We're just days away from the next RADIO.COM Sports 2020 NFL Mock Draft, but there's plenty other angles to discuss about this year's prospects before the actual NFL Draft begins in Las Vegas on April 23.
One interesting side item: potential sleepers.
We've already dedicated quite a bit of time this offseason talking about the future of Dak Prescott, who the Dallas Cowboys selected in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Eight wide receivers were selected before D.K. Metcalf in the 2019 NFL Draft, but Metcalf ultimately became a star for the Seattle Seahawks in his rookie season. And, of course, the biggest draft steal in NFL history is Tom Brady, who the New England Patriots drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft. Two decades later, Brady remains the biggest story in the sport.
Given the impact that NFL Draft sleepers have had on the history of the sport, here's a look at some potential gems in this year's class:
KJ Hamler - Wide Receiver, Penn State
The Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers just reached the Super Bowl with extremely deep wide receiving corps. If a team with an already deep group of pass catchers is looking to get richer, Hamler is an intriguing prospect.
While Hamler probably isn't going to be the type of player at the NFL level that competes for receiving titles, he's extremely explosive. In two seasons at Penn State, Hamler averaged 16.9 yards per catch. Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network probably summed Hamler up best as a prospect, noting that he'll probably be a "dynamic complimentary" receiver at the NFL level that lines up in the slot. There's plenty of room for that type of player, especially for a team that already has a No. 1 outside wide receiver but still feels like their offense needs to reach another level to be a Super Bowl contender.
Though there's no guarantee that he doesn't fall to the second round, he makes sense for quite a few teams set to pick late in the first round. In our latest RADIO.COM NFL Mock Draft, the 49ers select Hamler with the No. 31 overall pick. It's possible, though, that the 49ers re-sign Emmanuel Sanders, which would make it unlikely they use a first-round pick on Hamler (or any wide receiver). It's also possible that Hamler isn't on the board still when the 49ers make their first selection, as it's pretty easy to imagine him thriving in New Orleans or Green Bay.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire - Running Back, LSU
Everyone is always looking for the next Darren Sproles. In terms of rushing style and ability to split out wide, Edwards-Helaire might be the closest we've seen to Sproles in the NFL Draft since Sproles himself was selected in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft.
Though he's slightly bigger than Sproles, Edwards-Helaire utilizes a similar rushing style to the one that allowed Sproles to carve out a niche in the NFL for 14 years. Given that he just rushed for 1,414 yards and 14 touchdowns for the National Champion LSU Tigers, Edwards-Helaire is probably in line to have a larger workload than what we became accustomed to with Sproles, who never had more than 94 carries in a single season. Still, it's hard not to think of Sproles when you watch Edwards-Helaire carry the ball.
Additionally, Edwards-Helaire had success as a receiver in his junior season at LSU, something that made Sproles valuable in San Diego, New Orleans and Philadelphia. The 20-year-old hauled in 55 passes for 453 yards during the 2019 regular season.
As of now, the guess here is that Edwards-Helaire is going to be selected in the second round. However, he could make an immediate impact for a contender, which means that a year from now he's likely to find his way into the first round of quite a few 2020 NFL redrafts.
Laviska Shenault Jr. - Wide Receiver, Colorado
It will be interesting to see exactly where Shenault Jr. is ultimately selected. After three seasons in Colorado, the 21-year-old entered the draft. Had he been eligible to come out after his sophomore season, he may have been the first wide receiver off the board. In the 2020 NFL Draft, three to five wideouts may be selected above Shenault Jr.
In 2018, Shenault Jr. turned in a pretty remarkable sophomore campaign, hauling in 86 passes for 1,086 yards and six touchdowns. Additionally, he had five rushing touchdowns. In 2019, however, Shenault Jr. regressed statistically, catching 56 balls for 764 yards.
As Charlie Campbell of Walter Football notes, there were a variety of reasons for Shenault Jr.'s regression in his junior season. He didn't have the quality of quarterback play that other top wide receiving prospects - Jerry Jeduy, Henry Ruggs III, CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins - were the beneficiaries of.
Perhaps more concerning is that Shenault Jr. dealt with a core muscle injury in 2019, after an offseason that featured him recovering from a torn labrum and turf toe injuries stemming from the 2018 season. Such an injury history could make a wide receiver needy team like the Philadelphia Eagles - who were devastated by injuries at the position this past season - hesitant to use a first-round pick on him.
All that said, Joe Marino of The Draft Network says that Shenault Jr. "can immediately take an NFL offense to another level," which makes him an intriguing target for teams that feel they are just a piece or two away.