These draft sleepers could slip through the cracks
By Eric Edholm (email@example.com)
April 1, 2004
For you draftniks out there who are fueled by caffeine and fever on Draft Day, waiting for your team to pick 37 spots from now, hanging on every word of — by that point — Gene Washington as the second day of the NFL draft labors on, this column is for you.
The first-round blue-chippers will already be settled in at their new NFL cities, tossing out clichés to the media about just being happy that “some team drafted them” and how they “can’t wait to get started,” at the same time that the guys I am about to write about will be picked. Some of these prospects might not even be drafted. But for one reason or another they have a chance. Maybe they caught the eye of a single scout (it just takes one). Perhaps they made a single play of tape that opens the eye of a weary personnel guy as he rolls through the tape of a Division I-AA game from last September.
They might not get the press of an Eli Manning or a Robert Gallery, and they certainly do not have the pedigrees of the top-rated players, but three weeks from Saturday (or more likely, Sunday), these could be the sleepers whom your team picks deep into Sunday when the pickings get slim. Chances are, none of these guys is a star.
And every now and then, you’ll find a Tom Brady or a David Givens or a Matt Hasselbeck in the lower rounds, and there have been plenty of undrafed players — Kurt Warner, Dominic Rhodes and Jake Delhomme, to name a few — who have gone on to become pretty darned good players. Think about the quarterbacks from the past three Super Bowls: Brady (twice), Delhomme, Warner, Rich Gannon and Brad Johnson. Brady was a sixth-rounder; Gannon was a fourth-round pick — as a safety — of the Patriots in 1987; and Johnson was an eighth-rounder. Unfortunately for you draft fans, there is no more eighth round.
But here are the guys — players whom the late Joel Buchsbaum, and now Nolan Nawrocki, would find out about before you and I do and report about them in Pro Football Weekly's Draft Preview book — who have an outside shot of joining the ranks of the rags-to-riches players somewhere down the road:
QB Scott Krause, Wisconsin-Stevens Point — Krause’s father was a kick returner for the Packers who had a 100-yard return against the Steelers. A four-year starter, he has become known for his knack for fourth-quarter comebacks (sound like Delhomme at all?). He’s a little light at 6-3 and 208 pounds, but Brady needed to add weight when he was a rookie too. Krause should make some team’s training camp.
RB Derrick Ward, Ottawa (Kan.) — The ex-Fresno State bruiser averaged an impressive 5.9 yards per carry as a freshman before transferring. Knee and academic problems derailed him for a little bit in 2000, but Ward re-emerged at Ottawa, where he showed decent burst. At nearly 5-11 and 230, he’d be a good fit in a power running game, but he also showed soft hands in the Blue-Gray All-Star Game.
TE Ben Moa, Utah — One of eight semifinalists this year for the John Mackey Award, given to the nation's top tight end, Moa has tons of baggage in his background, including a troubled childhood and a gunshot wound that nearly killed him in 2000. Yet those around him say he has reformed. His skill is unquestioned, and he could fit a role at 6-1 and 252 pounds similar to what Jim Kleinsasser does for the Vikings. Moa was a “flex” tight end in college who also lined up at the Y-WR spot at times and ran the ball effectively as a tailback. He even threw a game-winning pass for a two-point conversion to finish off a 45-43 triple-overtime win over Air Force.
TE Matt Brandt, Miami (Ohio) — A former QB, Brandt (6-4, 250) is still raw, but he became top prospect QB Ben Roethlisberger’s main go-to target by the end of last season. Because he knows the passing routes and seams so well, he gets open well and is a nice target. Brandt’s blocking still needs work, but some compare him to a poor man’s Christian Fauria.
WR Clarence Moore, Northern Arizona — Moore’s biggest asset is his size, and with teams looking more and more for mismatches against smaller cornerbacks, he could sneak into the late fourth round. Although he still needs some polish, Moore measured out at an impressive 6-foot-5 and 211 pounds at the Combine and had a good performance there. Scouts think he could be a dangerous red-zone target.
OT Brad Lekkerkerker, Cal-Davis — He was offered some big-time scholarships coming out of high school despite not playing varsity sports, but the massive Lekkerkerker plied his trade in Davis, where he developed into a very intriguing pro prospect. His size alone (6-7, 317) probably will get him drafted, though he will be 25 years old as a rookie and his technique needs work. He’ll go late in the draft and could use a patient OL coach.
DE Tony Hargrove, Georgia Tech — Hargrove couldn't make grades last season and was ruled ineligible. He’ll be one of the youngest rookies in the NFL next season at 20, but his raw athleticism and a decent frame (6-3, 265) with room to grow should make some team bite on him as a developmental project late on Day Two.
DT Ryan Boschetti, UCLA — Boschetti spent time away from school as a personal trainer, during which he bulked up from 245 to more than 300 pounds in a relatively short time. A hard-nosed competitor, Boschetti could be a perfect reserve one-gap tackle whose high motor will attract some team on Draft Day.
OLB Billy Strother, New Mexico — No, he’s no Brian Urlacher, but Strother is a fine athlete who makes up for his lack of height (a whisker under 6-0) and put on a decent enough display at the Combine to attract the attention of some NFL people. He’ll probably have to make it first as a special-teams player, but Strother is gifted enough to land on an NFL roster.
OLB Isaac Brown, Washington State — Having never played upright before, it’s difficult to project Brown on the next level, but he has shown some strong edge rushing skills, lining up opposite fellow Cougars DE D.D. Acholonu. Both lined up last season in three-point stances and will need to show they can flow well against the run and add size, but pre-draft workouts have been encouraging.
CB Kevin Millhouse, Hawaii — Millhouse got off to a great start this offseason by debunking the notion that he had average speed. He ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at his pro day, and at 6-0 and 200, that will get you some notice. His stock has improved from that of a priority free agent to a player who's likely to be drafted somewhere in the sixth or seventh — possibly late fifth — round. He was the only 6-foot cornerback in this year’s draft to run a sub-4.4 40.
FS Curtis DeLoatch, North Carolina A&T — Some scouts project DeLoatch to become a huge (6-2, 214) cornerback on the next level, but others see him as a rangy safety who runs and covers very well in space. The big knock on him is his hitting and run-stopping ability, but his great combination of size, speed and athletic ability is too good for some team picking late to overlook. He also has experience returning punts.
FS Ben Nauman, Augustana (S.D.) — Nauman (6-1, 198) is your classic Matt Bowen-like head-knocker who might not be the world’s greatest athlete, but he opened some eyes with strong 40-times of 4.48 and 4.49 at his pro day. Nauman likely will make his greatest impact on special teams, where he is fearless and ferocious. With less than 4 percent body fat, he’s a physical specimen, and he showed his toughness this season by playing the remainder of the North Dakota game after breaking his thumb.