With NFL training camps set to begin across the country soon, it's now completely appropriate to get excited about football once again despite the COVID-19 pandemic. And when it comes to young players on your favorite team, you're likely most excited about the first-round selection made in April, and rightfully so. But like we saw in 2019 with the likes of A.J. Brown, Deebo Samuel, Miles Sanders, Devin Singletary, and Gardner Minshew along with many players throughout NFL history, you must be made aware of non-Round 1 picks who have the talent -- somehow overlooked in the draft -- to shine right away.
These are the deep sleeper rookies in the AFC to monitor throughout training camp and into the start of the 2020 regular season. They'll make noise seemingly out of nowhere.
CB Dane Jackson
Impressive stat to know: 26 pass breakups in 26 games over the past two seasons at Pittsburgh
If I didn't pick Jackson, I would've gone with sixth-round wideout Isaiah Hodgins -- a tall, surprisingly athletic pass catcher -- but Buffalo's receiver room is a liiiiiitttle bit crowded now. Back to Jackson, he's one of those pesky, overachieving, always-around-the-football corners who can play inside or out. Nothing about him stands out physically. He had a mediocre combine, but his route recognition and, most importantly, his awareness and ball skills allow him to stay in tight coverage and routinely knock away passes. Truly, I was surprised at his combine because he looks like a fine athlete on film. Buffalo has All-Pro Tre'Davious White at corner and some uncertainty after him at the position. Don't be shocked when he's making plays during the regular season.
EDGE/LB Anfernee Jennings
Impressive stat to know: 25.5 tackles for loss in his last 28 games at Alabama
The idea for this article wasn't really meant to highlight second-round picks either (we're diving deep), so I'll pass on draft crush of mine, Josh Uche, and highlight Jennings, an prototypical Bill Belichick defender.
You know those skilled, strong, sturdy, run-devouring edge defender/linebacker hybrids who've thrived during Belichick's reign in New England, like Rob Ninkovich, Willie McGinest, and most recently Kyle Van Noy?
Jennings has that feel. He wore a variety of hats in four seasons as part of Nick Saban's suffocating defense and has imposing size at 6-foot-2 and 256 pounds. Not a superb athlete by any stretch, Jennings is an advanced block-defeater and his vast experience shows throughout each game by way of diagnosing screens and being able to attack the leverage of tackles as a pass rusher.
EDGE Curtis Weaver
Impressive stat to know: 47.5 sacks in 40 career games at Boise State
Seeing as though Weaver graded out as a first-round prospect for me and Miami landed him in the fifth round, during my live grades, I wrote "ridiculous value at a premium position" once the Boise State star's name was called on Day 3.
What Weaver lacks in pure acceleration off the snap, he compensates with elite bend and efficient pass-rushing moves en route to the quarterback. Ultra-productive from the moment he stepped on campus for the Broncos, Weaver was unblockable in the Mountain West, but a mid-season ankle injury in his final season at Boise State limited his juice around the corner slightly. By the combine, he was close to 100% and timed an awesome 7.00 in the three-cone at a thick 6-2 and 265 pounds. He brings two things most rookie edge rushers simply don't have -- natural dip/bend ability and pass-rush plans.
CB Bryce Hall
Impressive stat to know: Led Division 1 with 21 pass breakups in 2018 at Virginia
Had Hall entered the 2019 draft, he wouldn't have made it out of the second round and probably would've landed in Round 1 in what was a weak cornerback class at the top.
But after his early, season-ending ankle injury at Virginia, he plummeted to the fifth round. Hall is a little top-heavy, not ideal for a cornerback in the NFL. Yet he's tall, long, and has phenomenal awareness. He consistently located and got his hands on the football at Virginia. In a secondary with a litany of question marks, Hall will stand out with the Jets right away, especially in zone and off-man looks.
Impressive stat to know: Started his entire final season at left tackle at Mississippi State at 6-5 and 345 pounds
Phillips is a tank up front -- there's no moving him. He's not a dancing bear yet got the job done at the left tackle spot for the Bulldogs thanks to a keen understanding of his weaknesses and how to mask them.
At 6-5 with over 35-inch arms, Phillips can reach you from a different county, and once he locks on, it's over, particularly in the run game. He's not overly aggressive to get his hands on you and knows that any bull rush won't affect him, so he can stay patient. Yes, lightning-quick speed rushers or inside counters are his enemies, and given his size, he's probably best at guard.
