Finding a true “sleeper" in the NFL Draft is more difficult now than ever. Everybody has heard about the top prospects for years now, and with the NFL Draft becoming more popular by the year, it’s tough for any prospect to sneak up on anyone.
However, a few players slide under the radar and become much better players in the NFL than they were in college.
Today, we are looking at a handful of players who will likely be selected outside of the top 50 picks but could become stars in the NFL.
NFL Draft sleepers below are listed in descending order of position, not necessarily ranked by likelihood that they’ll break out.
NFL Draft Sleepers 2022
Jack Coan, QB, Notre Dame
Finding successful Day 3 quarterbacks is nearly impossible. The league only produces a few NFL starters on Day 3 every decade. But there are a number of backup quarterbacks that have long careers that are picked in the fourth and fifth round.
One quarterback that could fit that mold this year is Jack Coan from Notre Dame. He spent the first four years of his career at Wisconsin and was the full-time starter in 2019. During that season, he completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and averaged 8.0 yards per attempt.
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Coan then transferred to Notre Dame and had a great year in 2021, improving his yards per attempt average to 8.2 and throwing 25 touchdowns in 13 games.
Coan is your traditional pro-style quarterback who isn’t going to win with his legs. However, he is mobile enough to move around the pocket and isn’t afraid to stand tall and make throws. His arm strength is certainly good enough for the NFL.
With his ability to throw down the field and be aggressive, he should have a long career as an NFL backup. If he lands with the right team and gets into the right situation, he might be able to surprise people around the league.
He’s probably the only Day 3 quarterback worth gambling on in this year’s class.
James Cook, RB, Georgia
There isn’t a first-round running back in this year’s draft, but there is some outstanding depth on Day 2 and 3. One player that should be a significant value is Georgia’s James Cook, who was never a starter in Athens. However, he is the big-play weapon that helped the team defeat Alabama in the National Championship game.
Cook is the younger brother of Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook, and their games are similar, though James might have more home-run speed and is a big weapon in the passing game.
- Read Marcus Mosher’s early 2022 NFL Mock Draft for Round 1.
However, he is a bit smaller (only 190 pounds), and he probably isn’t an every-down back in the NFL. But his slashing style will be loved by zone-blocking teams — just look at Tony Pollard in Dallas.
A team looking to add more explosive plays in their offense would love to grab Cook the third day of the draft. Most draft sites don’t even list him as one of the top ten running backs in this year’s class, but that’s a mistake. Cook will be a much more productive NFL player than he was in college.
Wan’Dale Robinson, WR, Kentucky
The 2022 draft class has some incredible wide receiver depth, but there is absolutely no consensus as to who is the best receiver or the order of the top ten receivers. However, one player that is guaranteed to exceed expectations is Kentucky’s Wan’Dale Robinson.
After transferring from Nebraska after the 2020 season, Robinson was a star in the SEC in 2021. He totaled more than 1,400 yards from scrimmage for the Wildcats and was their best offensive weapon.
Robinson is a menace after the catch, and his competitiveness is easy to spot. He’s not a burner, but he is a twitchy athlete that has no problem making defenders miss in the open field.
Robinson will need to fall to the right team to utilize him correctly, but he isn’t that different from Elijah Moore (2021 second-round pick by the Jets) as a prospect. He’ll be a steal anytime after the top-50 picks in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State
Tight end is one of the more difficult positions to project in the NFL. Typically, it takes them at least a few years to catch up to the speed of the NFL. But one who should be able to produce right away is Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar.
Kolar was a four-year player for the Cyclones, catching 168 passes for 2,181 yards. He scored at least six touchdowns in three consecutive seasons and was one of the more productive tight ends in Big 12 history.
Kolar isn’t fast or explosive, but he has excellent size at 6-feet-6-inches and 260 pounds. He profiles as more of a Cole Kmet-type of tight end in the NFL but likely won’t be picked until late on Day 2 or early on Day 3.
However, if he can improve as a blocker, Kolar has all the traits to be an above-average tight end in the NFL. He is someone worth gambling on considering his size and college production.
Cole Strange, C, Chattanooga
There isn’t anything physically appealing about Cole Strange. He is barely over 300 pounds. His muscles aren’t especially toned and he plays without any gloves or armbands. He almost looks like a mannequin at your local Foot Locker. But Strange is a fantastic player.
Strange probably only fits a zone-blocking team, but he could be a Pro Bowler at the next level in the right situation. He is incredibly tough and has incredible feel for the position. He never is in the wrong spot and will compete until well after the whistle.
He certainly isn’t the biggest or strongest center, but he might be the toughest. And at that position, that can certainly be enough to win for a long time in the NFL.
