NFL draft super-sleepers

A look at possible hidden gems worth a long look late in the draft

Originally Published: April 19, 2013
By Brent Sobleski | ESPN Insider
Chad BumphisAP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisChad Bumphis may be worth a long look from NFL teams picking late in the draft.

In 2002, a young linebacker went through his pre-draft workout with his future on the line. Only one NFL coach was in attendance to watch the player sweat through his audition, his opportunity to impress beyond the tape and potentially fulfill a dream to play in the NFL.

The linebacker could be any of thousands hoping to become a professional football player. On this day it was Southern Illinois' Bart Scott. Scott beat the odds and became an 11-year veteran with the Baltimore Ravens and then the New York Jets, a Pro Bowler and a second-team All Pro. But it all came back to the fact he impressed one person.

At best, Scott would have been considered a "sleeper" by the NFL draft community at the time.

"Bart was hungry," said Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage -- a former NFL general manager and the Baltimore Ravens' director of college scouting at the time. "He had ability. And he had the chance to learn under some really good players [once he became a Raven]."

Scott wasn't drafted by Baltimore, but the Ravens quickly signed him.

NFL draft "sleepers" are generally characterized as those players who aren't highly regarded or well-known but have the potential to blossom into solid NFL players. But others might qualify as super-sleepers.

Previous examples of super-sleepers include tight end Antonio Gates, linebacker James Harrison and wide receiver Victor Cruz among many others. All of these players start as marginal to even unknown prospects. They had to impress some NFL scout or decision-maker somewhere down the line, but were for the most part not involved in the evaluation process unless they could create the interest themselves.

"Some of those players at small schools start at big schools and couldn't cut it," Savage said. "Some are late bloomers that only played one year of high school. The way college is now, they're recruiting a full year and a half in advance. If you're a late bloomer or you played for a bad high school team, you can get lost in the shuffle and end up at some outpost university or college before your find your way to the NFL.

"All of the players not at the combine have been scouted for the most part. There is a grade or two within your building that said, 'Hey, this guy should have been at the combine.' When that happens you have to believe in what you saw [on the game film], and you go back and put them through the same process that takes place in Indianapolis in regards to an interview and workout.

"Usually those players have a chip on their shoulders."

Here are five examples in this year's class.