It started innocently enough. I was going through my annual draft preparation a few years ago, taking notes on various players and ranking them by position. Every so often, I came across a player that was not widely known but intrigued me for some reason.
Maybe he was from a small school; maybe he was considered a step too slow. Whatever, he didnt fit the mold as defined by NFL scouts. But somewhere along the line, I saw him and liked him enough to jot his name down on one of my many legal tablets.
Every year before the draft, Id go through my notes and pick out five of those off-the-radar players as my sleepers, guys who would slip to the middle or late rounds but might just have enough game to succeed in the pros.
Over the years, my sleepers included Eagles tackle Jason Peters (free agent, 2004), Saints running back Darren Sproles (fourth-round pick, 2005), Dallas defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (seventh-round pick, 2005), former Arizona safety Pat Tillman (seventh-round pick, 1998) and former New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi (third-round pick, 1996).
I also whiffed on quite a fewI wonder whatever became of Wilmont Perry, the running back from Livingstone College who tore it up in the Blue-Gray game but when Tim Dwight returns a kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl, it is fun to nudge the guy next to you and say, He was one of my sleepers in the 1998 draft.
So here are my five picks for this draft, players I feel will be drafted in the third round or later but have a good chance of making an NFL roster and contributing.
1) Isaiah Pead, running back, Cincinnati
The more I saw of Pead, the more I liked him. He is 5-foot-10 and 197 pounds with 4.44 speed in the 40. He looked like a fourth-round pick at one time, but his stock went up at the Senior Bowl where he earned MVP honors thanks to two long punt returns.
He runs with surprising power for his size. He is effective in short yardage and near the goal line, but he is at his best when he gets the ball in space. He has good hands (39 receptions last season) and catches the ball fluidly. The fact that he can return kickoffs and punts adds to his value.
Pead may not be a franchise back, but he has NFL skills and will be a nice fit for a team that wants to split the workload among two or more backs. Thats the trend around the league, which is why Pead will go no later than the third round.
2) Joe Adams, slot receiverkick returner, Arkansas
He is small and slight (5-10, 175) but, boy, he is fun to watch. He made six tacklers miss on one punt return vs. Tennessee. It looked like he was in track shoes and everyone else was in snow shoes.
His 40-yard dash time (4.54) isnt that great. In fact, it looks like a mistake if you have seen him play. You think he must be faster than that. But what Adams is, really, is quick. Quick moving side-to-side, quick out of his breaks, quick in the open field. All those qualities make him effective as a slot receiver and return man.
Last season, Adams caught 54 passes and was named Special Teams Player of the Year in the SEC. He returned four punts for touchdowns, tops in Division I, and he averaged almost 17 yards per punt return.
3) Senio Kelemete, guardtackle, Washington
Kelemete probably will slip into the late rounds and he is someone the Eagles should consider. They need depth on the offensive line and the 6-3, 307-pound Kelemete fits the profile of the quicker, more mobile linemen favored by coach Howard Mudd.
Kelemete displayed good versatility when he worked at both guard and tackle at the Senior Bowl. He was a tackle at Washington, but he projects better as a guard in the NFL because he can pull and get outside. With his experience at tackle and his guard-like skills, he could play almost any line position with the exception of center.
He is a tough, competitive guy who isnt ready for primetime just yet but he could develop working under a coach like Mudd.
4) Dwight Bentley, cornerback, Louisiana-Lafayette
Bentley reminds me of Asante Samuel when he came out of Central Florida. He is the same size (5-10, 182) and plays the same kind of game, always looking to jump the route and make the big play.
That gambling style gets Bentley in trouble at times but, like Samuel, he makes up for it with interceptions (three of which he returned for touchdowns). He isnt a very good tackler (gee, that sounds familiar) but he is a good blitzer and showed a knack for coming off the edge and getting to the quarterback.
Im not saying Bentley will be as successful as Samuel, but I do think he will be drafted about the same place (fourth round) and will make an NFL team, perhaps as a slot defender initially with a chance to grow into a larger role.
5) Tank Carder, middle linebacker, TCU
Ill admit, I put him on the list at least partly because of his name. But I do like players who are productive and Carder was that, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors each of the last two seasons in the Mountain West Conference. He also was Defensive MVP in the Rose Bowl.
He is 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds with average speed but in college, he was always around the ball making plays (two interception returns for touchdowns). He will be, at the very least, a solid special teams contributor.
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