2019 NFL Draft Sleepers
The NFL Draft is a mere 7 days away and those days can’t possibly pass quickly enough. Chances are that you already know who your team may be eying in the first round but today my goal is to fill you in on some of the top sleepers from beyond that first night of draft picks. These players range from potentially sneaking into the early second round to most likely undrafted but each has the same thing in common: enough upside that when we look back at the 2019 draft three years from now, we may call them the best players in the draft from the respective positions. I’ve got eight players for you so let’s jump into it.
#8 Vosean Joseph (OLB – Florida)
For the life of me, I can’t understand how Joseph is expected to go in the 3rd or 4th round. He is smaller, yes, and needs to bulk up a bit, but he plays like an absolute animal. If you watch college football, you know that without question, he was among the best linebackers in the country last year. His instincts and toughness are as good as you’ll find in this draft class or another. While he isn’t a Josh Allen or Montez Sweat type of athlete, he is game-fast and polished in both pass coverage and pass rushing. Much like former 49er’s third round linebacker, Chris Borland, I expect Joseph to burst onto the scene as a force from day one. I’ve got him landing with the Lions at pick #88.
#7 Kerrith Whyte (RB – Florida Atlantic)
You probably though Devin Singletary was the only running back from Florida Atlantic, and who could blame you. Singletary did lead the team in touches and found his way into the end zone a remarkable 55 times over the last two years but when it is all said and done, Whyte may end up as a better fit for the NFL. Whyte is a bigger back and a better pass catcher. Oh, by the way, he just happens to be the best athlete too. I don’t mean the best out of Florida Atlantic. I mean the best at the entire position in this year’s draft class. He ran a faster forty (4.36) than Justice Hill, performed 21 bench press reps (more than Miles Sanders, had the best broad jump in the class (132″, just 2″ shorter than D.K. Metcalf) and a 42″ vertical which was also the best in the class (and 1.5″ better than Metcalf). Perhaps best of all, Singletary’s motor kept Whyte’s legs fresh for the NFL. Some have Whyte as undrafted but I see a team like the Jaguars drafting him in the 6th or 7th to replace Corey Grant as the team’s primary returner. If Fournette goes down with another injury, look out for Whyte to become that no-name running back to burst onto the fantasy scene.
#6 Justin Layne (CB – Michigan State)
Most industry draft analysts have the top three cornerbacks as Greedy Williams, Byron Murphy and DeAndre Baker. They are all in different spots on every list but almost always represent the top tier. In my opinion, Layne belongs in that group. I’ve still got Murphy and Williams ahead of them, but not by a full round. Layne is a former wide receiver who is still learning the position but was extraordinary for the Spartans thanks to a rare combination of elite length and speed. In fact, the only corners to match that combo are all Pro Bowlers: Jalen Ramsey, Xavier Rhodes and Antonio Cromartie. I don’t need to tell you that he is in tremendous company. Don’t expect him to hit the ground running in the NFL so a corner-hungry team in contention like the Chiefs or Colts doesn’t make a ton of sense but he could sneak into the early second to a team like the Giants or Redskins. I’ve got him landing with Minnesota at pick #50, however, who won’t need him to start right away but have few holes to fill and can afford to let him grow before stepping in for Trae Waynes when he probably leaves in free agency next winter.
#5 Martez Ivey (OG – Florida)
This former top high school tackle recruit was All-SEC three straight seasons but was inconsistent, especially in prime-time matchups, that his draft stock has fallen. Ivey has yet to put on the strength expected of him so we haven’t seen him anywhere near his ceiling. More likely, it won’t happen until a move to guard happens which seems likely at the next level. Ivey won’t contribute right away because his footwork is poor but he has the raw ability to get himself an All-Pro selection one day for the NFL squad that is patient in developing him. Most see him as a 5th or 6th round pick but I see a zone-running team like the 49ers taking a chance on his rare talent in the fourth. I have them snagging Ivey at pick #104 since they don’t have another until the sixth.
