It happens every year. No matter how much time and research we put into predicting which rookies will don the blue and red, the "inner circle" always finds a way to surprise us come draft time. This dumbfounding phenomena usually manifests itself in one of three ways:
1) They (those at OBD) take a player later who seemingly, according to the "experts," should have gone earlier [i.e. Posluszny]. This is obviously what those experts term "value."
2) They take a player early who would have been available later in the draft [Whitner and McCargo]. I think it's the consensus of most, if not all of us, that the Bills should stay away from "reaching" for a particular player.
3) They take a player that virtually none of us had on our radar [Fine and Corner]. This is where things get interesting. Since we don't know as much about this type of draftee, we wait until they suit up and hope they pan out.
This series of posts concerns the third possibility. Though not an exhaustive list by any means, it is designed to detail some of the potential "sleepers" at key positions that our beloved Bills are certainly (or likely-depending upon the position) to address this April.
NOTES: These are NOT first-day picks. In fact, some are bound to go un-drafted. Also, I must give credit where credit is due. While these are my projections, Scott Wright's www.draftcountdown.com, http://walterfootball.com, www.nfldraftscout.com, and PFW's Draft Guide contributed to these compilations.
Without further adieu, here's my list of Surprise Sleepers. Today's installment - Outside Linebacker:
1) Jason Williams, Western Illinois 6'1" 238 Pro Day 40 Time: 4.49
Strengths: Very athletic for his size. Plays sideline to sideline. Excellent production-was selected to several All-American teams. Playmaker (15 career sacks and 14 career FF) even against better competition (2 sacks and 2 FF against Arkansas). Has special teams ability. Plays downhill and attacks the LOS. Strong (26 reps @ 225lb). Blazing speed has stock skyrocketing. Possesses leadership qualities and has impeccable character.
Weaknesses: Played Division I-AA (forget this FCS stuff). Production slipped from junior to senior season. Suspect ball skills (only 1 career INT, though 12 career PBUs).
Analysis: Despite raw coverage skills, Williams flat-out makes plays all over the field. His best football may be ahead of him.
My Projected Round: 3
2) DeAndre Levy, Wisconsin 6'2" 234 Estimated 40 Time: 4.53
Strengths: Solid tackler. Fills hard against FB. Blitzes well. Can cover in the flat. Relatively strong (19 reps). Has leadership qualities. Solid character.
Weaknesses: More quick than fast. Did not run his 40 at his pro day due to hamstring injury. Only average production. Needs to use hands better to disengage from blockers.
Analysis: Does not get the publicity that his Badger teammate Casillas receives, but may be better overall. He's a jack of all trades master of none, but with his experience at SOLB, he could prove to be a valuable investment in the middle rounds.
My Projected Round: 5
3) Moise Fokou, Maryland 6'1" 233 Combine 40 Time: 4.76
Strengths: Plays like every down is his last and his motor is constantly running. Has matured over the years. Good range and runs the football down from the backside. Lined up at SOLB. Looks natural rushing the passer (led team with 5 sacks as a senior). Solid, wrap-up tackler with very good strength (21 reps). Key special teams contributor (led the Terps in ST's tackles as a junior and again as a senior).
Weaknesses: Somewhat small. Does not excel in coverage. Has trouble shedding blocks. Not very instinctive.
Analysis: A pass rush threat who secures ball carriers in space. Because he can contribute immediately on special teams he is likely to get drafted despite his overall rawness.
My Projected Round: 6
4) James Holt, Kansas 6'2" 225 Pro Day 40 Time: 4.72
Strengths: Amazing production (204 tackles and 12 sacks the last two years). Plays faster than he times. Blitzes extremely well and has an excellent burst off the edge. Makes plays behind the line, especially as a senior-led the Big XII in TFL with 19.5. Outstanding special teamer. Good bloodlines-father played for the Bengals.
Weaknesses: Size, size, size. May be too small to handle the rigors of an NFL rushing attack. Underdeveloped coverage/ball skills make switch to safety unlikely.
Analysis: Sometimes teams shy away from a particular player because of measurables. That may be the case with Holt. However, you cannot deny his production.
My Projected Round: 6
5) Ashlee Palmer, Mississippi 6'1" 236 Pro Day 40 Time: 4.76
Strengths: Very athletic. Plays faster than he times. Has sideline to sideling range. Excellent special teams ability. Can flip his hips to mirror TEs and RBs. Sufficient ball skills with an explosive burst to close. Good tackler.
Weaknesses: Cannot shed blockers all that well. Is not a natural pass rusher despite this clip. Intelligence has been questioned.
Analysis: A classic tweener who bulked up for his Pro Day and may have lost some timed speed as a result. He played SOLB, but may be forced to line up on the weak side or as a safety. Has the talent and upside to excel in a Tampa-2 scheme, but his character concerns (did not qualify academically at Washington and played JUCO ball before starting the last two years for Ole Miss) and lack of size/experience could push him out of the draft altogether.
My Projected Round: 7