These are the 7 NFL Draft sleepers to watch
This is going to be one of the weirdest, most memorable NFL Drafts in recent memory. Coming off a Covid-shortened college football season and an incomplete pre-draft process has left teams with less information than they normally have. Couple this with numerous teams in dire need of a quarterback, and salary cap constraints drastically altering teams, and we’re left with a case where a lot of teams will be forced into needs-based drafting.
The possibility of four quarterbacks being taken in the first 10 picks is now looking like a near-certainty. Part of that is a product of the passing talent entering the league in 2021, but it feels more like desperation on the part of teams that have to find a quarterback before the season begins. This glut of passers at the top has the potential to create a vacuum on the rest of the draft, where some of the most talented players entering the league find themselves falling much, much further than they should.
This is great news if you’re a fan of a team that doesn’t need a QB. We’re going to see already established, playoff-caliber rosters get an influx of top-end talent, particularly on defense where there’s numerous players who would go higher any other year, but forced down due to the quarterbacks and receivers at the top. Rather than look at the true sleepers who will fall to the mid-late rounds, let’s take a look at some of the guys who will find themselves being taken by amazing teams in the late-teens or twenties, or even into the second round.
Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
The draft projection for Christian Barmore has always been difficult to hammer down. He has rare physical tools defensive coordinators will salivate over, but too often forgets his fundamentals. We’re left with a player who won at the point of attack by being the biggest, most athletic guy on the defensive line, but that edge will evaporate when he hits the NFL and opposing linemen can’t be pushed around as easily.
We’re left with a boom or bust prospect, but that’s still a nice upside play for a playoff team in the late 20s or into the second round.
I understand arguments why Barmore isn’t worth a top 15 pick, but let’s not pretend the idea of the boom or bust isn’t something that’s played out 100 times before in the NFL Draft, with these guys often going in the Top 10 on potential alone.
You simply don’t find 6’4, 310 pound guys with Barmore’s quickness. It will allow him to play multiple positions along the line, and if he lands in the right spot with coaches in place who can put him on the right path to leveraging his fundamentals, well, we could see a three-down defensive player who is a consistent nightmare to deal with.
Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
I thought we learned this damn lesson before. It wasn’t long ago that Bolton was projected as top 15 pick coming off his ultra-productive junior season at Missouri where he finished with a prolific 95 tackles in 10 games. Here’s a dude who jumps off the film when you watch him fly around the field, diagnosing plays as quick as a hiccup, and putting himself in position to make tackles.
Then we get to the pre-draft process, and the over-analyzing of measurables begin. Suddenly Bolton is hit with the “too small” label for being a 6’0, 232 pound linebacker. Now you’ll be lucky to find him in the first round of any mock draft, with some thinking he’ll even last until the THIRD round.
Look, I’m not saying he’s the same player as the guy I’m about to mention, but do you remember the last time an ultra-smart, play-stopping linebacker fell further than he ever should have over concerns for his size? I do. His name was Luke Kuechly. Kuechly was taller, but actually had a leaner frame at 235 pounds at the time of the draft.
Bolton has that same kind of potential. I could see him be a guy taken in the first and everyone freaks out, or be the best steal of Day 2. Don’t sleep on Nick Bolton, because I see a guy with every tool to be incredible at the next level.
Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
I will be stunned if Zaven Collins falls out of the first round, and he’s still good enough to be a sleeper. That’s how highly I think of him. The reason for his fall is really precipitated by the move in the NFL towards specialists, rather than generalists — and concerns he doesn’t have the top-end speed to be an outside linebacker in the NFL, where it’s becoming more, and more common to play coverage and exhibit at least some hybrid safety skills.
Still, what I see from Collins on tape is a linebacker who does everything well, and uses his 6’4 height to his advantage, particularly in the passing game where he recorded four interceptions for Tulsa this season.
Collins is a toolbox-type player. Not only did he record those interceptions, but he registered four sacks, forced two fumbles, and finished with 54 tackles. These aren’t stats that can be hand-waved away, and I think he’s going to be far, far more productive than the late 20s or early 30s where he’ll be taken.
Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
This is a really weird draft for offensive tackles. There’s no shortage of good linemen, but outside of Penei Sewell (who will go top 10), there’s kind of a glut of guys with a lot of potential, and as much risk.
Right now Cosmi is the guy on the outside of that block looking in. While Rashawn Slater, Christian Darrisaw and Alijah Vera-Tucker are all pegged to go in the first round, Cosmi is being pushed into Day 2, and that makes him a major sleeper for me.
There are questions about whether Cosmi can become a more instinctual player, or whether his success is a product of coaching. Which is hilarious, because it’s weird that’s a knock now. If a guy is physically gifted and does his own thing he gets hit for lacking fundamentals, if his fundamentals are excellent he gets dinged for not being instinctual enough.
To me, this is draft nit picking at its finest. Cosmi is the kind of player who would be a first round lock in most years, and he’s fallen because of over scrutiny. He’s my sleeper for an early offensive lineman.
Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
Kyle Pitts deserves all the hype he’s getting as a transformative tight end who could revolutionize the NFL, but I think all that has caused Freiermuth to get lost in the shuffle too much. Now sitting as a likely 2nd, or even 3rd round pick, I think someone is going to get a steal.
Freiermuth has glimpses of that same pass catching ability that’s transforming tight end into an additional slot receiver. He might not have the traditional blocking scouts like to see from players in his position, and he can use his size a little better — but this is a refrain we’re seeing a lot this draft.
The normal knocks on players that push players into the back-half of the first round are pronounced enough in 2021 that guys are falling into the second round as a result. I think a team taking a new quarterback this year would do well to get the handcuff with Freiermuth and make a new player’s job a lot easier.
Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
This isn’t a great draft for safeties, but I think everyone’s going a little too deep on taking the third, or even fourth best cornerback as a first round lock, leaving someone like Moehrig to languish at the end of the round, or into the second.
There are some weaknesses in technique that need to be ironed out, but I see them on par with those from some of the cornerbacks.
Moehrig has the perfect size to deal with bigger slot corners in coverage, while also having a knack to play downfield and support the run game. Where a lot of positions are moving more towards one-skill specialists, I think hybrid safeties are going to continue to be a major trend in the NFL, and Moehrig will be a monster on a team like Baltimore that needs secondary help, and loves versatility from its players.
Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami
It’s almost like everyone forgot Gregory Rousseau existed. It wasn’t long ago that he finished second in the nations in sacks to Chase Young, early mock draft hype had him in the top 10, and it seemed destined the defensive end was going to go high. Then everyone just kind of moved on, and Rousseau is now seen as a Day 2 pick.
There’s no doubt opting out of the 2020 season hurt him. Not because of some vaunted BS about commitment, but rather Rousseau needed another year to prove to the NFL that he wasn’t just a flash in the pan off an astounding 2019 season.
Criticisms of his game are fair. Miami used Rousseau as a weapon along the line, and a lot of his production came from the nose, rather than the edge. So this is really a case of a player being punished for being productive because the scheme he played in used him as a weapon, rather than an archetype. Still, I think there’s a lot to really like here and a team getting a Day 2 pass rusher could get something special.