NFL combine sleepers: 10 off-the-radar prospects who could raise draft stock
SportsPulse: This year’s class of quarterbacks is getting all the hype leading into the NFL Draft, but Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz says these four players could really shake up the draft board come April.
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Arizona State Sun Devils running back Kalen Ballage (7) looks to the bench during the first half against the USC Trojans at Sun Devil Stadium.(Photo: Matt Kartozian, USA TODAY Sports)
Though seen as a stage for top prospects, the NFL scouting combine often provides a stage for some of the draft’s lesser-known names to announce themselves to a larger audience and elevate their draft stock.
While big names like Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley might be drawing the most attention entering the event — with on-field workouts starting Friday — several under-the-radar prospects could spark considerable interest by the end.
Here are 10 sleepers to watch at this year’s combine:
1. Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond
A strong week of Senior Bowl practices culminating in MVP honors for the game itself helped highlight Lauletta as an intriguing option for a team looking for a quarterback after the first round. The Jimmy Garoppolo comparisons could amplify, though shortcomings with his arm strength should temper expectations. Still, he should draw attention of teams that place a priority on precision passing.
2. Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky
The 6-4, 221-pound White is a judicious passer, but he’s far from a game manager. With the arm strength and mentality to attack downfield, he could become a future starter if he can speed up his decision making. Catching the first tier of quarterbacks might be too difficult, but White could earn consideration as a Day 2 pick.
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3. Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
One of the Football Bowl Subdivision record holders for touchdowns in a single game, Ballard never consistently delivered on his formidable physical tools. But that shouldn’t stop NFL teams from envisioning what he might be able to achieve at the next level with proper coaching. At 6-2 and 227 pounds with good burst and all-purpose ability, Ballage might draw comparisons to David Johnson, though the two are far apart in their instincts as runners.
4. Jaleel Scott, WR, New Mexico State
It’s hard to overlook a 6-6, 215-pound receiver, especially one with a penchant for acrobatic catches. Scott is almost exclusively a downfield threat given his limitations changing direction, but he should find an early role as a red zone target. If he runs well, he should build buzz as a mid-round option.
5. Keke Coutee, WR, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders’ speed demon could be one of the frontrunners to finish with the best 40-yard dash time in Indianapolis. While his route running is limited and he might work exclusively out of the slot, Coutee has the ability to separate in the short area and take quick hits for big gains. He also should draw interest for his prowess as a returner.
6. Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
Sleeper might be something of an unfair label for Goedert, who has a good chance to be the first tight end taken in April. The South Dakota State standout routinely overwhelmed his competition last year with 1,293 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, but scouts will want to see how his athleticism stacks up relative to the rest of his position group. With a strong combine performance, the back end of the first round is within reach.
7. Alex Cappa, OT, Humboldt State
Division II proved to be no trouble for Cappa, who routinely tossed aside opposing linemen. But the four-year starter was also ready for a step up in competition at the Senior Bowl, as he handled expected first rounder Marcus Davenport. There’s likely still a significant learning curve, but Cappa’s strength, agility and nasty streak could vault him into Day 2.
8. Dorance Armstrong, DE/OLB, Kansas
Posting 1 1/2 sacks for the 1-11 Jayhawks usually wouldn’t put a player on the fast track to the NFL, but Armstrong was saddled with run-stopping responsibilities that obscured his true potential after posting 10 sacks the previous year. With the build and explosiveness desired from a 3-4 linebacker, he should emerge as one of the most attractive options for teams looking to jolt their pass rush. He looks to be in line for a solid all-around showing in Indianapolis.
9. Kemoko Turay, DE, Rutgers
A freshman All-American, Turay fell off the radar for two years while dealing with injuries before re-emerging as a senior. “The Kemoko Dragon,” as nicknamed by his teammates, is still something of a project. But the combine should be a good showcase for the initial burst and closing speed that make him an attractive option for the right staff.
10. Siran Neal, S, Jacksonville State
With experience at linebacker, cornerback and safety, Neal offers the versatility many NFL teams now demand from their defensive backs. Though he is a liability in coverage if left in space, he brings a physical approach to man coverage and could be an asset for covering some of the league’s more athletically gifted tight ends. In a safety class short on talent beyond the first round, Neal could be an intriguing developmental prospect.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
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