2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals

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Who are the mid-round sleepers in this year's NFL Draft?

<p> 2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals</p>

One could argue that drafting well in the middle rounds is how to win a Super Bowl.

The Packers, Patriots, Steelers and Ravens have made a living by dominating rounds two through four of the NFL Draft and it has paid off with championships. While high-risk, high-reward positions like quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive end and cornerback tend to gravitate to the first round, leadership positions like linebacker, center, running back and safety can be found in abundance in the middle rounds.

The 2012 NFL Draft is no different as there will be plenty of Greg Jennings (Round 2, 2006), Curtis Loftons (Round 2, 2008) and Ryan Kalils (Round 2, 2007) drafted this spring.

Here are the sleepers to keep an eye on come draft day:

David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech (5-9, 206)

While Wilson appears small in stature, his lower body is anything but weak. The former Hokie back has incredible lower body strength that will allow him to survive a heavy workload on the next level. But what makes this compact runner special is his big-play ability. He can rip-off huge chunks of yards in all three phases of the game — rushing, receiving, returning — and will be a three-down back despite his lack of raw size. His running style and burst will remind fans of Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles, yet, Wilson is much stronger and thicker than Charles has ever been.

Wilson led the ACC in rushing and averaged almost six yards per carry on 462 career attempts. Running backs must be special to be first-round picks and Wilson should not be taken that high. But teams are finding great ball-carriers every year in the middle rounds of the draft — try Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner, LeSean McCoy — and Wilson has a chance to be that type of player on the next level.

Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska (6-0, 233)

There is little not to like about this tackling machine. He graduated from powerhouse South Florida high school Miami-Northwestern. Eight of his teammates signed with Miami and he ended up with no offers and landed in junior college. In only two seasons at Nebraska, David posted 285 total tackles, good for fourth all-time in school history. His 152-tackle Big Red debut in 2010 set a single-season Huskers’ record for stops. He has excellent range and will be that coveted sideline-to-sideline stopper that defensive coaches crave. Additionally, David won’t have to come off the field on third downs due to his advanced experience in pass coverage. He is a bit undersized, but makes up for it with toughness and strength.

He has been overlooked his entire career and has done nothing but produce at an elite level. He is a perfect weakside backer in the more traditional 4-3 scheme. If he sneaks into the first round, his value will be realized. If he falls into the second round, he could be a steal for one lucky franchise.

Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State (6-2, 214)

While the measurables — 40 time, bench reps, shuttle time — don’t favor Cousins much, the intangibles and leadership skills are off the charts. He is the winningest, most efficient passer in Michigan State history. He is poised, polish, mature and played in an pro-style attack in college. The arm strength is more than adequate and his ability to command a huddle is only matched by his ability to command a press conference.

The affable leader reminds me a lot of Andy Dalton of TCU. Cousins is the same size, has the same arm strength and a virtually identical mental make-up and collegiate resume. Incredibly productive, efficient, wins games, holds others accountable and makes his teammates better. What more can you ask from a quarterback? The smart signal caller will have a chance to win a starting job if he lands in the right location.

Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (6-3, 221)

When trying to compare Cousins to Weeden, there are a few small differences. Most notably, the Oklahoma State passer will turn 29 on October. This makes him more mature, more prepared, more grounded and especially more married than most NFL rookie passers. This also means his window for success is shorter. He is a touch bigger than Cousins and possesses a slightly stronger arm. He didn’t play in a pro-style system in college, but the Pokes utilized a power rushing attack within their spread — much like many of the new NFL schemes.

Few have produced at a level that Weeden has as well. He owns essentially every Cowboys’ passing record in the book and led them to their first-ever Big 12 championship. He is a hard-worker and will be focused off the field, but developing his vocal leadership skills would help his case. He is absolutely worth a look late in the second round.

TY Hilton, WR, FIU (5-9, 183)

The smallish slot receiver will always have to overcome his overall lack of strength and size, which has, at times, led to nagging injuries. But get the ball in his hands and he produces. He touched the ball 452 times on offense and special teams over the course of his career and he produced 7,498 all-purpose yards — 498 rushing, 3,531 receiving, 614 punt return, 2,855 kick return. He scored seven times on the ground, 24 times through the air, six times on special teams and even tossed a touchdown back in 2008. In the high-flying modern NFL offensive attack, Hilton is the perfect weapon. He can line up in the slot, contribute in the return game and even carry the ball out of the backfield. There is just too much offense in the NFL right now for this versatile, open-field play-maker to not find a home on a roster and get on the field.

Mychal Kendricks, LB, Cal (5-11, 239)

Not too many resumes come as nice as Kendricks. He is short for his position, but he makes up for it with great speed, fluidity and open-space skill. He can play all over the defense — aka inside, outside, 3-4 and 4-3 — and will be able to cover sideline-to-sideline in both the passing and running games. And when he gets to the ball, he is a quality tackler who rarely misses a takedown. He posted 107 total tackles and 14.5 tackles for a loss en route to his Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors last fall. This, in a league that puts most defenses to shame — see Andrew Luck, Darron Thomas, Brock Osweiler and Nick Foles — Kendricks could be a late second-, early third-round steal this weekend.

Other Names To Watch:

Suspended Ohio State Buckeyes
Wide receiver DeVier Posey (think Hakeem Nicks), running back Daniel Herron (think LaDainian Tomlinson) and Mike Adams (think Jake Long) all have a chance to dramatically outperform their draft status. And it all stems from being suspended the majority of their senior seasons. Each would have likely been all-conference players had they played full seasons in 2011.

Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech (5-10, 180)
Stud ballhawk — 12 interceptions in final two seasons — from DB-U is an elite coverman when healthy. Also a return specialist.

David Molk, OC, Michigan (6-1, 298)
A bit undersized, but was named the top center in the nation last fall. Think Alex Mack.

Bradie Ewing, FB/H-back, Wisconsin (5-11, 239)
Won’t get drafted high but will produce for a long time. Tremendous intangibles as blocker, receiver, runner and leader.

Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma (5-11, 192)
No player has caught more passes in NCAA history (349). Vocal, intelligent, motivated leader fits perfectly into modern slot position.

Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas (5-11, 180)
Nearly identical player to TY Hilton – great return man and slot receiver with speed and elusiveness.

DeQuan Menzie, CB, Alabama (5-10, 195)
Tough-nosed, physical defensive back can cover in both man and zone schemes. A leader and a winner.

Janzen Jackson, S, McNeese State (5-11, 188)
Former troubled Tennessee Vol has elite-level talent but focus remains a question. Loads of upside.

 by Braden Gall

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NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
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2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch
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