My favorite sleepers in the 2021 NFL draft

It is almost draft time! Without a doubt this is the best time of the year and I cannot wait for Roger Goodell to get booed at that podium in Cleveland.

I have been diving into film, pro day numbers and mock drafts in recent weeks to finish preparing for my favorite time of year. If you want to hear some of the stuff I’ve been working on, check out my brand new podcast Draft Season Never Ends!

By now, you are familiar with the big names in this draft class. The quarterback group has been picked over time and time again. There is only so much longer that we can debate who San Francisco will take with the third pick after all. For this post, I wanted to take a look at some of the players whom you might not be as familiar with. These are all players expected to go in the third round or later come draft weekend. Most will likely not hear their names called until Day 3 of the draft.

If you see me referencing players testing in certain percentiles, you can find all that information at Hat tip to my new podcast co-host James Schiano for the recommendation to check that site out. It provides a great reference point for how a players’ testing numbers rank in relation to other players at the position. Talk about an incredible tool! Definitely worth poking around if you are interested in statistics and quantifying players’ measurables in a more meaningful way.

Now, to the prospects!

Jacob Harris, WR, UCF
Let’s start with a deep sleeper. Jacob Harris is not a name that most fans outside of Orlando, Florida are familiar with. He hauled in eight touchdowns in 2020, his one season as a starter for UCF. He had an interesting path to college football, starting out as a soccer player at Florida Gulf Coast. He is very raw, but at 6’5″, he posted a sub 4.4 40 time and a 40.5-inch vertical. Pair that with an impressive 6.51 three-cone time, this kid has loads of untapped athletic potential. He will probably be an undrafted free agent, but there is enough there to make me think he is worth grabbing in the seventh round. In addition to the gobs of potential he has with his size and speed combo, he has a good deal of special teams experience. That should get him on the field early in his career while he is refining his craft as a receiver.

Jaret Patterson, RB, Buffalo
This name you have probably heard by now. Likely, you heard it once, when Jaret Patterson rumbled for an NCAA D-I record-tying eight touchdowns and over 400 yards in one game this season. He had 55 career touchdowns at Buffalo over three seasons, dominating the best the MAC had to offer. He runs with a low center of gravity and fights for extra yardage. His lack of experience as a pass catcher limits his upside. He only had 20 career receptions, none of which came in 2020. However, he showed some softer hands at his pro day, which could lead teams to believe there is some untapped potential. He likely won’t be a feature back at any point in his career, but he could be a vital part of a team’s backfield. Expect him to go some time on Day 3.

K.J. Britt, LB, Auburn
Let’s get to a Senior Bowl standout for me. K.J. Britt impressed me all week with his coverage skills. He didn’t blow people away at his pro day, but he seems like a quality depth linebacker at the next level. Britt can play in some sub packages right away. The reason Britt has faded to the background is he missed much of 2020 with a thumb injury. He needs to become a bit more instinctive, especially without elite physical traits. However, he already shows a willingness to take on contact and attacking gaps in opposing offenses. I think he likely tops out as a low-end starter in a 3-4 defense as a middle linebacker. Finding that around the fourth or fifth round is pretty good value.

Monty Rice, LB, Georgia
Here’s another linebacker to keep an eye on. He might not get as much publicity as his other Bulldogs teammates, but Monty Rice’s game is built for the NFL. He is a bit undersized at 6’0″ and 233 pounds, but he moves incredibly well for someone that size. Rice can immediately bring his coverage ability to an NFL defense and get on the field on passing downs. His range is impressive and should not be overlooked. He ran a 4.58 40-yard dash, which is in the 92nd percentile for linebackers, and posted impressive splits at both the 10-yard and 20-yard mark. His speed makes him a candidate to match up with opposing tight ends and running backs. That has value, especially in the middle rounds of this draft.

Ade Ogundeji, EDGE, Notre Dame
After a solid career at Notre Dame, there is one thing that points to Ade Ogundeji succeeding in the NFL: he has elite length. He measured in with 35 and a quarter-inch arms at the Fighting Irish’s pro day, which is in the 93rd percentile for edge rushers. He lacks great burst off the line, but that length should allow him to keep opposing the offensive linemen off his body. There is a lot of room for improvement in his game, but I could see him carving out a role as a rotational 4-3 defensive end. Expect him to go in the later rounds of the draft.

Nolan Laufenberg, G, Air Force
If you are looking for a road grading interior offensive lineman, look no further. Air Force averaged 298 rushing yards per game in 2019 and 305 yards per game in 2020. Nolan Laufenberg played a big role in that success. He brings solid size for the position and above average play power. He is definitely inexperienced as a pass blocker because only threw the ball 61 times in six games this year. He likely needs a bit of refining in that area, but he is an easy fit in any run-first scheme. While he excels blocking straight ahead, he is certainly nimble enough to pull and reach the next level of the defense as well. I like this guy a lot and think he could be a solid starter in the NFL.

Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina
After spending two years playing behind the likes of Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards, Shi Smith got his shot to be the go-to target in South Carolina’s offense. He stepped up with 633 yards and four touchdowns in a shortened season. Smith has the look and body type of a prototypical NFL slot receiver with the benefit of having big hands to snag passes out of the air (76th percentile among receivers). He showed at the Senior Bowl that he has no problem generating some separation. I could see him being a reliable route runner who can come up with crucial catches on third down. Don’t sleep on his potential as a solid NFL contributor.

Dez Fitzpatrick, WR, Louisville
There is a lot of Senior Bowl love on this list. Despite playing really well all week in Mobile, Dez Fitzpatrick is still not a household name or someone you are likely to see featured in the early rounds of many mock drafts. He might not seem too imposing at 6’1″, but he has a ridiculous wingspan that allows him to make catches away from his body and in traffic. He made some ridiculous grabs during Senior Bowl practice that have stuck with me. He has the potential to be a solid No. 2 receiver in a vertical offense. He did average 19.4 yards per reception in 2020, which was 25th nationally.

Benjamin St-Juste, CB, Minnesota
Consider the top corners in the NFL. Stephon Gilmore, Jalen Ramsey, Marhson Lattimore, Tre’Davious White, Bryon Jones, Xavien Howard, Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters are probably in the conversation, in whatever order you prefer. Tre’Davious White is the only player in that group shorter than 6’0″, and he’s listed at 5’11”. You need some size to compete on the outside in the NFL. Benjamin St-Juste has size to spades as he measured in taller than 6’3″ at his pro day (98th percentile). He can move too at that size. His three-cone in the 94th percentile and his short shuttle was in the 87th percentile of all defensive backs. His length makes him a great fit for Cover 3 defense that can mask his lack of elite speed. I could see him developing into a top corner in the right system.

Jimmy Morrissey, C, Pittsburgh
Interior linemen are often overlooked in the draft process. It’s just not a super sexy position, nor is it one that the NFL places a high value on. However, that usually allows for some starting-caliber players to slip into the later rounds. That is exactly what I believe is going to happen with Jimmy Morrissey. He won’t blow you away with his strength, but he is one of the most athletic interior linemen in this class. He put together a ridiculous pro day, testing in the 95th percentile for the 10-yard split in his 40-yard dash and the 91st percentile for both his three-cone and short shuttle times. Even his vertical jump impressed, falling in the 84th percentile among interior lineman. In an offense that prioritizes moving the pocket, zone blocking or pulling interior linemen, Morrissey would be a great fit with the potential to be a starter early in his career.


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