NFL Draft Sleepers To Watch

Matt Austin is a late round prospect to watch out for (Photo:US Presswire)

BBD Contributor Evan Brennan

While most of the NFL Draft focus is on pure talent and ROI in the first 80 picks, NFL teams separate themselves from others later in the draft and in free agency. Depth, developmental and overlooked players are key components to a winning team. While your team may not have an immediate need for the positions listed, the most well run teams take quality over need.

While only some of these players stand a chance of being drafted late, they nonetheless look to impress a team with their traits or other characteristics, and stand a good chance of making a practice squad or even a 53-man roster.

Deonte Williams, RB, Cal Poly, 5-9 210 LBS
Williams is workhorse back who excelled in the Mustangs’ option-based offense. He dominated FCS competition rushing for 1,506 yards and 12 TDs. He rushed for 100 yards 12 times in 2012.  His size is slightly shorter than NFL would like at 5-9, but not significantly so. His weight is also a little under the NFL average for a full-time back at 210. Where Williams slides out of draft consideration is that his lack of top end speed. The fact that he was also somewhat of a one-year wonder in his senior year at Cal Poly must also be factored in, given that he bounced around from NAU to SDSU to Cal Poly.

Still, that production in a run-based offense where teams knew he was coming cannot be dismissed. Blessed with good hands and a threat to bounce a run to the outside for big yards, makes him intriguing. A slot back at Cal Poly, he was asked to block some as well, which will aid him in getting a shot at the next level. The lower level of competition is a concern, and so it was imperative that he dominated; which he did.

He had 7 carries for 24 yards in the Casino Del Sol game, an average performance, but where he was not the featured back (Cal’s Isi Sofele was). But against FBS competition, Wyoming, Williams ran for 187 yards in 2012, showing that he can produce against better competition. What will ultimately help or hinder Williams is his performance at Pro Day. He will need a great performance there to make up for some of the aforementioned circumstances.  But the film is there, if the measurables coincide, he will have a shot to get into a camp and be a special teams player and backup running back at the next level.

Tristan Okplalaugo, OLB, Fresno State 6-6 250 LBS
Blessed with tremendous size and height for his position, no FBS team sought Tristan out for a scholarship upon his graduation from high school. Instead, he walked on to the Fresno State football team before earning a scholarship as a junior. This last season, Tristan posted 4 sacks, an interception, and 51 tackles in his first season moving from defensive end to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He needs to work on form tackling, as he often simply throws opponents to the ground. In terms of technique he is very raw, as he is often seen attempting to make plays in an unorthodox manner (see Oregon game below).

Teams that pick him up have a project on their hands, of this there is no question. He needs some coaching as to the proper technique and how to better diagnose and attack offenses. But he has an extremely high motor and plays with great tenacity, both good skills for a special teams player. He had an impressive Casino Del Sol All-Star game performance and showed a full array of skills for scouts during the week and at the game. On one play, he was not fooled on a misdirection play in that game and stayed home on pressuring the QB on the fake, thereby forcing the QB to hurry his throw and throw an interception that was taken back for a 70-yard touchdown.

Bottom line: Tristan is raw project talent that could play either OLB in a 3-4, or be a 4-3 DE. If he makes it, he will likely start off on special teams and may be a practice squad guy. But with that size, athleticism, and rangy physique, teams are going to look hard at him before moving on late in the draft. With a good pro day, he has a shot at going in the 7th, but assuredly will be at least a high priority free agent.

Wade Jacobson OG/OT, Washington Sate, 6-6, 305 LBS
This one may come as a little bit of surprise, but Jacobson has the size and versatility to be used in a number of different positions.. Considerable film was watched of him versus BYU, a team that possessed a number of NFL hopefuls, high picks, and future high picks in guys like Ziggy Ansah, Kyle Van Noy, Romney Fuga, Brandon Ogletree, and Uona Kaveinga. All of which Wade held his own against in that game.

Critics will point to the amount of sacks that Washington State gave up, being the worst in FBS, but the Cougars also threw the ball hundreds of more times than their Pac-12 opponents and seldom ran the ball, so the potential for sacks went up exponentially. Jacobson will have to show his ability to run block, as he did not get a great opportunity to showcase that skill. Nevertheless the size, athleticism, and pass protection experience are things that NFL teams will notice in him.

