As the big college names work to solidify their stock for the 2014 NFL draft, a host of no-names continue to pop up everywhere with dreams of their own. Who are some sleepers to keep a close eye on?
Blake Bortles – QB – UCF
The depth of the 2014 class continues to look stronger and stronger as the year goes on. Another addition to that group that was overlooked until week seven was UCF passer Blake Bortles. With prototypical height and weight, he displays plenty of velocity on his throws. He also has good, quick feet to help him avoid sacks and make plays on the move. That was on display when he helped his team upset national contender Louisville and their star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Prominent experts haven’t picked up on him yet, but that victory could get him noticed in a hurry.
Rashad Greene – WR – Florida State
Jameis Winston is and has been the story for the powerhouse Florida State Seminoles during the 2013 season. That makes it easy to overlook the players who have helped him succeed so wildly as a freshman quarterback. One of the more consistent producers is wide receiver Rashad Greene. Though not remarkable from a physical standpoint, he has good height at 6’0″ with 4.47 speed. Most importantly is he’s become the go-to guy for Winston. Nowhere was that clearer than in the rout of Clemson. Greene caught eight passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns including a 72-yard bomb. He didn’t lead his team in receiving that day, but he was their best receiver and one who should get more attention moving forward.
Jacob Pedersen – TE – Wisconsin
Is this a classic case of a playmaker being trapped in an offense that won’t use his skills? Perhaps. Wisconsin traditionally has always been a run-oriented team built around strong offensive lines and running backs. Every so often though they find quality talent in the passing game. Tight end Jacob Pedersen is one such example. Though not at the athletic level of a Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, the senior still has good height and speed for his position. He can exploit zone coverage with his polishing route running and can go up and get balls when thrown high. Running away from defenders isn’t an option, but he can produce big plays on third down and in the red zone.
Michael Sam – DE – Missouri
Missouri has begun to develop a reputation for producing quality defensive linemen of late. Many thought defensive end Michael Sam would regress in 2013 after teammate Sheldon Richardson went to the pros. Instead he has developed into a dynamic pass rusher in his own right, now leading the nation with nine sacks after a dominant three-sack performance against Florida. As the Tigers continue to win, his draft stock should continue to go up. A little undersized at 6’2″, 255 lbs he nonetheless has explosive potential in his lower body and uses his hands effectively to gain leverage in the pass rush.
Andrew Jackson – LB – Western Kentucky
Western Kentucky is not considered a hot bed of talent heading into the 2014 NFL draft but like every other program it has a few diamonds in the rough were noting. Andrew Jackson at linebacker is a big one. Named after the tough former U.S. president, the senior is not a prototypical player of the new age in that he can play the pass better than the run. He is a classic downhill bruiser who can plug up holes when teams try to run between the tackles. His range isn’t the greatest but he can take on blockers very well and also flashes potential as a blitzer. For a team running a 3-4 defense, he might be considered a perfect inside linebacker.
Isaiah Newsome – S – Louisiana-Monroe
Another program with limited history producing great players, Louisiana-Monroe nonetheless has a player of interest worth watching. The 2014 NFL draft class seems rather light on quality safeties, which is why Isaiah Newsome came as such a surprise. His physical abilities don’t jump off the page, but the senior gets the most out of what he has. He tackles well and has begun to harness his playmaking ability. In his last four games he has four interceptions. He returned two for touchdowns most recently against TexasState, a game LMU won 21-14. Timely impact plays are something coaches love in their players. Newsome has that ability.