We at Scouts Inc. finished up our final film evaluations for the 2012 draft in recent days, and as I broke down the final players on my list a trio of prospects stood out.
The term "sleeper" is a bit overused, but these are certainly the kinds of players who are worthy of a later-round pick and will offer good value if they become NFL contributors.
Ohio WR Lavon Brazill
I like what Brazill (5-foot-10⅝, 192 pounds) brings as a route-runner. He can work outside or in the slot, tempos his routes well to get up defenders within his stem, and uses subtle head and shoulder fakes to create separation out of breaks. Brazill lacks elite suddenness, but he does show some burst out of his cuts and has impressive ability to read coverage and adjust on the fly. He also has quick enough feet to get a good release against press coverage.
Brazill also has solid hands and elite overall body control. He makes catches outside his frame look easy and tracks the ball naturally over his shoulder. His tape against Rutgers is particularly impressive, showing Brazill running a fade to the back left corner of the end zone, then opening up fully on a ball thrown behind him and snagging it with one hand while falling to the ground. Later in that game he did a nice job beating press coverage out of the slot and tracked a fade route nicely over his shoulder.
Finally, his toughness is outstanding. Brazill not only works the middle of the field and makes tough catches in traffic, but he plays hurt. Brazill suffered a torn meniscus in the MAC title game but showed the toughness to come back and play in the bowl game against Utah State, a game in which he caught the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Throw in his added value as a returner, and Brazill could offer great return on investment as early as the fifth round.
Utah State RB Michael Smith
Smith flew under the radar a bit during the season, but he reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.3-second range at his pro day so we went to the tape to check out his skills. The tape seemed to confirm that speed, with Smith (5-8⅝, 206) also flashing quick feet, lateral agility and the ability to string together multiple cuts in traffic. He also gets to top speed quickly out of cuts and has the juice to turn the corner, and that's when his speed shows up.
Smith can pull away from defenders and outrun pursuit angles in the open field, something he showed on a 63-yard touchdown run against Ohio. He also has some balance, though he won't run through many arm tackles or push the pile in short-yardage situations. Smith also brings some versatility in the passing game, running good routes and flashing the suddenness to create separation before adjusting to the ball and quickly getting upfield.
However, he lacks overall instincts and vision as a runner. He is an entry-level runner who needs to see the hole, and he often misses vertical cuts and as a result is too quick to try to bounce runs outside. He could be more patient at times. and allow his blockers to get into position. That could hurt him, but a team that feels it can coach up Smith's vision could turn his speed and versatility into valuable assets in the sixth round.
SMU DE Taylor Thompson
Thompson has a long frame (6-5⅞, 282), and while his official measurements won't come until his April 4 pro day, there's a lot to like about his film. He has an above-average first step as a pass-rusher and flashes upper-body strength, and while Thompson doesn't have elite flexibility he does show a little bend when turning the corner. He also displays the ability to redirect with an inside move when offensive tackles overset in pass protection.
Thompson also has some instincts when penetrating. He can throttle down after bursting upfield as a pass-rusher, getting back into plays when the quarterback steps up in the pocket, and also use his long arms to lock out blockers in the run game before falling back into plays. He also has the strength to set the edge against the run.
He will get caught lunging at times and could play with better overall balance, and he could do a better job of keeping his pads square, especially against double-teams blocks. And while you'd like to see a little more edge to his game, Thompson has the length and athleticism to develop into a contributor, and because he was also a top tight end recruit coming out of high school it'll be interesting to see if teams might give him a shot there as well. Overall, he's another solid fifth- or sixth-round value.