Largely unknown about him, he was a former baseball player that put on nearly 100 pounds to play JC football before coming to WSU to start for the Cougars. He also grew up on a ranch mending fences and herding cattle; these are work ethic and disciplinary traits that will not go unnoticed by teams. Jacobson had a tremendous Pro Day at Washington State last week. Chief among his performances was a 38-inch vertical at 304 pounds! Such a jump was the highest jump by an OL that could be found by this writer at any NFL Combine or pro day. Add in a 9-6 broad jump, a 4.35 short shuttle, a low 5.0s 40, and you have a top performer, if he had been invited to the NFL Combine . . .

There are few men of his height and weight that can block and move as fast he plays on tape for a guard. If the potential is there, sacks given up by Washington State as a unit may be discounted less by teams in their overall evaluations. Safe to say he will be a very high priority free agent, but with his elite pro day, he could easily find himself on some late 7th/6th round boards.

Matt Austin, WR, Utah State, 6-2, 200 LBS
Austin is a WR that has been part of an emergent Utah State team. Austin needed a very good Pro Day in Logan to be considered more than a “camp-and-done” player. Looks like he may have succeeded. Only ten teams (and 1 CFL team) showed up for the Pro Day, but Austin surpassed expectations by running a 4.5 40, while measuring in at just under 6’2 and 200 pounds.

See his film from that Pro Day below.

Austin has overcome a number of injuries that derailed large portions of his career at Utah State, but still managed 83 catches for 1253 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Aggies over his career.

One concern is that he has not shown up against high levels of competition. Against Utah this year, with NFL caliber CBs like Mo Lee, Reggie Topps, and Ryan Lacy, Austin only managed two catches for 28 yards. He did manage a TD against Wisconsin but only had 2 catches for 16 yards. Proving that he can compete against tough bump-and-run coverage and world-class athletes is something that he will need to prove in camp to stick.

Austin lead TEAM WEST in the Casino del Sol All-Star game with 3 catches and displayed the ability to get open and play the ball well in the air. Even by his own admission many scouts thought he was significantly slower at that game than his Pro Day numbers would show, so there may be some question as to game speed versus “track” speed that need to evaluated.

As shown by the film below, he does a good job of catching the ball with his hands and not letting the ball get into his body. Austin will be looked at by teams as S/Ter, with the possibility of being a 5th WR on a team down the road. Works very hard in his run blocking for RBs. A team looking for a guy to be steady and consistent, and able to be a complimentary piece down the road could do far worse than Austin. The Vikings, Cardinals, and Rams could all be potential landing spots for him.

Cody Larsen, DT, Southern Utah, 6’2 300 LBS
Largely hidden in the Big Sky, Larsen is a gem that could make a 4-3 team or even a 3-4 team, very happy. Blessed with tremendous strength, Larsen benched the 225 40 times, better than anyone at the 2013 NFL Combine at Utah State’s Pro Day last week. Even as a big body in the middle of the Southern Utah D, Larsen still possesses the quickness and agility to get to the passer as demonstrated by the video below.

Still raw and untapped, Larsen still managed 6.5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss for the Thunderbirds. Obviously quality of competition is a concern coming from the FCS ranks, but his play against Cal and Utah State showed that he has the ability to play against the best.

While slated to be a UDFA, given his great pro day workout, his future is less certain in a positive way. He is versatile, being nearly 6-3 and over 300 pounds, and with that size is a possible 4-3 tackle, with a chance also to be a 3-4 DE. Larsen must develop more pass rush moves and prove himself against elite blockers. He also needs to improve his hand placement and his center of gravity. Larsen certainly possesses the motor, the strength, and work ethic to succeed, as he was not highly recruited out of high school. Look for a team to be very pleasantly surprised by Larsen in camp. This writer would look at teams like the Chicago Bears, the New Orleans Saints, and Denver Broncos that could put him to work.

Tags: 2013 NFL Draft, Sleepers

One Response to “NFL Draft Sleepers To Watch”

  1. Mary says:

    Graham Wilbert, QB, FAU is smart, good size, good timing, great arm, definetally worth bringing into camp.

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