BIRDLAND – Each year during the draft ramp-up, we strike out to find a couple of sleepers.
“There are always players coming in and contributing (as) undrafted free agents and that’s part of the fun of the process is finding those guys and scouts finding that diamond in the rough,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said.
In 2006, we wrote about safety Danieal Manning from Abilene Christian and wide receiver Miles Austin from Monmouth. Manning was drafted in the second round by the Chicago Bears. Austin went undrafted, but was signed by the Cowboys. He’s been to two Pro Bowls.
In 2007, we shared the story of Jacoby Jones from Lane (Tenn.) College. He went in the third round to Houston.
Former Falcons coach Dan Reeves raved about Kevin Boss (Western Oregon) back in 2007 after working with him at an all-star game. He went to the New York Giants in the fifth round.
In 2009, we pointed out that Sammie Lee Hill (Stillman) was turning some heads. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the fourth round.
Last year, we just listed 10 small college guys who received invites to the NFL scouting combine.
But this year, there is a “Super Sleeper” and he’s from Georgia.
Linebacker J.R. Bryant, from Wayne County High and Jesup, played at tiny William Jewell last season and is starting to make some draft noise.
Bryant started his college career at Garden City (Kan.) Community College before signing with Oklahoma. He played for the Sooners before a misunderstanding with the coaching staff lead to him transferring to William Jewell.
He participated in Missouri’s Pro Day on March 17. He ran a 4.55 in the 40-yard dash. He has good size at 6-feet-2 ½ and 235 pounds. He also had a 10-6 broad jump and a 38 ½ vertical jump.
He also did the defensive back drills. After the workout, two NFC teams have sought more tape on Bryant.
“Things are going great,” Bryant said. “I’ve been waiting for this for a longtime. It’s a life long dream. Everything is going pretty smooth.”
He explained his problems at Oklahoma.
“In the summer of ‘09 I had to come home and help my mother work,” Bryant said. “She lost her job. At D-I programs, there are several workouts that are not mandatory, but I guess they hold it against you. So it was like a forced redshirt year.
“If we could have talked about it, maybe we could have worked something out. They didn’t talk to me about it, so I felt disrespected and left out. So, I decided to leave.”
He landed a William Jewell, a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) in Kansas City.
“I had a pretty good season,” Bryant said. “All I wanted to do was play ball. Playing my last year helped me out a lot with my dream. I’m just anxious to see what goes on from here.”
He had 63 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two sacks, three pass breakups, one fumble recovery and one interception.
“I played outside, but I’m being evaluated at all of the positions,” Bryant said. “Not only am I good at rushing the passer, but I’m also good in coverage, zone or man-to-man. Whatever they want me to play, I’m going to play.”
When he was leaving Garden City, he had offers from Nebraska, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma State.
He’s not sure if he’ll get drafted.
“That’s the goal, but just getting invited to a camp where I could get my foot in the door would be great,” Bryant said. “If I get the opportunity, I’m going to make sure that I work hard so that I can make the team. I have a workout for a team on April 12th. If they want to call and work me out, I’m willing to do it.”
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog