NFL history is rich with players that were mid- to late-round draft picks or undrafted free agents who went on to become stars in the league when they were given a chance to shine. With that in mind, I thought we should take a look at prospects that might not hear their name called on the first or second day of this year's draft, but could very well be looked at as draft steals down the line. Here are my draft sleepers on defense.
He's a well-known player, having left Georgia as the SEC's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes after four years as a starter, but he's recovering from a torn ACL he suffered late last season -- he didn't go through drills at the combine -- and is likely to be a late-round pick. He'll enter the league with plenty of experience against top competition, and he's been a big-time producer. I thought he improved throughout his college career. His height (6-foot 3/8) will be held against him, but he has the makeup of a player that could surprise at the next level.
Grice didn't work out at the combine and is still recovering from a leg injury that kept him sidelined late last season, but he was a versatile, productive performer in his two years at Arizona State after transferring from junior college. I think he could eventually become a three-down back, but right now is more of a situational player. He could be a nice piece in an NFL RB rotation.
Washington showed toughness, leading Missouri in receiving yards last season (893) while battling turf toe. He has excellent size at 6-4 and the speed to be a vertical threat (ran a 4.46 40 at the combine). He also has overcome a lot of adversity get to this point and is the first in his family to graduate from college.
Gillmore earned a call-up to the Reese's Senior Bowl after the East-West Shrine Game, and he had a good week at both. I was able to watch him in each all-star game, and he was more nimble than I expected in route running. He's a proven inline blocker and more of a traditional tight end, but it doesn't mean he can't catch the ball. Gillmore had a solid combine, too -- he was among the top TE performers in the vertical jump (33.5) and broad jump (10 feet).
Turner (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) moves pretty well for a guy his size and I thought he competed well at the Senior Bowl. He certainly has good bloodlines -- his dad, Maurice, was a running back drafted by the Vikings in 1983 and his brother, Bryan Kehl, is a linebacker for the Redskins. Keep an eye out for Turner in the NFL.
He's a big, thick guard who is well-schooled in the pro-style offense having played for Bill O'Brien at Penn State. He's extremely bright, too -- Urschel won the William V. Campbell Trophy as the nation's top college football scholar athlete. He shouldn't be overlooked because of his intelligence. He's a tough blocker who can get the job done at the next level.
When Linsley was healthy and in the lineup, the Buckeyes' offense was at its best. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last season, but is ranked among the offensive linemen that will have to battle for a roster spot in the NFL. I don't know if Linsley is as good as Brian Schwenke, a fourth-round pick last year who went on to start nine games for the Titans last season, but it's not hard to envision Linsley similarly making the most of an opportunity if he receives one at the next level.