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NFL Draft: How to be a sleeper

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Let’s discuss the art of being a sleeper prospect.

NFL Combine sleeper Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images. Banner Society illustration.

There are many paths to becoming a sleeper pick. 2020 NFL Combine participants shared their personal strategies, which I’ve sorted based on complexity.

Tier 1: The natural sleepers

Cole McDonald, Hawaii QB

“I sleep like a baby,” the 2019 BVP Award nominee says. “Gotta brush my teeth, take a shower, whatever it is, just lie down, reflect on the day, a couple deep breaths, and I’m out.”

“Big soft pillow guy,” he adds. “Big soft pillow, but can’t be too fluffy. I don’t like my head being tilted too far up. You know me.”

Dezmon Patton, Washington State WR

“I could go to sleep any time. I could drink an energy drink and go right to sleep.”

That description by Patton sums up this group. These are the players who can knock out at any time, without delay, and sleep soundly through the evening. Patton gets extra credit for going to school in the internet’s Fireball capital of America (Pullman, Washington) and still having the discipline to fall asleep quickly.

Patton sleeps on his stomach, resting his head between two soft pillows and partially on the mattress. It seems unorthodox, but it works.

Kendall Coleman, Syracuse DL

Coleman shared this story from his Combine experience:

“They put me in the MRI machine to check me out about some stuff. I probably heard two songs while I was in there before my body just relaxed, and I was out.”

Cody White, Michigan State WR

“I can sleep anywhere,” he says. “I feel like I just need to be in a peaceful environment.”

The proof: During White’s freshman year, the Spartans’ plane broke down right before the team was to fly to Northwestern. White adjusted and slept soundly for much of the ensuing drive.

John Reid, Penn State DB

“I’m usually pretty tired at the end of the day, so I just go in my bed, turn all the lights off, and go to sleep. Yeah, it’s over.”

John Penisini, Utah DL

“I just knock out.”

Tier 2: The system-guy sleepers

Keith Ismael, San Diego State OL
John Molchon, Boise State OL
Cordel Iwuagwu, TCU OL
Carlos Davis, Nebraska OL

“I need perfect conditions,” Ismael says. “Dark room, not too cold, not too hot. Good amount of pillows. No sound. No sound, no light.”

“I need it to be dark,” Molchon says. “I usually sleep on my side. I don’t like it to be too quiet. I like a little white noise. For the most part, I don’t like to crush some food and then try to go to bed. I like to kind of ease into that.”

“For big dudes, what I’ve learned is when you go to bed, you’ve gotta shut all the lights off,” Davis says. “They’ve gotta be pitch dark. No light can come in the room.”

Iwuagwu requires “a really dark room and for it to be really cold, honestly.”

Stephen Sullivan, LSU TE

LSU has nap pods in its locker room.

“You ever been in, like, first-class? It’s like, the recliners lean back?” Sullivan asks me.

“That’s just like how our lockers is.”

(Sullivan might be a good sleeper on his own, but I wanted to use this space point out that LSU has nap pods.)

Brian Lewerke, Michigan State QB

His pre-sleep routine involves chilling for an hour or so prior to hitting the sack.

“Go on TikTok a little bit, get a good laugh out of there,” he says. “Maybe scroll Twitter, watch some SportsCenter or something.”

Grayland Arnold, Baylor DB

“Gotta pray. I don’t wanna pray in the bed. I wanna get down on both knees and pray.”

Tier 3: The adversity-overcoming sleepers

Netane Muti, Fresno State OL

“First of all, I think it was already broken at first,” Muti tells me.

This is never the way you want someone to start a story about their bed. But it was the situation Muti faced during his second or third semester at Fresno.

“But I kept laying on it, and it just kept going in and in more.”

So the 6’3, 315-pounder adapted on the fly.

“Yeah, I’d just go in the corner and kind of cuddle up to where the straight part is,” he says. “I wake up when my back starts hurting and stuff like that, but I just stretch it out.”

Muti slept that way for about a year before placing the mattress on the floor. He would later break a bed at his draft training site in Nashville, but he battled through that, too.

Alex Taylor, South Carolina State OL

Taylor is 6’8 and 300 pounds. He sleeps in a queen-sized bed.

