Draft sleepers

I’m sure you’ve all heard of Matt Barkley, Geno Smith and Jarvis Jones as we approach the NFL Draft, but what about the players who aren’t getting as much attention?

Here, all of our writers pick out one player to keep an eye on in the run up to April.

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Olly Dawes: Ryan Nassib – Quarterback, Syracuse

In a class that has no true leader at the quarterback position, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib could prove to be the Andy Dalton of 2013. Predicted to currently go anywhere between the 2nd and 4th round, Nassib could benefit from the draft process such as the Senior Bowl (if he’s selected), pro days and personal workouts.

Nassib has a great arm and good accuracy, whilst he’s also mobile enough to avoid pressure – something I’m still yet to see from Mike Glennon and Tyler Bray. He also possesses nice mechanics, which enable to him to generate enough velocity to rip the ball into tight windows – something that he will have to do in the NFL.

As we saw with Ryan Tannehill last year, it only takes one team to fall in love with a prospect, and given the lack of great quality in the quarterback class this year, a team could see Nassib as their future quarterback. Nassib has shown enough in his time at Syracuse, throwing 68 touchdowns compared to just 27 interceptions in his four years, to make me believe that he can establish himself as a starter in the NFL.

He is a little on the small side and and has made some questionable decisions at times, but after an impressive 2012 season, I’m expecting Nassib to shoot up draft boards in the coming months.

Dan Tiller: Aaron Mellette – Wide Receiver, Elon

In the later rounds of the draft, one dimensional slot receivers and speedy flankers are a dime a dozen, with all of the well-rounded receivers having gone in the first two days. Thus, when a player projected to go on day 3 appears to have all the necessary tools to be a complete wide-out, you know someone could get themselves a real steal.

From the football factory (or not) of Elon University (who have 0 graduates in the NFL), Aaron Mellette is a clear standout. Boasting ridiculous production of 1408 yards and 18 touchdowns in 11 games this year – 8 games over 100 yards – the NC native has been turning the heads of scouts with his numerous strengths.

Aaron is a very large 6’4” 220lb receiver who possesses surprising speed, with a 40 best of 4.43. Large hands, long arms and impressive leaping ability makes him a natural at deep end zone routes, though his game certainly doesn’t stop there, as he regularly finds himself running the route tree as the focus of almost all of Elon’s offence.

Mellette’s body control is admirable. His use of quick hands and body shifts means he can beat physical cornerbacks on the line, and also allows him to make catches from a variety of positions, turning his hips just the right amount to bring balls in from behind without breaking stride. However, his hands have occasionally been a concern, but his quarterback doesn’t often make the ball easy to catch.

Despite the aforementioned dangerous straight line speed, this doesn’t always show up in games as he can look somewhat sluggish running routes. Though his turns can, at times, be soft enough to not tip off defenders, he doesn’t possess the quickness in his routes that will be necessary to beat defenders at the next level, which is something he certainly has to work on to be an NFL success.

Aaron’s pure ability means a team could fall in love with him and take him on day 2 – after all, he outperformed Brian Quick in the Elon vs Appalachain State game last year – though the appalling standard of opposition means scouts will be very wary of taking a punt too early. Should he either perfect his technique, or develop game-quickness, Aaron Mellette could well become a very valuable NFL receiver.

Alex Matthews: Da’Rick Rogers – Wide Receiver, Tennessee Tech

Da’Rick Rogers has had an interesting college career – the highly regarded recruit burst onto the scene in 2011 amassing 67 receptions, 1040 receiving yards and 9 TDs. Rogers possesses ideal size for an outside threat with the quickness and route-running ability of a slot receiver. So with all that said, Rogers should be the first receiver off the board next April right? Wrong.

Before his highly anticipated junior season could begin, Rogers was suspended indefinitely by Tennessee for a ‘violation of team rules’, resulting in a transfer to Tennessee Tech. For those off-the-field red flags, Rogers will slide down draft boards. Another question mark comes in the form of Rogers’ deep speed. Although quick off the mark, Rogers has never really shown enough of that much heralded pace required to hurt opposing secondaries. The third concern with Rogers is his ability to learn an NFL playbook; there was enough miscommunication with Tyler Bray in his sophomore year to warrant some concern with teams who run complex offensive schemes.

What Rogers does possess is very quick feet which, coupled with his size and physicality, will cause plenty of mismatches and leave opposing co-ordinators scratching their heads. Rogers’ greatest and most impressive trait however comes in the form of his toughness, as he has no problem laying out for catches or taking big hits across the middle. In fact, he’s willing to initiate contact himself when gaining extra yards after the catch. This makes him an ideal candidate for a West Coast offense as a possession receiver who thrives in the middle of the field and using his big body to get position on and bully small corners.

Da’Rick Rogers has the talent to contribute in the NFL from day one and in a league where talent trumps character, don’t be surprised to see his name creep up boards and mock drafts over the coming months.

Matt Kellett: Ryan Swope – Wide Receiver, Texas A&M

Texas A&M wide receiver Ryan Swope may not be as flashy as some guys in the draft, but he’ll get the job done, and just getting the job done is an underrated aspect of American Football. Swope projects to be a slot receiver in the NFL due to his size, toughness and solid route running. He is the kind of player who will thrive on teams with a big play receiver who draws double coverage; this will leave more space across the middle for Swope to take advantage of. While he may not be the fastest guy you’ve ever seen, his speed is still underrated especially considering he has the ability to perform excellent double moves that constantly trick defenders.

