The 2017 NFL Draft is less than a month away. The best of the best in college football will hear their names called in the first round on day one. But a ton of talent ed players are going to have another sleepless night or two as they wait for the second and third days to commence. Every year, we see mid and late-round picks step up and make immediate impacts in the league, making us all question the 31 scouting departments who passed on them multiple times. Sometimes character issues make a player fall down the draft board. Other times, the scouts just miss on how talented a guy truly is.
Antonio Brown is a prime example. Arguably the best wide receiver in the league (well, after Julio), Brown had to wait until the sixth round to hear his name called by the Steelers. I bet the front-office folk in Baltimore have spent many a night pondering, “Why did we take David Reed, again?”
Heck, the entire league opted to pass on Tony Romo, Arian Foster, Antonio Gates, and Wes Welker over and over. Each one of those studs potential Hall-of-Famers went undrafted.
This year will be no different. Come September, unsung prospects are going to arrive at camp motivated, steal spots from vets, and start Pro-Bowl caliber careers. We just don’t know which ones.
Or do we?
Today I’m looking at some potential mid-round picks and bona fide sleepers that could be impact players sooner rather than later; I also set the over/under on draft position or set the odds on whether they’ll be selected at all.
2017 NFL Draft Sleeper Odds
Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana Hoosiers
Calling Feeney a sleeper isn’t really fair. He is arguably at the top of the heap for guard prospects. Yet he isn’t projected as a first-rounder. Sure, it’s not a strong year for guards. But he’s as technically sound as they come and surrendered just two sacks over his four seasons at IU. He’ll step in right away for a guard-needy team like Cincinnati or Atlanta and help to both shore up pass protection and boost the ground game.
O/U draft position: 45th overall (mid second round)
Ethan Pocic, C, LSU Tigers
What’s the value of a really good center? Most casual football fans might think it’s pretty minimal, since they have the least responsibility among offensive lineman in terms of blocking. But they do so much more than just block; a really good center can almost function like a coach on the field, barking orders and shifting protection. Pocic can do all that and block like an over-stimulated toddler at a Duplo convention.
The Falcons’ acquisition of Alex Mack last year showed what a difference a top-flight center can make. Pocic will solidify the position for years for some lucky (make that smart) team. I could see the Jets drafting him, but they’re neither lucky nor smart so …
O/U draft position: 72nd overall (early third round)
Dont’a Foreman, RB, Texas Longhorns
He’s 6’0, 240 pounds, and runs a 4.45 second 40-yard dash. Foreman’s injury history (he sat out the combine with a fracture in his foot) has kept him from being projected as an early-round pick. He’s healthy now, though, and is going to be a beast at the next level. I see him carrying a heavy workload from day one, bowling over smaller linebackers and safeties with his power-running style.
O/U draft position: 80th overall (mid third round)
Jon Toth, C, Kentucky Wildcats
Whichever team misses out on Pocic can cut its losses by nabbing Kentucky’s Jon Toth. An unheralded guard coming out of high school in Indianapolis, Toth was shifted to center as a freshman and excelled at the basketball-crazed school. According to CBS Sports, he has the potential to shift back to guard in the pros thanks to his natural length. That’s just a bonus, as I see it. He’s already shown the determination to excel at a new position in a tough environment (you try blocking SEC pass rushers). If you look at a list of late-round success stories, one of the common themes is determination making up for lesser physical abilities. Pocic will be a starting center in the NFL if he and his team want him to be.
O/U draft position: 155th overall (mid fifth round)
Cole Hikutini, TE, Louisville Cardinals
Unlike guard, the 2017 draft is stacked at tight end. We could see as many as three go in the first round. Having an big, athletic target over the middle of the field has become a virtual must in today’s pass-happy NFL. Blocking ability has become something of an afterthought. Hikutini, however, has solid blocking technique plus sneaky speed and good hands to excel in the passing game. He won’t be one of the first rounders (or second, or third), but he’s going to make some team very happy in the mid to late rounds. As with Toth, his determination and smarts will make up for a lack of sheer athleticism.
O/U draft position: 189th overall (early sixth round)
De’Veon Smith, RB, Michigan Wolverines
Mid and late-round running backs have been having more and more success in recent years. This is partly due to the value of running backs taking a hit; teams aren’t drafting them as high, so the better ones are slipping back in the draft. With the success of Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas last year, we may see some pushback against the trend in this draft. Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook could both be top-15 picks. There’s still going to be a ton of RB value left after day one, though. Look no further than Michigan’s De’Veon Smith. He won’t wow you with his speed or shiftiness, but he’ll bring it on every play, finishing runs hard and making defenders pay for arm tackles. Don’t bank on him taking it 40 yards to the house. Do bank on him getting you four yards when you need four yards, or breaking the plane on third-and-goal from the 1.5-yard line.
O/U draft position: 220th overall (early seventh round)
CJ Beathard, QB, Iowa Hawkeyes
I’m guessing you’ve heard the name Dak Prescott. The guy who ousted Tony Romo from Dallas was a fourth-round pick last year after struggling in his senior season at Mississippi State. If Prescott had come out after his junior year, he might have gone higher. CJ Beathard is another player whose stock fell because he didn’t meet expectations as a senior. Prescott’s play declined because of poor line play; Beathard’s fell because of injuries to his top targets.
Don’t let that blind you; his impressive junior year (61-percent completions and a TD-to-INT ratio of over 3:1) should be all the evidence you need that Beathard has NFL potential. Unlike some other guys on this list, he’s not going to step in and start from day one. He needs time to develop, as most quarterbacks do. But put him behind a savvy NFL vet for a couple seasons, and CJ could be an NFL starter one day. His weaknesses are mostly mental, not physical, like slow progression. They’re the sort of traits that can be greatly improved with a little time and solid instruction.
O/U draft position: 253rd overall (last pick)
Odds to be drafted: 1/1
Adam Griffith, Kicker, Alabama Crimson Tide
Everyone made fun of Tampa Bay for taking Roberto Aguayo in the second round last year. I’ll admit that that was a stretch. They almost certainly could have gotten him later. The move backfired as the former Seminole struggled with accuracy in his first season. For every Aguayo, though, there’s a late-round kicker success story. (Actually, there are more undrafted kicker success stories.) Accuracy on the whole seems to be waning in the NFL, especially with the new, longer extra points. Having a guy who can knock’em in consistently from 35 yards is imperative, otherwise you risk leaving points on the field after every touchdown.
Griffith won’t wow you with his distance — he was only 3/7 from 40-plus yards as a senior — but he’ll put the ball through the uprights consistently from closer range. A lot of teams could use that immediately (cough cough Arizona).
Yes, this article on the 2017 NFL draft only mentions one player from Alabama, and that player is the kicker. I await your admonitions.
O/U draft position: 253rd overall (last pick)
Odds to be drafted: 5/4