NFL Draft 2016 Sleepers: Offense
Quarterback: Cody Kessler, USC
6’1”, 220 pounds.
A lot of people love Brandon Allen out of Arkansas, who is pro-ready and a gutsy QB from the SEC. But, Cody is a three-year starter out of the PAC12 and he works in a pro-style offense, albeit more of a West Coast offense (i.e. short passes and not too many deep balls). Per NFL.com, Kessler threw for 3,536 yards with a 66.8 completion percentage in 2015 and he is not turnover-prone (Cody threw 39 touchdowns, five interceptions in 2014; 29 TD, 7 INT in 2015). Not too many college QBs can put that on their resume.
However, he lacks deep ball arm strength and struggles throwing while moving out of the pocket. But, the kid can play, he played through a cloud of sanctions and won games. He’ll be a round 5 draft pick and will be a short project of 1-2 years, if not sooner.
Running Back: Jonathan Williams, Arkansas
5’10”, 219 pounds, projected 40 time 4.58 (was injured, didn’t participate much at combines or pro day).
WalterFootball.com said the following about Williams, which has been echoed by the likes of draft gurus Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks (both former NFL scouts now working at NFL Network):
“As a runner, Williams has tremendous balance and an impressive ability to pick up yards after contact. He has a good body lean and runs with power. Sources from some teams are targeting Williams in the mid-rounds and think he could be a steal because of his injury. Williams also has drawn rave reviews off the field, and his teammates have gushed about him in team interviews.”
“Williams would be the feature back at most schools, but he’s the backup for Arkansas. He still ran for 1,190 yards (5.6 average) and 12 touchdowns on only 211 carries in 2014 while Alex Collins was the lead back. Williams also had 11 receptions for 65 yards and two scores. He is a physical runner who could enter the NFL with fresh legs.”
Enough said; he’ll be a steal between rounds 3-5 at the draft.
Wide Receiver: Michael Thomas, Southern Miss (Southern Mississippi)
6’1”, 186 pounds, 4.54 40-time.
Thomas is a sleeper because he went to a non-Power 5 school, but he increased his production from 2014 to 2015 (from Pride of Detroit):
Plus, his yards-after-catch (known as YAC) is one of the best among a weak WR crop this draft year:
— Luke Easterling (@LukeEasterling) January 6, 2016
He has some issues catching the ball, but he’s athletic and can take the top off the defense and stretch the field vertically. He’ll be a round 5 or round 6 pick and could develop very well.
Tight End: Thomas Duarte
6’2”, 231 pounds, 4.72 40-time.
The Mexican-Japanese-American tight end out of UCLA impressed some scouts with not only his play on the field, but his heritage. He joked that he got the best food of both worlds in an interview with Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman. But, he is a pass-catching tight end that produced at the famous Mater Dei High School (which has produced the likes of Matt Leinart) and at UCLA. As a freshman, had 16 catches for 214 yards and 4 TDs, and then as a sophomore, caught 28 passes for 540 yards and 4 TDs. With Josh Rosen as his signal-caller, he caught 53 balls for 872 yards (a 16.5-yards-per-catch average) and 10 TDs.
Scouts have compared him to Jordan Reed. He can’t block, but he can get out in space, run routes and wreak havoc on opposing defenses. That’s not a bad comparison. He’ll be picked anywhere between the mid-to-low 3rd round to the 5th round and has to bulk up, learn how to block a little bit, and he’ll be a longtime NFL tight end.
Offensive Line: Le-Raven Clark, Texas Tech, offensive tackle
6’5”, 316 pounds.
Not a deep offensive line class, outside of Tunsil and Conklin, but Clark is an athletic specimen on the field. Yes, he’ll be gone by the third round, which begs the question, is he really a sleeper? But, this is a thin offensive line class and he could become a future offensive line anchor sooner rather than later.
Consensus among scouts is that his technique is not perfect, but he does have quick feet. A big part of being a tackle is how he bends, and he is a good ‘bender’ to deal with the faster defensive ends who can get low to the ground. But, there are few mentions of how good his hands are at the point of attack, which worries me. You need good hands to keep up with all the moves by defensive linemen and linebackers these days. Ever see a JJ Watt spin move or a quick bend speed rush by Von Miller? Clark be mincemeat if he faces them without improving his hands. That aside, he’ll be a good pick with a lot of upside and potential.