2018 NFL Draft All-Sleeper Team


Story by John Morgan, sports editor

Barkley. Allen. Darnold. Chubb. Rosen. Mayfield.

These are the names that we hear thrown around by football analysts in regards to the top prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft. After prestigious college careers and numerous accolades, they have impressed professional scouts and seem inclined.

They have certainly earned their respect, but in reality, it could all be meaningless. It seems like all people talk about are the first round picks who seem destined to become “superstars,” when many gridiron greats have been found in the later rounds of the draft e.g. Tom Brady and Antonio Brown in the sixth rounds.

While not as publicized as the top prospects, these athletes all have potential to shock the football world in due time. Here are 20 players that could have standout careers in a relatively loaded draft class:

QB – JT Barrett (Ohio State)

Go watch the most recent Cotton Bowl where Ohio State faced off against USC. I would say that JT Barrett outplayed Sam Darnold by a landslide. He has dual-threat capabilities and a fairly strong arm. He put up respectable stats in the Big Ten and could potentially fare better in the league than other top quarterbacks.

QB – Nic Shimonek (Texas Tech)

The Red Raiders were not the same last season after Patrick Mahomes II left for the draft, but Shimonek did show some flashes of potential especially late in the season. Against Texas late in the season, he came into the game in the fourth quarter and led a late comeback to give his team the win. For teams looking for a quarterback in later rounds, Shimonek could possibly be a steal with his solid accuracy and proven arm.

RB – Royce Freeman (Oregon)

Oregon running backs have had histories of looking like the next big thing but never panning out in the NFL e.g. LaMichael James and De’Anthony Thomas. However, I find Freeman to be a different type of player than others before him. In a solid four-year tenure, Freeman ran for 5,621 yards and 60 touchdowns, both school records. His combination of speed and power should be an automatic green light for teams to take him when they can.

RB – Bo Scarbrough (Alabama)

Scarbrough seemed like a forgotten Alabama running back in 2017 as Damien Harris took more snaps in the backfield. However, if you rewatch his 2017 national championship game against Clemson, you could understand why I speak so highly of him. Part of the reason why Clemson would win that game is that Scarbrough exited late with an injury after tearing up the Tiger defense. In the right system, this guy could thrive in the role of a power running back.

WR – James Washington (Oklahoma State)

Speed is the name of the game with this guy. His highlights might seem to not show much, but that’s because he’s already outrun the opposing defensive backs. Mason Rudolph could throw ball deep with his eyes closed and know that number 28 would run under it. Washington can be used as a speedy slot receiver and terrorize NFL defenses with his speed – think Tyreek Hill and DeSean Jackson with better versatility. Plenty of teams need receivers in this draft, and they have a rare gem right here.

WR – Michael Gallup (Colorado State)

This guy is kind of the polar opposite of Washington but in a good way. No matter who you put on him, Gallup will somehow and some way come up with the ball. The Biletnikoff Award finalist has the intangibles to run good routes that get his team the first down. He could be a solid number 2 receiver someday in this league that goes nearly unnoticed in the draft.

WR – Jordan Lasley (UCLA)

Jordan Lasley has the talent to be the best wide receiver in this entire draft. It’s his off-the-field antics that have greatly diminished his value in this draft. Last year, he posted a statline of 69 catches, 1264 yards and nine touchdowns – in nine games! He was Josh Rosen’s top option even though he was suspended for three games. If he cleans up his act, Lasley can be a star at the next level. If not, he’ll just be another football story that never phased out.

TE – Mike Gesicki (Penn State)

Crazy athleticism is rare at the tight end position, but don’t tell that to Mike Gesicki. This Nittany Lion was a mismatch against Big Ten linebackers and should pose the same issues for NFL defenses. If you’re looking for a blocking tight end, look elsewhere, but if you want someone who can give your quarterback a safety net and dynamic playmaker at the same time, this is your guy.

OL – Connor Williams (Texas)

Consensus All-American. First team All-Big 12. Potential top ten pick. It’s crazy how much injuries can change careers in sports. A knee injury suffered against USC derailed much of his junior season, but Williams has fought through it all and figures to be a Day 2 pick. I, however, still acknowledge the immense potential that he has to become a star in the NFL. His footwork is off the charts, and he has proven himself as a stellar blocker showcased by D’Onta Foreman’s 2,028 yard season in 2016. He should recover from his injury in better shape than he has ever been and be ready to thrive in the pros.