The Ravens just had a potential future Hall of Fame right guard retire, didn't they? Sure, there are others ahead of Phillips on Baltimore's depth chart right now. But I can see the ground-game obsessed Greg Roman falling in love with the idea of the massive Phillips next to the even bigger Orlando Brown at right tackle (as a big tight end), and Phillips has the game to win a starting job inside.
DB/LB Antoine Brooks
Impressive stat to know: 27.5 tackles for loss in his last 36 games at Maryland
Dynamic runner Anthony McFarland was my first choice, but I'll go with Brooks, another draft favorite of mine because he'll have an easier time getting on the field in 2020.
At 5-11 and 220 pounds, Brooks is more linebacker than safety despite the latter being his label as a prospect. Playing close to the line at Maryland more often than not, he was typically the first defender to read, react, and get to the football. He's not lost in coverage -- five pass breakups as a senior -- and he's twitchy with some block-shedding aggressiveness in his hands.
Sure, Pittsburgh has loads of athleticism at linebacker with Devin Bush. He could use a similar-type next to him in nickel situations. Brooks is the ideal "big nickel" safety who'll thrive against the run and has just enough physical capabilities to hold his own on pass plays.
Impressive stat to know: Started 48 consecutive games at tackle (predominately left tackle) at Kansas
I have no idea where the Bengals play to play Adeniji. They just need to get him on the field, especially with the prized Joe Burrow catching shotgun snaps in Cincinnati.
Adeniji is an explosive athlete, as evidenced by his vertical and broad jumps being in the 96th and 97th percentile among all offensive linemen who've participated in the combine since 1999. That's a good start. Also, the amount of experience he got in college is an offensive line coach's dream, and his film was exceedingly boring, which is precisely what I look for in blockers.
Adeniji fires off the ball in a low, controlled stance and is rarely beaten by counters because of his dynamic lower half. And there's some pop in his punch.
Impressive stat to know: 1,004 yards in 13 games in 2019
He'll start his NFL career with the newly signed Austin Hooper and former first-round pick David Njoku firmly in front of him on Cleveland's tight end depth chart. And that's cool. I'm fine with it. Njoku is on the last year of his contract and was the subject of trade rumors earlier this month. Plus, new Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski loves utilizing multiple tight end sets. Last year with the Vikings, Stefanski used "12" personnel (one running back, two tight ends) on 34% of the snaps, the second-highest rate in the league per Sharp Football Stats.
Now to Bryant, he was my "trust the tape" prospect in the 2020 class, the draft entrant I felt confident in as a top prospect -- Bryant was my No. 1 tight end -- due to his on-field athleticism far exceeding his athletic testing at the combine.
Everything about his game translates perfectly to the modern-day NFL. Bryant is a wide receiver on the field with inherent ball-tracking skills on deep passes, fluid athleticism to separate at all levels, and flashes of yards-after-the-catch explosion. The reigning John Mackey Award winner is going to make noise in Cleveland despite lasting until the fourth round.
Impressive stat to know: 18.5 tackles for loss in his last 22 games at Arkansas
Agim popped on film with an exquisite blend of first-step quickness and hands that were both active and powerful. At 6-3 and 309 pounds with 33 1/2-inch arms, Agim has an ideal frame to play any position on the defensive line. He was a late addition to the Senior Bowl and immediately won in one-on-ones.
The Broncos have a fair amount of depth up front on defense and just added Jurrell Casey. But unlike most mid-to-late-round defensive line picks, Agim is further ahead as a pass rusher than he is defending the run, and that's perfectly fine for the modern-day NFL.
WR Joe Reed
Impressive stat to know: Forced 15 missed tackles on 77 receptions in 2019, per PFF
We all know about superstar Keenan Allen, and former first-round pick Mike Williams quietly pieced together a 1,000-yard season -- 1,001 yards to be exact -- last year. After those two, there are important jobs open in Los Angeles' receiver group, and Reed has the talent to be a reliable No. 3 in his rookie season.
While vastly different in size and arm strength, whether it be Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert at quarterback for the Chargers this season, we know the underneath portion of the pass game will be utilized fairly often (especially if it's Taylor). That's where Reed thrives. He averaged only 8.8 yards per reception in his final season at Virginia after an average of 18.8 in 2018, and the precipitous drop came by way of how he was utilized for the Cavaliers. Reed is built like a back at 6-0 and 224 pounds, and he runs like one with sharp cuts and excellent contact balance.
