2016 NFL Draft: 8 Sleepers That Could Sneak into the First Round
With Thursday arrives the 2016 NFL Draft, where all 32 NFL teams hope to pluck a star out of the first round. New England is the lone team that may not have a say in the action (unless they trade into round one), but it should still be an intense night where the NFL is very much alive and well as a whole.
The top of the draft is largely spoken for, as it’s a foregone conclusion that Carson Wentz and Jared Goff will be the first two picks. Some aren’t entirely sure which order, but it may not matter.
Beyond that, the draft feels fairly wide open. There are the consensus top rated remaining prospects, but as we get closer to the middle and late picks of the first round, perspective and value can change considerably.
Need can dictate value, as well, which could have some teams reaching for positions, for talent, trading down or even trading up. The big question, though, is which day two talents have a real shot at sneaking into round one? Let’s take a look at our personal favorites that aren’t necessarily locks to be day one picks, but just might hear their name called come Thursday night:
Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
Cook make take the cake as far as day two/day three prospects that have a great chance of getting selected on Thursday. Not only was he once a locked in first round prospect, but some – Jon Gruden specifically – believe he’s the best passer in this draft.
It’s hard to knock Cook when it comes to talent and on field production (he was highly successful with the Spartans) but his character and off field personality raise some red flags. Still, there are so many quarterback-needy teams that Cook will get a chance, and it could come as early as round one.
Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia
Safety is a very interesting spot this year, as it is not very deep or star-studded. In fact, after Jalen Ramsey, it’s very possible we don’t see a second player drafted at the position in round one. If we do, however, there’s a decent chance it’s Joseph.
Really only sliding due to a knee injury, Joseph has the instincts and menacing demeanor to rule the back of a secondary. Someone like Pittsburgh could really use his mentality and they’re probably not the only team that has him relatively high on their boards – especially with hard-hitting safeties being used more as linebackers these days.
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
The running back position has grown to be devalued over the years, but Todd Gurley going in the top-10 and then wrecking for the Rams last year showed that there is still value to be had.
Henry isn’t the most explosive or shifty back, but he doesn’t have to be. He’s a mashing bruiser with amazing size and power, plus for his size and strength, he does possess underrated quickness and long speed.
The only issue here is some don’t like his skill-set as a full-fledged feature back, and see him as a day two prospect due to his question marks as a receiver. He could still be a lead back in the right spot and there are several teams that could use his toughness and reliability.
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
If you’re looking for a guy who looks like an NFL starting quarterback, Hackenberg might be it. He certainly fit the bill when Bill O’Brien was running the show at Penn State, and then something happened once his system and weapons eroded.
Some think Hackenberg doesn’t have an internal clock for pressure and will never “get it”, and they could be right. Or the guy is talented as heck and he suffered through a system change and a lack of weapons. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but with such a great need for quality talent under center, it’s possible someone reaches for him late in round one.
Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Smith is without a doubt a stud first round talent, save for major questions about the health of his knee. There is the very real threat of Smith missing his entire rookie year, while whatever team takes him is risking a pretty rough future.
He’s too talented to not even consider, though, and as we saw with Todd Gurley last year, injured players can put in the work and overcome the odds. Smith may be worth the gamble – especially if the risk is just a late first round draft choice.
Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State
I’m not a huge believer in quarterbacks switching positions at the next level, but if there is a guy this year that can make it happen, it might be Miller. A below average quarterback prospect for the NFL, Miller might have first round upside when you package his elite size and athleticism together.
He hasn’t had much time at the wide receiver position and could have a long road ahead of him, but few receivers give you what he brings to the table. The fact that he’s already this tantalizing of a prospect after really only a year of learning the ropes is quite interesting. Round one might be a bit ambitious, but don’t be too shocked if someone seriously entertains taking the plunge.
Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
This is all about need and the fact that tight end is routinely very weak. You need to start somewhere, and two teams that are starving for high upside and athleticism at the position are the Packers and Falcons. Both desperately need a game-changer at the position and in a couple of years, it’s possible Henry could be their answer.
It’s tough to get past that fact that he lacks great size and isn’t yet a great blocker, but if a team needs a receiving talent that carries loads of upside, he’d be the pick. Already a day two prospect, Henry isn’t that far off from being a fringe first rounder.
Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State
It’s arguable Jones should deserve a draft nod over Hackenberg. Then again, this list isn’t necessarily a ranking. Jones certainly deserves to make the list based on sheer talent and upside, as he looked like a phenom late in 2014 and many speculated he’d be the top quarterback in this year’s draft class.
A steep regression in 2015 changed that rather quickly, but the raw material is still there to work with. Few quarterbacks have his size, arm strength and overall athleticism, and he has upside in spades. In the right situation, he could still potentially blossom into a franchise talent. That may be tempting enough to get someone like the Broncos or Cardinals to take the dive late in round one.
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