OL – Will Hernandez (UTEP)

It’s not often that players from Conference USA get much recognition from the national media. However, this 2016 All-America second team lineman didn’t care too much about that when he burst onto the scene. Over the course of the last few months, he has suddenly climbed the draft boards and looks as if he could break into the first round. His off-the-field charisma, rare athleticism for an offensive guard and tremendous run and pass blocking abilities make him look like one of the major steals in this draft class.

DL – Sam Hubbard (Ohio State)

I talked earlier about how Ohio State looked dominant against USC in the Cotton Bowl. A large part of that was the way that Sam Hubbard anchored the Buckeye defense. He had two and a half sacks against the guy people claim to be one of the best quarterbacks in this draft. He made play after play this past season and seemed to solidify himself as a top edge rusher in this class.

DL – Dorance Armstrong Jr. (Kansas)

Never heard of this guy? That’s probably he plays for the laughing stock of the Big 12. Since the rest of the Jayhawks defense was so bad, opposing offenses could double team and even triple team Armstrong to prevent him from being a factor. The remarkable thing is that he was still named to the All-Big 12 first team in 2016 and the All-Big 12 second team in 2017. He has the flexibility to transition between defensive end and outside linebacker which could make him very valuable in this draft.

DL – Arden Key (LSU)

There was a time before the 2017 season that Arden Key was seen as a top five player in this year’s draft. Now, after a leave of absence and a few injuries, he has dropped out of the first round completely. Unsure of which player they are going to get, NFL teams have been hesitant to give him a look. I will take the benefit of the doubt and say that I think he still has some of his 2016 self in him. If that is the case, he is an absolute steal in on Day 2.

LB – Josey Jewell (Iowa)

The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year won this award for good reason. At Kinnick Stadium, you couldn’t miss this guy on defense. He is the definition of a middle linebacker and reminds me of a Luke Kuechly or Sean Lee in college. Teams looking for a perennial force on the defensive side of the ball should look no further than Jewell. His name is appropriate as he could be a diamond in the rough.

LB – Micah Kiser (Virginia)

Kiser might be one of the most well-rounded prospects in this draft, both on and off the field. He won the William V. Campbell Trophy – known as the “Academic Heisman” – for his performance in games, in the classroom and in his community. As an inside linebacker, he averaged over 100 tackles per year in his complete four-year career as a Cavalier. His teams might not have been the greatest in the ACC, but quarterbacks definitely made sure that they knew where number 53 was on the field.

DB – Carlton Davis (Auburn)

Auburn typically produces stellar defensive linemen, but Davis hopes to be an exception to this rule. As a sprinter in high school, he developed solid speed that has highlighted his tenure as a Tiger. Davis has been known to play with a chip on his shoulder as a press corner and has proven that he has the talent to perform on the next stage against stiff competition.

DB – Duke Dawson (Florida)

There are many different types of defensive backs in this draft but not too many valuable slot cornerbacks. Dawson might be the cream of that crop and being slept on by multiple NFL teams. Likely to be a Day 2 pick, he has Day 1 intangibles and a shutdown mentality that has seen him hover over some of the best receivers in the SEC. He has incredible football knowledge and instinct that could translate well to the NFL.

DB – Armani Watts (Texas A&M)

Labeled as “the most clutch player” in the draft by SB Nation, Watts seemingly has a knack for coming up with crucial game-saving plays game in and game out. While his stats as an Aggie might not look convincing, on film, he is all over the place on the field. Although he is prone to let up the big play, he makes up for it performance-wise late in games. He might be the most high-risk, high-reward player in this entire draft.

ST – Evan Berry (Tennessee)

Younger brother of NFL phenom Eric Berry, this dude can fly on kickoff returns. Injuries do run in the family as he did sit out most of last year, but in four years in the toughest conference in college football, he averaged 34.3 yards per kick return and took four kicks back to the house. He might not be one of the best defensive backs in this draft, but he could possibly make a huge difference on a team needing a boost in their return game.

P – Michael Dickson (Texas)

When is the last time that you’ve heard of a punter who is a bowl game MVP? Against Missouri in the Texas Bowl, the Ray Guy Award winner had ten punts inside the 20 in a 33-16 win. Special teams is often overlooked in the draft, but Dickson has the potential to change games with his ability to switch the field with his booming leg.