Impressive stat to know: 73 tackles, three interceptions, and six pass breakups in 2019
Sneed has rare speed and explosion -- he clocked 4.37 and jumped 41 inches at the combine at 6-0 and 192 pounds -- and it is on full display on the field.
There's no hesitation in Sneed's game against the run or in coverage. At times he gets overwhelmed by bigger players, yet his closing speed in coverage popped on film, and he's a impactful hitter. With Tyrann Mathieu and last year's second-round pick Juan Thornhill -- another electric athlete -- at safety, Sneed will have an uphill climb to get onto the field. But in three safety looks, the speedy playmaker has the instincts to make splash plays when he's out there.
Impressive stat to know: 44 catches for 590 yards and four touchdowns as a 17-year-old true freshman in 2016 (turned 18 in November).
The initial hype at receiver for the Raiders rightfully resides with first-round pick Henry Ruggs, who "disappointed" with a 4.27 time in the 40 and had a 42-inch vertical at the combine. He'll pair wonderfully with Tyrell Williams and slot demon Hunter Renfrow.
But keep a close eye on Edwards, a four-year producer at South Carolina with an NFL body and a complete skill set. Had it not been for a broken foot during the pre-draft process, he wouldn't have made it out of the second round, and I wouldn't have criticized a team for taking him in Round 1. His film was that clean. At 6-3 and 212 pounds, Edwards looks like a No. 1 perimeter wideout, he has good athletic talents, can create some separation, is deceptively nimble after the catch, and will go up and get it in traffic at all levels of the field.
EDGE Jonathan Greenard
Impressive stat to know: 31.5 tackles for loss in his final 24 games in college
Giddy up with Greenard. His high-end flashes are special, like first-round special. Burst, bend, active, powerful hands, closing speed to the quarterback. He's just a tad inconsistent. I love his athletic profile too. While he didn't hit the magical 7.00-second threshold in the vital three-cone drill, when adjusting for his 6-2, 263-pound frame, his 7.13 time is actually outstanding.
The Texans could use another pure edge rusher on their defense outside of Whitney Mercilus -- and of course J.J. Watt -- and the chiseled Greenard will fit perfectly in Houston as a rookie as a situational outside rusher. It's when he's an every-down player that his consistency fluctuates.
Impressive stat to know: 14 pass breakups in 15 games at LSU in 2019
"How did Fulton last under the middle of the second round?" That's what we're all going to be asking ourselves in a few years. After playing lockdown football across from eventual second-round pick Greedy Williams in 2018, Fulton saw more targets in his direction this past season and his production improved from eight pass breakups to 14.
Blessed with amazing twitch in his lower half, loose hips, and 4.46 speed, Fulton has the physical makeup of a No. 1 cornerback in the NFL. I don't even think he's too small -- which was the most widely discussed pre-draft knock on him -- at 6-0 and 197 pounds. Tennessee might have the most underrated secondary in football with safety Kevin Byard and Adoree Jackson, and the Fulton will fit right in with that duo as a sticky, ball-hawking corner.
Impressive stat to know: Four interceptions in a season twice during his career at Utah (2017 and 2019).
Blackmon lands in Indianapolis after an immensely productive career at Utah at multiple positions. After years playing high-end football at cornerback -- five picks and 16 pass breakups in 2017 and 2018 combined -- Blackmon made a surprising move to safety for his final collegiate campaign.
He snagged four picks, with two forced fumbles, four pass breakups and set a career-high with 60 tackles. His play-recognition skills are through the roof. Blackmon is a step or two ahead of everybody on the field, especially when he senses a receiver is moments away from being thrown the football. Learning from the ridiculously rangy Malik Hooker with the Colts will be hugely beneficial for Blackmon and give Indianapolis two erasers on the back end.
CB Josiah Scott
Impressive stat to know: 52 tackles, three picks, and six pass breakups in 2019 at Michigan State
Even with the first-round selection of man-coverage specialist C.J. Henderson, given the departures of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, the Jaguars' secondary needs reworking.
Scott is only 5-9 and 185 pounds, which is probably why he lasted until the fourth round, yet despite slot corner size, he predominately manned an outside corner position at Michigan State and had a fantastic career for the Spartans. He ran 4.42 at the combine and consistently showcased that recovery speed on deep balls. His feet are like lightning too, and because Scott knows he has the explosiveness to make up ground on long passes if need be, he's aggressive underneath and at the intermediate levels, which leads to him getting his hands on the football often.