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#pounditSunday, January 16, 2022

10 NFL Draft late-round sleepers to watch for on Day 3

Kyle Lauletta

The first two days (rounds 1-3) of the 2018 NFL Draft are in the books and more than 100 players have been selected. Even though many of the best players from the college ranks are already gone, that doesn’t mean there isn’t talent left entering Day 3. Teams will be picking during the 4th-7th rounds looking to hit a home run. Some of these guys could step in and start for their teams, and a few might even develop into Pro Bowlers.

The draft becomes a bit of a craps shoot at a certain point, but there are definitely sleepers littered throughout. We will do our best to identify them.

Here’s a look at 10 late-round sleepers.

10. Janarion Grant, WR, Rutgers

Janarion Grant is one of the most electric athletes in the 2018 NFL Draft, but at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, he lacks the size most scouts like. And although he’s a solid receiver, having hauled in 99 receptions for 1,062 yards and two touchdowns during his five-year Rutgers career, Grant is more of a Swiss Army Knife-type of player. He excels on special teams, and is capable of returning both kickoffs and punts with game-changing potential. He averaged nearly 25 yards per kickoff return and over 11 yards per punt return during his college career, bringing five kicks and three punts back for touchdowns. Grant can also be used as a gadget player on offense, taking handoffs on end-arounds and breaking them for big gains. If he doesn’t get drafted, watch out for him as an undrafted free agent.

9. Christian Sam, LB, Arizona State

A 2017 All-Pac 12 honorable mention (coaches), Christian Sam is simply a player who produces on the field. He’s a bit undersized for the position at 6-foot-1 and 244 pounds, but there’s no denying the impact he has on a game-by-game basis. In his final season for the Sun Devils, Sam record 127 tackles and had double-digit tackles in seven consecutive games at one point.Over the last three seasons, Sam has recorded double-digit tackles in 13 games. In addition to being a strong tackler and active pursuer, Sam also holds his own in pass coverage. He’ll be a worthy gamble for some team on Day 3.

8. Dee Delaney, CB, Miami

Dee Delaney is a prospect who brings legitimate boom-or-bust potential to the NFL Draft. His arm length (30 1/2 inches) is a bit of a red flag for NFL scouts, and he’s not known as a fluid cornerback just yet. There’s obvious work to be done on his technique and his sole interception in 2017 doesn’t stand out, but he’s instinctive and has above-average speed for the position. Delaney is also solid against the run and a willing tackler, and has the hands of a receiver in the secondary — something he put on display at the 2018 NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

7. Jordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh

Coming out of high school, Jordan Whitehead was a dual-threat talent who played on both offense and defense, but was considered a top cornerback prospect. With Pitt, he was moved to safety and his instincts at the position were exposed. Whitehead allowed too many big plays, which may cause NFL teams to shy away from him, but the athletic skill and big hitting are both obvious on film. He can contribute on special teams immediately and gives teams the option of using him as a hybrid defensive back, capable of playing outside at cornerback, in the slot or at safety. With a little coaching and experience, Whitehead could become a quality NFL player.

6. Hercules Mata’afa, EDGE, Washington State

At 6-foot-2 and 254 pounds, Mata’afa was one of the smallest interior defensive linemen in college football a season ago. However, his wrestling background and quickness helped him beat offensive linemen who were substantially larger than he was. That won’t be the case in the NFL however, so Mata’afa is projected to play defensive end or outside linebacker depending on the defensive scheme. Ultimately, Mata’afa may be relegated to sub packages and special teams play, but his nonstop motor, incredible work ethic, toughness and Rudy-like desire to play will lead some team to give him an opportunity.

5. Trenton Cannon, RB, Virginia State

Trenton Cannon may have been considered an undrafted free agent prior to the Virginia State Pro Day, but his performance there helped ease the mind of some NFL scouts. Cannon is a decisive between-the-tackles runner, has good balance before and after contact, possesses second gear speed to break away from defenders in the open field and can contribute on special teams, including as a return man. Although Cannon will need to put on weight and fill out his frame in the NFL, his home run potential will be more than enough to entice some team late in the draft.

4. Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond

With an incredible run on quarterbacks in Round 1, there was a chance Kyle Lauletta went on Day 2. However, Lauletta ultimately slid and became an early Day 3 candidate. With decent accuracy and mechanics, there’s a lot to work with when it comes to the Richmond gunslinger. The one true knock against him is his lack of arm strength, which was the primary reason for most of his interceptions. That will continue to be a problem in the NFL and his ceiling may be a backup as a result, but Lauletta sports a high football IQ and that alone will be valuable in the right scenario.

3. Deon Yelder, TE, Western Kentucky

Entering the 2017 season, Deon Yelder was an afterthought when it came to tight end prospects. The walk-on didn’t have a single catch credited to his career prior to his senior season, but that’s when he erupted onto the scene and put himself into play in the 2018 NFL Draft. During his final season at Western Kentucky, Yelder hauled in 52 receptions for 688 yards and seven touchdowns, adding offensive production to a resume that’s highlighted by his tenacity and impressive blocking ability. It was more than enough to prove to scouts that he had all-around potential and wouldn’t be limited to double tight end or jumbo packages in the NFL.

2. Evan Brown, C, SMU

The 6-foot-2, 307-pound Evan Brown was a four-year starter at SMU, having appeared at both guard and tackle. He proved himself to be both an effective run blocker, and a more than capable pass protector due to an impressive athleticism for his size. At his Pro Day, Brown posted a 5.03 40-yard dash time, a 4.46 short shuttle time, a 9-foot-5 broad jump and, perhaps most impressive of all, 36 bench press reps and 225 pounds. Those are incredible numbers for anyone, but particularly for an interior offensive lineman. With the right coaching and in the right situation, Brown could mold himself into an above-average starter in the NFL

1. Dane Cruikshank, DB, Arizona

Some teams shy away from selecting a player based on measurables, and some don’t. For those that don’t, Dane Cruikshank represents a truly intriguing Day 3 option. At 6-foot-1, 210 pounds and a 40-yard dash speed of 4.41, Cruikshank has prototypical size and speed for a defensive back in the NFL. He also has impressive strength, putting up 25 reps on the bench press at the NFL Combine. A big-framed, fearless, hard-hitting defensive back, Cruikshank just needs to work on his mental approach to the game. His lapses on the field, penalties and struggles in outside coverage are the only things that kept him from being selected over the first three rounds of the draft.

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