Now that the 40-yard dashes, hand size measurements and probing interviews are behind us, let’s do what we do every year around this time.
Consider it our free scouting service to NFL general managers: Here are five “sleeper” players who despite the tape, production and numbers from their college careers will invariably be undervalued in the upcoming draft — whether for size, shorter arms, slower 40 times or being a “tweener” at the pro level.
NFL clubs had better not sleep on these players, whose college production indicates they’ll outperform where they’re selected in the 2019 NFL draft. None of them is projected to go in Thursday’s first round — and maybe not in the top two or three rounds — but their college pedigrees suggest they can carve out successful NFL careers.
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Last year we listed BYU‘s Fred Warner and Texas‘ Poona Ford. Warner was taken in the third round by the San Francisco 49ers, earned a starting spot right away and finished 12th in the NFL with 124 tackles. Ford went undrafted and signed as a free agent with the Seattle Seahawks, where he developed into one of the most improved defenders on the team and had three tackles for loss in a game against the 49ers late in the season. We’ve also nailed Grady Jarrett, Dalvin Tomlinson, Adrian Amos, Marcus Williams and Tyler Lockett in the past.
Zach Allen, DE, Boston College
Allen’s career at Boston College was synonymous with consistency and performance. He had three straight seasons of six sacks or more, was a team captain and never missed a game from the time he arrived on campus. He’s not the most explosive edge pass-rusher, doesn’t have the quickest first step and isn’t going to overwhelm opposing offensive tackles with sheer speed. But the 6-foot-5, 285-pound Allen projects as more of a hybrid defensive lineman and should be able to make up for any deficiency in speed with his strength and power. Allen is also a technician, especially against the run, and even though it’s a cliché, he never takes a play off.
He totaled 40.5 tackles for loss in his last three seasons and defended or batted down 16 passes. As a junior, Allen was one of two defensive linemen nationally with 100 or more total tackles. It remains to be seen where Allen will go in the draft, but he has the tools, smarts and edge to play 10 years in the NFL and do so at a high level.
Ben Banogu, DE/OLB, TCU
Gary Patterson has coached his share of players over the years who specialized in getting to the quarterback, and Banogu did that as well as anybody in the two seasons he played for Patterson at TCU. After starting his career at UL Monroe and playing as a redshirt freshman in 2015, Banogu transferred to TCU and collected 8.5 sacks in each of the 2017 and 2018 seasons. He racked up 45 tackles for loss during his college career, including 34.5 his two seasons at TCU. Good luck in finding a more versatile front-seven defender.
At some point, Banogu has lined up at outside linebacker, inside linebacker, end and tackle. The best thing about him is that he’s only going to get better as his technique with his hands becomes more polished. He’s still a bit raw as a pass-rusher, but he has improved every year in that area. He had 60 quarterback pressures as a senior and was a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection. The 6-3, 250-pound Banogu helped himself at the NFL combine with some impressive testing numbers. There’s a chance he could last until the third round or later, but here’s betting he plays at the next level a lot closer to a first-rounder.
Mike Edwards, S, Kentucky
As NFL scouts visited Kentucky prior to last season, they made it known to coach Mark Stoops that they planned on keeping a close eye on several of the Wildcats’ defensive backs. And right at the top of that list was Edwards, who considered coming out early for the draft a year ago. He remained for his senior season, though, to close out a terrific career at Kentucky that saw him become just the 19th player in school history with 300 or more tackles. Edwards, who measured just under 5-11, doesn’t have ideal height, but he’s a sure tackler and has excellent ball skills. He intercepted 10 passes during his career and returned two of those for touchdowns.
He’s versatile enough to play nickel and make plays in coverage, but has the toughness to play a traditional safety role and be a factor in run support. Edwards isn’t likely to be one of the top five safeties drafted, which means he could slide all the way down to the third day of the draft. An injury kept Edwards from working out at the NFL combine, but he never missed a game at Kentucky and started the last 44 games of his career. Don’t be surprised if he also develops into a regular starter in the NFL.
Hunter Renfrow, WR, Clemson
Renfrow would have a hard time talking his way into most NFL teams’ facilities unless the security guard already knew him. He’s 5-10, 180 pounds and slight of frame. But then you turn on his tape, and all the guy does is get open and catch the football in clutch situations, on big stages and consistently. He had only one drop in 50 catchable passes last season, and for his career, he caught 186 passes for 2,133 yards and 15 touchdowns in 47 starts. In seven career College Football Playoff games, he set records with 37 receptions and four touchdowns, and go take a look at some of the defensive backs he was matched up against in those contests. Renfrow morphed into a cult hero at Clemson, and the running joke among opposing fans (and coaches) was that he played for 10 seasons. That’s because he was always making big catches in key moments.
Slot receivers are becoming the rage now in the NFL, and if Adam Humphries was able to get what he did in free agency this offseason ($36 million over four years), somebody’s going to get an absolute steal if they land Renfrow in the latter half of the draft. Similar to the way he arrived at Clemson as a walk-on and helped lead the Tigers to two national championships, he’ll prove to be one of the more dependable receivers on whatever NFL team is fortunate enough to get him.
Soon after getting the Florida Atlantic head-coaching job, Lane Kiffin realized immediately what he had in the 5-9, 205-pound Singletary, who rushed for 54 touchdowns his last two seasons. Singletary doesn’t have elite speed, but he’s faster than you think and has exceptional balance and elusiveness. He’s a tackle-breaking machine and just has a way of finding the end zone. Nicknamed “Motor,” Singletary rushed for more than 1,000 yards all three of his seasons at FAU and repeatedly showed a penchant for getting everything and then some out of every single carry. He’s a good enough receiver and pass-protector to play all three downs.
NFL teams tend to wait in the draft before spending a pick on a running back, and when you couple that fact with Singletary’s lack of ideal size, he’s sure to drop lower than he should. He carried the ball a ton during his three seasons at FAU, and that workload might scare away a few teams. But there’s always a place in the NFL for running backs who churn out yards and touchdowns.
Five more to watch
Ben Burr-Kirven, LB, Washington: He doesn’t have ideal size or speed, but Burr-Kirven is always around the football and has great instincts, whether it’s stuffing the run to the tune of 176 total tackles last season or dropping into pass coverage and making a play.
Jalen Hurd, WR, Baylor: A running back when he began his college career at Tennessee, Hurd made the transition to receiver nicely upon transferring to Baylor and has the size, hands and ability to run after the catch that NFL teams covet.
Michael Jordan, C/G, Ohio State: The 6-7, 310-pound Jordan played center and guard for the Buckeyes and was an enforcer in the middle of that offensive line. There will be several offensive linemen who go higher in the draft than Jordan, but he’s going to play a long time in the NFL.
David Long, CB, Michigan: There’s still a chance that some team might like Long enough to take him earlier than expected, and there’s a lot to like even though he’s just 5-11. A first-team All-Big Ten selection, Long allowed just nine catches on 31 targets for 42 yards last season.
Christian Miller, OLB, Alabama: If you’re looking for a complete outside linebacker, the 6-3, 247-pound Miller is your guy. He bulked up in the weight room, fought off injuries and developed into one of the Crimson Tide’s most consistent defenders with 8.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hurries last season.