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August 11, 2007

The sleepers: From anonymity to stardom

OFFENSE: Quarterback | Running back | Fullback | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive line
DEFENSE: Defensive end | Defensive tackle | Linebacker | Defensive back

What do Minnesota's Amir Pinnix, Virginia Tech's Branden Ore and Wisconsin's P.J. Hill have in common?

Those three running backs were selected as the top three preseason sleepers by Rivals.com last summer before they went on to achieve stardom at their respective schools. Hill performed so well last year that Rivals.com named him the national freshman of the year.

Instead of quitting while we're ahead, we've decided to press our luck by putting together our favorite sleepers for the 2007 season. Only this time, instead of merely mentioning our favorites in a top-10 list, we've put together an entire team full of sleepers.

Before we unveil our list, however, we ought to mention exactly what defines a sleeper. We wanted to mention potential impact players who filled all the following criteria:

  • They couldn't have spent more than one entire season in a starting lineup. Quarterbacks inherently get so much attention that only first-year starters at that particular position merited consideration

  • They couldn't have made any postseason all-conference teams, and they couldn't have been selected on any of this year's preseason all-conference squads

  • They couldn't have ever made a Freshman All-America team

  • They couldn't have been rated as four-star or five-star prospects during the recruiting process
  • All the players who made this team haven't received much attention in the past, but we have a feeling that's about to change.

