And we're back!
Y'all seemed to really enjoy this piece in February, when I ripped through some names that have since garnered much louder hype: Iowa S Amani Hooker, Oregon EDGE Justin Hollins, Charlotte iOL Nate Davis, and West Virginia TE Trevon Wesco among them.
Well, I'm here with this month's installment of names you need to know. If you haven't gotten eyes on these players yet, make them a priority in March -- you're gonna want the receipts in a couple of years.
As Jon Ledyard so often reminds us, there's really no such thing as a sleeper quarterback.
Running Back: Alexander Mattison, Boise State
Strap in, team -- it's a Mountain West heavy Sleeper Team this month.
Mattison dealt with a leg injury at the end of last season that leaked into this year and seemed to sap at some of his explosiveness. Accordingly, he's not really a breakaway runner -- a 4.67s 40-yard dash at the Combine supports film that shows poor straight-line speed.
But overall, Mattison tested well for a 221-pound back, and his film illustrates a player with functional athleticism to execute zone and power style runs. He's smart and tough, with an impressive ability to cut back, get vertical, and run behind his pads against flow. In the third level, he's devastating for secondary players.
Mattison was a bell-cow at Boise State, and can withstand a heavy load at the NFL level. As a Day 3 pick, he's more likely to be a change-of-pace player -- but he's an ideal back-up because you know if your starter goes down, Mattison can do it all at a functional level.
Receiver: Stanley Morgan Jr., Nebraska
I have a couple more players to watch right now, but Stanley Morgan Jr. is almost a lock to make my Top-10 wide receivers.
And yet he barely gets discussed as even a Day 2 prospect. I don't get that at all.
Morgan can play all three WR positions with success because of his route-running, athletic ability, and willingness to fight through physicality. He can win at all three levels with great hand strength and good tracking ability. He is worthy of schemed/underneath touches because of plus YAC ability.
His biggest weakness? He could be a little thicker throughout his frame. But Morgan is one of the most well-rounded players in this class, and his floor is that of a WR2/3. Great player.
Tight End: Kahale Warring, San Diego State
If I didn't put Warring on here, I don't think Jon would let me publish the article. So Warring it is.
But in actuality, Warring's got strong film as a receiver (though it's limited, as a product of San Diego State's play style) and had a strong Combine -- in a great TE class, it's not surprising that he's been under-appreciated thus far. I don't think it's often the case, that a potential Top-100 pick at TE...isn't even the best TE prospect in the Mountain West Conference. Dax Raymond hive forever.
For a guy who barely played football in high school, Warring's blocking and route running both particularly impress. If you have the time to develop a high-upside tight end to start in Year 2 or 3, Warring could present insane value if you can get him on Day 3.
Offensive Line: Connor McGovern and Ryan Bates, Penn State
The Penn State offensive line has been bad over the last few seasons -- yes. Not gonna argue that.
But here I am, with two Nittany Lions as my two sleepers on the offensive line.
It comes down to the upside. McGovern is a plus athlete on the interior with great hand strength to latch and drive; his flexibility is the only major question mark on his evaluation, as it has adverse effects on his balance and ability to sustain blocks.
Work with him there, and clean up some of his pass protection technique in his sets, and we're cookin' with grease.
Bates first grabbed my eyes at the Combine with his excellent work in the movement drills -- I went back to the film to check out his tape and caught McGovern while I was there. He lacks great hand usage up the arc and is too aggressive setting into rushes at this time, but it's clear to see he's quick as a cat at offensive tackle.
Bates has guard/tackle experience, and that versatility will help him stick on an NFL offensive line early. I don't like him as much as McGovern, but he has sixth-man upside for sure.
Interior Defensive Line: Trysten Hill, UCF
Hill is a weird player to figure out. A multi-year starter who moved to the bench when the new coaching staff arrived, Hill benefitted from the rotational role, as his high-motor style of play likely waned on him for four quarters worth of snaps.
That said, it's tough to understand why UCF wanted to take a player with Hill's explosiveness off the field. No player for the Golden Knights offered a better interior rush profile than Hill did, and his hot motor and quick first-step regularly translated into high-impact plays for a defense in desperate need of stops.
Hill will likely not be a starter at the NFL level, and accordingly his snap counts can be managed on a line that likes to go two-deep. He requires technical refinement, but his linear penetration is objectively valuable to any odd front. Interior pressure matters.
EDGE: Malik Reed, Nevada
Reed's an enigma. He's enticing and troublesome. He's not even an EDGE (maybe?). There's a lot to suss out.
Reed's a stubby 6-foot-1 and came into the NFLPA Bowl under 240 pounds -- that's not EDGE material. But his ability to dip and rip around the outside track is mouthwatering, and his explosiveness flashes to the point that 3-4 teams with stand-up wide rushers may fall for what he can become.
And you know Reed will put the hours in on the rack -- he's a workout warrior and Feldman Freak, though that frame may be maxed out. He's also a team captain and switched to "linebacker" in his senior season for the good of the team. With his motor and explosiveness, it's not hard to see a special-teams role for him in the years that he develops into whatever position you have for him.
I don't want to spend a super-high pick on Reed, but I really want him on my team. You should too -- fun player.
Linebacker: Cody Barton, Utah
Remember what I wrote above? Watch these guys so that you have receipts for when they turn out good?
I'm here to stunt a little bit.
While I thought he'd be a bit more explosive and a bit less agile, I was really happy to see Barton's strong Combine performance, which backs up some quality tape as the Utah SAM. Barton spent time playing up on the line and off-ball, and excels at anticipating the play design and forcing flow back into the teeth of his defense.
Barton is a situational starter for teams that still like to use three linebackers as their base package, and I'd feel comfortable drafting him in Round 4. In this linebacker class, you can't turn up your nose at any talent, even if it's situationally limited. That's Barton.
Cornerback: Alijah Holder, Stanford
This one's a deep one.
I'll be honest: I had mostly written off Holder, a potential middle-round corner target coming into the season. He missed a big chunk of his 2016 season due to a shoulder injury; lost the end of 2017 to a knee injury; and dealt with further injury complications in 2018, as he looked less explosive and laborious changing direction.
Perhaps that stiffness was just the wear and tear of the season, and if his injury history will never really go away, that's important to note -- but Holder performed much better at the Combine than I expected. A 4.6 flat 40 was predictably poor, but his 6.7 flat 3-cone and 4.15 short shuttle stand out as really nice agilities.
Holder is a press Cover-3 style corner with great intangibles and size. He should only be viewed as a Day 3 pick and future depth piece due to injury, but his game is absolutely NFL-worthy if he can stay healthy for his first training camp.
Safety: Sheldrick Redwine, Miami
Rewind to the preseason.
For a lot of folks, Redwine was an afterthought prospect on a loaded Miami secondary. Almost universally, fellow safety Jaquan Johnson was ranked higher, and Cane CB Michael Jackson was up there as well.
As it stands, all are still potential Day 2 picks -- likely around Rounds 3 and 4. But Redwine remains under-appreciated as a combo nickel/box safety with plus coverage ability, mostly because he doesn't bring great hitting power and his tackling is still hit or miss.
But the ability to cover the slot becomes more valuable by the day, and Redwine has the requisite athletic ability, route recognition, and technique to take on tight ends and big slots in man coverage. I see flashes of Carolina S Rashaan Gaulden on his film.