How does one define a "sleeper"? A player off the beaten path as discussed in first round options this time of year? Players who haven't had a chance to start -- but should shine with more opportunity afforded their way? There's some mobility with the concept of a sleeper -- which admittedly makes my life a lot easier! I get to frame "sleepers" in an individual case by case basis, which is exactly what we're going to do today as we shift our focus to the Big Ten.
This year's Big Ten talent pool has a lot of fanfare at the top already. Whether it is Iowa's super duo of OT Tristan Wirfs and DE AJ Epenesa or Ohio State's explosive DE Chase Young, there's no shortage of Big Ten names that could already be considered "household names". But what about the rest of the class?
Here are three of my favorite "sleeper" prospects for the Big Ten's 2020 NFL Draft pool -- and how I classify them as a sleeper.
WR JD Spielman, Nebraska
Spielman, the son of Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, is a lock to get drafted in the next two years with his dad atop an organization...right?
But in all seriousness, Spielman is an electric presence with the ball in his hands -- don't sell him short and call him a gadget player, though. Spielman has gone over 800 yards receiving in each of his first two seasons with the Cornhuskers and the young slot receiver increased his touchdown production four-fold (2 to 8 in 2018) this past season.
There's quick and then there's Spielman quick. I'm a huge fan of his skills in space -- he may never be a featured receiver but he will bring value to an NFL team someday with his slot skills and return ability. Expect big production from Spielman this year after the departure of senior Stanley Morgan Jr. this offseason and improvement from now sophomore QB Adrian Martinez.
DB Antoine Brooks Jr, Maryland
Brooks Jr. is an NFL nickel defender -- one of those hybrid players that NFL defenses lean so heavily on these days as modern offenses spread the field more and more. Brooks doesn't have a lot of ball production, but he does have over 18 tackles for loss over the past two seasons. At 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds Brooks has the tackling presence needed in the box to be a sturdy run defender -- but he also gives you enough coverage ability to effectively play coverage in the middle of the field.
Is Brooks a lockdown defender in man to man coverage? No. But he's also got a year to change my mind.
DB John Reid, Penn State
Reid was an All-Big Ten selection for the Lions back in 2016 and led the team in passes defensed that year. How exactly would he qualify as a sleeper? Well, I'm glad you asked -- Reid missed 2017 with a knee injury before returning to Penn State in 2018 and started looking like his old self.
So I'm buying in on the prospect that John Reid may have another level left in him -- and a level up from his play last year would make him a pretty interesting prospect for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Reid is a *GOOD* tackler, I really like how assertive he is stepping up from off coverage and closing down angles at or near the line of scrimmage. So your worst case scenario with a player like Reid is situating him at Safety and letting those tackling skills shine. He offered promising ball skills in zone coverage (Iowa/Rutgers 2018), too. Keep an eye out for #29 in blue and white on Saturdays this fall.