Don’t Call Them Sleepers (Part One)

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: April 23, 2009

NFL Draft PHILADELPHIA –Though the majority of players taken in the NFL Draft usually come from BCS schools – in the 2008 NFL Draft over 70% of the players selected were from the six BCS Conferences — everyone is enamored with finding a “sleeper”.

Every year around draft time, whether it is friends or on the radio, everyone wants me to identify a “Superstar in waiting” from a smaller school.

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, NFL teams with their gaggle of scouts, assistant coaches, GM’s, and others scouring football fields everywhere will find you. Now smaller school players are even making it easier for NFL teams to scout them by creating recruiting type videos on YouTube.

Some offensive “Diamonds in the Rough” prospects for the 2009 NFL Draft are:

QB Rhett Bomar, Sam Houston State – This transfer from the University of Oklahoma is regarded as probably the fourth rated quarterback in the 2009 NFL Draft. Bomar came to Oklahoma as a highly touted high school quarterback, but he got in some trouble with a “summer job” and transferred after earning the starting job. Bomar (6-foot-2, 220) became the team starter at Sam Houston in 2007 throwing for numbers 172-291, 59.1%, 2209 yards, 10 TDs and six INTs. Unfortunately the strong-armed passer suffered a left ACL injury causing him to miss the last two games of the ’07 season. Came back in his senior year throwing for respectable numbers 245-of-436, 3405 yards, 27 TDs and 13 INTs. Bomar moves well in the pocket, has a solid throwing motion and is pretty athletic running a 4.7 in the forty. Had a strong week at the Senior Bowl.

QB Chris Pizzotti, Harvard – A tall strong quarterback who battled through injuries to become a two-time All-Ivy League passer. Pizzotti (6-foot-6, 225) came off the bench in the 2007 season to post outstanding numbers 164-260, 63%, 2134 yards, 14 TDs and four INTs. Received a fifth year of eligibility in 2008, producing a career-high 2,490 yards on 193 of 308 attempts, 62.7%, 17 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Was named as a finalist for the Walter Payton Award given to the top 1AA player. Pizzotti is an intriguing prospect in that he is big and very smart, but you have to wonder about the competition he has faced in college. Will be compared to former Harvard and current Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he is a better prospect in my opinion. Posted a 4.83 in the forty and 32.5-inch vertical at his Pro Day.

RB Rashad Jennings, Liberty - Originally playing for Pitt, this small school back is being compared to Chicago Bears breakout rookie running back Matt Forte. The 2009 Senior Bowl was where Jennings (6-foot-1, 232, 4.64) really proved that he was NFL caliber. A big power back, who has pretty good speed for his size. Jennings is a downhill runner that can move the pile, a willing blocker and has decent hands catching the football out of the backfield. A Big South Conference First Team player, who produced 1,526 yards (5.8-yard average) on 263 rushes and 17 touchdowns in 2008. Had a great NFL Combine producing 29 reps of 225 pounds, running a 4.58 in the forty, and 34-inch vertical jump. Followed-up his impressive NFL Combine by running a 4.52 in the forty on his Pro Day.

RB Devin Moore, Wyoming – An All-WAC runner, who is being compared to 2008 rookie sensation Titans running back Chris Johnson. Moore (5-foot-10, 195) is a burner that likes to make one cut and go. In 2008, even though Moore ran for respectable numbers (249 rushes for 1,301 yards and seven TDs), he wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. However the Indianapolis native and Wyoming all-time leading rusher held his own private “Pro Day” at a sports-training facility in front of 14 teams. Moore didn’t disappoint running the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds (would have been the 5th best at the combine), jumping 35-inches in the vertical jump and doing 27 repetitions on the bench press.

RB/FB Jovorski Lane, Texas A&M – College Football’s version of Charles Barkley with nicknames like Joporky Lane, Round Mound of Touchdown, and Fat Back. Lane (6-foot, 295) is a huge man with immense ability that makes you think of the late Craig “Iron Head” Heyward in his prime. If Lane controls his weight, he has the size, strength, and speed to be a powerback in the mold of LenDale White. A former Texas high school legend, Lane scored 49 career rushing touchdowns including a school record of 19 TD’s as a sophomore. After a stellar junior year (780 yards on 168 carries (4.6 ypc), and 16 touchdowns), Lane’s old foe — his weight — resurfaced in his senior year. New Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman moved him to fullback with the big back having pedestrian numbers 93 rushing yards and five touchdowns. The half brother of Green Bay Packers TE Jermichael Finley, Lane finished his college career with 2090 yards, 4.5 ypr, and 49 TDs.

FB Marcus Mailei, Weber State – Mailei (6-foot, 256, 4.80) is a bruising blocking back, who is good in short yardage situations and plays with intensity. Though he didn’t touch the ball all that often in college, Mailei hits the hole hard and has good hands (40 career catches). This two-time first-team All-Big Sky fullback is a weight-room warrior who produced 22 reps of 225 pounds at the NFL Combine.

WR Ramses Barden, Cal Poly - When you first see Ramses Barden, you immediately think… There’s no way this guy isn’t a defensive end. But Barden (6-foot-6, 227) is a receiver who is getting noticed in the 2009 draft process. Coming from smaller school Cal Poly, Barden is a big fast (4.55) player for his size. He may not project as a pro burner on the outside, but I could see him as the next Shannon Sharpe or Dallas Clark at the hybrid H-back/TE/WR position. His size makes an immediate mismatch for defensive backs and his speed will hurt linebackers in coverage. Barden had a breakout season in ’07, catching 57 passes for 1,467 yards (25.7 ypr) and 18 TDs to earn All- Great West Football Conference honors. Then followed it up with a 67 reception, 1257 yards (18.8 ypc) and 18 TDs senior year, where he was a finalist for the Payton award. With his imposing size and reliable hands, look for Barden to be a solid Day 2 pick.

