Scouts love the month of March because they get an opportunity to trek across the country in hopes of discovering a hidden gem that has been overlooked by the scouting community.
Though these "sleepers" have been cited by their respective coaches as players with potential to excel in the NFL, they have somehow flown under the radar due to injuries or inconsistent production throughout their college career.
However, keen scouts have paid close attention to their progress over the player's senior season and continued to monitor performances in workouts.
Additionally, those scouts have started to compile highlight tapes that show off the immense potential of these unheralded draft hopefuls. The video evidence only bolsters the scouts' claims that these prospects will have success as pros due to their instincts, athleticism or work ethic.
With scouts starting to stake claims on "their guys," let's take a look at some of the prospects that are generating significant buzz in war rooms across the league.
Dorin Dickerson, TE, Pittsburgh: Scouts have fallen in love with Dickerson after watching him shine at the NFL Scouting Combine. He posted top numbers in nearly every category at the workout and dazzled evaluators with his explosiveness in drills. In addition to his impressive performance in workouts, Dickerson's outstanding skills shine on tape. He is a natural pass catcher with outstanding hands who creates matchup problems on the perimeter. At 6-foot-2, 226 pounds with 4.4 speed, Dickerson is simply too big for most defensive backs and too fast for linebackers in space. Throw in Dickerson's overall versatility as a player (he has played wide receiver, linebacker, fullback and tight end), scouts and coaches are undoubtedly intrigued by the possibility of adding such a dynamic talent to their roster.
Sean Lee, LB, Penn State: Lee may have toiled in relative anonymity during his tenure in Happy Valley, but scouts have long recognized his exceptional talent and instincts. As a dynamic playmaker with outstanding awareness and field presence, Lee plays much faster than his recorded times (he runs the 40 in the 4.60-4.65 range) and shows a remarkable knack for getting around the ball in key moments. Lee has repeatedly delivered big plays in the clutch, and those innate skills have scouts envisioning him blossoming into a solid starter very early in his pro career.
Koa Misi, DE, Utah: Misi has created quite a stir in the scouting community after dominating the Mountain West Conference as a defensive end the past three seasons. As an athletic pass rusher with explosive quickness and a relentless motor, Misi excels at getting to the quarterback off the edge. While Misi has the size and speed to play as a defensive end in some 4-3 systems, he is being projected as an outside linebacker by 3-4 teams in search of an explosive hybrid edge rusher. After watching Misi put on a stellar showing at the Senior Bowl and in individual workouts, scouts are tabbing him as one of the draft's biggest sleepers.
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In between the combine and the draft, NFL coaches and personnel turn their attention to pro day workouts. Gil Brandt is providing daily updates from these events. More ...
Montario Hardesty, RB, Tennessee: Hardesty suffered through his share of ups and downs during the early part of his career, but emerged as a dominant runner in the SEC as a senior. Hardesty, who finished as the league's fourth-leading rusher with 1,345 yards and 13 touchdowns, is one of the few "big" backs available who possesses the skills to be a multi-dimensional threat out of the backfield. A hard-nosed runner with nifty running skills and instincts, Hardesty is a grinder with the requisite toughness to effectively run between the tackles. Additionally, he possesses soft hands and is a capable receiver out of the backfield. While he has some durability concerns based on his injury history, running back coaches across the league have circled Hardesty's name as one to watch in the middle stages of the draft.
E.J. Wilson, DE, North Carolina: Wilson didn't deliver exceptional production during his career, but scouts view him as a player on the rise due to his dramatically improved play as a senior. Wilson occasionally wreaked havoc off the edge as a pass rusher (4.0 sacks) but was most effective as a rugged defender against the run (12 tackles for loss). He has the strength to overwhelm blockers at the point of attack, and his relentless motor allows him to create a handful of negative plays off the edge. Wilson dominated the Texas vs The Nation all-star game while displaying those traits, and scouts are hoping that performance is indicative of the kind of impact he can provide as a potential mid-round selection.