Biggest 2017 NFL Draft Sleepers at Every Position
Which under-the-radar NFL draft prospects could make an impact early in their careers?
The 2017 NFL Draft kicks off tonight and will continue through Saturday in Philadelphia. The world will be introduced to pro football’s newest crop of talent. This year’s draft class is being widely considered as one of the deepest we’ve seen in a few years. We know who the stars are, but each year, there are players who get overlooked in the early rounds and end up making an impact on an NFL roster. Here are the biggest sleepers at each position in this year’s draft.
Quarterback: Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
There are certainly some character concerns when it comes to Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly, as he was dismissed from Clemson, in addition to a couple run-ins with the law. However, in strictly football terms, he is a gamer. He has the football pedigree working for him, being the nephew of Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. He’s fearless and has all of the necessary tools to be successful if he can keep his head on straight. Although inconsistent at times, Kelly has the potential to be a starting NFL quarterback.
Running Back: Wayne Gallman, Clemson
If you’re looking for the flashiest running back prospect, you won’t find that in Wayne Gallman. But, if you want a reliable player for years to come, he’s your guy. For two consecutive seasons at Clemson, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards, so you could say consistency is his calling card. Gallman is an aggressive runner with an NFL-ready frame. He’s that back who you can fully expect to fight through first contact and churn out some extra yards. If placed in an ideal situation, Gallman could make an impact early on.
Wide Receiver: Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington
I’ll say this right now: Cooper Kupp could end up being one of the biggest steals in this year’s draft. He played primarily in the slot at Eastern Washington, where he set numerous FCS, conference and school records. His level of competition may be a question mark for some, but smaller schools have produced great NFL talent before. Kupp has natural hands and could eventually become a security blanket of sorts for some lucky quarterback. His versatility is a great selling point as well, as he can play in the slot, but also transition to playing on the outside.
Tight End: Jonnu Smith, Florida International
Jonnu Smith is an exceptional athlete given his size — 38-inch vertical jump and 4.62 40-yard dash. That athleticism is ever-so apparent when Smith is running after the catch, where big things can happen for the former FIU Panther. At times, he’s had focus issues, leading to dropped passes, so that is something he will need to work on if he wants to be a starter at the next level. Another quality that makes him a draft-able player is his willingness to be a blocker. No coach likes a tight end who is afraid to get his hands dirty.
Offensive Tackle: Roderick Johnson, Florida State
Without question, Roderick Johnson is an extremely raw prospect heading into the draft. It appears that he is still growing into his long frame. With that, comes some struggles with balance, but as he fills out, that should improve in no time. Johnson has shown to be a strong run blocker and once he gets his footwork together, he could be a really good pass protector as well. He’s definitely a project but whoever drafts him could reap huge rewards.
Offensive Guard: Dorian Johnson, Pittsburgh
Johnson began his college career as a tackle, but he soon moved to the guard position, which turned out to be a better fit for him. He was a model of consistency at Pitt and doesn’t really have any glaring holes in his game. He has a high football IQ, which will help when it comes to the learning curve and understanding new schemes. Johnson does well in space and is good with his hands, allowing him to win a good chunk of his interior battles.
Center: Chase Roullier, Wyoming
Wyoming is the perfect place to breed a hard-nosed offensive lineman. That’s exactly what Chase Roullier is. He lacks the length that scouts love in the big guys, but he makes up for it in his power and leverage. I’m sure they won’t complain as long as he is creating gaps for running backs on a regular basis. If nothing else, his effort and toughness will earn him an NFL roster spot and maybe even a starter’s role somewhere down the line.
Interior Defensive Lineman: Jaleel Johnson, Iowa
It’s not very hard to imagine this guy being productive at the next level. Johnson has a strong motor and pretty good athleticism for his size. Given his troubles with high pad level, he likely won’t excel at run stuffing, at least in the onset, but with his quick hands and feet, he should be a solid interior pass rusher. Put Johnson on a defense with an already established defensive line and watch him flourish. A guy with a strong work ethic like his should do well in just about any situation though.
Edge-Rusher: Derek Rivers, Youngstown State
Derek Rivers was an absolute terror in the FCS over the course of his playing career. As a senior, he recorded 58 tackles, 19.5 for loss and 14 sacks. He has an excellent motor, so there should be no problem translating that consistency to the NFL. Rivers is a versatile prospect, having played both defensive end and linebacker at the collegiate level. He exhibits good hand usage and is a good enough athlete to make some noise in his first few seasons.
Linebacker: Jordan Evans, Oklahoma
Evans already has the look of an NFL linebacker. As a senior, he led the Sooners in tackles, as well as interceptions. This kid makes plays all over the football field. There have been some concerns about his style of play, as he’s more of a finesse linebacker. He’ll need to toughen up to bang inside with NFL linemen and running backs, but everything else is there. Evans has great ball skills and the necessary tools to be an eventual starter in this league.
Cornerback: Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson
It’s a shame that Tankersley has sort of flown under the radar as far as cornerbacks are concerned, because he was a vital component of Clemson’s championship run last season. It was there, that he proved that he can be a lockdown corner. Tankersley has good size and length, and likes to get in the personal space of opposing receivers. Scouts really love his ball skills. With that, he is highly capable of changing the trajectory of a game’s outcome on just one play. If I were a GM in the NFL, I would not make the mistake of sleeping on Tankersley.
Safety: Josh Harvey-Clemons, Louisville
Josh Harvey-Clemons is one of the biggest mysteries in this year’s draft class. This is a guy who was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, but has had some character issues throughout his college career. He failed multiple drug tests at Georgia, leading to his dismissal from the program. It seems like the transfer to Louisville has given him a bit of life though. His length is one of his strong suits, as he uses it to wreak havoc across the field. His elite size and athleticism are undeniable. Harvey-Clemons has talent. It’s just a matter of someone taking a chance on him.