WR Justin Brown, Hampton — A junior college transfer with good size, long arms, and quickness. Brown (6-foot-2, 200) is a tall move-the-chains receiver with solid hands. Though the former Hampton star does not have top-level speed (timed at 4.56 in the 40), Brown led the MEAC in receiving yards (887), averaging 80.6 per game. The first team All MEAC player finished second in the conference in catches per game with a 5.1 average.

WR Dominque Edison, Stephen F. Austin — A former Texas state sprint champion with reported sub-4.4 speed, who is rising up draft boards. Edison (6-foot-2, 200) has the size/speed ratio that NFL scouts are looking for and has been compared to Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall. Had a very production senior year producing 67 catches for over 1,000 yards (15 ypc), and 18 TDs.

WR Quinten Lawrence, McNeese State - A speedster with sub-4.4 speed, who is being compared to 2008 first receiver selected, St. Louis Rams burner Donnie Avery. Lawrence (5-foot-11, 177) is a raw, but extremely explosive. Has a great burst with the ball in his hands and should contribute right away in the return game. Had his best year in 2007, starting all 12 games for McNeese catching 31 passes for 645 yards (20.8) and six TDs plus he 15.1 average on returns. The NFL will need to watch out for knee problems as he only played in five games in 2008

WR Raytron Mayfield, Langston — A Division II jack-of-all-trades, who reminds me of Hines Ward coming out of college. This former high school running back had 799 yards receiving on 59 catches with nine touchdowns and 165 yards rushing with three touchdowns plus he threw for 77 yards and one touchdown. Mayfield (6-foot-1, 205) runs hard after the catch and has reliable hands. Led his team in scoring with 76 points and was selected First-Team All-CSFL (Central States Football League Conference). Guided the Lions to the NAIA National Playoffs second round and an 11-2 record.

WR Taurus Johnson, University of South Florida – Johnson (6-foot, 206) is a fast receiver, who is getting attention after shining in a private workout for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last season, Johnson led USF with six touchdowns while producing 38 catches for 499 yards. He played tough in the East-West Shrine Game and was impressive at the NFL Combine running a 4.49 in the forty, jumping 35 1/2 inch vertically and producing 18 reps of 225 pounds.

TE Jared Bronson, Central Washington — Bronson (6-foot-4, 254) is a former high school quarterback and track and field star. He originally attended junior college then walked on at the University of Washington before finally landing at Central Washington. Bronson has great size/speed combination, blocks well and is fast for a tight end. Bronson after a good 2008 season where he was AP Little All-American (28 receptions for 502 yards and six TDs), he wowed scouts at the NFL Combine (4.76 in the forty, 28 reps, and 9’8 in the broad jump).

TE John Nalbone, Monmouth (NJ) — A four-year starter, Nalbone was selected first-team All-Northeast Conference and (FCS) All-American in 2008. Holds school tight end records for career receptions (101), receiving yards (1,079) and touchdowns (nine). Nalbone has the right size (6-foot-4, 258) and speed (4.68) to succeed as a blocker and pass catcher in the NFL. Surprisingly was not invited to any of the postseason All-Star games or the NFL Combine, so his Pro Day was his showcase producing a 4.63 forty, a 30-inch vertical jump, and 22 reps of 225.

OL Cornelius Lewis, Tennessee State – This former transfer from Florida State was selected second team for the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC). Has a great size, a strong initial punch, arm extension, and footwork, which will allow him to succeed as a guard or tackle in the NFL. Lewis is an exceptional run blocker and is a true road grader. Though a mauler in the trenches, Lewis (6-foot-5, 310) is fast enough to do well on pulling plays (5.19 in the forty). Played in Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game and he also participated in the 2009 NFL Combine. Could be a rookie starter in the mold of small-school prospect turned solid pro New Orleans Saints guard Jahri Evans.

OL Cecil Newton, Tennessee State – This All Ohio Valley Conference first teamer partnered with Cornelius Lewis to lead the way for running back Javarris Williams. Newton (6-foot-1, 300) is a strong center who plays with a solid anchor, explosion, and balance. A very smart player that will be able to pick-up any offensive system and might fit well in a zone blocking scheme in the NFL. Was not invited to the NFL Combine, but Newton is right up there with bigger school pivots and should get a look on the second day of the NFL Draft. Reminds me of Colts veteran center Jeff Saturday.

OT Joel Bell, Furman - A true right tackle prospect with long arms, good quickness, and agility for a big man (6-foot-7, 310). Bell had a very good Senior Bowl week where he competed with the “big boys” without any problem. This three-time all-conference selection tore it up at the NFL Combine producing top-ten O-line numbers in the forty, bench press, vertical, broad, three-cone, and 20-yard shuttle. Had such great His workout was good enough that he didn’t need to workout at Furman’s Pro Day, though an eye-popping 25 teams still showed up to see him go through positional drills. He’s a competitive lineman that blocks with a nasty attitude and is a prospect who should just get better as he physically matures and adds bulk to his frame.

OT Kyle Link McNeese State – A converted tight end, who grew into an offensive tackle (6-foot-5, 300). Playing at left tackle, Link was a two-time All-Southland Conference pick. Has good feet and plays with leverage, but was not as dominant at the small college level as expected so he will need to hit the weights. May need time to develop on a team’s practice squad, but he may find a roster spot as he is an accomplished long-snapper.

NEXT: We’ll look at defensive “Diamonds In The Rough”.