Hear the term sleeper and your mind thinks cover corner from Ozark Mountain State or road-grader offensive guard from Wine Country A&T. Or maybe gunslinger-styled quarterback from Dubuque Tech. Probably the last thing you'd associate "sleeper" with is a guy who has won a Heisman and quarterbacked a top-five program for the better part of a decade and played in two national title games. But some scouts say that's the best way to describe Oklahoma QB Jason White when sizing up his NFL prospects.
"He's going to make someone look very smart," says one scout, "and he's going to make a lot of people, a whole lot of people, look real dumb."
"Does he have a cannon? No. We're not talking about a Vick or a Jeff George-kind of gun, but his arm is plenty strong enough," says the scout. "It's an average arm, stronger than at least five guys I can think of who are starting right now in our league and it's really stronger than that even because he of his knack for throwing the long ball. He's a lot like (Titans QB Billy) Volek. That's who I see when I watch him. People didn't think (Volek's) arm was that great, but you can't find too many guys in our league who throw it deep better than he does."
A third scout, although less complementary, thought White was the kind of guy whose stock should rise to mid-round status (some draft analysts have called White a seventh rounder or possible free agent type) after his individual workouts a month or two before the draft.
"He throws sidearm and he doesn't move well," says the scout. "But people don't realize he's a big ol' boy, probably about 225 with huge legs so he can stand in the pocket, and I've seen them both in person and think his arm is the same strength as (Matt) Leinart's."
Still, expect to hear a lot about of talk about how this might've even be White's last football game.
White, it seems, is the victim of a sports culture phenomenon that is, in nature, cycle driven. It operates like this: a guy essentially goes from being underrated to overrated and then becomes so overrated, he's actually underrated. Confusing? Yes. But in reality, the guy really never is so much overrated as he is (almost always not by his own doing) oversaturated, meaning it becomes trendy and cool for the talking head types to start taking shots.
White's biggest shortcomings, we're told, are the obvious: his injury history. He has had to battle back from tearing the ACL in each knee over the past three years. Although even that fact, can be seen as a plus, says Sooner offensive coordinator Chuck Long, a guy who knows a thing about playing quarterback in the NFL having spent eight seasons there.
"He's just tougher than anybody else out there," says Long. "Plus, he's got the poise and the savvy and he sparks a huddle. He's also got a great release."
Long laughs at those who don't think White can start in the NFL, "I look at it like this anyhow, all it takes is one team to like him, right?"
Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His first book Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment is out in bookstores. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.