The NFL Draft is ALL about finding value, but who are the 4 BEST sleepers to watch 🤫
— The Game Day NFL (@TheGameDayNFL) April 21, 2022
Perrion Winfrey, DT, Oklahoma
It might not be fair to call Perrion Winfrey a “sleeper” after his performance at the Senior Bowl. Not only did he dominate practices all week, but he was named the Senior Bowl MVP after a fantastic performance in the game.
Winfrey doesn’t have elite production, but he has remarkable quickness and size. In fact, his nearly 86-inch wingspan will be the third-longest in NFL history once he’s drafted — and he knows how to use it.
- Click for Marcus’ NFL Draft Prospect Position Rankings.
Once he is up the field, Winfrey can grab ball carriers with ease and take up a ton of space. Additionally, Winfrey is a violent player with a ton of explosiveness in his lower legs. He just needs to be more consistent to become a dominant player.
Teams looking for a defensive tackle with upside after the top-50 picks should consider Winfrey. He might end up being the best in the class, and at worst, he should be a rotational defensive tackle right away in the NFL.
DeAngelo Malone, EDGE, Western Kentucky
DeAngelo Malone has two significant things going against him, the first being that he is from a smaller school in Western Kentucky. However, that hasn’t mattered to NFL teams lately — seven players from Western Kentucky have been drafted since 2016.
The second problem is that Malone weighs roughly 240 pounds, which is very light for an EDGE defender.
If you can get past those two issues, Malone is an incredible player. He totaled 59 tackles for loss and 32.5 sacks during his collegiate career. He’s been a dominant pass rusher for years, and that carried over to the Senior Bowl.
Malone might have to be a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL, but he has the speed and flexibility to be a special rusher at the next level. If he can bulk up some and prove that he can hold up against the run, he should be an NFL starter in no time.
Damone Clark, LB, LSU
Damone Clark is one of my favorite players in this year’s class, but he has yet to get the praise he deserves. He has the ideal body to be a middle linebacker in the NFL with outstanding athleticism and toughness. On top of his frame, his production at LSU was incredible — he racked up nearly 250 tackles over the last three seasons.
What makes Clark such an easy evaluation is his love for football. He was awarded the No. 18 at LSU in 2021, given to the player with the best work ethic and football character. Clark is an outstanding leader and was the captain of the LSU defense during the 2021 season.
His only real knock is that he lacks elite instincts, but he is everything you would want from a linebacker prospect.
Considering that some of the “big” draft analysts have him outside of the top-75 players in this year’s class, he could be a huge steal. Don’t be surprised if Clark is a Year 1 starter for a team in 2022.
Troy Andersen, LB, Montana State
Some players are just football players. I know that is hard to explain, but that’s the best way to describe Troy Andersen from Montana State.
Andersen started his career as a running back in 2017 before becoming the team’s starting quarterback in 2018. He was First-Team All-Big Sky during that season after rushing for over 1,400 yards and scoring 21 touchdowns.
He then moved to linebacker during the 2019 season, where he was a First Team All-Big Sky selection. And then in 2021, he was named the FCS Defensive Player of the Year after recording nearly 150 tackles and 14 tackles for a loss. He has dominated every position he has ever played (QB, RB, LB), which has to be appealing to NFL teams.
What is really encouraging about Andersen is that he didn’t look out of place at the Senior Bowl in Mobile. He showed a knack for being in the right spot at the right time in coverage and his sideline-to-sideline speed was on full display.
Andersen should be a core special teamer early in his career, but could develop into a starting linebacker by Year 2 or 3. And if a team wanted to use his size (6-feet-4-inches, 235 pounds) as a short-yardage runner or fullback, he has that versatility too.
Wherever Andersen plays at the next level, he’ll find a way to succeed.
Marcus Jones, CB, Houston
We’ve saved the best for last. For several reasons, Marcus Jones might be my favorite player in the 2022 NFL Draft. Let’s start with him as a cornerback prospect alone.
Jones doesn’t have elite size, but he dominated as both an outside and slot cornerback at Houston last season. He had 13 pass deflections, tied for eighth in college football. He also had five interceptions during the 2021 season and 10 total during his collegiate career.
Jones is probably a slot cornerback in the NFL, as he has the quickness and toughness to play the position. But that’s only the beginning of the story for Jones.
During the 2021 season, he played receiver for Houston. While he wasn’t a full-time player there, he did catch ten passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. He probably won’t do much work in the pros at receiver, but he is gifted enough with the ball in his hands that it would make some sense.
The big selling point for Jones is his ability as a returner. Jones scored nine touchdowns on special teams during his college career, both as a kick and punt returner. For his career, he’s averaged 14 yards per punt return and 28.4 yards per kick return. Both of those rank inside the top-25 all-time in college football history.
He is one of the most dangerous return men to enter the NFL in the last decade and should be a weapon right away on special teams.
Jones isn’t ranked inside of the top-75 players on most boards heading into the NFL Combine, and that’s a huge mistake. He is one of the best pure football players in this year’s class and he can help in all three phases of the game.