Don’t Call Them Sleepers

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: March 30, 2008

2008 NFL Draft

PHILADELPHIA – Every year around draft time I am asked whether it is by friends or on the radio to identify a “sleeper”. Well everyone I am here to tell you that there are no longer true “sleepers” in the NFL Draft process.

Trust me, if you have talent the NFL will find you with their gaggle of scouts, assistant coaches, GM’s, and others scanning the country for players. With the emergence of small school guys like Eagles RB Brian Westbrook (Villanova), Ravens DB David Pittman (Northwestern State), Colts DB Antoine Bethea (Howard), and many others the NFL finds players everywhere.

The entire NFL you can say is now taking a page from the old Pittsburgh Steelers scouting department from the ’70s where super scout Bill Nunn found several diamonds in the rough (John Stallworth, Mel Blount, and others) throughout the country that turned into major contributors for their dynasty.

Some “if you build it, they will come” prospects to watch in the 2008 NFL Draft include:

San Diego QB Josh Johnson – The Oakland, California native is from the University of San Diego and not the bigger San Diego State. But Johnson (6′3, 215) is extremely well known going into the draft after a senior season where he tossed a school record 43 touchdowns (only 1 INT) while ranking first in the nation in total offense (4,040 yards) and broke the NCAA record for passing efficiency (176.7). His post season has been even more noteworthy as he was the MVP at the East-West Shrine game and ran an eye-popping 4.55 seconds in the forty at the Combine. At the Combine after his blazing time he was hurt by back spasms that affected his throwing, but at his March Pro Day workout he got redemption. In front of about 20 NFL team evaluators including head coaches Norv Turner of San Diego and Carolina’s John Fox, Johnson threw the ball much better than he did at the combine hitting almost all of his throws in stride.

Delaware RB/KR Omar Cuff – After a stellar senior season including rushing for an amazing 7 touchdowns versus William & Mary watch for this stick of dynamite in the NFL. Cuff (5-9 7/8, 195) amassed 4,363 rushing yards and a school-record 73 total touchdowns as Blue Hen and at his recent Pro Day he ran the forty in 4.55 seconds, had a 34-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 1-inch long jump, 4.12 short shuttle, 6.86 cone drill, and 16 reps at 225.

Tennessee State Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie - The TSU standout is not the only HBCU Prospect in the 2008 NFL Draft. Historically Black Colleges and Universities have notoriously been fertile grounds for the NFL and this year is no different. Everyone knows about Rodgers-Cromartie after the Senior Bowl. But a new HBCU prospect announced his presence this week at Alabama’s Pro Day.

Stillman College CB/KR Brian Witherspoon (5-10 3/8, 178) stole the show from his SEC counterparts. Witherspoon, who is also an All-American sprinter posted numbers of a 4.33 seconds forty, 40 inch vertical, 4.36 seconds in the short shuttle, and a cone drill of 6.86 seconds. Witherspoon is a fluid athlete with good change of direction and looked very good in corner and return drills. His times in the forty and cone drill would have placed him with the Troy State potential top 15 pick Leodis McKelvin’s combine numbers.

Other HBCU players to watch for include: Clark Atlanta University DE/LB Curtis Johnson (6-3, 255), Bethune Cookman DB Bobbie Williams (6-0, 214), Jackson State WR Jaymar Johnson (5-11, 180, 4.41), Delaware State WR Shaheer McBride (6-1, 199, 4.50), Hampton University DE Kendall Langford (6-5, 294, 5.03), South Carolina State OL James Lee (6-4, 303, 5.30), Bethune Cookman LB Ronnie McCollough (5-11, 225, 4.65), Tennessee State DE Shawn Richardson (6-4, 299, 5.12), Hampton OLB/DE Marcus Dixon (6’5, 260, 4.6) and Tuskegee University DB Johnathan Harris (5-10, 185, 4.44)

Quarterback conversion candidates- Every year there are former quarterbacks making their mark in the NFL at other positions — Think Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl return man Joshua Cribbs a former outstanding college quarterback at Kent State. I always like these players since they have been leaders going back to peewee football.

UTEP QB/WR Lorne Sam (6′3, 215) is my number one conversion candidate. The jack-of-all-trades player transferred from Florida State looking to get noticed and he did producing numbers in 2007 of 12-19 for 144 yards w/ 2 TDs passing, 60 rushes for 339 yards w/ 3 TDs, and 42 catches for 589 yards (14.0 ypc) and 1 TD receiving. He followed his season up by shining at the combine catching the ball well in drills, posting 23 reps at 225 pounds (great for a receiver), and running a 4.55 in the forty.

Another conversion candidate is the 2007 Walter Payton award winner from Georgia Southern QB/WR/KR Jayson Foster (6′, 170). Despite his smallish size this mighty mite is explosive, elusive, speedy, and went for over 1,000 yards passing and rushing in 2007.

The next Antonio Gates ??? – Tight End Antonio Smith, Michigan State is a big tight end prospect (6-7, 260) and he just happens to be one of the most interesting stories this draft season. Like former college basketball player and Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates, Smith is the latest former hardwood player trying to make the jump to the NFL at the surprising age of 32. The brother of current Cleveland Browns defensive end Robaire Smith certainly looked the part of an NFL tight end posting good numbers at Michigan State’s Pro Day with times 5.19 and 5.14 in the 40, a 32½-inch vertical jump, 9-foot, 7-inch long jump, and 18 reps in the bench press.

Sleeper Quick Hitters

– Virginia Tech OT Duane Brown – Everyone knows about Jake Long and Boise State’s Ryan Clady, but Brown (6′5, 310) should get noticed by the scouts. He is a big tough and some say mean O-lineman that will fight you to the whistle. He has a good punch coming off the ball, good footwork, and large wingspan.

– Eastern Kentucky OT Sean Dumford (6′5, 302) was impressive at Kentucky’s Pro Day outshining his SEC brethren by running a respectable 5.15 in the forty and posting 27 reps pressing 225 pounds.

– Washburn tall corner Cary Williams (6-1, 187) made the radar at the University of Kansas Pro Day producing a 4.43 forty, 32½-inch vertical jump, 4.34 short shuttle, 6.94 cone drill, 8 reps in the bench press, and looking smooth in drills.

– Weber State O-lineman David Hale (6-5 5/8, 310) followed up a solid combing by producing a 29-inch vertical jump, 4.63 short shuttle, 7.51 cone drill, and 25 reps at his Pro Day.

– Grand Valley State CB Brandon Carr (6-0, 207) ran the forty in 4.43, had a 35-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 4-inch long jump, 4.19 short shuttle, 6.80 cone drill, and ran well in drills at his workout.

– Chadron State RB Danny Woodhead (5-7 ½. 197) showed the big boys that he is ready by ripping it up at the Nebraska Pro Day. The record-setting small-school player ran the forty in 4.38 seconds, had a 38-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 1-inch long jump, 4.20 short shuttle, 7.03 cone drill, and 20 reps of 225.