Potential 2020 NFL Draft sleepers

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James Proche at SMU

NFL free agency begins March 18th. The annual draft is three months away. A record 111 underclassmen declared early. The options to upgrade your NFL team with talent will be plentiful, if you know where to look.

I have always tried to pinpoint a few prospects this time of year who may be flying under the radar. Some overlooked players may find their way to a future Pro Bowl.

The scouting staff, along with the rest of the NFL, is well aware of these prospects. The Indianapolis Combine will commence February 23. Except for fans of the Chiefs and 49ers who square off in Super Bowl 54, others are focusing on which rookies are capable enough to come in and make an immediate impact.

Here are 20 names to consider.

The Saints are one team hoping to land a running mate for wide receiver Michael Thomas. SMU wide receiver James Proche, a 5-foot-11, 193 pounder, is a mid-to-late round round projection. He hauled in 301 career balls for 3,949 yards and 39 touchdowns. This past campaign he had 111 grabs for 1,225 yards and 15 scores. Proche is also a punt returner. He tracks the ball very well and elevates. Proche is a good back shoulder target who has great feet and body control.

Colorado’s Tony Brown (6-0, 195, 4.45) has shared the spotlight with teammate Laviska Shenault, an expected first round receiver. Brown had 51 catches for 656 yards and five scores. He wins a lot 50/50 balls and is a clutch receiver. Brown had nine catches for 150 yards and three TD’s versus Arizona State. He was a transfer from Texas Tech where he spent two seasons. Brown is a sleeper prospect with Velcro-like hands who runs good routes and thrives under pressure.

Tight end Hunter Bryant (6-2, 240) declared as a junior. He had 52 catches for 825 yards and 3 TD’s for Washington. Possessing tons of potential, the 2019 All American’s father Eric has served as a strength coach for Huskies. The youngr Bryant can split out wide as a threat but needs some work on blocking. He’d make sense as a fourth round choice.

Many mock drafts have the Saints taking a long look at the quarterbacks in the upcoming draft. The Black and Gold could spend a high draft pick or wait until the later rounds. Either way, with the uncertainty of Teddy Bridgewater, there could be a spot for a new arrival.

Chase Cookus (6-4, 205), a quarterback out of Northern Arizona, is already 23 years old. He broke school record for yards and touchdowns with 12,076 career passing yards and 105 touchdowns with only 21 interceptions. In 2019, Cookus had 4,114 yards, 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions, completing 60.3%. of his throws. Insiders compare him to Jimmy Garoppolo at the same stage of development but Cookus will be a late round choice.

Anthony Gordon (6-3, 210) ended up as the last Washington State quarterback off the assembly line of coach Mike Leach. Gordon just set the single season PAC 12 record with 5,228 yards, adding 45 touchdowns and completing 71.9% of his passes in the air Raid offense. An overachiever, Gordon did not receive a single offer following graduation from high school and only attempted five passes in 2018 serving as backup to Gardner Minshew. Gordon boasts excellent footwork, a high football IQ and a powerful arm. The ball flies off his hand. It is all about fit for Gordon in the right NFL system.

Part of a dynamic running game at Louisiana-Lafayette, offensive guard Robert Hunt (6-5, 336) has a middle round grade. His thick frame fits the NFL standard. Hunt is a good run blocker who locks onto defenders, plus he is an improved pass blocker who needs help with his footwork. The growth potential as an athlete is there, considering Hunt was an outstanding prep basketball player in Burkeville, Texas where he averaged 18.9 points and 11 rebounds.

Wide receiver Samouri Toure (6-3, 190) shined for the Montana Grizzlies. He recorded 87 grabs for 1,495 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. Against Southeastern Louisiana in the FCS playoffs, Toure’s 12 catch, 303-yard performance (with three touchdowns) broke Randy Moss’ postseason record. Toure will open eyes at NFL workouts.

Defensive end Alex Highsmith (6-4, 242, 4.76) was a walk-on at Charlotte who has built himself into a real feel good story. He only had offers from Davidson and Furman but the first-team All-Conference USA performer comes off of a 14 sack season in 2019. Explosive off the edge, Highsmith re-shaped his body. He bends edge as a rusher and disengages quickly. He currently has a third or fourth round projection.

Defensive end Tipa Galeai (6-5, 235) of Utah State transferred there from TCU after he was dismissed in Fort Worth for an violent altercation with a fellow student. While at Utah State, he had 10.5 sacks in 2018 and five more this past season. His relentless, hot motor makes him a great pass rusher. Similar to Saints’ undrafted free agent Carl Granderson, he could find a roll in the league.

Weakside linebacker Malik Harrison (6-3, 240) out of Ohio State entered Senior Bowl week as a potential third or fourth rounder. He can make an early mark as a special teamer. Harrison made 24.5 tackles for loss over the past two seasons for the Buckeyes.

Outside linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither (6-2, 215, 4.55) out of Appalachian State was a two star recruit out of Thomasville, North Carolina. He had 209 tackles the past two seasons combined, with 14.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 2019.. He had good technique, range, instincts and athleticism. Davis-Gaither covers the flats well and shows good burst to the ball. He could be a steal as a fifth rounder.

