2012 NFL Draft Preview: Top 5 First-Round Sleepers: When trying to predict which players will go off the board first in the upcoming NFL draft, it is always important to be aware of the first-round sleepers. These are generally the players blessed with a ton of athletic talent that still need some polishing in the technique department or the players that seem to look better on paper than their numbers did on the field. Either way, there are always a handful of enticing options available in the first round of the draft that some general managers find too good to pass up, and when they go off the board sooner than expected, the rest of the round can go in a direction few expected.
2012 NFL Draft Preview: Top 5 First-Round Sleepers
1. Ryan Tannehill, Quarterback, Texas A&M
With his height and arm strength, he certainly fits the mold of a prototypical NFL quarterback. That being said, Tannehill was also playing wide receiver at the collegiate level as recently as 2010 and made just 19 career starts under center for Texas A&M. It is hard to imagine that he is anywhere close to ready for the complexity that comes with running an NFL offense and reading an NFL defense. Still, his physical tools and potential to grow have made him the third-best prospect at the position behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. With teams like Cleveland and Miami sitting in the top 10 in need of a QB, Tannehill could go off the board a little sooner than he probably should.
2. Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame
Justin Blackmon is the top prospect at the position, but Floyd is arguably the most athletically-gifted receiver in the draft given his impressive combination of size and speed. His tendency to pick up as many DUIs off the field as touchdowns on it has raised questions about his character, but there is no question Floyd is a top-10 talent. Fortunately for him, Cleveland needs a playmaker, St. Louis needs a weapon for Sam Bradford, Jacksonville is a train wreck on offense, Miami traded away Brandon Marshall, and Carolina wants to surround Cam Newton with talent. With wide receiver being a need for at least half the teams picking in the top 10, there is a definite possibility one of them will pull the trigger on Floyd.
3. Fletcher Cox, Defensive Tackle, Mississippi State
Defensive linemen are some of the toughest players to evaluate in the draft. For some reason, success in college doesn’t always translate to the next level. As a result, defensive tackles and defensive ends aren’t regulars in the top 10 of the first round. However, there are always exceptions to the rule, and Cox could be one of them. He was productive at Mississippi State and impressed during the combine. More importantly, Cox has been universally praised for his non-stop effort, which can be a rarity for defensive tackles. Jacksonville, Carolina and Buffalo are all potential landing spots for Cox, and the Panthers’ weak run defense in particular could make Cox a top-10 pick.
4. Quinton Coples, Defensive End, North Carolina
The same rules apply to Coples as they do to Cox, but the former Tarheel is the antithesis of the former Bulldog. Coples is a freakish athlete, and he has the size and speed to be a dominate pass rusher. However, he was frequently criticized for failing to give maximum effort, and he often appeared unfocused during games. Having the ability to dominate the line of scrimmage is nice, but it means nothing if Coples lacks the desire to do it. It would be a big reach, but Coples has the most potential of any pass rusher in the draft. If there is a coaching staff out there convinced they can harness Coples’ raw talent, they could snatch him up early in the first round.
5. Stephen Hill, Wide Receiver, Georgia Tech
It’s tough to imagine a receiver that had just 28 catches last season in college going in the first round at all, let alone early on. However, playing a run-first, triple-option system can make it tough to fill up the stat sheet. Fortunately for Hill, he flashed blazing speed and incredible athleticism during the combine, shooting him draft boards. Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey had a similar road to the NFL, and he ended up going seventh overall. While Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd seem to have distanced themselves from the other receivers in the draft, Hill is one player with enough upside and big play ability to be this year’s first round stunner.
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