The term “sleeper," often used by those who cover the NFL Draft, has turned into a catch-all phrase to describe prospects who are liked but not necessarily viewed as early-round picks.
In actuality, for NFL teams, a “sleeper” is a player an area scout or college scouting director values but has not quite earned the respect of key decision makers.
This list of 10 sleepers in the 2017 NFL Draft are prospects NFL teams and area scouts may view as worthwhile picks, but they have not yet received national attention.
2017 NFL Draft sleepers, under-the-radar prospects
— Quarterback: Alek Torgersen, Penn
Many of the quarterbacks in this lackluster class have received buzz, including likely Day 3 options like Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs and Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly. But Torgersen is a real sleeper in whom NFL teams quietly have shown interest.
Torgersen is a dual-threat, strong-armed passer with the body type and developmental upside to be groomed as a quality NFL passer. While teams are shying away from “developmental” quarterbacks, Torgensen’s character and clear path to success could make him an exception late in the draft.
— Running back: I’Tavius Mathers, Middle Tennessee State
The former Ole Miss transfer impressed during his tenure at Middle Tennessee State. He has showcased both explosiveness and top-end speed as a runner, and he has third down upside as a versatile offensive weapon.
Mathers emerged as a strong draft possibility after he ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. He became the first player in NCAA history to rush for more than 1,500 yards, receive more than 500 yards and catch at least 60 passes in a season.
— Wide receiver: Ishmael Zamora, Baylor
If not for a dog abuse video that surfaced before the season, Zamora might have been in discussions as a top-five receiver in this class. But substantial character issues and stifled development due to suspensions have pushed him to Day 3.
While his character issues should not be disregarded, the risk/reward for Zamora’s draft grade vs. the potential backlash after the draft meet early in Day 3. Talent-wise, he could quickly become one of the best receivers in the 2017 class.
— Tight end: Brandon Barnes, Alabama State
After standing out at the HBCU Spirit of America Bowl all-star game in January, Barnes has emerged as a favorite among teams looking for a sleeper tight end. The Alabama State standout quietly became a favorite among scouts at the all-star game, and he has a strong chance to be drafted.
A complete tight end as a blocker and seam receiver, Barnes has the athletic upside and smoothness as a pass catcher that teams covet. He can offer value in multiple areas in the NFL.
MORE: Mock Draft 2017
— Offensive line: Jylan Ware, OT, Alabama State
Another standout from the HBCU Spirit of America Bowl, Ware has been one of our favorite prospects throughout the draft process. His size, length, mental makeup, character and flashes of NFL offensive tackle upside all speak volumes for his potential.
Ware has plenty to clean up and isn’t a plug-and-play tackle. But he has the upper- and lower-half control and strength to grow quickly as a capable NFL swing tackle. He’ll be drafted somewhere on Day 3.
— Defensive tackle: Jeremiah Ledbetter, Arkansas
A long, interior penetration defensive tackle with three- and five-technique value, Ledbetter built on a strong Shrine Game practice to remain one of the better mid-round defensive tackles.
Ledbetter fits every defense, and his multiple front value should make him a solid third-to-fifth-round prospect for almost every team. It’d be surprising if he fell to the seventh round, and he could be a darkhorse top-100 pick.
— Defensive end: Fadol Brown, Ole Miss
With the body type to fit any NFL defense, Brown is an ideal Day 3 pass rusher who could emerge as an impressive piece to a defense early in his career. While he doesn’t dominated as a pass rusher, his active hands, length, penetration ability are critical elements to his game.
Brown likely will never be an every-down starter in the NFL, but with more teams valuing versatility and scheme adaptability, he will have substantial value across the league.
— Linebacker: Blair Brown, ILB, Ohio
Despite being a bit undersized and hailing from a MAC program, Brown has emerged as a potential top-five inside linebacker prospect despite strong competition in the class.
Brown tested well at the NFL Combine. His finishing ability as a tackler, engagement on the interior and change of direction play in 4-3 and 3-4 defenses all speak to his reason for rising up draft boards.
MORE: NFL Draft 2017 Big Board
— Cornerback: Jeremy Clark, Michigan
After a shoulder injury early in his college career and a torn ACL that cut his senior season short, Clark’s NFL starter potential has been despite impressive film. With awesome length and press coverage upside, Clark fits exactly what NFL teams want at the position.
Without testing numbers thanks to his injury and with limited senior film, Clark won’t be drafted in the first two rounds. But there’s substantial interest in Clark for the third round and beyond. He likely will be a Day 3 player.
— Safety: Money Hunter, Arkansas State
The son of Major League all-star Torii Hunter, Money Hunter started just one season at Arkansas State — likely why he has fallen under the radar.
But his special teams experience will be sought after by NFL teams on Day 3 of the draft, and his ball skills and overall fluidity in coverage open the door for high upside development.