2021 NFL Draft Sleepers: 10 Late-Round Picks Who Could Become Pro Stars
Here’s our list of 2021 NFL Draft Sleepers: 10 Late-Round Picks Who Could Become NFL Stars. In every draft, there are a few players who end up being selected on Day 3 and wind up becoming stars in the NFL. Recent examples include George Kittle (fifth round), Aaron Jones (fifth round) and Maxx Crosby (fourth round). Today, we are looking at 20 players who will likely be selected after the top-100 picks who could be high-end starters sooner rather than later.
When you’re finished checking out our 2021 NFL Draft Sleepers, read our full slate of 2021 NFL Draft content:
- 2021 NFL Draft 1st-Round Mock
- 2021 NFL Draft Trevor Lawrence Scouting Report
- Our full 2021 NFL Draft analysis
2021 NFL Draft Sleepers: 10 Late-Round Picks Who Could Become NFL Stars
1. Kylin Hill, RB, Mississippi State
After a 1,500-yard season in 2019, Kylin Hill didn’t gel with Mike Leach and the coaching staff. He opted out after three games but was still incredibly productive whenever he was on the field. In the first game of the season against LSU, he caught eight passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. Two weeks later, he caught 15 passes against Kentucky.
He’s arguably the best receiving running back in the class and has elite physical tools. In the NFL, that’s good enough to get on the field.
Hill needs some work around the edges, but he has all the traits to become a high-level starting running back in the NFL. He’s got outstanding hands and can make defenders miss in the open field. At 215 pounds, he runs in the low 4.5s and can win with quickness or power.
Don’t be surprised if he is selected in the fourth or fifth round and becomes a featured running back for a team by the 2022 season. He is incredibly talented and just needs to find the right team in order to be a successful NFL player.
2. Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State
Another running back that could be better in the NFL than in college is Ohio State’s Trey Sermon. Sermon’s teams made the playoffs in each of his four collegiate seasons. However, he was never the featured running back: The most touches he ever had in his career were 176, back in 2018 with the Oklahoma Sooners.
Still, he was incredibly productive and efficient, averaging 6.5 yards per carry on 455 carries in his college career.
Sermon has ideal size at 6-foot, 222 pounds, and his balance and power are unbelievable. He doesn’t have home-run speed. He is projected to run a 40-yard dash in the mid-4.5s.
However, his ability to cut quickly and get downhill will remind scouts of Arian Foster. For a team looking for a “hammer” at running back, such as the Arizona Cardinals or Miami Dolphins, Sermon would make a ton of sense as a Day 3 option at running back.
3. Jaelon Darden, WR, North Texas
The NFL is obsessed with speed and can’t get enough of it. That is why we saw someone like Henry Ruggs III be the No. 1 receiver selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. If you can run your 40 in the 4.3s (or better), you can bet that NFL teams will be interested.
One player in this year’s class with that type of speed is North Texas wide receiver Jaelon Darden. Despite being incredibly small for the position (listed at 5-foot-9, 174 pounds), Darden has the rare combination of elite speed and quickness. But not only is he fast, but he’s incredibly productive, as well. He totaled 1,936 yards from scrimmage and 31 touchdowns in his last two collegiate seasons. He’s nearly impossible to tackle due to his twitchiness and has natural receiving ability.
Look for him to come off the board sometime on Day 3 — but to make big plays right away on both offense and special teams as a rookie.
4. Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina
If a team is searching for a slot receiver that can produce as a rookie, look no further than Shi Smith of South Carolina. First and foremost, the Gamecocks have had a lot of recent success with pass catchers as Deebo Samuel, Hayden Hurst and Bryan Edwards, all making contributions in the NFL. Smith played alongside all three of those players in 2017 as a freshman and was still incredibly productive, catching 29 passes for 409 yards and three touchdowns.
Smith is a natural receiver in the slot as he has fantastic hands and is a nuanced route runner. At the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl, not a single defender on either roster could cover him 1-on-1. But due to less-than-ideal physical traits, he’s likely to fall to the third day of the draft.
However, look for him to find his way onto the field as a rookie and shine from the slot.
5. Kenny Yeboah, TE, Ole Miss
The 2021 tight end class is very good and deep this year, with talent in every round. But if you are searching for a Day 3 option with some developmental upside, Kenny Yeboah is a name to watch. Yeboah is an explosive athlete with a knack for making big plays down the field.