“I don’t fit in most beds, so I have to sleep at an angle in order to get my whole body on the bed,” he says. “Or I bend my knees in order to get on the bed. It’s tough, but I make it work.”

This is a fully diagonal angle, with Taylor’s head in one corner and his feet in another. He uses blackout curtains and may lull himself with a pre-sleep YouTube video about cars.

“I like cars,” he says.

Tier 4: The expert sleepers

Like their comrades in Tier 2, these guys have a routine. These are just much more complex.

Darrion Daniels, Nebraska DL

The Huskers put a heavy emphasis on a good night’s rest, going so far as to have a doctor work on players’ sleep routines.

“I wanna be in bed by 10, and I like watching my little cartoons at night, but that’s whatever. Around like 9 o’clock, I’ll hit my stretch routine. I have a rubber band in my room, so I’ll hit the rubber band, too. I’ll just stretch out nice and real for like an hour.”

“10 o’clock is when I go hop in the shower. And it’s a process. I take hygiene serious, and I like my shower time. I will probably wash my face for a long time, take me a nice little shower — not a nice, little shower, I’ll take me a nice, long shower. It’ll be hot, too. Moisturize my body, put my little bonnet on, and I take care of anything. My body is nice and relaxed, and when I go and lay in bed, it’s curtains.”

By 11 p.m., it’s over, and Daniels is out like a light.

Trevis Gipson, Tulsa DL

“I have a humidifier, makes the room a little more humid, helps me get that deep REM sleep. Making sure I’m hydrated, making sure I use the restroom before I go to sleep so I don’t have to wake up throughout the night. Just making sure it’s a real dark room. Any lights, any even small bright lights, it bothers me,” Gipson says.

Gipson — 6’3, 261 — has worked to craft the right environment.

“I used to have a queen bed, and my feet would hang off the end, so I had to dig into my budget a little bit and get a Cali king. Ever since then, I’ve been sleeping pretty good. I’ve been investing in mattress foams, egg creates, that kind of stuff. It’s like a nightmare if you come across a hotel room with hard pillows or hard bed, because you’re used to egg crates.”

Gipson uses two pillows: “I really only need one and cuddle the other.”

Darnell Mooney, Tulane WR

Mooney benefitted from professional sleep-tracking during his time at Tulane. He’s developed a luxurious, multi-pillow routine, sometimes devoting one each to three different sectors of his body.

“I have my feet kicked up under a pillow, and maybe sometimes I have one up under my back,” he explains.

The results, as tracked by an app, speak for themselves.

“I’m kind of perfect right now. I’ve been getting my hours,” Mooney says.

AJ Green, Oklahoma State DB

“A routine I actually started a few months ago: I go to YouTube, and I play rain and thunder sounds with a black screen. It’s given me a pretty good night’s sleep,” he says.

Your correspondent also uses white noise apps from time to time, particularly when his upstairs neighbors are obnoxiously loud. They’re terrific.

Lamar Jackson, Nebraska DB

“I pretty much put the AC on 70. If we got a ceiling fan, put that on a little bit. Make sure you got some blankets. I use melatonin,” he explains. “Pretty much sit in a dark room. Lights out at like 10. I pretty much try to accomplish that and just turn everything off at 10. Even if I’m not tired, just sitting in bed, you know what I’m saying? Trying to breathe, meditate.

“Just be one with the bed.”

Broderick Washington, Texas Tech DL

Part of Washington’s routine is simple and not the kind of thing that would earn him a placement in this tier, because anyone might do this:

“I just try to work as hard as I can throughout the day so once it’s time to go to bed, I’m exhausted, and I can just fall right asleep, pretty much,” he says.

However, there is another key:

“Make sure I get a nice, warm bath.”

Not just a bath: an epsom salt bath to deal with aches and pains. That level of specialization puts him in the professional tier.

Tier 5: The sleeper I’m most worried about

Isaiah Coulter, Rhode Island WR

The former Ram’s pre-sleep ritual often involves watching Undisputed, the show in which Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe yell at each other about something.

“Probably just talking about LeBron, them going back and forth,” Coulter says. “Shannon’s a big LeBron fan, and Skip never wants to give him his credit. Watching them go back and forth, that’s funny.”

Once he’s absorbed that exchange, Coulter falls asleep.

“Just watching them talk, it kind of gets me sleepy,” he says.