams at the combine and in workouts that the ankle is 100%, that he has his speed and cutting ability back, and he could re-establish himself in the middle rounds of the draft. It can often take a long time to get back to full strength with a broken ankle, so there is hope that he can regain his form. A team willing to take a flyer on day three of the draft could end up with a big play back, capable of being an impact starter.

Jonathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
Franklin was as responsible as any player for UCLA's turn around this year. He runs much tougher and much more aggressive than you expect from a 5'10 200lb running back. He has quick feet, can make the first defender miss on a consistent basis, and quickly gets to top gear once he's in space. He has very good speed and can rack up big plays with regularity, like he did this past season on his way to 1,734 yards and 13 scores on the ground. Franklin also developed into a threat as a receiver this year, which was a concern entering the season. His overall size does raise some concerns about how many carries he can handle at the next level, but he definitely has the talent to be a regular contributor in the NFL. He may not hear his name called until day three, but he has the talent to go a day earlier.

Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech
If the expected underclassmen declare, the WR position could be one of the deeper positions on draft day this year. Most people speak about Patton as a day three prospect, but he has the skills to go on day two, and be a playmaker in the NFL. He has solid size at 6'1 200, and combines it with excellent natural athleticism. Patton is one of the smoother receivers in this class. He glides across the field with the ball in his hands, in and out of his breaks, and adjusts easily to balls while in the air. Patton isn't going to simply run by defenders with blazing speed, but he has enough speed to get down the field at times and make big plays. He may not have the upside of a true #1, but Patton definitely has starter ability and could be a very good wideout in the NFL.

Kyle Long, OL, Oregon
Howie's son and Chris' brother originally planned on making his name in a different sport. He was a very good baseball player that originally signed to play the sport at Florida State. He left FSU with grade difficulty and some substance abuse issues, and eventually ended up on the gridiron at Saddleback(CA) Community College. Long landed at Oregon with one year of eligibility and became a backup tackle. Injuries forced him into the lineup at guard, and the NFL all of a sudden looked like a realistic possibility. Long has a lot of things going for him. The obvious bloodlines are there, and he's even bigger than his brother and father. Long is 6'7 320 but is also a good athlete. He's had success as a guard, using his size, strength, and athleticism to quickly make an impact. He has the natural tools to play tackle, but is clearly a work in progress at any position. Even though his time on the field has been sparse, Long has a ton of upside and is a name that could really make some noise in the post season.

Justin Pugh, OT, Syracuse
Athletic tackles are always in demand, and that is what makes Pugh a quality prospect. His name is rarely in discussion as a top 50 selection, but that's where players with his talent go. He is a three year starter for the Orangemen and has the skills to man the position in the NFL. He is a good natural athlete with nimble feet and good lateral agility. He mirrors defenders in pass protection, and is very good at blocking in space. Pugh also shows some pop at the point of attack and can get some movement in the running game. He will need to add some more weight to his frame, but he is a very good all around tackle prospect. He doesn't get much talk as a borderline first rounder or solid second rounder, but it would not be a reach if he was taken that high.

Datone Jones, DL, UCLA
Jones has has played both end and tackle for the Bruins, and had success at both spots. He is solidly built at 6'4 275, and has a well rounded game to go with it. He has a great burst off the line, and uses impressive natural strength and his quickness to wreak havoc in the backfield. His combination of athleticism, quickness, power, and relentlessness make him the kind of guy you have to worry about on every snap. Jones' blend of talent and motor could allow him to play multiple roles in the NFL. His best fit may be as a strongside end in a 4-3, but some added weight could allow him to shift inside in a 4-3, or play the 5 technique in a 3-4 alignment. Jones has added quite a bit of mass since enrolling at UCLA and is pretty thick, so there are some concerns about his growth potential but the kid is a legitimate second day prospect, even if he is projected to go on day three.

Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
There aren't many people in this draft that are as impressive physically as Hunt is. He has a massive frame at 6'8 280 with freakishly long arms. He's also an excellent athlete to go with that size and wingspan. Despite his height, Hunt shows a quick burst off the snap, and does a good job staying low out of his stance, which is usually the problem with taller players. His natural athleticism allows him to change direction well, and he has the speed to chase and close on the ball. Hunt is still a work in progress as he has only played football for four years after picking up the sport at SMU. He also uses his amazing physical gifts to impact the kicking game. He is second all time in NCAA history with 17 blocked kicks during his career. That is an area he can help a team immediately, even if he takes some time to develop his skills off the edge. Hunt is only viewed as a mid day three prospect now, but could blow up at the combine.

Jamie Harper, OLB, Southern Mississippi
Very few players can say they have played safety, linebacker, and defensive end at the college level. Harper can. He began his career as a safety, and gradually moved his way to the defensive line, although it was in a hybrid role off the edge. As you would expect, Harper is a gifted natural athlete with the speed to cover ground in a hurry. He is hard to block off the edge because is so quick, fast, and athletic. He has good size at 6'3 235, but he will need to bulk up further. As it stands now, he can be beaten up and taken out of plays by physical blockers. Harper will need to learn to take on blocks and shed better, in addition to getting stronger. You can't teach the speed and athleticism though. His game is attacking the line of scrimmage off the edge, but the physical tools should allow him to play in space and drop into coverage with some time to develop that part of his game. Even is a situational pass rusher, Harper has the skills to make an impact in the NFL.

Phillip Thomas, S, Fresno St.
84 tackles, 12 for loss, four sacks, four forced fumbles, and eight interceptions. That is the all around impact Thomas had on his way to unanimous All America honors. Very few players can impact the game in as many ways as he does, yet, he is still one of the most underrated players in this draft. Thomas has good size and is a good athlete, but is the player he is because of his natural football instincts. He is a disciplined defender, but very aggressive once he reads the action. Thomas led the nation in interceptions, showing his ability in pass coverage to locate the ball and be in position to make a play. He is a reliable open field tackler but also shows the ability to make a big hit when the opportunity presents itself. Fresno State utilized his all around skills very well, lining him up in the box, deep in centerfield and even in man coverage. He also showed a lot of toughness off the field, returning from a broken leg and dislocated ankle that cost him the 2011 season. Thomas won't blow people away physically, but his tremendous instincts make him an impact defender.


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