Over the last few months we have analyzed players projected to go in the first three rounds, potential mid-round sleepers and the best players from the college all-star games (East-West Shrine Bowl and the Senior Bowl). This week will be the last in which we scout players before the 2013 NFL Draft. The topic for players this week is sleepers. The criteria for a sleeper player is that they are a mid-round pick and that many people are not projecting them as being great in the NFL. We’ll start this sleeper edition by finding a potential diamond in the rough at running back from a big SEC school.
Marcus Lattimore RB South Carolina Watch highlights of him here
Ok, so Lattimore is definitely the most well-known player on this list. He is also not what most people would call a “sleeper” as he was projected as a first rounder heading into the 2012-2013 college football season. But, after a major right knee injury forced him to have serious knee injury for the second straight season (the previous season he had major surgury on his left knee) Lattimore is being projected as anything from a 4th-7th round selection in this year’s draft. Knee injuries aside, though, Lattimore is a great talent if he can stay healthy. Lattimore is an old-school running back who wants to run through you more than he wants to run around you. However, he can also stop on a dime and juke the defender out of his shoes. Thus, he always keeps defenders guessing. In addition, Lattimore is a willing and able blocker and is an effective receiver who runs well after the catch. Lattimore as a runner never gives up on a play until he is forced to the ground. However, Lattimore’s running style is very upright and upright runners are incredibly susceptible to injury. I do admit that Adrian Petersen is an upright runner who has had tremendous success. However, he did have major knee surgery and, given Lattimore’s history of knee injuries, teams must be very wary of Lattimore possibly blowing out his knee very early on in his career. Adding to this concern is the fact that Lattimore looked much better in the 2011 season than he did in the 2012 season. Thus, he did not return from his first knee injury with as much upside as he had before the injury. The safe bet is that Lattimore will once again lose upside again due to his second knee injury. Mainly because of these concerns, I would not draft Lattimore. However, Lattimore will probably be drafted in the fourth round just because someone is willing to look past the enormous risk and see the possible reward.
Luke Marquardt OT Azusa Pacific (6-9, 315 lbs.) Watch highlights of him here
What’s the matter? Have you never heard of Azusa Pacific University? Neither had I. Turns out it is a small Christian university in the Los Angeles area. Despite that fact that probably 95% of the nation has not heard of the school, it is producing an NFL calliber offensive tackle in Marquandt. Marquandt is huge (see above) and he was coached by NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jackie Slater. On the field, Marquardt is an absolute mauler. He literally pushes down his opponents (granted, they are much smaller than he is) on almost every play. In terms of pass protection, Marquardt has a ways to go as Azusa Pacific did not have a traditional dropback passing offense. He does, however, show potential to pass protect with good athleticism and lateral agility. His technique, however, will need to be refined as he faces much better and bigger competition. In the end, Marquardt is very raw but has the potential to develop into a good or even great tackle. I project him as a late third or early fourth round selection because he has so much upside at such an important position.
Garrett Gilkey, G (6-6, 318 lbs.) Chadron State Watch highlights of him here
Gilkey may have attended the tiny school of Chadron State. But, he is a better player than his school might indicate. Gilkey was dominant as a left tackle at Chadron State earning All-Conference honors his sophomore, junior and senior years. Despite playing tackle in college, however, Gilkey lacks the speed necessary to stay outside in the NFL. Therefore, he must endure a position change to guard. The good news is that Gilkey successfully made that position switch and still looked good while playing against big-time competition at the Senior Bowl. On tape, Gilkey is so strong that he literally pushes people over on almost every play. He also stonewalls almost every pass-rusher and blocks through most defenders in the run game. His lateral speed looks good on tape, but it did not look great at the Senior Bowl nor did he test well in it for his pro day. Although this will limit Gilkey to playing guard, Gilkey looks strong enough and skilled enough to make the transition to the NFL and be a starting guard for a team. I project Gilkey as a fourth round pick just because of the time it will take him to get used to the league and be a productive player in it.
Jensen may have played for Division II CSU-Pueblo, but he caught scouts’ attention at his pro day by testing well in bench press, short shuttle, broad jump and three-cone drill. Jensen also dominated in Division II and was a finalist for Division II’s best offensive lineman award (Gene Upshaw Award). Jensen is such a sleeper that his gametape from any game cannot be found on the Internet! Jensen displays great strength and possesses and very low center of gravity that helps him gain leverage often. However, his lateral speed and overall athleticism is such that he will need to switch positions from tackle to guard once arriving in the NFL. This fact will stunt his growth initially, however, he has the raw talent to be an NFL player. This being said, Jensen will not be drafted until the sixth or seventh rounds, if he is drafted at all, due to his lack of notoriety and inability to play tackle in the NFL.
J.C. Tretter, G, Cornell (6-4, 307 lbs.) Watch highlights of him here
Tretter has had an interesting ride to the NFL thus far. He was a high school quarterback who signed to play tight end at Cornell. However, after two middling seasons as a tight end, Cornell moved him to left tackle. For the past two seasons, Tretter has shown remarkable development earning all-conference honors each of the last two seasons and catching the eye of Senior Bowl general manager Phil Savage. Savage invited Tretter to the Senior Bowl but Tretter broke his nose while training. This will hurt Tretter’s stock as he has not had any experience against top collegiate competition and the Senior Bowl was his shot at top level competition. Despite his inexperience, Tretter does have great potential. Tretter displays good mobility and is very experienced in pass protection as he is coming from Cornell’s pass-first offense. Also, Tretter is adept at getting to the second level (linebackers) while run blocking. Tretter, however, does not display great strength and must learn the concept of leverage once in the NFL in order to become a better run blocker. In addition, Tretter does not have enough speed to stay at tackle long-term. Thus, he must learn the position of guard once entering the NFL. Tretter’s inexperience, position switch and lack of strength will push him down into the late fourth to early sixth round. But, Tretter is a legitimate starting candidate if an NFL team is patient with him.
