I do many different draft-related articles here at BTSC, but outside of my mock drafts, my favorite articles each year are my articles focused on the biggest sleepers in the draft. First-round picks and quarterbacks get talked about by the national draft pundits at nauseum, and we generally become familiarized with our favorite prospects that may be available on day two of the draft, but very rarely are the day-three prospects even mentioned when talking about the draft. Today, we are going to shed some light on the best late-round draft prospects you may not have heard about.
Just like last year, we will split the sleeper series into two parts: offense and defense. Today, we will take a closer look at the offensive side of the ball. In case you missed last year’s offensive sleeper article, I will let you know that the first sleeper I mentioned at running back was Elijah Mitchell, who had an outstanding first season with the San Francisco 49ers and is expected to be the team’s starter moving forward.
This year, there will be a plethora of talented receivers and running backs available in the later rounds, some of which we will discuss today. If you want a full rundown of the day-three prospects in this draft, make sure you check out the final BTSC Big Board, which will be released the week of the draft. It will include in-depth breakdowns for the top 250+ prospects in this year’s draft, and just like last year, we will have a printable PDF of the Big Board rankings that you can use as a source and guide on draft weekend.
If you have any thoughts on the players mentioned in this article, be sure to share them in the comment section below. Do not forget to share your own list of steals as well!
Let’s get to the sleepers.
E.J. Perry | QB | Brown
Bailey Zappe would be the easy answer, but I believe there is a chance he gets taken on night two of the draft. Thus, he was ineligible for this article. Fortunately, this class of quarterbacks has surprisingly good depth, which includes two small-school talents in E.J. Perry and Cole Kelley. Perry had plenty of throwing opportunities at the combine, and he certainly took advantage of them, displaying a nice combination of arm strength and ball placement. Here is what I said about Brown on the BTSC Big Board.
Perry is a former four-star athlete who brings plenty of upside as a dual-threat quarterback. Not only does he have the mobility to move around in the pocket, but he also has the quickness to make things happen as a runner in the open field. After transferring from Boston College to Brown, Perry set an Ivy League record with 3,678 yards of total offense in one season. His ball placement and accuracy outside the hashes are surprisingly good, but he needs to do a better job of reading the middle linebacker when throwing across the middle. I would also like to see him show more patience in the pocket and not throw as many passes off his back foot. Nonetheless, there is a decent amount of athletic upside with Brown, and I would consider him a worthwhile pickup if he is still available in the fifth or sixth round.
Other Sleepers: Cole Kelley (Southeast Louisiana), Brandon Peters (Illinois), D’Eriq King (Miami)
Keaontay Ingram | RB | USC
Ingram struggled with fumbles early in his career, but those issues seemed less concerning with USC in 2021. The Texas transfer is not getting much pre-draft buzz, but he has all the tools necessary to become a competent NFL running back. Here is my report on Ingram from the BTSC Big Board.
Andrew Wilbar: If there is a late-round running back in this draft that could emerge as one of the top three backs from this class, it’s Ingram. Ingram could have entered the 2021 NFL Draft but decided to transfer to USC for his fifth-year senior season. From an athletic standpoint, people will fall in love with this guy. Listed at 215 pounds, Ingram runs with purpose and power, and I think he will add more weight in the NFL and become a true bruiser at the running back position. He also has good patience as a runner, allowing a hole to open up before he makes his move. Ball security was a bit of an issue during his time at Texas, but he seemed to sure that issue up, only fumbling once during the 2021 season. The only other concern most people have is that Ingram was never extremely involved as a pass-catcher. Part of that could be because he was not always a full-time back at Texas, but he never eclipsed 250 receiving yards in a single season in college. Personally, I believe that this past season’s receiving numbers are due to USC’s offensive line. Their line struggled mightily in pass protection for a good chunk of the year, and Ingram was often forced to stay in the backfield and help protect the quarterback rather than running routes and getting receiving opportunities. Nonetheless, he is one of the most underrated running backs in this class, and the upside is tremendous.
Pierre Strong, Jr. | RB | South Dakota State
If a power back is not what you are looking for, how about one of the best change-of-pace backs in this draft? Strong has enough size to him to hold up as a workhorse back, but at the beginning of his career, he will likely be used as a complementary running back that brings an extra gear of speed to the offense. Here is what I had to say about him on the BTSC Big Board.
