News & Analysis

Eight of the biggest sleepers in the 2021 NFL Draft class

Sep 9, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; North Texas Mean Green wide receiver Jaelon Darden (84) runs after making a reception during the first quarter at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

Defining a “sleeper” at this point in the draft process is always a chore. Is it just small school guys? Is it players who aren’t in first-round mocks? What if they went to a Division III school yet made a huge name for themselves at the Senior Bowl? Everyone will have different answers to those questions.

So, to make things easy, the “sleepers” listed for the 2021 NFL Draft are purely my opinion. None of the prospects below have been in a first- or second-round mock that I’ve seen and have not been oft-discussed in draft circles. Let’s get to it.

QB Davis Mills, Stanford

He may not do much to get you excited, but Mills looks like he’ll be more than capable of operating an NFL offense with the traits he displays. The biggest is easily his quick decision-making. Mills’ 2.39-second average time to throw on non-screens, RPOs and play-action passes was the fourth-fastest in the nation — even edging out Trevor Lawrence. And on such throws, he earned an 84.0 passing grade. While not the most physically gifted, he’s still a former five-star prospect who has made only 10 career starts.

WR Jaelon Darden, North Texas

No one wants to be the team that drafted the 174-pound receiver from North Texas early on only for him to not translate in the NFL. All that means is some team is getting a heck of a value. Darden showed up 20 pounds lighter this season and remade his body into the explosive jitterbug he is today. He can and did take it to the house from anywhere, racking up 19 touchdowns in 2020 for the Mean Green. He’s a perfect explosive, modern slot weapon.

TE Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame

Tremble possesses two traits that are incredibly rare for a tight end prospect: legit speed and run-blocking ability. He led all tight ends in the FBS this season in run-blocking grade. Tremble won’t garner much attention because he wasn’t even the No. 1 option at tight end on his own college team, but in his defense, freshman Michael Mayer will likely be a first-rounder in a couple of years. Tremble is the perfect fullback for any team in need of such a thing and can be a mismatch with his speed as a blocking tight end.

OT Walker Little, Stanford

“Sleeper” may not be the right word for Little. “Forgotten man” may be more accurate. Little has played just one game over the past two seasons, and he looked pretty darn good in it, allowing zero pressures to Northwestern.

If you go back and search “way-too-early 2020 mock draft,” you’ll be hard-pressed to find one without him in the first round. Heck, Bleacher Report had him going No. 2 overall. That’s the caliber of talent we’re working with, and it’s not like it disappeared. Rather, we just haven’t seen it. Having seen training videos of Little since then, he’s cleaned up some issues with his feet that were present before. If he falls out of the top two rounds, he could be a massive steal.

IOL Kendrick Green, Illinois

Despite playing only eight games, Green tied with Alabama’s Landon Dickerson for the Power Five lead in big-time blocks this past season, with 14. He’s an explosive interior lineman who has improved by leaps and bounds over his three years as a starter to an 87.8 overall grade this past season. Ultimately, center looks like his best position. He would be a great fit in a zone-heavy scheme.

DI Milton Williams, Louisiana Tech

Williams' tape toward the end of 2020 was as good as you’ll see from a small school defensive tackle in the draft. While his competition level wasn’t great, he still put up a 78.3 overall grade against a Power Five TCU line late in the year. He’s a rocked up 280-pounder with a high motor and a violent play style. That’s a great developmental profile on Day 3.

EDGE Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma

Perkins is a three-year starter for the Sooners who has not registered much in the way of fanfare. Even after a dominant 2020 season that saw him earn run-defense and pass-rushing grades in the 90s, Perkins wasn’t even named first-team All-Big-12. He’s got one heck of a get-off at 247 pounds and will be a nice speed-rushing threat at the next level. Despite his size, Perkins looks as if he can hold his own in run defense, as well. He is well worth a Day 2 pick.

CB Tay Gowan, UCF

You may have heard of UCF cornerback Aaron Robinson, who has been in a number of Round 1 mocks and showed out at the Senior Bowl. It was Gowan, though, who was doing the heavy lifting for the Knights on the outside in 2019 before opting out this past year. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, Gowan has likely 4.3-second speed that put clamps on every receiver he faced. He allowed only 20 catches on 50 targets for 274 yards with a 54.9 passer rating against in all of 2019. Unfortunately, we just didn’t get to see what his next step looks like.

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