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The 1 draft sleeper at each position who NFL teams shouldn’t overlook

This year’s pre-draft process has faced more challenges, but NFL teams shouldn’t ignore these prospects just because they didn’t play for Power 5 teams.

Art collage of 2020 NFL Draft prospects LB Logan Wilson (Wyoming), TE Charlie Taumoepeau (Portland State), RB James Robinson (Illinois State), superimposed on a blue and white background
LB Logan Wilson (Wyoming), TE Charlie Taumoepeau (Portland State), and RB James Robinson (Illinois State) are under-the-radar draft prospects.

This year’s NFL Draft will be undeniably altered thanks to the pandemic that’s gripped the world. That might not seriously affect the guys at the top of teams’ wish lists, who compiled more than their fair share of game tape and had the chance to wow at the NFL Scouting Combine.

It will make life tougher for the lesser-known prospects who had pro days and facility visits canceled due to coronavirus concerns, however.

But there’s too much small-school, or otherwise overlooked, talent in 2020 for NFL teams to ignore. Let’s take a closer look at some of these prospects who toiled in relative obscurity while honing the skills. These players may fall to Day 3 of this year’s draft — or out of the proceedings entirely, since their opportunity to sell themselves to team executives was so limited.

I’m going to break down one sleeper from each position on offense and defense, with the only rule being they can’t have played the 2019 season for a Power 5 program.


QB: Jackson Erdmann, St. John’s (Minnesota)

Let’s go DEEP to kick off this list. Erdmann is unlikely to hear his name called during the draft because he played in the low-stakes world of Division III, but the Johnnie quarterback ruled his non-scholarship realm. The former Penn State preferred walk-on was the Gagliardi Award winner (DIII’s Heisman) in 2018 and a finalist in 2019 — when he threw for 5,040 yards and 47 touchdowns in 14 games as a senior.

Though it came against underwhelming competition, Erdmann showed off a powerful and precise arm with his ability to launch beautiful deep balls.

He does a good job of understanding basic coverage principles and putting the ball in a place where his targets can haul in a touchdown pass, even in tight quarters. Listed at 6’4 but probably a little shorter, he’s got solid QB height. Although he has plenty to prove, he absolutely belongs in someone’s camp this summer.

Also, he once quick-punted a ball 58 yards. Versatility!

WR: Isaiah Coulter, Rhode Island

Coulter helped spearhead a major turnaround at Rhode Island, leading a perpetually awful Rams team to its best finishes of the past decade. The former zero-star recruit followed cousin Aaron Parker (another decent sleeper WR) to URI, where he exploded for 72 catches, 1,039 yards, and eight touchdowns in 2019 despite an underwhelming QB situation.

Here’s what longtime NFL scout Gil Brandt had to say about Coulter while singling him out as one of his three favorite prospects, per NBC’s Peter King:

He’s 6’1 7/8, big receiver. Plays big. Can run under 4.4. [Official combine time: 4.45.] I like these guys who come from a school like Rhode Island with something to prove. Don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but he could be [D.K.] Metcalf of this draft.

RB: James Robinson, Illinois State

Robinson was a monster for the Redbirds. He led the Missouri Valley Football Conference — which features FCS heavyweights like North Dakota State and Northern Iowa — in rushing yards in both 2018 and 2019. He blew up in the postseason, where he rushed for 601 yards in three games while driving Illinois State to the FCS quarterfinals last fall.

Robinson is a choppy runner whose short strides may hinder his top speed, but also makes him tough to disrupt. A strong Shrine Bowl showing (including a 63-yard touchdown run) should help dispel any preconceived notions about his lack of competition. He hasn’t added much as a receiver, but he can be a hole-drilling platoon back at the next level whose compact size and bulk makes him a useful pass blocker as well.

TE: Charlie Taumoepeau, Portland State

Taumoepeau is built more like an H-back than a pure tight end (6’2, 240 pounds), but an enterprising NFL team will find a way to fit him into its lineup. While his numbers with the Vikings weren’t amazing, Taumoepeau saved his biggest performances for the brightest stages.

Here’s what he did in PSU’s three games against FBS competition the last two years:

  • four catches and a touchdown against Arkansas in 2019
  • three catches, 130 yards, and two touchdowns against Nevada in 2018
  • five catches, 125 yards, and two touchdowns against Oregon in 2018

This did not seem to impress the NFL’s official combine site, which lists his college as “UNKNOWN.

