2018 NFL Draft: Here are three sleeper prospects who could be drafted in first round
These three players haven't been getting much love in mock drafts but could land in the first round
We are nearing the pinnacle of mock draft madness.
NFL teams are busy meeting with prospects and dissecting this draft, position by position, and setting their boards. We are still two weeks away from anyone's name being called by commissioner Roger Goodell and are nestled in the calm before the storm. Not much is really happening but the draft frenzy never ends and while the true information about which teams are sold on which players hasn't even crystallized yet, the demand for daily mocks rages on.
The football people are still being largely quiet and not wanting to tip their hands too much one way or the other. And there are always -- every year -- a small handful of players who received almost no love or attention through the mock draft cycle who end up hearing their name called well before anyone projected. There are always a few players who were rated in the media as third or fourth round guys who end up going on Day 1, while other players fall.
It's inevitable and part of the process. Could be "late-rising" defensive backs like Deone Bucannon and Byron Jones in recent years, or a pass rusher like Bruce Irvin end up coveted by multiple teams in the back end of the first round after hearing for months he was going a round or two later. Sometimes the players have character risks or flaws that led to them being overlooked by the mock mafia, and sometimes these are players who frankly didn't get rated nearly highly enough by young and inexperienced area scouts, but whose tape jumps out to more grizzled position coaches and coordinators once they become more deeply involved in the evaluation process.
Whatever the reasons, it's an almost annual phenomenon and there are a few names that several of the evaluators I know the best and trust the most -- and who have steered me straight in years past in this regard -- have mentioned more than once as possibly fitting this description this time around. As these scouts begin to digest the consensus out there in the mock world, they find themselves asking why these players are not mentioned more frequently and they figure that by the time the draft actually starts these guys are gone higher than most are projecting.
Here are three such players who have popped up in my draft research thus far:
Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas
I spoke to multiple evaluators who said they believe he is one of the 3-4 best offensive linemen in this entire draft and who believe he is a plug-and-play impact starter from Day One at center. He doesn't get mentioned nearly as much as Iowa's James Daniels -- a heck of a football player who I believe will go in round one -- or Ohio State's injured center Billy Price, but multiple people I trust believed emphatically that this is the best center in a nice crop of interior offensive linemen. "Best center in the draft for me," one scout told me. "Maybe it's the ankle injury or something [explaining the lack of hype], but this kid reminds me of Travis Frederick [Cowboys' stud center who was a 'surprise' first-round pick himself in 2013]." Strikes me that football guys are perfectly happy to not see his name appear in many mocks. He has a great combination of size and power, strong leadership qualities and offers experience at guard as well. With teams like Seattle, Carolina, New England (if the Pats don't trade up for a quarterback) and Minnesota possibly investing first-round picks in their line and Ragnow having not allowed a sack in his college career playing in the SEC, I have a feeling he is gone in the first round.
Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State
Let's begin by all agreeing with the premise that it's almost impossible to get pass rushers anymore. Quality guys almost never hit free agency in their prime, getting to the quarterback is always at a premium, and there is precious little proven pass rushers in this draft. There are projections with all of them except for perhaps Bradley Chubb, who will be gone in the top six picks, and certain warts that teams will view differently. But the guys I talk to believe Sweat has more than enough to lure someone into taking him two weeks from Thursday. "He has the best first step in this draft for me," said one evaluator who has watched him closely. "I'd put Chubb ahead of him and [Marcus] Davenport, but Sweat is the third-best pass rusher in this draft. And he's got all the numbers you look for, too -- height, weight, speed, all of it. Those guys don't last long on draft day." The issue for Sweat is a medical, primarily, with a knee perhaps worrying some teams. "Maybe he's down because people are down on him because they had him playing five-technique at Florida State at 250 pounds, but that's not how I write him up. This kid will get it done in space. He's an edge guy. Put him at outside linebacker."
Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
OK, this one's not exactly a sleeper. Everyone knows Brown by now and how he was considered the best left tackle in the nation at the start of the season and probably right up until his disastrous combine. And it was a disaster. And it will cost him millions ... I'm just not convinced its going to know him down to the mid-rounds as many would suggest. The kid is massive, his dad was an impact offensive lineman, and he played against some of the best competition in college and he dominated. Obviously, there are concerns, but in a draft this bereft of tackles -- and where the perceived top one, Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey, is more solid than spectacular and some teams think he may have to play on the right side -- there are really gonna be 100 kids taken before him? "He is the best left tackle in this draft and it's not even close," one scout told me. "Just watch the tape. Go back to the tape. He doesn't get beat. They can't get around him. Yeah, his 40 [yard dash] was horrible, but look at the first 10 yards. It's much better. What tackle is running more than 10 yards?" If I was doing a mock today I would be tempted to slot him 32nd to the Eagles (with Jason Peters nearing the end). Yeah, he might not ever get stronger and he wont be able to get by on size alone at the next level, and there is bust potential, but he's also 6-feet-7 and a first-team All American playing a premium position in a draft with almost no short things at left tackle. I don't think his slide will be as long as others seem to believe it will be.
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