There are many reasons for a slide down the draft boards -- if football is a game of inches, the draft evaluation process is a game of milliseconds and millimeters. Run a 40 just out of the comfort zone, break off that route just a hair too slow on the film, fail to hit those few extra bench press reps, and the draft board becomes a very nebulous place. In two parts, we're going to establish a team of starters on each side of the ball with players who live under the radar and might blossom in the pros. (Projected draft spots, from high to low, are in parentheses - - the offensive all-sleeper team can be found here).
Defensve End: Austen Lane, Murray State (3-6) -- At 6-foot-6 and 276 pounds, Lane combines speed, size and athleticism in an intriguing package. He recorded 11 solo sacks in each of his last two seasons; of course, the question is how he'll hold up against blockers better than the ones he faced against Tennessee Tech and Lambuth. He showed potential at the Senior Bowl as a developmental pass rusher and might be a real value pick for hybrid defenses.
Defensive End: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Washington (5-FA) -- The Huskies' all-time sack leader moved up from an undrafted grade with a great pro day performance in which he displayed linebacker quickness and great strength in drills. Could be a quality rotational end with a defense that doesn't mind lighter, quicker defenders.
Defensive Tackle: Al Woods, LSU (4-6) -- The Patriots have probably shown the most interest so far, but Woods is no secret in any other war room. He knocked off 15 pounds before his 2009 season, and can play inside in a 4-3 or outside as a five-technique in a 3-4. This kind of versatility will serve him well as more NFL teams are moving to 3-man fronts and looking hard for the right players to fit the profile.
Defensive Tackle: Linval Joseph, East Carolina (4-7) -- Joseph's primary surprise attribute is his 5.10-40 speed at his size (6-5, 330). He can come off the blocks like an undertackle, but he isn't an every-down player -- there are functional stamina concerns which could have him ripe for the picking on the third day of the draft.
Outside Linebacker: Dekoda Watson, Florida State (3-5) -- In the right system, undersized linebackers can thrive and be very productive. That's what Watson, the Seminoles' longtime string-side linebacker, will be looking for at the next level. At 6-2 and 225 pounds, he'll most likely get his start on special teams while he finds his place. Could be a strong safety convert like fellow alum Michael Boulware(notes), or a situational 'backer like Michael Boley(notes).
Outside Linebacker: Roddrick Muckelroy, Texas (4-FA) -- Though he's not especially big or fast, Muckelroy held up with with talent all around him. A potential special teams star with his fearless downhill tackling style, he can rush the passer from different spots and would be a great option for any team willing to think outside the box.
Inside Linebacker: Pat Angerer, Iowa (3-6) -- You'd think that the lifespan for 6-0, 235-pound inside linebackers in the NFL would not be great -- you need a certain size to survive the position. But if you look at any Derrick Brooks(notes) football card or player page, you'll see that a certain kind of player can beat the odds. Angerer is that kind of player. He's got the short-area quickness and coverage speed to make his mark in a Cover/Tampa 2 system.
Inside Linebacker: Travis Goethel, Arizona State (3-6) -- Goether has more of the standard linebacker side at 6-3 and 240; what he doesn't have is the kind of speed needed to run a defense in all directions. He basically works in one direction -- forward -- but teams looking for a special teams thumper and a guy who will bring it hard on every play with faster defenders around him will be rewarded with maximum effort on every play.
Cornerback: Syd'Quan Thompson, Cal (3-7) -- In 2009, the Indianapolis Colts proved once again that they have this player personnel thing down. Unknown rookie cornerbacks Jacob Lacey(notes) and Jerraud Powers(notes) took over after injuries demolished the team's starting secondary, and helped the Colts get back to the Super Bowl. Thompson has the potential to be a player like that in the right system. He's undersized and slow if you rate him on the measurables curve, but he has the toughness in tackling and coverage instincts to succeed. Return ability will factor in as well.
Cornerback: Trevard Lindley , Kentucky (3-7) -- Another undersized corner, Lindley overcame durability and injury concerns to start 39 games for his team. He received a mid-second round grade from the NFL advisory committee before the 2009 season, but chose to return to school. He missed four games with an ankle injury, which dropped his stock a bit, and a below-average Senior Bowl week didn't help. But Lindley holds the SEC record for passes defensed, and he has the tools to start as a nickel corner in the NFL and work his way up to surprise starter over time.
Safety: Kam Chancellor, Virginia Tech (3-5) -- Chancellor went from quarterback to rover to free safety at VT, struggling at times with deep coverage, NFL teams may look to move the 6-3, 230-pound player to the strong side, where his athleticism would be a real attribute and his eagerness to go downhill and make the big stop would be featured.
Safety: Larry Asante, Nebraska (3-6) -- Misidentified by at least one play-by-play man as a linebacker due to his kamikaze tackling style, Asante plays bigger than his side (6-0, 212) and will surprise with his coverage ability. And nobody will want to deal with this guy on special teams.