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2013 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals

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The first round of the NFL Draft monopolizes coverage in the media and fan’s minds alike. While the first 32 picks are important and generally feature the most elite talents, the best organizations in football are competitive year after year because of quality middle round work.

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Alfred Morris rushed for 1,613 yards and was a sixth-round pick. Russell Wilson posted one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history as a third-round pick. Lavonte David, Bobby Wagner and Mychal Kendricks were all second-rounders and the trio of linebackers totaled 353 total tackles last season. Round three was also kind to wide receivers, as T.Y. Hilton (50), Chris Givens (42) and T.J. Graham (31) were fourth, sixth and seventh among rookie wideouts in receptions in 2012.

The point is most NFL championships are built mostly between rounds two and five. Consistent winners in Green Bay, New England, Indianapolis and the New York Giants are perfect examples of how to win the draft each year.

So who should NFL teams be targeting in the middle rounds in 2013?

Here are 15 sleepers guaranteed to outperform their draft stock this fall:

Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State (6-2, 185)
There is a chance that this lengthy corner goes late in the first round, but assuming he drops past the first day, he will be a steal. He has tremendous length and physicality and is a perfect fit in a Tampa-2 cover scheme. He plays the run well and once he adds some weight to his frame, should be capable of battling with the bigger, more physical NFL wide receivers. He was a three-year starter at Mississippi State and a leader of a team that went to three straight bowl games.

Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina (5-8, 202)
NFL.com has 12 mock drafts posted in its Mock Draft Central and not one has Bernard listed in the first round. He isn’t a workhorse back, but that type of player has gone the way of the Dodo bird in the pass-happy NFL. Bernard brings a complete skill set to any offense, as he is an elite receiver and return man as well as running back. He has great quickness, burst and toughness to go with a compact frame that is difficult to hit. He also is a solid pass protector, giving him the chance to start right away. Other than Marcus Lattimore, Bernard might be the most talented runner in this draft.

Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers (6-1, 241)
Pitt running back Ray Graham’s half brother is a full-fledged NFL sleeper. One of the Big East’s top playmakers on defense the last three seasons, Greene posted nearly 400 tackles (387) in his decorated college career at Rutgers. He led what was one of the league’s best defenses and earned Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors as both a junior and senior. His tremendous speed and athletic ability make him a prototype 4-3 weak-side backer — a position that always delivers value in the middle rounds.

Zavier Gooden, LB, Missouri (6-1, 234)
Playing a lot of hybrid safety/linebacker at Missouri has given Gooden a unique skill set. He has excellent speed to cover loads of ground, both in run pursuit and pass coverage. He will have to battle the ‘undersized’ moniker as he lacks elite size for a linebacker, but more than makes up for it with toughness and athletic ability. His agility and speed should allow him to stick around for some time on the NFL level. Gooden isn’t a second-round pick but could be a steal in Rounds 3-5.

Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin (6-4, 312)
In a weak interior offensive line class, Frederick has a chance to be the best center in the draft. He has a thick body and versatility, excelling as both a guard and center at OL-friendly Wisconsin. He has been extremely well-coached, uses excellent technique and provides leadership and toughness up front. The Badgers have produced some big-time blockers under Bret Bielema of late and Frederick should be the next one as a potential second- or third-round pick.