Dolan: Some Potential Draft Sleepers

The draft has been over for just two days, and it’s already been overanalyzed by most reputable (and not-so-reputable) media outlets. We all have our opinions on what the Denver Broncos did in the first round, for instance. But in a draft that wasn’t particularly top-heavy at the skill positions, a few mid- to late-round picks may have slipped through the cracks, and these are the picks that ultimately will separate a good draft from a great draft for most teams. Here are some guys drafted a bit later I really like in good situations that we might see contribute some decent numbers down the line.

John Skelton

Cardinal QB John Skelton might have landed in the perfect spot.

QB

John Skelton (Arizona Cardinals, 5th round, 155th overall) – We’ve been raving about Skelton, a huge (6’5”) and athletic passer for quite some time, despite coming from a small school. And honestly, it would be difficult to find a better situation for Skelton to develop. He’s clearly behind Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson, but both of these guys have definite questions and if Skelton blooms, he could see the field eventually. He’s playing for a great coaching staff, and holding the clipboard while refining his skills in practice is exactly what Skelton needs. The issue with Skelton, despite all the physical tools in the world, is that he played almost exclusively in the shotgun while at Fordham, and he needs to learn to react to NFL defenses from under center. If he impresses while Leinart and Anderson remain mediocre NFL QBs, he may compete for action a year or two down the road.

Jarrett Brown (San Francisco 49ers, signed as an undrafted free agent) – We ranked Brown third among QBs in our Pre-Draft Rookie Report, based off of his outstanding physical tools. He’s big (6’3”, 224 lbs.), has an absolute rocket for an arm and was the fastest-timed QB at the combine (4.50 in the 40). The issue with Brown is that his mechanics are sloppy and must be adjusted (he throws like an athlete, not a QB), and his offense in college at West Virginia simply was not a pro-style offense. Brown would often have just one read to make, and if the throw was not there, he’d take off. That’s why he’s a good fit in San Francisco, with time to develop behind a handful of veterans (see: David Garrard), and if Alex Smith doesn’t take another step forward he man find a way onto the field in a couple of seasons.

RB

Montario Hardesty (Cleveland Browns, 2nd round, 59th overall) – In a draft full of athletes at the RB position, Hardesty was one of the few guys entering the draft who actually could become a true workhorse, complete RB if his best-case scenario acts itself out, since he carried the load in college at Tennessee as a true between-the-tackles back. Hardesty certainly has issues, most notably injuries and average speed, but he has adequate to above-average skills at everything an NFL RB could be asked to do. The Browns may have reached for Hardesty in the 2nd round, but it’s evident they see what we do – a talented, hard-working kid who is still improving and may have more upside than any back currently on their roster.

Jonathan Dwyer (Pittsburgh Steelers, 6th round, 188th overall) – We found Dwyer to be a 2nd- or 3rd-round talent, but a slow 40 time and a fishy drug test helped to plummet Dwyer down draft boards. Dwyer said tested positive for a prescription drug he takes for ADD, and he was mistakenly removed from an exempt list at the Combine. But the test, coupled with a merely average showing in drills, led to what the former Georgia Tech star called a “humbling” wait over the weekend. The Steelers, however, are not complaining. He’s a punishing North-South runner with good instincts, and isn’t afraid to utilize his blockers to get in space despite his plus size. In other words, he’s the prototypical Steeler back, and an ideal backup for Rashard Mendenhall.

WR

Brandon LaFell (Carolina Panthers, 3rd round, 78th overall) – The Panthers entered the 2010 Draft with an absolute black hole at the WR position outside of Steve Smith, so it was surprising they waited until the 3rd round to pick one up (of course, they didn’t expect QB Jimmy Clausen to fall to them in the 2nd round). Ideally, LaFell becomes the perfect complement to Smith, as a tall, controlled possession receiver who won’t be a burner down the field but can grab everything in his path in the intermediate area. He doesn’t have great speed (although 4.55 at his Pro Day, faster than at the combine), but he makes up for it with toughness and strength, and he’s a fluid athlete. Some of these things may remind Panther fans of Dwayne Jarrett, but we think LaFell is ideally more like another LSU product, Dwayne Bowe. And since the Panthers are so weak at the position, LaFell should have a chance to start right away.

Emmanuel Sanders (Pittsburgh Steelers, 3rd round, 82nd overall) – Sanders was a guy who was flying under even our radar, but we’re going to give the Steelers the benefit of the doubt here because they hit an absolute home run in last year’s third round with WR Mike Wallace. Despite his slight frame (5’11”, 186), Sanders was productive at SMU and he’s very quick and explosive, and projects very well to a slot role. On top of that, the loss of Santonio Holmes means the Steelers need to replace his production, and Antwaan Randle El is a few steps slower than he was last time he was in Pittsburgh. The Steelers aren’t afraid to let young kids win jobs, a la Wallace, and Sanders was drafted to add competition at the #3 WR spot.

Jordan Shipley (Cincinnati Bengals, 3rd round, 84th overall) – The Bengals had an anemic passing game that completely eradicated their chances of advancing in the postseason, so they went out and attacked it in both free agency (Antonio Bryant) and in the draft (Shipley, TE Jermaine Gresham). Shipley, a star at Texas, is built in that Wes Welker mold, the elusive, smart slot receiver that teams love to have in that role. He understands the subtleties of route running – perhaps better than anybody in this class. He’s smart, tough, and efficient. And what’s more, he has a QB in Carson Palmer that will get the most out of Shipley’s skills. Sure, it’s unfair to compare any receiver to Welker, since producing half of Welker’s monster numbers would be an absolute coup for Shipley. But he ideally will contribute in a similar way, even down to adding value as a return man.