Inside linebacker Dante Olsen (6-3, 240) out of Montana had 397 career tackles including 151 stops, 11 for loss, with six sacks. Olsen reminds me of A.J. Klein. He is a first team FCS All American and Buck Buchanan Award winner (FCS defensive player of the Year). He diagnoses plays quickly thanks to a high IQ like a coach on the field. I say he’ll be a mid round steal.

Now here is my Super Sleeper, Kyle Dugger (6-2, 220) out of Lenior Rhyne. He runs a 4.41 forty with a 40″ vertical and 10’11” standing long jump. He has put 20 reps on the bench press test. He played safety in college but projects to outside linebacker. Dugger is skilled enough to serve as punt returner. He forces fumbles with his hits but he is also a reliable wrap up tackler who comes downhill a gives full effort at all times. He should test well at the NFL Combine. Dugger is currently projected as a fourth rounder.

Luke Juriga (6-4, 298), a center and guard out of Western Michigan, was a four-year starter. His father Jim was a fourth round pick by the Denver Broncos in 1986 and made 42 pro starts including Super Bowl XXIV played in New Orleans. Tough as nails who never missed snaps due to injury, Juriga’s technique is already at a high level. He was on Outland and Rimington watch lists.

Tanner Muse (6-1, 225), safety from Clemson, was a 2019 Jim Thorpe semifinalist and recorded 65 tackles with five interceptions this past season. He can blitz off the edge as an added threat. Muse understands secondary coverage details and has a knack for big plays thanks to lots of film study and taking great angles to the ball. He is a late round projection who may wind up at outside linebacker.

Richie Grant (6-0, 194, 4.58), safety from UCF, had 78 tackles in 2019, including 12 stops vs. Tulane. In 2018, eh racked up 108 tackles and six interceptions. Grant is a leader and a “baller” who forces turnovers. He reads QB eyes as a ball hawk. The former two-star prospect in 2016 with his only offers coming from UCF and Georgia State is a fifth round projection.

Jaron Bryant (6-1, 185), cornerback from Fresno State, made 178 career tackles with six interceptions. He challenges the run. Bryant is an outstanding special teamer who blocks kicks including two vs. Idaho.

Defensive end Ron’dell Carter (6-3, 270) out of James Madison made 59 tackles with 25.5 for loss and 11.5 sacks this past season. He overpowers blockers. A transfer from Rutgers in 2017, Carter has a hot motor and can run. the Buck Buchanan finalist projects as a late rounder.

Shyheim Carter (6-0, 195), a cornerback out of Alabama who runs a sub-4.5 forty brings talent and experience to the next level. He played in 49 career games with 22 starts for the Crimson Tide and developed into a good slot cover. The former Kentwood Kangaroo was a four-year prep starter and Class 1A state MVP. He projects as a third or fourth round pick.

Cameron Dantzler (6-2, 185) arrived at Mississippi State as a three-star prospect out of St. Thomas Aquinas in Hammond. The lanky cornerback should be an early second day pick in draft although I have seen him even projected in the first round. The early entry junior made 107 tackles with five interceptions in 2019. He rarely allows completions, even limiting Biletnikoff winner Ja’Marr Chase this past season. Dantzler has elite athleticism and all the skills to be a lockdown, physical cover man.

16 additional players who have graduated also eligible for selection

The National Football League announced today the names of 99 players who have been granted special eligibility for the 2020 NFL Draft and 16 players who have fulfilled their degree requirements with college football eligibility remaining and are also eligible for selection in the April 23-25 draft in Las Vegas.

The following 16 players have in timely fashion under NFL rules officially notified the league office that they have fulfilled their degree requirements. Consequently, they are eligible for selection:

Name Pos College
1 Benjamin, Eno RB Arizona State
2 Betiku, Oluwole DE Illinois
3 Cushenberry, Lloyd C Louisiana State
4 Davis, Quartney WR Texas A&M
5 Gilman, Alohi DB Notre Dame
6 Hennessy, Matt C Temple
7 Holmes, Darnay DB UCLA
8 Ismael, Keith C San Diego State
9 Johnson, Jaylon DB Utah
10 Jones, Tony RB Notre Dame
11 Lewis, Terrell LB Alabama
12 Love, Jordan QB Utah State
13 Lumor, Elorm DE Rutgers
14 Miller, Houston DE Texas Tech
15 Murray, Kenneth LB Oklahoma
16 Simmons, Isaiah LB Clemson

Each of the 99 players listed below have met the league’s three-year eligibility rule and have renounced their college football eligibility by submitting written notification to the league office on or before the January 17 deadline. Consequently, they are eligible for selection:

