|Associated Press/USA TODAY Sports|
|Ryan Griffin (left) and Reid Fragel have the potential to make a name for themselves in the NFL.|
The 2013 NFL Draft is just over a week away, and by this point, we've all been inundated with talk of the top prospects. We know so much about the Geno Smiths and the Luke Joeckels and the Chance Warmacks and so forth; one might think that there's nothing left to say about this draft class.
But that's not true. In addition to the 100 or so top prospects that everybody knows about, there's a significant number of guys you've never heard of, but who have a good chance to make an impact once they reach the pros.
It's getting harder and harder to find sleepers -- even the lesser players are being promoted heavily by their agents -- but in an effort to introduce you to some of the better ones, I've put together a list of 13 relative no-names to know ahead of the 2013 NFL Draft. Many will need time to develop, and some might reach their ceiling as role players, but they've all got a chance to do something in the NFL in the future -- and all but one have a good shot at being drafted next week.
Mike Catapano, DE/LB, Princeton: Catapano had a great pro day, drawing representatives from 15 teams to watch him. The question is, where's he going to play? I think he'll probably end up with his hand on the ground, rushing straight ahead. To see how good he is, just pop in tape of Princeton's game against Cornell last season. Worth noting: The Ivy League defensive player of the year in 2012 started playing football at 8 years old -- because his mother wanted him to.
Reid Fragel, OT, Ohio State: Fragel's an interesting guy, having spent three seasons at tight end before switching to tackle. He reminds me a lot of another Ohio State product, Alex Boone, who has really matured into a nice starter for the San Francisco 49ers. The only question I have has to do with arm length: he measured 33 inches at the NFL Scouting Combine but 31 1/2 at his pro day.
Rogers Gaines, OT, Tennessee State: If Gaines were 6-2 and 298 pounds with 31-inch arms, I wouldn't want him. But he's 6-6 and 334 pounds -- and he ran a 5.24 40, which is pretty fast for a guy that size. He's also got arms that measure 36 1/4 inches, which is key because arm length is probably the most important indicator of future success for an offensive lineman. He had a bit of a knee problem that some teams are worried about, and he's a soft-looking guy who could use some time in a good conditioning program. But that just means he's an excellent candidate to be stashed on somebody's practice squad to develop, as the Green Bay Packers did with current Seattle Seahawks tackle Breno Giacomini. Another guy Gaines reminds me of: Jermon Bushrod, a fourth-round pick out of Towson in 2007 who turned into a Pro Bowler for the New Orleans Saints before landing a free-agent deal with the Chicago Bears.
Ryan Griffin, QB, Tulane: A drop-back passer with good accuracy and good arm strength, Griffin played well on an average team, though he did miss time with an injury. Griffin threw for 214 yards and two touchdowns in the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Game, netting MVP honors. As I mentioned when I shined the spotlight on Griffin in November, Griffin's mother is a big Dallas Cowboys fan; perhaps he'll land in Dallas.
Demetrius Harris, TE, Wisconsin-Milwaukee: A desire to play basketball led Harris to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where the lack of a football program put the high-school standout's gridiron career on hold. Harris' agent, Buddy Baker, is a pretty honest guy, and he thinks Harris has a chance to be something special. Harris is another guy who will need some room to develop, given his time away from the sport. Baker has experience in this area; he represented another former hoops player, Indianapolis Colts guard Joe Reitz, during his transition to the NFL.
Ryan Jensen, OT, Colorado State-Pueblo: I was kind of surprised that Jensen wasn't at the combine, especially after 21 teams showed up at Colorado's pro day to watch Jensen work out. Jensen, who has had several team visits, is very strong (lifting the bar 30 times at his pro day) and has great athletic ability. He's also a nasty player, a guy who will just stick his nose in there. I asked him why he didn't go to a school with a higher profile; he said when he got out of high school, he was 210 pounds and no one else would give him a scholarship, so he went to Colorado State-Pueblo. Now I think he's got a chance to be drafted somewhere in the fourth round. His offensive line coach with the ThunderWolves, Chris Symington, also coached current Green Bay Packers guard T.J. Lang at Eastern Michigan.
