It seems like we know everything already about the top players in the 2018 NFL Draft. But if you dig deeper and deeper, there are some intriguing sleepers who have emerged.
Some players have even transcended being a sleeper. Before the start of last college football season, plenty of people who cover the draft would have told you to watch a massive guard at UTEP who looks like he’d fit into the NFL in the 1970s. But now Will Hernandez has aced the offseason process and his sleeper status disappeared.
Much of the same can be said about UTSA pass rusher Marcus Davenport. Going to a small school no longer automatically means a player is a draft sleeper.
Nathan Shepherd of Fort Hays State is another one. He isn’t a first-round player, but he was getting a ton of hype in the lead up to the draft. Against lesser competition his traits stand out. At 315 pounds, Shepherd has quick feet, and the strength to toss offensive linemen to the side. He’s turned himself into a potential second-day draft pick and could be this year’s version of Javon Hargrave of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Those guys aren’t sleepers in the 2018 NFL Draft. These are:
Roc Thomas, RB, Jacksonville State
A former five-star recruit, Thomas could find a spot on an NFL team as a third running back and special teams player. He finished his college career averaging 5.9 yards per rush, carrying the ball 391 times for 2,322 yards and 23 touchdowns. Thomas is also a solid pass catcher and had 54 receptions for 644 yards. At 198 pounds, Thomas isn’t the biggest running back, but there’s a lot of wiggle in his game and he’s effective in the open field making defenders miss.
Jordan Mailata, OT, South Sydney
I’ve never seen Mailata play football. Neither have you. The 21-year-old Mailata is giving American football a try after playing rugby in Australia. What makes him so intriguing? For starters, he’s gigantic at 6’8 and 345 pounds. He’s also reportedly hit five seconds in a 40-yard dash, which gives some indication of his athleticism. According to NFL Network’s Gil Brandt, earlier this month, Mailata had visits on consecutive days with Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and the Los Angeles Chargers. Forget college basketball players converting to football. Let’s go find some rugby players.
Leon Jacobs, LB/Edge, Wisconsin
Wisconsin has a trio of linebackers in this year’s draft, including Jacobs, Jack Cichy and Garret Dooley. Jacobs is the rawest but most intriguing of the group. He started his Wisconsin career at inside linebacker, saw some time at fullback as a junior and worked as an edge player as a senior. He could land on a roster as a late-round option depth player who plays special teams and gets used as an occasional pass rusher. At the NFL Scouting Combine he pulled off a 40-yard dash time of 4.48 seconds and registered a 10’2 board jump.
Chase Litton, QB, Marshall
Quarterback is probably the most challenging position to find a sleeper. Chances are if a quarterback is even decent, he’s risen above sleeper status. One who has gone unnoticed is Litton. He entered the draft a year early so he didn’t benefit from an all-star game. Litton is also considered undraftable by some teams due to off-field issues. But strictly from a prospect standpoint, Litton has one of the draft’s strongest arms and he’s a good athlete. He exemplifies the type of quarterback that gets stashed and developed on a practice squad.
Alex Cappa, OT, Humboldt State
Cappa is the perfect example of how the Senior Bowl can help a draft prospect. Before it, he was considered a late-round player. But after the Humboldt State blocker showed he’s physical and can hold his own, Cappa has turned himself into a mid-round player. Cappa moves pretty well for a tackle, and plays with good strength. A year of development to hone his technique, and Cappa becomes a starter at either tackle or guard.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded up to get Capp in the third round with the No. 94 pick.
Michael Joseph, CB, Dubuque
Joseph is another player who boosted his stock at the Senior Bowl. The Small College Defensive Player of the Year, Joseph had a winding path to the draft that included sitting out his first season at Dubuque and packing on 40 pounds during his college career. Joseph didn’t even start in high school. But in three seasons for the Spartans, Joseph pulled in 15 interceptions and had 166 tackles. In 2014, the Browns used a fourth-round pick on Pierre Desir of Lindenwood. He’s stuck in the NFL and started eight games for the Colts last season. Joseph can be the same type of player, despite playing for a Division III school.
Jullian Taylor, DT, Temple
It’s hard to get excited about Taylor’s college production. Before last season, he only had 12 tackles. That’s because he tore his meniscus and ACL in his left knee in consecutive seasons and missed a significant amount of time. But as a senior he had 38 tackles and nine tackles for loss playing on Temple’s defensive line rotation. Taylor gets off the ball in a hurry and he looks more like a defensive end than a tackle.
Jon Cunningham, DT, Kent State
Cunningham may not get drafted, but he could land on a roster as an undrafted free agent. A talented high school wrestler, Cunningham was one of Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks” in 2015 for his brute strength. He has long arms and knows how to keep blockers out of his pads. Playing in the pass-happy Mid-American Conference, Cunningham had 51 tackles and 10 tackles for loss last season.
If you don’t remember who Cunningham is, maybe this will help: