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When it comes to the anatomy of a draft-day sleeper, some travel on a more “typical” path. They hail from small-school colleges, many of them tremendous athletes, discovered by an area scout on a whim (or led to them by small-school guru extraordinaire Josh Buchanan). They wow at Pro Days and personal workouts, and eventually garner enough consideration to get drafted by some team in the mid rounds. They swashbuckle their way up the depth chart, having to slash against more entrenched names as they challenge for playing time. Eventually, they get a chance to start, and then they never give up that role; at that point, they are no longer a sleeper, they are a hero, the end product of a commonly told story of perseverance and hard work.
There is another kind of sleeper, though. Look at Mike Williams, WR, Tampa Bay. He went to Syracuse and immediately showed his prodigious athletic gifts. In three years, he racked up 2,044 yards and 20 touchdowns with mediocre quarterbacks behind center on a terrible team. He was the only above-average part of the Syracuse offensive unit. Unfortunately, Williams ran into some maturity issues while at school: he had academic problems and also ended up violating curfew during a night out. He left the Syracuse program and came into the 2010 NFL Draft without having played football in the past year. He ended up going to Tampa Bay in the fourth round of the draft, and the rest is history. This past season, Williams hauled in 65 passes for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he is now considered the number one receiver on a team that went 9-7 this past season in one of the toughest divisions in football. He even outpaced his rookie counterpart, Arrelious Benn, who was more touted coming out of college.
The Mike Williams story has a lot that it can teach about evaluating talent as well as the psyches of many of these collegiate athletes. Williams was pushed about as far as he could possibly go. He made mistakes, but he was humbled and he learned from them. And, most importantly, at the end of the day, his love of football was able to overcome any character issues that he was thought to have had.
Now, two years later, another wide receiver finds himself in a similar position. And I believe that he could be the biggest steal in the 2012 NFL Draft…that is, if he does not play this season.
Michael Floyd is definitely an interesting case. In three seasons, he has actually surpassed Williams in terms of collegiate production. His freshman and sophomore years, as Notre Dame’s second option, he racked up 2,539 yards and 28 touchdowns. Last year, with a new system to learn and a carousel of inexperienced quarterbacks to deal with, Floyd still produced by snagging 79 balls for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns. His numbers were not as gaudy as most players but, like in all cases, context is important. Stephen Garcia and Brandon Weeden may not be superb prospects, but they are better than Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees and Nate Montana. Floyd had limited resources to work with; however, when he got opportunities, he made the most of them.
Michael Floyd does not look like he is 6 feet 3 inches and 227 pounds when he moves in the open field. He almost plays the game like Ryan Broyles of Oklahoma in terms of his hips and explosiveness after the catch…except he is 5 inches and around 20 pounds bigger than the Sooner. To put his height and weight in perspective, he is only an inch shorter and six pounds lighter than Alshon Jeffery, yet he moves in a much more fluid fashion. He may never be the jump ball guy that Alshon is or the explosive deep man that Justin Blackmon may become, but in terms of combining those two aspects, Floyd is going to be tremendous value in a very deep receiver draft. He should run around a 4.4 40 yard dash, he has good hands, and he can run every route in the book. He looks natural going up to catch passes, and he also shows a willingness to block in the running game. He also has experience running routes in a pro-style scheme with ex-Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis teaching him the ropes. What’s not to like about him?
Unfortunately for Floyd, there are many questions about his character which, as of yet, have been unanswered. In the past, there has been a persistent cloud that has hung over Mr. Floyd. He has had two alcohol arrests on his record, the second of which resulted in his indefinite suspension from the Notre Dame football team. I am not sure if he will end up starting the year as a member of the team. However, in terms of his draft stock, in a class so deep with big, fast receiving prospects, there could be some negative ramifications. Floyd, who was once seen as a surefire first round pick, could end up falling to the third or fourth. Guys like Juron Criner, Dwayne Jones and Chris Owusu will jump up in his stead. They all can point to their records and say, “We don’t have a DUI. You know what you’re getting with us.” Floyd is a wildcard.
In no way am I condoning his DUI: as someone who lost a friend after he was hit by a drunk driver recently, this issue is actually exceptionally close to my heart. However, Floyd is a college student. College students make mistakes. It is all part of the overall learning process that many people undergo in their formative years. As the brilliant genius lyricist Hannah Montana once said, “Nobody’s perfect.” Michael Floyd, like Ryan Mallett in this past draft or Mike Williams in the one prior, is a first round talent who could slip to the third or fourth round because of the questions about his character as well as the class’ overall depth. I am not sure if he will end up proving the doubters wrong and possibly even play this season at Notre Dame; if he does that, he could end up in the first round. If he doesn’t…then it gets a bit dicier. However, I am prepared to say that in terms of completeness, Floyd is a first round talent, possibly even at the level of Julio Jones from this past class.
If Floyd slips to the third round, and ends up on a team that can use his talents and has a strong locker room, the situation could get scary for the rest of the NFL. A team like the Jets or the Patriots could do wonders with a receiver like Floyd. He could be the next Mike Williams, or possibly even a better prospect. It is not every day that someone who is 6 foot 3 and 227 pounds has the football acumen and quick-twitch ability of Floyd, and I hope that some teams rolls the dice on him next April.
- Ethan Hammerman