During his final season at Mississippi State, he averaged 19.4 yards per reception. He is also experienced, playing 34 games in college at Temple and Ole Miss.
Yeboah has all the traits to be an excellent “move” tight end in the NFL. He could also function as an H-back if needed. Don’t be surprised if Yeboah has a Jonnu Smith-like career in the NFL as an athletic tight end who can make plays in space in a play-action offense.
6. Quinn Meinerz, OC, Wisconsin-Whitewater
No player improved his draft stock more at the Senior Bowl than Quinn Meinerz. Heading into the Senior Bowl, Meinerz was a borderline draftable player coming out of Wisconsin-Whitewater. But after dominating nearly every single rep, he has a chance to be selected in the third or fourth round.
At 6-foot-2, 320 pounds, he has the ideal size for the center position. During the 2020 season, a year in which he didn’t play college football due to COVID-19, he dramatically improved his strength. Now, he can anchor against defensive tackles 1-on-1and has shown the movement skills to play in a stretch-zone scheme.
There are still some questions about how his game will translate to the NFL from the Division III level, but the Senior Bowl put him on the map as a potential option for teams on Day 3 if they need a center.
7. Quincy Roche, DE, Miami
The NFL is obsessed with size on the defensive line. However, that doesn’t mean you can find productive edge rushers that are a tad undersized. A smaller defensive end likely to out-produce his draft spot is Miami’s Quincy Roche. Originally from Temple, Roche transferred to Miami in 2020 and continued to dominate.
In 10 games with the Hurricanes, he recorded 14.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. In his four years in college football, he totaled 54 tackles for a loss and 30.5 sacks. His elite speed and quickness off the edge could allow him to be an Elvis Dumervil-type of player in the NFL.
If he is available anytime after the top 50 picks, he will be a steal for whatever team selects him.
8. Tarron Jackson, DE, Coastal Carolina
Another late-round defensive end that could become a high-level player in the NFL is Tarron Jackson of Coastal Carolina. Despite being a zero-star recruit out of high school, Jackson went on to have a great college football career, totaling 42 tackles for a loss and 24.5 sacks. In 2020, he was a consensus All-American selection after leading Coastal Carolina with one of the best defenses in college football.
At 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, he doesn’t have elite height for the defensive end position, and his lack of flexibility will likely knock him down draft boards. However, he is so physical and a chore for offensive tackles to block 1-on-1.
Look for Jackson to make a name for himself as a run defender early in his career and ultimately develop into a do-it-all defensive end despite likely being picked in the fourth or fifth round.
9. Charles Snowden, LB, Virginia
Imagine what a 6-foot-7, 245-pound off-the-ball linebacker would look like in the NFL. Imagine if this player had 4.60 speed and could also rush the passer.
Well, that is precisely what Charles Snowden is. Snowden is a pretty raw player who Virginia didn’t always know how to use. They often asked him to go be an athlete and create plays. To his credit, he did that, recording 30.5 career tackles for a loss and 15 sacks. He also had 15 pass breakups and that shouldn’t be all that surprising given his elite length.
Because he is a projection in the NFL, he’s not likely to be selected in the first three rounds of the draft. But if he gets with the right coach and continues to add strength and power to his game, the sky is the limit for Snowden.
We’ve never seen a player like him in the NFL before, and that will scare off some teams. However, the ceiling and the upside are just too high to ignore.
10. Talanoa Hufanga, SS, USC
In-the-box strong safeties aren’t en vogue in today’s NFL. Those players can often be taken off the field if they can’t survive in coverage.
However, there is a specific type of strong safety that can make it in the NFL, and that is a player who can be an enforcer on defense. USC’s Talanoa Hufanga can fill that role as he is a rocked-up safety at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds. His body resembles a weakside linebacker’s in today’s league and that is the role in which he excels.
Put him near the line of scrimmage and he will make play after play. He’s not awful in coverage, either, recording four interceptions during the 2020 season. While that certainly isn’t his strength, he can get by when in zone coverage.
Hufanga should be a menace on special teams early in his career and could work his way onto the field as a nickel linebacker by Year 2. But don’t be surprised if he turns into a starting strong safety in the NFL on defense that wants to be a bit more physical in the middle of the field.
Now that you’ve read 2021 NFL Draft Sleepers: 10 Late-Round Picks Who Could Become Pro Stars, stay tuned for more NFL Draft analysis. Then, after the 2021 NFL Draft, we’ll cover whether these 2021 Draft Sleepers
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