    Max Hall, So., 6-1, 200, Brigham Young
    After signing with Arizona State as a three-star prospect three years ago, Hall finally will take his first snap in a college game this fall. The nephew of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White collected 5,257 career all-purpose yards and led his team to a 27-1 record his last two years at Mountain View High in Mesa, Ariz. Hall might not be well-known outside the West right now, but BYU's rich quarterback history suggests his days of relatively anonymity won't last long.
    Running back
    Javon Ringer, Jr., 5-9, 200, Michigan State
    Ringer's name is all too appropriate in this context. After all, you could argue he's a bit of a ringer on any all-sleeper team after establishing himself as one of the Big Ten's most promising running backs. Ringer seemed well on his way to contending for all-conference honors last year before suffering a knee injury in his fifth game of the season. This former three-star prospect has averaged 6.3 yards per carry in his career and should rush for at least 1,000 yards this year if he can stay healthy for the entire season.
    Brody Eldridge, So., 6-5, 258, Oklahoma
    Although Eldridge is officially listed as a tight end, this former three-star prospect also often lines up as a fullback and will be delivering the devastating blocks that open up holes for Allen Patrick, DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown. Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has said Eldridge is as good a blocker as anyone on the team. Eldridge's contributions make him a classic representative for an all-sleeper team. He does the dirty work that allows his teammates to grab the headlines.
    Wide receiver
    Brandon LaFell, So., 6-3, 194, Louisiana State
    LaFell burst onto the scene last year by catching a 58-yard touchdown pass against Louisiana-Lafayette on his first play from scrimmage as a redshirt freshman. LaFell added another 58-yard score in a Sugar Bowl victory over Notre Dame. This former three-star prospect will have more opportunities to make big plays this fall as a first-year starter for a team trying to replace the production of first-round draft picks Craig Davis and Dwayne Bowe.
    Andy Brodell, Jr., 6-2, 200, Iowa
    This former two-star prospect will try to pick up where he left off last season. Brodell caught 13 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns in his final two games last year. His big finish included a two-touchdown performance in the Alamo Bowl loss to Texas. His 63-yard touchdown in that game marked the longest reception in a bowl game by any Iowa player in school history.
    Tight end
    Jack Simmons, Jr., 6-4, 240, Minnesota
    Simmons will have his hands full trying to replace All-America tight end Matt Spaeth, but this former three-star prospect already has proved up to the challenge. Simmons filled in for an injured Spaeth at the Insight Bowl last year and caught seven passes for 134 yards. Simmons also caught five passes for 48 yards in a loss to Ohio State last season. Simmons should thrive under new Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, who was the San Diego Chargers' tight ends coach when Antonio Gates achieved stardom.
    Offensive linemen
    Gerald Cadogan, Sr., 6-5, 313, Penn State
    After starting five games at left guard two years ago, this former three-star prospect has the unenviable task of replacing four-year starter and first-round draft pick Levi Brown at left tackle. Cadogan owns a 3.59 grade point average and also can play the trumpet, so he shouldn't have much of a problem learning on the job.
    Jesse Miller, Jr., 6-6, 312, Michigan State
    The Big Ten featured so much star power at offensive tackle last year with Wisconsin's Joe Thomas, Penn State's Levi Brown and Michigan's Jake Long that other guys who played that position couldn't garner much attention. Miller went unnoticed even as this former two-star prospect graded out at 93 percent or above in each of his last eight starts at right tackle. Now that Thomas and Brown have moved on to the NFL, perhaps Miller will get more attention if he continues his steady production.
    Ryan McMahon, Fr., 6-3, 275, Florida State
    New Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett helped former two-star prospect Dan Mozes develop into an All-America center at West Virginia. Now he's working his magic on McMahon, a former three-star recruit who moved from the defensive line to center during spring practice. The redshirt freshman has adapted to his new position so well that he is working on the first team ahead of incumbent starter John Frady.
    Matt Spanos, Sr., 6-5, 305, Southern California
    USC has recruited so well in recent years that you have to look hard to find anyone who might qualify as a sleeper. Spanos fits the bill as a fifth-year senior and former three-star prospect replacing Ryan Kalil as the Trojans' starting center. Spanos would love to match the success of his predecessor, a former three-star recruit who was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the second round after an All-America senior season.
    Jason Bosley, Jr., 6-4, 292, Auburn
    This former two-star prospect has gradually worked his way up the depth chart and should open this season as Auburn's starting center. The Tigers will need Bosley to adapt quickly to his expanded role because they're replacing four starters on the offensive line. All that turnover should create plenty of opportunities for Bosley and fellow two-star prospect Tyronne Green, who figures to replace All-American Ben Grubbs at one guard spot.
    Defensive end
    Jeremy Jarmon, So., 6-3, 268, Kentucky
    Kentucky's much-maligned defense could get a whole lot better if Jarmon builds on the momentum from his late-season surge last year. This former two-star prospect recorded all four of his sacks last year in the final four games of the season. He also preserved Kentucky's 42-40 victory over Louisiana-Monroe by making the stop on a potential game-tying two-point conversion in the last minute. Jarmon's late-season production helped him squeak past promising Kansas State pass rusher Rob Jackson for a spot on this team.
    Dorian Smith, Sr., 6-3, 258, Oregon State
    This former three-star prospect recorded a team-high nine sacks last year despite starting only one game. Smith sacked Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan three times in a late-season victory over the Warriors and had another three-sack performance against Washington. Now that Smith is moving into the starting lineup, he should contend for all-conference honors.
    Defensive tackle
    Ziggy Hood, Jr., 6-4, 295, Missouri
    Hood recorded three sacks in his first three games last year before breaking his foot. He returned to play the last seven games, though the injury limited his effectiveness the rest of the year. Hood now has regained his health and edged out Big 12 rival Ty Steinkuhler of Nebraska for a position on our team. Hood, a former three-star prospect, has developed into a potential star by adding 45 pounds since his arrival at Missouri.
    Adrian Grady, Jr., 6-2, 291, Louisville
    This guy's the reason Louisville fans believe they can overcome the loss of first-round draft pick Amobi Okoye. Grady played eight games last year despite breaking a bone in his leg during the season opener. The former two-star prospect showed he was ready to take over for Okoye by forcing a fumble and recording a tackle for loss in the Orange Bowl victory over Wake Forest. Grady already is emerging as one of the vocal leaders on Louisville's defense.
    Anthony Heygood, Sr., 6-2, 230, Purdue
    This converted running back has adapted to his new position so well that he already might be Purdue's best linebacker. Heygood switched from offense to defense midway through last year but played primarily on special teams. The former three-star prospect will move into the starting lineup this season as an outside linebacker.
    Sean Lee, Jr., 6-2, 232, Penn State
    You could make a pretty good argument that this former three-star prospect outgrew the sleeper label when he collected 90 tackles last season. Lee certainly played well a year ago, but his performance was overshadowed by All-America teammates Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor. Now that Posluszny has moved on to the NFL, Lee should garner more attention while challenging for all-Big Ten and All-America honors.
    Ryan Powers, Fr., 6-1, 210, Arkansas
    Arkansas needs to find playmakers at linebacker after losing three-year starter Sam Olajubutu. Powers will try to help fill the void. The redshirt freshman and former two-star prospect ended spring practice as the Razorbacks' starting weak-side linebacker and continues to have the inside track toward winning the starting job at that spot.
    Defensive Back
    David Bruton, Jr., 6-2, 202, Notre Dame
    Bruton has played primarily on special teams his first two seasons, but this former three-star prospect should make much more of an impact on defense this fall. Bruton has spent the last several months showing he's ready for a starting job. He has added size without sacrificing speed. He returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown in the Blue-Gold Game. Bruton was named the Blue-Gold Game's defensive MVP and should team up with Tom Zbikowski to give the Irish a safety tandem capable of delivering big hits and big plays.
    Emanuel Cook, So., 5-10, 216, South Carolina
    This former three-star prospect started South Carolina's season opener as a true freshman last year and finished the season with 47 tackles, which ranked third on the team. He started five games last year and will open this season as the Gamecocks' No. 1 strong safety. Cook already has proved he's a winner. He closed his high school career by rushing for 243 yards and four touchdowns to help Palm Beach Gardens win the Class 6A Florida state championship game.
    Kam Chancellor, So., 6-4, 219, Virginia Tech
    Chancellor signed with Virginia Tech as a three-star quarterback prospect, but he has since found a home in the secondary. Chancellor worked out at cornerback in the spring and now is attempting to win a starting job at the rover (strong safety) spot as a redshirt freshman. Chancellor's speed his time of 4.44 in the 40 led all Virginia Tech incoming freshmen last year should help him adequately replace the departed Aaron Rouse.
    Zac Etheridge, Fr., 5-11, 200, Auburn
    This redshirt freshman has looked so impressive in preseason practices that he's been working on the first team ahead of senior Eric Brock, the incumbent starter at strong safety. Etheridge might not open the season in the starting lineup, but his rapid rise indicates it's only a matter of time before this former three-star prospect emerges as a vital performer on Auburn's defense.

    Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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