#4 Terry McLaurin (WR – Ohio St.)
I wanted to get Mecole Hardman into this article as well but I stuck with one player per position, plus Hardman doesn’t quite have the upside to become the top receiver in this class. Rather, he could become a similar player to John Brown or Tyler Lockett. McLaurin, however, profiles similarly to another former Buckeye, Santonio Holmes, if everything clicks. Granted, Holmes was never an alpha receiver but I don’t see that guy in this class unless N’Keal Harry or D.K. Metcalf improves substantially. McLaurin is also raw like those names listed above, but each is expected to be selected in the first round while McLaurin has no shot. He has risen up NFL draft boards considerably over the last month, however, thanks to his superb work ethic and football IQ. I’ve penciled him in to the Chiefs at #92 in the third round.
#3 Terry Beckner (DT – Missouri)
Any time you get a former #1 high school recruit, you’ve got the pay attention. Beckner was the top overall prospect in some publications and surrounded by the likes of Derwin James, Calvin Ridley and Josh Rosen in others. Injuries got the best of him as he tore ligaments in both knees, and while there are concerns that he isn’t fully healthy or may struggle to stay healthy in the future, there is also a chance he returns to an absolute wrecking ball on the defensive line. Beckner’s metrics were so poor at the combine that some have suggested he may have dropped from the 4th or 5th round to the 7th or potentially undrafted, but four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, Jurrell Casey, was every bit as disappointing in the combine before turning into a beast for the Titans. Beckner is the same mold of player and like Casey, I expect a team to fall in love with his upside and “reach” for him in the 3rd round just like Casey. I’ll stick him with the Rams at pick #99.
#2 Clayton Thorson (QB – Northwestern)
Kyler Murray is a virtual lock to be a quality fantasy football asset and Dwayne Haskins likely has just as much non-fantasy potential as Murray. Outside of those two, I don’t have a first round grade on Drew Lock or Daniel Jones. Thorson, however, is among the top 32 players on my big board. Analysts from around the industry don’t seem to be especially high on him with a third through fifth round grade on Thorson but the word out of NFL front offices is that they love this kid. Reports of his interviews have all been glowing and if you listen to the kid speak about football and his teammates, you’ll quickly realize why. His work ethic and toughness are unbelievable as well, demonstrated by the fact that has played 53 consecutive games despite numerous substantial injuries. “Ok, so what?”, you may be thinking, “Tim Tebow was all these things too and Thorson doesn’t have the stats to back it up.” Sure, I get that but Tebow never had the raw tools Thorson possesses. Thorson was once talked about as the best quarterback in this draft class because of his pure ability. That upside hasn’t gone away but he struggled because of an abysmal surrounding cast, much like Jared Goff under Jeff Fisher and that putrid offensive line. Put Thorson in a system like New England, New Orleans, Pittsburgh or the Chargers and watch him realize his potential and become a perennial winner. I’ve got the Patriots surprisingly trading up to #45 for him just before Washington and Carolina have their chance.
#1 Darnell Savage (S – Maryland)
For those of you who have listened to my podcast with Mike Tagliere this off-season, you likely figured Thorson would be the top name in this article. Granted, I love Thorson but that just goes to show how highly I think of Savage. I consider him to be the top safety in this year’s draft class and don’t be surprised if some NFL team is with me. Reports on him range from fourth round to (ready for this?) the next Bob Sanders. I can’t say I’m willing to go that far but that is indeed the ceiling. Savage is an absolute freak of nature athlete and his college film stands out among a great crop of safeties as the best in the nation. I’m anticipating him to jump into the second round with Philadelphia at pick #57, Cleveland at pick #49 or dare I say the Rams at pick #31 in the first round. Regardless of his landing spot, expect him to earn a starting job from the get-go and be an All-Pro safety before long. I’m stamping my name with Savage as “my guy” from the 2019 draft class.