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6 NFL Draft sleepers this year and which current players they remind us of

These are the players who could end up as major draft day steals.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Illinois at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Naturally everyone is circling the big names on the 2022 NFL Draft board and paying attention to their team’s first pick, but we often ignore where the real meat of the draft comes in: The second round and below.

To be honest, I think we make a little too much out of the first round. Obviously making the correct pick is important, but picking high in the draft is more about not making mistakes than showing brilliance every year. The difference between a decent team and an elite one is the ability to find players deep in the draft who can become starter or even Pro Bowl-level talent.

That’s why looking at sleepers is so interesting. Nobody thinks about the Seahawks taking Bruce Irvin in the first round of 2012, but they sure remember that being the draft where they took Bobby Wagner in the second round and Russell Wilson in the third. So let’s dive into the players we’re not thinking about right now, but who could define the league in a few years.

Carson Strong, QB, Nevada

This is not a great draft at quarterback, that much we know, but Strong has really fallen down the boards from potential first round pick to now being a major sleeper. At this point it’s hard to imagine he’ll be taken in the first two rounds, opening the door for someone to get potentially get a steal.

It’s important to know what you’re getting from him. Strong was never a super mobile QB, and following a leg injury he’s basically a statue. He will not be able to escape pressure, or pick up yards with his legs — but that’s not why you would take him.

In terms of pure arm talent, only Malik Willis compares in this class. Strong has a cannon for an arm and has also shown an ability to put touch on passes, a trait that normally strong armed QBs struggle with. At 6’3”, 226 pounds he’s got the size to stand in the pocket and take a shot, but there’s a lot he needs to work on to be a plus-level QB.

Ceiling: Poor man’s Ben Roethlisberger

Strong needs to learn to manipulate defenses better with his eyes and stop staring down his primary receiver, but he could have the potential to fit well in a passing scheme not requiring much creativity in the pocket from the quarterback.

Calvin Austin III, WR, Memphis

Austin III is likely going to be a late Day 2, or early Day 3 player — and I think someone is going to get a hell of a bargain.

Any team who selects Austin III thinking they’ll get a do-everything receiver is destined to fail. That is not how he’ll win at the next level. Instead the former track star is best suited as a gadget player in a scheme more concerned with putting the ball in a weapon’s hands and letting them operate. At 5’8” and and a slight 170 pounds, he’s not out-muscling defensive backs or fighting for the ball — but his straight line speed and shiftiness could allow Austin III to develop into a plus-level player as a third or fourth weapon.

I’m a very big fan of Austin III landing in the right system.

Ceiling: Mecole Hardman, with risk

While Hardman had better resume coming out of college with plenty of film against SEC defenses, I think it’s not difficult to imagine Austin III having the same impact on the field. While he might not be as versatile as the Chiefs’ receiver, he could potentially develop those skills and round out his game.

Tyler Allegier, RB, BYU

It’s really difficult to project where Allegier will go, but I suspect he’ll be a late Day 2 pick due to position. He could absolutely be taken earlier, but this is a case of RBs being de-emphasized in the NFL to the point where even the top do-everything backs are going to be taken in the late 1st, at the best.

Allegier is not a player who can offer much in the passing game, but as a second power back he could find a home as one of the best in the league in goal line situations. His 5’11”, 224 pound frame and knack for finding gaps could make him an asset.

There are things he needs to work on, most notably showing more drive against the pile to push back interior linemen. I still see a lot of potential as a change of pace back.

Ceiling: Nick Chubb

A team looking to pair a do-everything back with a short yardage workhorse could find amazing mid-round value in Allegier, who could develop into an asset at the next level.

Isaiah Likely, TE, Coastal Carolina

I’m very big on Likely, who will likely finds projected in the fourth or fifth round. A former receiver, he’s very much learning true tight end traits where he’s a below-average blocker and needs NFL conditioning — but as a work in progress I think he could become special.

A big play master who stuffs the stat sheet, Likely finished with 912 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns this past season. He will fall due to lack of pure obvious projection at the next level, and while his route running isn’t quite good enough to become a dedicated receiver, I think he could develop into a big weapon.

Ceiling: Plus-level Dan Arnold

While Arnold works small spaces better, we’re talking about the same solid receiving core that’s not really an asset in blocking. I think Likely could learn more at the next level, and with some training and conditioning could be a huge Day 3 steal.

Kerby Joseph, S, Illinois

This is a little bit of a different sleeper, because I think most people know he’s tremendous. It’s more that I see guys like Kyle Hamilton and Lewis Cine going much, much earlier — and the gap between those guys and Joseph aren’t so pronounced that he’s not worth a flier.

Joseph is a plus-level ballhawk with great instincts. He also showed major lockdown ability in the back portion of Illinois’ season, only giving up 24 yards in the final seven games of the season. I think he could develop into a really nice player who can make an impact.

Ceiling: Minkah Fitzpatrick

Similar ball skills and playmaking ability from the safety position. Needs to develop his instincts at the next level to adjust to the NFL, but every rookie does.

Neil Farrell Jr, DT, LSU

At this point he’s not a threat in the passing game, where he really doesn’t have a great feel for pushing inside and collapsing the pocket. However, in watching Farrell on film it seems more due to lack of technique, rather than unwillingness.

I think an NFL team can instruct and develop those abilities, because he has an above-average motor for a 330 pound defensive tackle who needs to get NFL caliber conditioning, which can speed him up. At the very least a team will get a potentially elite run stopping defensive tackle who can shut teams down at the goal line.

Farrell is a likely 4th or 5th round pick, where I think he’d be a great choice.

Ceiling: Leonard Williams

An elite-level run stopper without a lot of pass rushing traits, I think Farrell can improve further and be an amazing value for a team needing help in the trenches.