The 2017 NFL Draft is only a couple of days away and while everybody’s discussing what will happen in the first round, I wanted to shine some light on the prospects that not everybody might know about, but that I really like. Most of them will be selected on day three, even though they are really good players. There’s no actual criteria for what is defined as a sleeper. I just looked at where these guys are listed on the big boards if the major networks and compared it to my rankings.
Tarik Cohen, RB, North Carolina A&T
Standing at only 5’6’’, Cohen was nicknamed “The Human Joystick” and he backs it up. He changes directions like crazy and also has the speed to run by defenders (4.42 in the 40 at the combine), shown by four touchdowns of 83-plus yards last season. When you have a running back that small you always look for their abilities as a receiver and Cohen gets a step on the competition as well as having natural hands. Even though he is way too obsessed to bounce runs outside at this point, I think he sees the field very well and you never know what he’s going to do in the open field. He’s so much fun to watch.
Joe Williams, RB, Utah
The Utah back has game-breaking speed to destroy defenses if he just has a little crease. He displays a low center of gravity, moves his feet moving through contact and has the balance to absorb hits and keep going. Moreover, I see excellent lateral agility and a plan in the open field, using a good combination of different moves and power. There are some severe character concerns after being kicked out of UConn and retiring for a month before coming back to the program, but he was unreal when he returned to the Utes. He hasn’t shown a lot of pass-catching skills, being limited to screen plays, and he recorded six fumbles in less than 300 career carries, but he’s a game-breaker.
Chad Williams, WR, Grambling State
I first heard Williams’ name at the Senior Bowl when he and Miami’s Corn Elder got into a fight during practice. That might not be the most positive first impression on a player, but it shows me that he’s feisty. The more I watched him, the more I liked and I went to his tape. Williams has a way of creating separation and he tracks the ball very well down the field. He won’t win many reps off the snap, but he does a great job shielding off defenders and bringing in tough catches. He had a great overall pro day workout, after not being invited to the combine, including a 4.4 in the 40.
Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina
I didn’t plan on putting Switzer on this list, but when I saw he’s ranked in the mid-twenties on most lists, I was baffled. I mean, are you kidding me? This is one of the premiere route-runners in the draft. His feet are lightning quick, he comes back to the football and shakes people in the open field. I know he’s not nearly as tall as people would like him to be and he doesn’t possess elite end-speed, but he simply finds a way to get separation and he’s a dangerous punt-returner. All I want to see from him is to do a better job against press-coverage.
Cole Hikutini, TE, Louisville
This is a pretty interesting player. Hikutini didn’t get a lot of attention at Louisville, but he was motioned around a lot and even though he’s not a very powerful blocker, he can wall off different defensive positions to create running lanes. He’s quick out of his stance and finds early separation. With his natural hands and all-around athleticism I think he could develop into a productive pass-catcher at the next level.
Kyles Kalis, OG, Michigan
The massive Kalis is a short-area guard with an incredibly strong upper body. I think with the right coaching he can become an even more powerful run-blocker and he was asked to pull quite a bit in Michigan’s run-heavy scheme. I’d like him to show more active lateral movement, but he has a good base to absorb power-rushers and he redirects defenders to give his QB just that bit of extra time to get the pass off.
Jay Guillermo, C, Clemson
I don’t really know why Guillermo is expected to go undrafted. He played one of the most crucial positions for a National Championship team and did an excellent job since stepping into the line-up. I know he doesn’t have super-quick feet, but he plays with good leverage and leg-drive, helps out his teammates in protection and understands re-placing his hands throughout plays. In a pretty weak overall offensive line class, I have him as my fifth-best center.
Ejuan Price, OLB, Pittsburgh
You don’t see many 5’11’’ edge rushers come into the league, but Price is made of the right stuff. He gets off the ball quickly and with good leverage. He fakes out blockers with head- and foot-fakes, but don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s a finesse player. He uses his natural low center of gravity and gets into the body of blockers. I understand the physical limitations he comes in with, but he combines a crazy motor with great technique, as he put up some astronomical numbers in his last two seasons at Pitt (24.5 sacks and 42.5 TFLs over his last two years at Pitt).