Charles Johnson, WR, Grand Valley State: Johnson, who notched 31 touchdown passes at Grand Valley State over the past two seasons, is a very good athlete, having posted a 39 1/2-inch vertical jump and 11-1 broad jump at his pro day (along with 4.38 and 4.39 40s), and he has excellent hands. You could say, "Well, he didn't face great competition," given that he played at a Division II school, but it's worth remembering that Pierre Garcon, now a standout receiver for the Washington Redskins, went to Division III Mount Union. Three teams (the Colts, Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots) were in to watch him work out, and he had several visits set. He did have to transfer from Eastern Kentucky, but he is not a character problem.
Don Jones, S, Arkansas State: Some are concerned about how quickly he'll be able to pick up on a team's system, but I have to say that when I talked to him on the phone, I was really impressed with this guy. He knew the answers to all the questions I had. He also called me back; when you get a guy who will call you back at 7:30 a.m., that's pretty good. The Alabama state champion in the 100, 200 and 400-meter dash in high school clocked 4.42- and 4.40-second 40-yard dashes at his pro day. Because he runs so well, he has the potential to be a corner.
Kyle Juszczyk, FB, Harvard: The number of coaches and team representatives who attend a prospect's pro day means so much more than any arm-chair prognosticating by outside observers. By that measure, Juszczyk has a very bright future, with 15 teams going to see him at Harvard's pro day. Juszczyk is a pretty good football player, someone who can excel in a complementary role. His best position in the NFL might be fullback or H-back; I also think he'll be a pretty good special teams player. He's one of those guys that the New England Patriots like, someone they can move around the field and use in different ways.
Ty Powell, DE, Harding: The former high school quarterback also has experience playing safety and linebacker; he's probably a little slow to be a safety in the NFL, but he would fit nicely as a drop-back 3-4 linebacker, the kind of guy that the Pittsburgh Steelers like to use. All you had to do to know about his potential was see how well he moved around at the combine, where he notched a 37-inch vertical and 10-2 broad jump. At Powell's pro day, Indianapolis Colts linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald put him through an hour-long workout; that's the kind of thing that usually says a team sees something in a guy. The Carolina Panthers have also worked him out.
Zachary Ramirez, K, Portland State: Boy, the ball just jumps off this guy's leg; I think he's the next Greg Zuerlein, the unknown kicker who burst onto the scene with the St. Louis Rams as a rookie last season. Like Zuerlein, Ramirez hardly missed in college; at the Super Regional Combine in Dallas, he hit three field goals from 55 yards out with ease. Ramirez, who went by the name Zach Brown at Portland State, attracted representatives from four teams to his pro day.
JJ Wilcox, S, Georgia Southern: It's a good sign when representatives of 20 teams attend your pro day -- on a weekend, nonetheless -- to watch you work out. Wilcox has played three positions over the past three years: receiver, slot back and safety. He also returned 31 punts last season -- for an average of 25.2 yards per return. Wilcox is a physical and athletic player with size, the kind of versatile guy everyone's looking for.
Brandon Williams, DT, Missouri Southern State: Williams (6-foot-1, 335 pounds) might not have the ideal height to be a defensive tackle in the NFL, but I think he's got the athletic ability to make an impact as an offensive lineman. He played as a true freshman at Missouri Southern State, which tells you something, and he was the Division II defensive player of the year in 2012. He's very strong and is an excellent overall football player. When I worked for the Dallas Cowboys, we successfully converted a lot of guys (like Pat Donovan, who went to four Pro Bowls after we switched him from defensive end to left tackle) who shared the same traits from the defensive to the offensive line. One AFC team did, in fact, work Williams out as an offensive lineman.
Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.