Having some of the best hands in his draft class makes him an attractive prospect to teams that just need an extra weapon to complete a receiving corps, as he’s the sort of receiver that catches everything thrown in his direction. His tools should ensure that he has a long NFL career, and I’m almost certain that he’ll be the forgotten man on a Super Bowl winning team.

Most draftniks have a third round grade on Swope, which is understandable due to his unflashy nature, and if he does end up going in the third I think he could end up as the steal of the draft. He has the potential to become an elite slot receiver if he finds his way onto the right team, and even if he doesn’t reach that height, his skillset should ensure that he has a long NFL career with consistent production.

James Masini: Khaled Holmes – Center, Southern California

Long gone are the halcyon days of first round Centers. In 2013, the first true Center off the board is likely to be Khaled Holmes, currently considered a third round pick.  Alabama’s Barrett Jones, last week’s Rimington Award winner as college football’s best Center, will be drafted way ahead of Holmes, but will ultimately convert to Guard in the NFL.

At 6’4 and 305lbs Khaled Holmes could in theory play any position on the interior offensive line but after two years snapping the ball for Matt Barkley, he’s made a great name for himself at Centre.

Holmes is one of the best run-game Linemen in this draft class. Few have his level of explosiveness and he has the lower body strength to drive Defensive Tackles forward and will push hard for extra yards. He also has a neat turn of pace and will take on Linebackers and even the odd Safety.

Holmes has also proven himself to be an intelligent leader for SC. As a team captain, he is seen be his peers as a coach on field and has helped Barkley with protection calls in the absence of Matt Kalil. Off the filed, Holmes has also won PAC-12 and CoSIDA academic gongs.

Despite the USC O-Line’s healthy numbers (allowing a PAC-12 fewest 17 sacks in 2012), Holmes’ biggest problem is his lack of both elite strength and mobility. Whilst he has the awareness to pick up blitzes, he lacks the footwork and core strength to dominate. A prime example was his performance against Star Lotulelei in October where he was bossed by the future top-5 pick. Luckily, an improved performance against All-American DT, Will Sutton, may allay some concerns as Holmes sustained blocks and pulled wide as effectively as any interior linemen in this draft.

Come 2013, Holmes will need to prove that he’s got the mobility and/or strength to succeed in the NFL. Coaches will love his ethic and attitude but a strong Combine workout will be essential if he’s to begin climbing draft boards.

Oliver Gilmour: Kevin Reddick – Linebacker, North Carolina

Kevin Reddick is a 6’2, 240lb linebacker out of the University of North Carolina. Projected as a first rounder last year, he’s now being seen as a third or fourth rounder after a solid but not spectacular senior year.

As the leader of the defense for Carolina, he registered 49 solo tackles (85 total), with 18.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks (up from one in 2011). Reddick lines up as the middle linebacker. He has good if not blistering speed, and is good in both pass and rush defense. He’s somewhat of a hard hitter, with two forced fumbles on the year, and he is generally a good wrap-up tackler.

A positive for Reddick is that he has adapted very well to a change in defensive scheme in Chapel Hill this year, which shows his adaptability and variety of skills. He was voted all-ACC First Team in 2012. He could definitely develop into a starting middle linebacker for whichever team drafts him, and if he can be picked up in the third round he will be a steal. He’s not a flashy player like the other Tar Heel linebackers in the draft from previous years, but he will be a very solid player in the NFL for years to come.

Freddie Shires: Zeke Motta – Safety, Notre Dame

With Notre Dame in the midst of an historic season, Heisman Trophy-finalist Manti Te’o seems to be the one player taking all the plaudits. However, another senior on the Fighting Irish’s defense is quietly enjoying a productive year.

That player in question is safety Zeke Motta, the undisputed leader of the secondary and, alongside Te’o, one of the primary reasons for the team’s stellar defensive play in 2012, which has helped keep Notre Dame undefeated and propelled them to the BCS National Championship Game.

With experience at both safety positions, Motta is a forceful run defender, who, at 6’2”, 215 lbs, looks and plays like a hard-hitting linebacker. In fact, coming out of the high school as a four star recruit, linebacker was the position Motta was originally recruited to play, before switching fulltime to safety during his sophomore year in 2010.

Motta perhaps isn’t a true coverage safety, with the range to play a center field role, but he is underrated athletically and should test extremely well by the time the combine rolls around. Without doubt, when the term “workout warrior” is inevitably trotted out, his will be one of the first names on everyone’s lips.

Motta isn’t quite the player that his teammate Harrison Smith was coming out of college but he is an intelligent, durable leader by example, who has not missed a game in his Irish career and has taken on the role of the elder statesman of a young and experienced secondary this year – a unit which has surprised many with its level of performance.

With teams across the NFL searching for these hybrid defensive players for their increasingly common “Big Nickel” packages, Motta looks like he was born to fill that role. At worst, he should be a stellar special teams player, who any coach would love to have on their team.

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