The players granted special eligibility for the 2020 NFL Draft:
Name Pos College
1 Ahmed, Salvon RB Washington
2 Akers, Cam RB Florida State
3 Arnold, Grayland DB Baylor
4 Asiasi, Devin TE UCLA
5 Bandy, Trajan DB Miami (Fla.)
6 Becton, Mekhi T Louisville
7 Biadasz, Tyler C Wisconsin
8 Blacklock, Ross DT Texas Christian
9 Bowden, Lynn WR Kentucky
10 Brown, Marcus DE Missouri Western
11 Bryant, Hunter TE Washington
12 Cephus, Quintez WR Wisconsin
13 Chaisson, K’Lavon LB Louisiana State
14 Charles, Saahdiq T Louisiana State
15 Cleveland, Ezra T Boise State
16 Coe, Nick DE Auburn
17 Colon-Castillo, Trystan C Missouri
18 Coulter, Isaiah WR Rhode Island
19 Curl, Kamren DB Arkansas
20 Dallas, DeeJay RB Miami (Fla.)
21 Dantzler, Cameron DB Mississippi State
22 Davis, Gabriel WR Central Florida
23 Davis, Kyle WR Florida Atlantic
24 Delpit, Grant DB Louisiana State
25 Dillon, AJ RB Boston College
26 Dobbins, J.K. RB Ohio State
27 Eason, Jacob QB Washington
28 Edwards-Helaire, Clyde RB Louisiana State
29 Elliott, Jordan DT Missouri
30 Epenesa, A.J. DE Iowa
31 Evans, Darrynton RB Appalachian State
32 Fromm, Jake QB Georgia
33 Garvin, Jonathan DE Miami (Fla.)
34 Gay, Willie LB Mississippi State
35 Gross-Matos, Yetur DE Penn State
36 Guerriero, Pete RB Monmouth, N.J.
37 Guidry, Javelin DB Utah
38 Hamler, K.J. WR Penn State
39 Hand, Harrison DB Temple
40 Henderson, C.J. DB Florida
41 Higgins, Tee WR Clemson
42 Hodgins, Isaiah WR Oregon State
43 Igbinoghene, Noah DB Auburn
44 Jackson, Austin T Southern California
45 Jackson, Trishton WR Syracuse
46 Jefferson, Justin WR Louisiana State
47 Jeudy, Jerry WR Alabama
48 Keene, Dalton TE Virginia Tech
49 Kindley, Solomon G Georgia
50 Kmet, Cole TE Notre Dame
51 Lamb, CeeDee WR Oklahoma
52 Leake, Javon RB Maryland
53 Lynch, James DT Baylor
54 Madubuike, Justin DT Texas A&M
55 McDonald, Cole QB Hawaii
56 McFarland, Anthony RB Maryland
57 McKinney, Xavier DB Alabama
58 Moss, Thaddeus TE Louisiana State
59 Muti, Netane T Fresno State
60 Newman, Tomas DB Virginia-Lynchburg
61 Okudah, Jeff DB Ohio State
62 Okwuegbunam, Albert TE Missouri
63 Parkinson, Colby TE Stanford
64 Peoples-Jones, Donovan WR Michigan
65 Phillips, Jacob LB Louisiana State
66 Pierre, James DB Florida Atlantic
67 Queen, Patrick LB Louisiana State
68 Reagor, Jalen WR Texas Christian
69 Renfro, Debione DB Texas A&M
70 Robertson, Amik DB Louisiana Tech
71 Robinson, Kenny DB West Virginia
72 Rogers, Kendrick WR Texas A&M
73 Ruggs, Henry WR Alabama
74 Ruiz, Cesar C Michigan
75 Salomon, Darnell WR South Florida
76 Samuels, Stanford DB Florida State
77 Scott, Josiah DB Michigan State
78 Shenault, Laviska WR Colorado
79 Siposs, Arryn P Auburn
80 Stone, Geno DB Iowa
81 Swift, D’Andre RB Georgia
82 Tagovailoa, Tua QB Alabama
83 Taylor, Jonathan RB Wisconsin
84 Taylor, Tabyus RB Virginia Union
85 Terrell, A.J. DB Clemson
86 Thomas, Andrew T Georgia
87 Thomas, Jeff WR Miami (Fla.)
88 Turk, Michael P Arizona State
89 Warren, Michael RB Cincinnati
90 Watkins, Quez WR Southern Mississippi
91 Weaver, Curtis DE Boise State
92 White, Cody WR Michigan State
93 Wills, Jedrick T Alabama
94 Wilson, Isaiah T Georgia
95 Winfield, Antoine DB Minnesota
96 Wirfs, Tristan T Iowa
97 Woodward, David LB Utah State
98 Young, Chase DE Ohio State
99 Young, Toren RB Iowa

The following players inquired about their draft status and are eligible for selection without the need for special eligibility:
Name Pos School
1 McClease, Deshawn RB Virginia Tech
2 Strickland, Carlos WR Texas-San Antonio
3 Taylor, J.J. RB Arizona
4 Williams, Ty’Son RB Brigham Young
5 Uche, Josh LB Michigan

The number of players granted special eligibility for the NFL Draft the past 10 years:

Year Players Granted Special Eligibility Year Players Granted Special Eligibility
2020 99 2015 74
2019 103 2014 98
2018 106 2013 73
2017 95 2012 65
2016 96 2011 5

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Rene Nadeau

Rene Nadeau

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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