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3 WR Sleeper Prospects for the 2017 Draft

During our hybrid Bowl Preview/Draft Prospect series, I covered two of the more interesting sleepers in Keevan Lucas and Trent Taylor. Both players then went out and lit up their respective bowls.

Lucas scored three touchdowns and had a fourth called back on a procedure penalty. Taylor did him one better, exploding for 12 catches, 233 yards, and 2 TDs. He did it against a solid Navy squad, which helps to undermine the strength of schedule argument.

Of course, not all the best sleepers were lucky enough to play on bowl-eligible squads.

Send It In Jerome!

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Jerome Lane went to Akron without a defined position, played linebacker as a freshman, and transitioned to WR the following year. He immediately broke out by lassoing 31 percent of his team’s receiving yardage and 8 of 18 TDs. Lane offered a steady presence again in 2016 and declared with a career msYD of 0.32, well above Kevin Cole’s 0.29 soft threshold for NFL success.

Due to Akron’s below .500 record against a schedule that just barely ranked in the top 100, it will be incumbent upon Lane to prove his mettle during the offseason circuit. He’s run an apocryphal 4.4 forty as a high schooler and has a father with the most famous dunk in NCAA history. He looks like the prototypical NFL No. 1 – and is clearly on the scouting radar – but could face opportunity issues if he falls too far in the draft.

The Forgotten All-American

A third-team All-American and Biletnikoff semifinalist, Amba Etta-Tawo doesn’t exactly qualify as low-profile, but he’s not generating as much draft enthusiasm as similar players with arguably inferior backgrounds. The 6-foot-2, 201-pound receiver caught 94 passes for 1,482 yards and 14 TDs on a 4-8 Syracuse team that faced the nation’s 24th-ranked schedule.

The case against Etta-Tawo rests on his lack of success as a Maryland Terrapin. He managed 500 yards and two scores as a redshirt freshman but failed to hit those totals over the next two seasons combined before taking advantage of the graduate transfer rules.

It’s perhaps interesting to compare Etta-Tawo to Dede Westbrook and Amara Darboh. Both players are also five years removed from high school, and Westbrook is a fellow transfer, having moved to Oklahoma after spending time at Blinn.

Player 2016 msYD 2016 msTD
Etta Tawo 39 58
Darboh 31 35
Westbrook 38 40

While it may end up being the case that the three players belong in different classes due to athleticism and body type, it’s easy to draw the preliminary conclusion that Westbrook is getting too much credit for succeeding in an elite offense while Etta-Tawo is not receiving enough for succeeding in a more pedestrian one.

The Dream of Perpetual Motion

Kenny Golladay is the small school version of Etta-Tawo and may be an even better prospect. He originally attended North Dakota from 2012 to 2013 and broke out with a 28 percent msYD and 53 percent msTD as a sophomore. He then transferred to Northern Illinois, sat out 2014, and immediately rampaged across the MAC in 2015.

The 6-foot-4, 213-pound Golladay possesses NFL size and leaves devy owners with fever dreams where their penny stock becomes a poor man’s A.J. Green. Golladay posted very balanced market shares in his two seasons at Northern Illinois, finishing with over 2,000 yards receiving, 21 TDs, and a Dominator Rating of 0.42. There’s no question that fellow MAC star Corey Davis is the better prospect – his off-the-charts age-adjusted production puts him in play to be selected in the first round of the reality draft – but Golladay has an ever-so-slight advantage1 in receiving market share over the last two seasons.

It’s difficult to get a feel for where Golladay will be drafted, but NFL decision-makers will likely be impressed by his 1,356 yards from scrimmage in only 12 games this season, especially when you consider that injuries forced N. Illinois to use four different quarterbacks.

What’s the Takeaway?

We’re a long way from having all of the information necessary to rank WR prospects and identify priority rookie targets, but the presence of sleepers like Lucas, Lane, Etta-Tawo, and Golladay probably gives you even more reason to target RBs early this year.2

  1. They’re virtually identical at .39 (2015) and .42/.43 (2016) respectively.  (back)
  2. At this point, the two trendiest receiving prospects appear to be Mike Williams and John Ross. While there are reasons to love both players – they definitely flash in games – their overall resumes are pretty scary and conjure up images of splash-heavy/production-light busts like Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Laquon Treadwell. A small trade down to select Corey Davis or K.D. Cannon might be the way to play it, or you could simply go after one or more of the sleepers if they land in good situations.  (back)

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