Taylor Price (New England Patriots, 3rd round, 90th overall) – Price, out of Ohio University, is a physically gifted WR with great size, outstanding speed (4.4 at the combine), and the potential to be a true vertical threat at the next level. His routes need polish, and his hands are a little iffy, but ideally he could become a dynamic playmaker. Hmm, doesn’t he sound like another smaller-program product the Patriots already have? The Patriots understand Randy Moss has been in a slow, but noticeable, decline for a couple of years now, and you don’t become an elite organization without having phenomenal foresight (remember Julian Edelman?). It’s unfair to place high expectations on Price, but it’s also not a coincidence they used a mid-round pick on a mini-Wes Welker last year, and one on a mini-Moss this year.

Marcus Easley (Buffalo Bills, 4th round, 107th overall) – There’s no doubt about it, Easley’s a project. But he landed in a spot where WRs are desperately needed, and if the steps forward he took as a senior aren’t an illusion, he could become a productive player sooner rather than later. At UConn, Easley was a serious late-bloomer. He caught 48/893/8 as a senior after catching 5/104 his previous three seasons combined, and jumped up draft boards with an outstanding combine (he’s 6’3”, and ran a 4.46 40). He’s a hard worker who walked on to the UConn team and was a major contributor on special teams before he blossomed as a WR, so the Bills know they have a kid who will do what it takes to make things happen. And with such weak competition at the position, he may see his way onto field earlier than expected.

Carlton Mitchell (Cleveland Browns, 6th round, 177th overall) – Mitchell was not overly productive in college at South Florida, catching just 105 passes and scoring 9 TDs in three seasons, but a strong junior season and fantastic physical ability allowed him to enter the draft with a decent projectable draft stock. In fact, in the 6th round, he actually went later than we were anticipating. The good news is he landed with the Browns, who need playmaking WRs in the worst way. He features very natural, smooth speed with long strides (he’s 6’3”), and he’s fantastic at getting down the field and behind defenders. He’s a project, though, because he actually hasn’t played a whole lot of football and he has shaky hands and questionable toughness. In fact, a lot of the questions and positives we see with Mitchell remind us of Malcom Floyd. It’s a great spot for Mitchell, though, because he might get on the field sooner than he would with a stronger team.

TE

Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints, 3rd round, 95th overall) – If you want the definition of “project,” this is it. Graham played just a single year of football in college after spending most of his career on Miami’s basketball team, and in that one year he wasn’t all that productive – 17/213/5. But these basketball athletes are all the rage at the position, and Graham is HUGE – 6’6”, 260. In terms of pure athleticism, Graham is probably the most skilled TE in the draft, though he has to work on just about everything an experienced football player has down already. What may be most impressive about Graham, outside of his vertical explosiveness, is that he gives great effort as a blocker, and sometimes that just can’t be taught. Behind Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas, Graham has the comfort of being able to develop in peace. But ideally, the Saints got themselves a beast.

Category: Joe Dolan

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7 Responses

  1. Stretch says:

    Joe,

    What about T.Gerhart RB the Vikings 2nd rd draft pick. He could be that the 3rd down RB that replace C.Taylor which the Vikings are looking for. He reminds me alot of T.Rathman & T.Vardell FB/HB in the West Coast Offense.

    We all know B.Favre will utilized T.Gerhart skills to the upmost. I can see easily 400yds rushing plus another 300-400 yds receiving.

    Rookie of the Year candidate for 2010.

  2. Joe Dolan says:

    When writing this up, I considered two factors: guys who may potentially have a bigger role than expected, or guys who may not factor in much this year but landed in a good spot. Some of these guys fit both categories.

    Obviously, I only wrote up 11 players here, so I didn’t cover everyone, and Gerhart certainly is part of that crew. Considering Minnesota traded up to get him, that tells you all you need to know about what they feel about him and his potential. But ultimately being behind Adrian Peterson is going to hurt his value a bit, and I’d like to see how they use him before making any true “sleeper” predictions about him. Essentially, we view Gerhart as a Mike Alstott type of runner – best as a complementary player but valuable all the same.

    Hardesty was a different story, because Cleveland has a bunch of RBs but in an ideal scenario, he projects the best of all of them as a true complete back.

  3. OMG! Ponies! says:

    SF: you like Brown more than Nate Davis?

    No comments on Clausen? Seems like a perfect fit in CAR, and great sleeper mid year. Great running game, decent OL, and already knows the offense and terminology. Just sayin. Could easily take the starting job this year or in 2011.

  4. Joe Dolan says:

    Brown has more natural ability than Davis. I just mentioned him because I was legitimately floored he wasn’t drafted.

    I really don’t consider Clausen a sleeper. He plummeted down draft boards, but me saying Carolina got good value for him wouldn’t exactly be breaking new ground.

  5. OMG! Ponies! says:

    not gonna argue value. very good value. but if we’re talking about guys to keep an eye on.

    curious, when do you fellas plan on having your post-draft rookie rankings up and running? will you do an overall ranking or just a position by position ranking like the predraft rankings?

  6. baller says:

    Joe, nice article. What do you think of Dickson and/or Pitta drafted by the Ravens?

  7. Joe Dolan says:

    Like them both re: Dickson and Pitta, and it’s clear the Ravens are trying to surround Flacco with weapons, since they’re more receivers than blockers (especially Dickson). At the least, I’m staying far away from Todd Heap.

    Dickson, as a receiver, is like a poor man’s Vernon Davis. He attacks the seams in a straight line, but he isn’t going to be a crisp route-runner and he isn’t going to shake people, but he has vertical speed.

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