OT: Alex Taylor, South Carolina State

Taylor was supposed to be Appalachian State’s edge protector, but he transferred to SCSU to pursue a two-sport journey on both the gridiron and hardwood. Even though his basketball career failed to pan out, he still showed enough as a lean 6’8, 308-pound tackle to earn an invite to the combine.

With limited reps in both high school (17 games) and college (only 22 starts), he’s a raw but intriguing prospect who relishes in getting upfield and destroying defensive backs in sweep/screen pass situations. He’ll need some time to add a little lineman girth and refine his technique, but he could reward that investment in a major way.

OG/C: Danny Pinter, Ball State

Pinter went to Ball State as a tight end, then converted to tackle for the final two years of his run with the Cardinals. He told reporters at the combine he’s looking to move inside in the NFL, and that his ability to make pre-snap reads and adjust accordingly would help him shift to center.

He’s retained most of the athleticism and quickness he originally brought as a target despite bulking up to 300+ pounds. While he’s still learning the position and lacks ideal size, his smooth transition to the line at Ball State suggests he could have a high floor as a utilitarian blocker.


DT: Auzoyah Alufohai, West Georgia

Quite possibly the draft’s most well-traveled prospect, Alufohai’s academic issues kept him from an FBS experience. His winding path went through FCS Kennesaw State and then, after having a medical hardship redshirt denied before his senior season, to Division II West Georgia. He’s a big, thick presence who releases from blocks effectively, and though he shines on tape, it’s tough not to notice the size advantage he had at UWG — something he won’t bring with him to the NFL.

Still, 6’4, 320-pound athletes are hard to come by. If Alufohai can prove he has the explosiveness to clog running lanes before they can open, there will be a spot for him in the pros.

Edge: Derrek Tuszka, North Dakota State

Charlotte’s Alex Highsmith fits the bill here as well, but he looks like a potential Day 2 pick. Instead, let’s dig a little deeper with Tuszka.

The former Bison is a relatively lean pass rusher with a solid punch from the line of scrimmage, but he can struggle to disengage from offensive tackles to slide into the pocket. Despite that, he’s versatile enough to bring havoc from around the edge or slicing inside. Tuszka’s relatively short arms may hurt him in the NFL, though he flashed a wide array of techniques that worked against FCS blockers and should translate, at least to some extent, on Sundays.

LB: Logan Wilson, Wyoming

Wilson is savvy and athletic enough to handle duties as a hybrid STAR linebacker/safety. His college career was spent bulking up to move from cornerback to LB, so he’s got solid instincts and skills to bring to his coverage over the middle of the field. The Cowboy alum is also able to fight his way into the backfield and bowl over tailbacks (35 tackles for loss in four seasons at Wyoming), making him a versatile weapon against both the pass and run.

CB: Nevelle Clarke, Central Florida

Clarke is a long, lean cornerback (6’1) capable of coming to the line for press coverage or sliding backward to disguise his intentions and lure quarterbacks into bad situations. His nose for the ball shined through with 24 pass breakups in his final two seasons with the Knights. Though his tackling has earned non-rave reviews, his ability to see out the ball and erase high-point throws with his size make him an asset in the passing game.

S: Marc-Antoine Dequoy, Université de Montréal

Safety has a couple small-school standouts who could be early picks — Lenoir-Rhyne’s Kyle Dugger and Southern Illinois’ Jeremy Chinn. Let’s dig past them and find a star from the great white north.

Dequoy was one of the most celebrated athletes in U Sports, Canada’s equivalent to the NCAA. A three-time All-Canada team member (second-team in 2017, first-team in 2018 and 2019) at defensive back, the former Montreal Carabin is skilled in coverage along the slot and capable, at 6’2 and a still-growing 198 pounds, to step up to the line of scrimmage and erase running plays. He’s lightning with the ball as well; he returned six of his 12 career interceptions for touchdowns.

If that doesn’t grab your attention, this will. He showed out at his pro day with a 4.35-second 40 time and a 6.65-second three-cone drill, the latter of which would have been the fastest among all defensive backs at this year’s combine. That versatility should help him in his transition from the Canadian game to the American gridiron.