It’s easy to focus on the first- and second-round picks. But great teams are made when the front office hits on sleepers in the middle and later rounds. Here are four sleepers to watch this season.
1. Mike Gillislee, running back
Team/Round: Miami Dolphins, fifth round
2012 stats: 1,152 yards, 10 touchdowns
Analysis: Gillislee has a lot of the skills the Dolphins seek in their quick-hitting West Coast offense. Gillislee runs hard, has good vision and played well against tough competition in the SEC. However, he’s only had one year as a starter and had to wait his turn until his senior year. Last year Reggie Bush drove the coaching staff crazy at times by going left to right instead of plodding forward. Gillislee rarely loses yards and could compliment starter Lamar Miller well. Former second-round pick Daniel Thomas has been a disappointment and is injury prone. There could be potential for Gillislee to find a role behind Miller during his rookie year.
2. Josh Boyce, receiver
Team/Round: New England Patriots, fourth round
2012 stats: 66 receptions, 891 yards, seven touchdowns
Analysis: You always cringle a little when Patriots head coach Bill Belichick drafts wide receivers. For whatever reason, that is the one position Belichick hasn't figured out. But New England may be onto something with its two receiver picks of Boyce and Aaron Dobson. Boyce is the lower pick, so he's the sleeper of the group. He is fast, physical and will definitely get a chance to battle for a roster spot considering New England’s thin receiver position. But the rookie must take advantage this summer of his limited opportunities to make the team.
3. Dustin Hopkins, kicker
Team/Round: Buffalo Bills, sixth round
2012 stats: 25-of-30 field goals
Analysis: Hopkins left Florida State as the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history. He has a very strong leg that could be needed in Buffalo, especially late in the year during inclement weather. Hopkins has a tough task of beating longtime Bills kicker Rian Lindell in training camp. Lindell, 36, still has the accuracy but no longer has the distance. Hopkins will be the underdog, but he has the leg to make the team as a late-round pick.
4. Brian Winters, guard
Team/Round: New York Jets, third
2012 stats: 14 starts
Analysis: Winters has been a starter all four years at Kent State, and he has a good chance to keep that streak going in New York. The Jets, led by new general manager John Idzik, must really not think highly of incumbent guard Vladimir Ducasse. Idzik drafted three consecutive guards in the third-, fifth- and sixth-rounds to add competition. Willie Colon is penciled in as one starting guard, but Winters will be the favorite for the other guard opening.