First-rounders are the marquee attractions in a given NFL draft. But the teams that consistently ace their annual selections excel at winning the middle and late rounds.
That means picking undervalued prospects on Days 2 and 3. Some call them sleepers, some call them steals, but in the end, these are the players who will deliver the biggest returns based on where they were drafted into the league.
Here are the 10 best hidden gems of the 2021 NFL Draft, one from each primary offensive and defensive position:
2021 NFL Draft sleepers
Quarterback: Kellen Mond, Texas A&M (6-3, 211 pounds)
Mond is the ideal untapped prospect because he has solid physical tools as a runner and passer and has shown steady development as an experienced college starter so far. He has the arm, athleticism and confidence as a strong baseline and needs help growing with his accuracy and efficiency. With the right coaching, he can go from promising young backup to viable starter.
Running back: Rhamondre Stevenson, Oklahoma (6-0, 231 pounds)
Stevenson stands out with his strong running and carries extra burst with his hard-charging downhill style. He also does the little things well and is growing in pass protection. Although his receiving sills and open-field explosiveness are limited, he can deliver well with power with the support of a solid blocking system.
Wide receiver: Chatarius “Tutu” Atwell, Louisville (5-9, 155 pounds)
Atwell is a speed merchant out of the slot and one of the more underrated big-play threats in the class. He does have a small frame, but if used as a right change of pace receiving and running, he can make a lot of explosive plays. For teams interested in Purdue’s Rondale Moore earlier, Atwell can provide the same juice later with some Tyreek Hill traits on the field.
Tight end: Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame (6-3, 241 pounds)
Beyond the intimidating last name, Tremble is another strong prospect out of the Fighting Irish’s pro tight end tradition under Brian Kelly. He can excel lining up in multiple places as a blocker and has plenty of potential as an athletic receiver. With some good coaching to shore up his hands and route-running, Tremble can develop into a well-rounded starter.
Offensive tackle: James Hudson, Cincinnati (6-5, 313 pounds)
Hudson has incredible athleticism one can’t teach for his size. He gets around everywhere as a pass protector and run blocker, schooling less agile assignments. He is limited in experience, which ties into needing work on his hands, feet and overall technique. He should be a willing student to put everything together to eventually grow into a starting-caliber tackle.
Guard/center: Jack Anderson, Texas Tech (6-5, 314 pounds)
Anderson has an interesting blend of quick feet and tough hands to love his potential as a nasty run blocker moving players out of the way. He also needs to be refined and understand how to better use his body and natural athleticism to his advantage.
Defensive tackle: Alim McNeill, NC State (6-2, 317 pounds)
File McNeill under another lineman with impressive size and sttrength with great agility to match. His high-level athleticism translated into fine interior pass-rush production. He needs to get more consistent overall and more reliable against the run, but he can be disruptive in pressure situations right away.
Edge rusher: Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt (6-5, 285 pounds)
Odeyingbo looks the part with his size and some freakish qualities. Teams discounting him coming off a torn Achilles’ will be passing on someone with upside to rack up sacks in pressure situations. He can really get to the quarterback from many angles with a variety of moves. Odeyingbo just needs to be coached to have more substance to go with the flash to be trusted with regular snaps.
Linebacker: Monty Rice, Georgia (6-0, 233 pounds)
Rice is the classic middle-round high-effort linebacker. He’s not going to blow away teams with traditional flat-out speed and quickness, but he relies on his smarts snd savvy to make a ton of plays. He’s got a fundamentally sound base and his instincts, recognition and leadership skills are welcome intangibles for a defense and special teams unit.
Cornerback: Aaron Robinson, UCF (6-0, 186 pounds)
Robinson has the size and enough speed to be a top-flight slot corner. He’s not the speediest to stay with receivers downfield outside, but his quick feet are ideal for covering the inside well for a long time.
Safety: Talanoa Hufanga, USC (6-0, 199 pounds)
Hufanga has great size to be an extra linebacker from the position with his thumping, powerful style. He has good range as a tackler and gets around the field to make a lot of plays. He also is active enough to improve his work in pass defense.