Mike Catapano DE Princeton (6-4, 270 lbs.) Watch highlights of him here
Coming out of high school, Catapano weighed 215 pounds soaking wet. He was still offered a scholarship to play football by every Ivy League school. After choosing Princeton, Catapano went on to have a great career that included winning the Bushnell Cup Award for being the best defensive lineman in the Ivy League. This career earned Catapano earned him a trip to the East-West Shrine Bowl in which he stood out and made a name for himself. Catapano tested well at his pro day and has even had a couple of individual workouts with NFL teams. What makes teams so interested in the former Princeton Tiger? Catapano has shown more than speed in terms of being able to rush the passer. Catapano is creative using rips, swims, spins and jukes to get to the quarterback. He also gets his hands up when stonewalled and goes for the ball when he does get to the quarterback. Teams are also interested in converting Catapano to linebacker because he is agile and changes directions well. However, Catapano has never played against top-level collegiate competition and throwing a position switch into the mix may not be the best idea. With this said, Catapano is an intriguing prospect if he can adapt to the NFL speed and strength. I rate him as a fourth round pick as a defensive end and a sixth round pick as a linebacker simply because he has not shown the instincts to play linebacker and he may not even be good enough to play in the NFL anyway much less with a position switch.
Montori Hughes NT Tennessee-Martin (6-4, 329 lbs.) Watch highlights of him here
As you can tell by the above image, Hughes was not always playing at a small school. In fact, he was an impact player at Tennessee before for several off-the-field incidents. This occurrence and the fact that Hughes struggled mightily with his grades and weight during college will give NFL teams pause before evaluating him. However, Hughes is a player on the football field. Hughes is excellent in run defense and is hard to get through even when he played for a terrible UT-Martin team. He is also adept and pushing the pocket back on pass rushes and taking on double teams routinely and still being effective. However, Hughes is slow and will not get sacks on pass-rushes often. He also struggles with leverage at times which renders his biggest strength, run defense, useless. Hughes has a lot of potential, but the uncertainty surrounding Hughes’ character and play on the football field should push him into the late fifth to early seventh round range.
Brandon Williams NT Missouri Southern (6-1, 335 lbs.) Watch highlights of him here
Williams was a beast playing for Missouri Southern. He was just the third person in history to be recognized as a three-time All-American. Moreover, he dominated players from much bigger schools at the Senior Bowl (see video) thus proving that his production was not just the product of inferior competition. Williams is built low to the ground and understands the concept of leverage well. Thus, he is rarely pushed off the ball and often penetrates into the backfield. While not super quick, Williams gives good effort and makes tackles on the sidelines and inside the numbers. Williams is also adept at generating a consistent pass rush when left one on one. While he won’t be a pass rusher in the NFL, he can offer more pass rush than most “run-stuffing” nose tackles. One of Williams’ weaknesses, however, is his inability to use his hands to generate penetration or pressure. If his initial burst off the snap does not work, Williams is basically useless during the play. However, this can be remedied with coaching in the NFL. Another concern is Williams’ injury history given the fact that he missed the entire 2009 season. All this being said, Williams is a hard worker and has a chance to be a quality NFL starter. Look for him to come off the board in the third round with his small school and injuries pushing him down boards the most.
Ty Powell LB Harding (6-2, 249 lbs.) Watch highlights of him here
Powell is a no-name prospect from the small Christian college known as Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. He caught the attention of scouts at his Pro Day in Searcy with his ball skills and fluidity. Powell has played safety, defensive end and now linebacker in college and brings a mix of all these skills to his game. He is obviously very raw and has not played against top competition (see the YouTube video being from his high school days), but Powell has good upside for a mid-round pick. Look for him to come off the board in the late fourth or early fifth round. Harding would be the first player drafted from Harding in 30 years if this prediction comes true.
B.W. Webb CB William & Mary (5-10, 184 lbs.) Watch highlights of him here
Webb has been on the radar of NFL scouts for several years now. In his freshman season with William & Mary, Webb recorded eight interceptions and took two back for touchdowns. Although Webb has struggled to match this production and last season did not record an interception, opposing quarterbacks typically threw away from his side of the field. Webb is a smooth athlete who has the speed and saavy to cover wideouts and the tenaciousness to help in run support. Webb is also an accomplished return man and will get reps right away in the NFL due to this skill. Webb did not have great competition or coaching about technique, but he is a talent and his special teams ability will get him drafted in the third round this April.
Image of Lattimore courtesy of zimbio.com, image of Jensen courtesy of craigdailypress.com, image of Marquardt courtesy of footballsfuture.com, image of Gilkey courtesy of patsfans.com, image of Tretter courtesy of buffalonews.com, image of Catapano courtesy of blogs.princetontigersfootball.com, image of Hughes courtesy of carolinahuddle.com, image of Williams courtesy of beyondthecombine.com, image of Powell courtesy of arkansasonline.com, image of Webb courtesy of tribeathletics.com.