Andrew Wilbar: Strong is sometimes compared to Saints running back Alvin Kamara from a physical standpoint. His size is not overly impressive, but he has nice contact balance and good speed in the open field. Do not let his size fool you though, as he has enough power to run over defenders as well. Strong is also a dependable receiver out of the backfield who can be a mismatch for linebackers covering him, especially when you consider his speed and quickness. His ability to make a sharp cut and immediately turn upfield is as good as any other back’s in this class, and it is impossible to ignore when you watch him play. Could that be what sets him apart and makes him a diamond in the rough? Only time will tell, but there is a lot to like about Strong’s game. The biggest concern for NFL teams will likely be his low level of competition, but I cannot think of much else that NFL teams could complain about. There is risk involved with every FCS prospect, but I like Strong’s chances.
Tyquan Thornton | WR | Baylor
While this receiver class is loaded with talent, there are not many players on day three that I am notably higher on than the national experts. However, one player I do like equally as much as some of the national experts is Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton. While he may not be a player I am completely in love with, I cannot help but be intrigued with his combination of height and speed. Here is what I had to say about him on the BTSC Big Board:
The most exciting thing about Thornton is his fantastic straight-line speed, especially when you combine that with his 6’3” frame. Typically, receivers who run below 4.3 in the 40 are undersized receivers who are limited to the slot. This is not the case with Thornton, however. He still needs to add weight to his slender frame, but he is a surprisingly physical receiver who does not shy away from contested catch opportunities. Not only does he get a quick release off the line of scrimmage, but he will also become more effective getting off press coverage at the line once he adds a little more muscle. There is definitely some rawness with Thornton, and there may be a little bit of projection here, but you cannot teach 6’3” and 4.28 speed.
Isaiah Weston | WR | Northern Iowa
If you want an efficient deep-play threat, Weston is your guy. Not only is he a phenomenal athlete, but he is also a player the Steelers have shown interest in. I do not see Weston as a true burner, but once he accelerates to full speed, there are glimpses of Martavis Bryant in his game. This is not to say he will achieve the same success Bryant had early in his career, but from a physical standpoint, it is a logical comparison. Here is my full scouting report on Weston from the BTSC Big Board.
Weston is an athletic specimen who has been linked to the Steelers in draft conversations this spring. At 6’3 ½”, 215 pounds, Weston raised eyebrows during his combine performance, recording a 4.42 40, 40” vertical, and 135” broad jump, and 20 bench reps. As a player on the field, the first thing that stands out about Isaiah is his ability to create big plays down the field. His 23.9 yards per catch in 2021 backs up this claim, and his nearly 900 receiving yards despite inconsistent quarterback play is telling as to how big a difference he can be to an offense. I would like to see a little better field awareness on catches near the sideline, but for a late-round pick, the combination of athleticism and production makes him worth a flier. If the Steelers decide to grab Weston late on day three, the selection would have my support.
Daylen Baldwin | WR | Michigan
Baldwin did not have as many opportunities as I was expecting when he decided to transfer to Michigan, and he was relatively underwhelming at his pro day, but he is tough to deal with on contested catches. He also has better deep speed than what his 40 time may indicate. You can check out my pre-draft interview with Baldwin below.
Other Sleepers: Dareke Young (Lenoir-Rhyne), Tyshaun James (Central Connecticut), Jalen Nailor (Michigan State)
Daniel Bellinger | TE | San Diego State
Many Steelers fans, myself included, were heartbroken not to see the Steelers draft Foster Moreau back in 2019, as he provided the rare combination of blocking ability and athleticism as a receiver. Well, if you like the traditional in-line tight ends who can still make explosive plays down the field, Bellinger is your guy. Here is my report on him for the BTSC Big Board.
Bellinger is an intriguing day three option with two-way upside. However, there are a lot of minor details in his game that need to be refined. Although he displays natural hands and good awareness as a pass catcher, his routes are far from crisp at the cut. Fortunately, he seems to have the awareness and understanding to know when his quarterback needs to get rid of the ball, as he generally gets his head around in time to make an attempt at bringing in a pass headed in his direction. As a blocker, Bellinger is patient but smart. He waits for the defender to get close enough to him to make contact without lunging, and he has proven to play with a consistent pad level. Bellinger is my favorite day-three sleeper, and I would not have a problem at all if the Steelers took him to bolster their depth at the position.
