With NFL training camps beginning soon, fans will be looking at how the stars and the high draft picks for their favourite team will do this season. What fans often do not look at are potential sleepers that could make a big impact unexpectedly.
Today, we look at the NFC North; a division with both multiple playoff contenders, as well as a developing team.
Entering into his third season, wide receiver Cameron Meredith is poised for a breakout campaign as he may very well be the number one or two receiver on this team. With star wide-out Alshon Jeffery off to the Eagles, there is now more opportunity for Meredith to succeed.
Last season, Meredith started in 10 games, had 66 receptions, 888 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. These numbers are impressive when looking at the quarterback play from Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer, as well as the fact that Meredith went undrafted in 2015. Look for him to have a huge year this season.
Charles Leno Jr.
I’m not sure why people don’t talk about Leno Jr., as he’s become a formidable left tackle in this league, albeit as a seventh round pick in 2014 out of Boise State. Leno Jr. started all 16 games last year, as well as start 14 games the previous two seasons.
This year, with the quarterback controversy in Chicago with the Glennon vs. Trubisky battle, there will a lot of attention on the Bears’ offense. With that, more people will see how good Leno Jr. is and he may see the recognition he deserves.
Taken in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Kwiatkoski had a good rookie campaign, as he started in 7 games. He racked up 34 tackles, 10 assisted tackles, 1 sack and 2 passes defended.
In year two, Kwiatkoski will be given more responsibility and will become a big part of this emerging Bears defense.
No, he won’t start over Matthew Stafford, obviously. But Kaaya is an interesting prospect who could easily surpass second string QB Jake Rudock who was taken in last year’s draft.
Selected in the sixth round of this year’s NFL Draft, Kaaya was a prospect who received a lot of hype before the college season and received less and less as the season progressed.
The QB out of Miami possesses some good skills, however. His pocket presence is solid and with some refinement to his throwing, Kaaya will easily become Stafford’s backup and if Stafford goes down, Kaaya could potentially be able to do well.
Taken in the second round of last year’s NFL Draft, Robinson was a projected first rounder who slid to the Lions unexpectedly.
Last season, Robinson started in 5 games, had 22 tackles, 8 assisted tackles, 2 sacks and 7 passes defended. This year, as Haloti Ngata gets older and will likely be limited in snaps, Robinson has the chance to have a breakout year.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Killebrew, a safety out of Southern Utah, was relatively unknown. His rookie season changed that to say the least.
Last season, Killebrew had 23 tackles, 5 assisted tackles, 1 interception and 1 pass defended. His solid production as a special teamer has coaches thinking he could easily start at strong safety next year, so watch out for Killebrew this season.
Green Bay Packers
Taken in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft, running back Jamaal Williams out of BYU was taken by the Green Bay Packers. Williams’ 6’0″ and 212 lbs. frame makes him a sturdy back who could compete for the starting job with Ty Montgomery day one.
Williams’ 4.59 40 yard dash time isn’t wowing anyone, but his stout decision making made NFL teams intrigued, and with the Packers’ uncertainty at the running back position, Williams will be a good fit in Title Town.
Taken in the seventh round of this year’s NFL Draft, I have Dupre as my sleeper for the 2017 NFL Draft class. His 4.52 40 yard dash time isn’t great and his 6’2″ and 196 lbs. frame make him at least intriguing, but what stands out with him, which happens to be the most important element of any players’ game, is his film. Dupre is a playmaker and makes his team better. LSU’s tradition of making excellent wide receivers in the NFL will continue with Dupre.
Taken in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Michigan, Jake Ryan was selected to sit behind Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers to gain knowledge and to eventually succeed one of them. With Peppers off to Carolina, Ryan will be forced to step up and contribute immediately.
Last season, Ryan collected 57 tackles, 25 assisted tackles and 3 passes defended. Expect his production to go up with a loftier role this year.
Taken in the seventh round of this year’s NFL Draft, Coley was taken primarily to be a special teamer and become a project player. His overall size and speed of 4.45 in the 40 yard dash and his 6’0″ and 195 lbs. build make him a prototypical receiver, but his game will compliment nicely with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Look for Coley to eclipse over 400 yards and maybe over 3 touchdowns this season.
Taken in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft, I think Elflein as the potential to eventually become a top 5 center in this league. His leadership and knowledge of the game will separate him from competition. Expect him to make at least a few Pro Bowls in the future.
Taken in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft, Johnson is a big defensive tackle at 6’3″ and 315 lbs. With questions around Sharrif Floyd’s long term health, Johnson could replace him sooner rather than later.
Johnson’s high motor and active presence in the run and pass game make him an intriguing player to watch this season.