The MLB and NHL are the most common examples of prospects for sports fans.
Perhaps the NBA, where draft picks can be “stashed” abroad or in a development league until they are ready for the big time.
Experts believe that the Detroit Lions may soon have two undiscovered youngsters in the NFL. ESPN recently ranked the league’s top 25 sleeper prospects, with Julian Okwara as well Quintez Cephus making the cut.
This list doesn’t include Joe Burrow and Minkah Fitzpatrick, who are both pretty lock to be above-average players.
The Football Outsiders analysts who compile the rankings did not include players younger than 26 who were either undrafted or drafted in the second round. They must also have been in the league between 2018-2020, not signed a contract extension, and played less than 500 career snaps (except for special teams, where the snap count is 300).
This list, now in its 15th year seeks to predict long-term success, not just fantasy sleepers or a good 2021 season. Previous seasons’ rankings included Geno Atkins and Tyreek Hills as well as Chase Winovich, Chris Godwin, and Chase Winovich.
Quintez Cephus should be given his chance
Cephus was ranked No. 1 wide receiver. Cephus was drafted 11th overall due to his size and potential role as a Lions’ wide receiver. He was selected in the fifth round, 2020 draft. He played 365 snaps (13 seasons) during his rookie season. He had 20 catches, 349 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Rivers McCown published an article Sunday titled “A throwback, Cephus… Cephus was a true, outside power receiver… Cephus played the first Detroit game last year and posted a respectable 10.6% DVOA throughout the season despite being inconsistent in playing time.”
Cephus is not the fastest wideout (4.73 seconds 40-yard dash), which raises concerns about his ability of to distinguish from DBs. However, he has shown great ball skills. If he can surpass Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman, Cephus will be the third or fourth depth receiver.
Julian Okwara’s potential lies in his snap count
Okwara is featured just a few spots below at No. Okwara is ranked 16th and is the second highest edge rusher. Even with injuries, the Football Outsiders liked what Okwara at Notre Dame showed them, leading to only 69 snaps (three tackles and one solo) in six games as a rookie.
He did play as a rotational player in the final two games of the season and he won a season-high 26% snap share in Week 16, against Tampa. Rivers McCown writes that there is not much to be said about Rivers McCown’s rookie year. “It was a shame that it went wasted on the trainer’s table.”
Analysts were less optimistic about Okwara’s chances of snapping this season. Trey Flowers, Michael Brockers, and Okwara’s older brother Romeo, were all included in the mix.
“Okwara has the talent and ability to reach double-digit sacks, just like his brother. Are you looking for health and opportunities? We aren’t so sure yet.
It’s a fascinating exercise. Most NFL players become good players within a short time after being drafted. The majority of good players are drafted in the first and second rounds, compared to five for the last five. For many starters, the time span between draft pick/prospect status to full-time professional is not long.
The rankings topped with Damien Harris, a third-round draftee from Alabama and running back for the New England Patriots, who was ranked number three. The list had three top-ranked players: the New Orleans Saints.
The rankings were not completed by any other NFC North prospect.
Lions fans will have a chance to see Okwara, Cephus and the rest of the team starting with the preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills at 7:15 p.m. Aug. 13, in Detroit.