Jarron Jones, DT, Notre Dame
Look at the Miami tape and you think Jones is a first-round pick. The problem is the fact he couldn’t stay healthy for the Irish and only had one full year as a starter there. On the field he shows incredible burst up the field, attacks one shoulder of the blocker and penetrates plays from the snap on. He’s not the same player when the offensive lineman gets a straight shot at him and he didn’t put up any big numbers, yet I believe he could be a force in the NFL if he doesn’t let injuries define his career anymore.
Riley Bullough, LB, Michigan State
As the fourth member of the Bullough family at Michigan State, Riley has a tenacious style of play and consistently looks to bring the pain. He squares up to his target and runs through tackles, was blitzed a ton at MSU and doesn’t shy away from running into people. While he may not be the most fluid athlete in space, he reads the quarterback’s eyes and recorded a pair of interceptions in each his sophomore and junior campaign. At just 226 pounds he doesn’t have NFL linebacker size and I liked him much better in 2015, although that could be in large put to how much better the program was overall compared to their most recent campaign, but I’m a big fan of his.
Steven Taylor, LB, Houston
This guy jumped out on me when I watched the tape on his teammate Tyus Bowser. So I thought I’d check out when he leaves school and when I realized he’s be a draft prospect this year I couldn’t believe I never heard his name before in the draft process. I think Taylor has much better instincts than he gets credit for. He was asked to do a variety of things for Houston, where he showed talent as an edge rusher and blitzer, even though he doesn’t measure NFL standards. He makes plays on the ball in zone coverage and while he lacks pure speed and fluidity, he plays a physical brand of football. He’ll have to earn some playing time through special teams, but he’s a player.
Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado
Having played alongside Chidobe Awuzie, who is one of the biggest risers in this year’s draft process, I feel like Witherspoon doesn’t get the credit he deserves. At 6’3’’ he is a very long press-corner, who gets his hands on a ton of balls, shown by his 19 PBUs in his final collegiate year. He stays on top of his receiver, tracks the ball extremely well and knocks it down with his long arms. I don’t see a lot of interest in defending the run, but with his ability to shut people down and the high football IQ to put himself into position in situational football, he could become a true number one corner.
Sojourn Shelton, CB, Wisconsin
If you look for a scrappy cover-man in the later rounds, Shelton is your guy. He gets into the receiver’s face and stays on him throughout routes. I see him being able play outside and in the nickel, but at only 5’9’’ a lot of teams probably look at him solely in an inside role. The Wisconsin product shows outstanding route-recognition and instincts, as well as the according foot-coordination. He was a heavily trusted four-year starter in Madison and recorded 16 pass-breakups as a senior. Just watch him go up against Western Michigan’s Corey Davis in their bowl game. He allowed a slant on the first play, where Davis took off and a touchdown late, when the game was already decided. The rest of the game Shelton pretty much took him out.
John Johnson, FS, Boston College
Johnson might not blow anybody away with his workout numbers, but he plays with fluid hips and he’s a secure tackler. With starting experience at corner and safety for BC, he shows excellent instinct and when the ball is in the air, it’s interception time, as he finds it and has the soft hands to come down with it. Johnson might not fire downhill against the run-game, but he works his way up and stays ready to bring the ball-carrier down. I think he could earn his way into a starting line-up soon, since coaches will love the way he competes on special teams coverage.
Some other names:
Antonio Pipkin, QB, Tiffin
Joseph Yearby, RB, Miami
Matthew Dayes, RB, N.C. State
Eric Saubert, TE, Drake
Carroll Phillips, OLB, Illinois
Devonte Fields, OLB, Louisville
Tanzel Smart, DT, Tulane
Jayon Brown, LB, UCLA
Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State
Nate Hairston, CB, Temple
Channing Stribling, CB, Michigan
Deion Harris, CB, North Dakota State
Lorenzo Jerome, S, Saint Francis
Ted Thompson, S, Colorado
Jessie Bates, S, Wake Forest