Lucas Krull | TE | Pittsburgh
Krull is another height/weight/speed guy who hauled in a respectable six touchdowns in 2021. He tested much better than I had anticipated, running a 4.64 in the 40 and a 7.15 in the 3-cone drill at 6’6”, 253 pounds. There are times when Krull comes out of his stance a little stiff, but when he gets behind the linebackers, he has the physicality to bully the safeties behind him in the open field. Krull displays reliable hands as well as physicality at the point of attack, but what I like most about his game is his willingness and toughness as a run-blocker. There are a few minor technique issues that will need to be cleaned up in the NFL, but his tools are intriguing. With his size, he has the potential to become a dominant presence in the red zone.
Other Sleepers: Josh Babicz (North Dakota State)
Zach Tom | OT | Wake Forest
First off, let me give credit where credit is due. Perhaps the most knowledgeable commenter here at BTSC when it comes to the offensive line is Steel34D. When he brings a player to my attention, I look into him, and more times than not, I come away impressed with what I see. This was the case with Zach Tom, who I was relatively unfamiliar with until the later portions of this pre-draft process.
Tom is still learning how to gain leverage as a run defender, and he is far from a finished product, but his pass protecting skills are some of the best you will find in this year’s draft. His performance against Florida State was the best tape he put out, being faced against first-round prospect Jermaine Johnson for a respectable number of snaps. In these snaps, Tom displayed his ability to anchor as well as mirror in pass protection, shutting down one of the most athletic pass rushers in the country all game long. Johnson simply could not get anything going when faced against Tom, due in part to the fact that Tom kept his his chest protected incredibly well while also remaining balanced in his pass sets.
I am generally not a fan of waiting until day three to address tackle, but if Tom is still available at the end of round four, he may be worth considering when the Steelers are on the clock at pick 138.
Matt Waletzko | OT | North Dakota
The Steelers generally prefer going to the Power Five to get their talent, but one of the best small-school linemen in this draft is Matt Waletzko. If he slips past the fourth round, some team is getting a steal. Here is what I had to say about Waletzko on the BTSC Big Board.
Mobility is the first thing that jumps out on tape with Waletzko. He does a good job getting to the second level of the defense, and he is above-average as a blocker downfield. Sometimes I feel as if he has a little too much zeal coming out of his stance, because there are times where he will just overrun blocks; I mean, I am glad he has quickness off the snap, and I am glad he has fantastic mobility, but you don’t want to be overrunning blocks and getting to the second level too soon either. Nonetheless, he keeps his shoulders square, he has good hand placement, and he has some power in his hands. He does not have superior strength, but I think he will get stronger once he gets with a strength and conditioning coach in the NFL. He also has shown an ability to pull, which only increases his value to NFL teams. I do have concerns about his level of competition, as he hardly faced NFL-talent-level players in college. That could be partially why he looked so dominant on tape. Nonetheless, he is a prospect that I would be more than willing to take a chance on if he falls to day three.
Other Sleepers: Dare Rosenthal (Kentucky), Spencer Burford (UTSA)
Interior Offensive Line
Tyrese Robinson | G | Oklahoma
Robinson will not wow anyone with his athletic numbers, but the man put out several years of impressive tape, specifically when aligned at guard. Here is what I had to say about Robinson on the BTSC Big Board.
SLEEPER ALERT! Robinson is a powerful lineman who was dominant as a run blocker in 2019 and dominant as a pass protector in 2020, allowing only two sacks in over 400 snaps. That was good enough for PFF to reward him with the team’s highest pass-blocking grade. 2019 was really when I fell in love with him as a prospect, though. Robinson proved to be an absolutely punishing run blocker, keeping his pads square, using his length to create good leverage, and finishing all his blocks. While he played guard for most of his career, Oklahoma’s coaching staff decided to move him to tackle in 2021, and he was not quite as dominant after the position change. He wasn’t terrible by any stretch, but he would occasionally get beat on inside moves due to his lack of lateral agility and mobility. Robinson is most definitely not a tackle in the NFL, but he is a fantastic guard who I consider one of the most underrated players in the 2022 draft class.
Other Sleepers: Ben Brown (Ole Miss), Matt Allen (Michigan State)
Those are my favorite offensive sleepers, but who are yours? Do you see any of the late-round prospects in this draft as potential steals? Be sure to share your thoughts on this and all things NFL Draft in the comment section below!