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Who are the top sleepers in the 2018 NFL Draft?

Posted Apr 24, 2018

While day one of the NFL draft typically grabs the headlines, there’s a measure of pride on the part of NFL scouting departments to successfully mine some late round prospects who turn into bona fide contributors. Here’s a look at some of the under the radar players, who could help an NFL club despite being a day three pick.

RB Justin Jackson – Northwestern – 6-0, 199

Only the second Big 10 Conference running back to amass four consecutive seasons with 1,000 yards rushing or more (Ron Dayne), Jackson has a much different running style than the former Wisconsin bowling ball.

Jackson, who never missed a game in his four-year career with the Wildcats, eludes defenders with a trademark jump cut and shows uncommon determination in fighting for every yard on every carry.

His 43 receptions as a senior will help his cause as Jackson demonstrated some versatility. He’s forecast as a fifth-round pick.

DE P.J. Hall – Sam Houston State – 6-0 ½”, 308

Hall is a two-time FCS All-American and lit up his pro day this spring. Clocked at 4.76 in the 40 with a 38-inch vertical leap and 36 reps on the bench, Hall has the power and explosion that should translate to the NFL.

The defensive end dominated at the FCS level with an eye-popping 86.5 tackles for loss to set a school record, 42 sacks, nine forced fumbles and four interceptions. Hall also had an impressive 14 blocked kicks in his career with six coming on field goals, six on extra points and two punts.

An uncommon athlete for a player his size, Hall will get knocked for his lack of height, but could still be a fourth-round pick.

QB Chad Kanoff – Princeton – 6-4, 219

Despite getting an offer from an SEC school (Vanderbilt), Kanoff chose Princeton and finished his college career on a high note, leading the Tigers to the Ivy League title while setting numerous passing records at Princeton.

The League’s Offensive Player of the Year, Kanoff broke the all-time single-season passing record in the Ivy League with 3,474 yards. He also broke the Ivy League single-season completion percentage of 73.2, breaking the mark held by current Dallas Cowboys head coach and former Princeton Bushnell Cup winner Jason Garrett. Kanoff additionally set a school record for single-season touchdown passes with 29.

A sharp decision maker, who is patient in the pocket and capable of extending plays, Kanoff is expected to get a chance to make a roster. He’s projected as a seventh-round pick or priority free agent.

LB Darius Leonard – South Carolina State – 6-2, 234

The Defensive MVP of the Senior Bowl with a game-high 14 tackles, the two-time MEAC Defensive Player of the Year (2016, 2017) was largely a weakside linebacker in college.

Leonard is a “motor player,” who needs to further develop his anticipation skills to develop into a starting caliber linebacker at the NFL level. His play against FBS competition however, is encouraging. He had 19 tackles against Clemson his junior year.

The linebacker is viewed as a fifth-round pick.

G Cole Madison – Washington St. – 6-5, 314

A right tackle in college, Madison projects inside to guard. More of a technician than a road grader, Madison has good feet thanks to a basketball background in high school and was very dependable. He made 39 straight starts for the Cougars in his college career.

The Senior Bowl invite will have to work on his game out of a three-point stance as he rarely did it in college, and show less susceptibility to inside counter moves in pass protection.

Madison is projected as a fifth-round pick.

DT Bilal Nichols – Delaware – 6-4, 305

Nichols appeared in 44 games with 21 starts in his four years with the Fighting Blue Hens and posted good numbers across the board with 104 career tackles, 16.5 for loss with 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. He also had 10 pass breakups by batting down passes as the line of scrimmage.

He played nose tackle in Delaware’s 3-4 front, but has the athleticism to play the three-technique in a 4-3 scheme. He might need some time on the job to adjust to NFL speed, but plays with the right demeanor and has the right work ethic to develop into a contributor.

Nichols is seen as a fifth-round pick.

RELATED: Bills players dish on these seven NFL Draft prospects

OLB Dorian O’Daniel – Clemson – 6-1, 223

The two-year starter was primarily a strong side linebacker for the Tigers and led the team in tackles with 95 along with a pair of interception returns for touchdowns.

The 2nd-Team All-ACC performer has cover skills as evidenced by his hybrid linebacker role where he would handle coverage assignments in the slot at times. Projects to a weak side linebacker role with his lack of ideal size and 4.6 speed.

O’Daniel projects as a sixth-round pick.

WR Cedrick Wilson – Boise St. - 6-2, 197

Back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons made Wilson just the third player in Boise State history to accomplish the double 1K for the Broncos. Often double-teamed, the 1st-Team Mountain West Conference player still produced.

Though he didn’t run a full route tree, he has unquestionable field stretching ability despite a 4.55 40-time at the NFL combine. Wilson capped his college career with a dominant performance in the Las Vegas Bowl (10 rec, 221 yds, 1 TD) and a strong week at the Senior Bowl.

With his father a former NFL receiver (Cedrick Wilson Sr.), Wilson is a tall, long, downfield threat that just needs to get stronger physically to make an impact on an NFL roster.

He’s projected as a fifth to sixth-round draft choice.