Defensive End: Bronson Kaufusi (BYU), Yannick Ngakoue (Maryland)
Two sleepers? Yes. Why? Because defensive ends are a high premium for NFL teams after seeing the Denver Broncos dominate a great Carolina Panthers team at the line of scrimmage. Teams are looking for defensive ends to harass NFL quarterbacks.
Kaufusi is 6’6”, weighs 285 and will probably be drafted in the third to fourth round. Why? His stats aren’t too shabby: Bronson had 64 tackles, 20 of which were for a loss, 11 sacks, 1 interception and 3 forced fumbles. He has good size and speed and could be a valuable third-down pass-rush asset for NFL defenses. But, a big question mark is getting off blocks. (Disclaimer: I am a BYU graduate).
Ngakoue (pronounced En-Gah-kway) is a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end and played against Big Ten offensive line talent. He is 6’2” and weighs 252 pounds. He could go as high as the 2nd round, but I’d think he’d fall maybe to the 3rd round. He wreaked havoc last season, with 13.5 sacks, 38 total tackles (15 tackles for a loss), with 1 fumble and 1 pass break-up. He is long, he has speed, and he has the stats and tape to back it up. As WalterFootball pointed out, he owned Brandon Scherff, who was the 5th-overall pick for the Washington Redskins last year, when they faced each other in 2014. (Second disclaimer: I’m also a Maryland fan :D)
Defensive Tackle: Jonathan Bullard, Florida
6’3”, 285 pounds.
Bullard was one of the best SEC run defenders in 2015, according to WalterFootball. One of my favorite NFL analysts, former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah, is high on him and pointed out how Bullard dominated SEC offensive linemen. But, he is smaller than NFL teams would like, which is why he could end up going (at the latest) in the 2nd round. He had 17.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and 2 batted passes, with 66 total tackles. He needs to add weight, but his track record in the SEC speaks for itself.
Cornerback: Cyrus Jones, Alabama
5’9”, 196 pounds. 4.49 40-time.
Jones is better known for his special teams plays and special package plays on defense, where he played in corner-heavy packages (nickel or dime). His speed is out of this world on the field and he showed up a lot in big games, for better and for worse. Height is a large concern because of bigger tight ends and wide receivers. He did have 2 interceptions last season as a senior, and 3 as a junior.
But, I believe could be a Devon Hester-type player, where his best talent is on special teams, then he learns the position as time goes on. Yes, wide receiver is slightly easier to learn, as it is more proactive than reactive, but if Jones is one of those solid Alabama Crimson Tide players that the school boasts about, he’ll learn and develop to be a solid nickel corner in a pass-happy NFL. Jones will probably go between the 4th to 6th round and will be a steal if he develops well.
Linebacker: Blake Martinez, Stanford
6’0”, 233 pounds.
Stanford churns out NFL talent, maybe not top-end talent, but consistent talent. Martinez is one of those blue-collar linebacking types, like former Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy (who is transitioning from linebacker to defensive line this year for the Washington Redskins). Martinez was a tackle machine, with 141 total tackles, 6.5 for loss, 1 interception, 1.5 sacks, 6 pass break-ups. He is a steady Eddie, as the saying goes, and will get the job done.
Martinez is no Luke Kuechly, but is that stout, inside linebacker that will make the right plays. Also, Stanford coach David Shaw doesn’t coach idiots. Martinez is projected to go between the third and fifth round of the draft.
Safety: Sean Davis, Maryland
6’1”, 201 pounds, 4.46 40-time.
Davis shifted around in Maryland’s defense from corner to safety and at times, a small linebacker. He had 88 tackles last year on a so-so football team in a tough Big Ten division (facing the likes of Ohio State) and had 3 interceptions. Not an impressive resume, per se, but he is athletic, he can cover and stay in the box to guard against the run. Although, his versatility impresses NFL scouts.
Major concerns are whether he can keep up with top speed talent in the NFL and read the quarterback’s eyes correctly. Some scouting reports point out that he is often beat on double moves, and is inconsistent in covering receivers as he is more of a hard-hitting safety. A lot of scouts are hyping him up, but remember, his ceiling is maybe the 3rd round and floor is the 5th round.
Quarterback: Cody Kessler, USC
6’1”, 220 pounds.
A lot of people love Brandon Allen out of Arkansas, who is pro-ready and a gutsy QB from the SEC. But, Cody is a three-year starter out of the PAC12 and he works in a pro-style offense, albeit more of a West Coast offense (i.e. short passes and not too many deep balls). Per NFL.com, Kessler threw for 3,536 yards with a 66.8 completion percentage in 2015 and he is not turnover-prone (Cody threw 39 touchdowns, five interceptions in 2014; 29 TD, 7 INT in 2015). Not too many college QBs can put that on their resume.
However, he lacks deep ball arm strength and struggles throwing while moving out of the pocket. But, the kid can play, he played through a cloud of sanctions and won games. He’ll be a round 5 draft pick and will be a short project of 1-2 years, if not sooner.
Running Back: Jonathan Williams, Arkansas
5’10”, 219 pounds, projected 40 time 4.58 (was injured, didn’t participate much at combines or pro day).
WalterFootball.com said the following about Williams, which has been echoed by the likes of draft gurus Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks (both former NFL scouts now working at NFL Network):
“As a runner, Williams has tremendous balance and an impressive ability to pick up yards after contact. He has a good body lean and runs with power. Sources from some teams are targeting Williams in the mid-rounds and think he could be a steal because of his injury. Williams also has drawn rave reviews off the field, and his teammates have gushed about him in team interviews.”
“Williams would be the feature back at most schools, but he’s the backup for Arkansas. He still ran for 1,190 yards (5.6 average) and 12 touchdowns on only 211 carries in 2014 while Alex Collins was the lead back. Williams also had 11 receptions for 65 yards and two scores. He is a physical runner who could enter the NFL with fresh legs.”
Enough said; he’ll be a steal between rounds 3-5 at the draft.
Wide Receiver: Michael Thomas, Southern Miss (Southern Mississippi)
6’1”, 186 pounds, 4.54 40-time.
Thomas is a sleeper because he went to a non-Power 5 school, but he increased his production from 2014 to 2015 (from Pride of Detroit):
Plus, his yards-after-catch (known as YAC) is one of the best among a weak WR crop this draft year:
— Luke Easterling (@LukeEasterling) January 6, 2016
He has some issues catching the ball, but he’s athletic and can take the top off the defense and stretch the field vertically. He’ll be a round 5 or round 6 pick and could develop very well.
Tight End: Thomas Duarte
6’2”, 231 pounds, 4.72 40-time.
The Mexican-Japanese-American tight end out of UCLA impressed some scouts with not only his play on the field, but his heritage. He joked that he got the best food of both worlds in an interview with Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman. But, he is a pass-catching tight end that produced at the famous Mater Dei High School (which has produced the likes of Matt Leinart) and at UCLA. As a freshman, had 16 catches for 214 yards and 4 TDs, and then as a sophomore, caught 28 passes for 540 yards and 4 TDs. With Josh Rosen as his signal-caller, he caught 53 balls for 872 yards (a 16.5-yards-per-catch average) and 10 TDs.
Scouts have compared him to Jordan Reed. He can’t block, but he can get out in space, run routes and wreak havoc on opposing defenses. That’s not a bad comparison. He’ll be picked anywhere between the mid-to-low 3rd round to the 5th round and has to bulk up, learn how to block a little bit, and he’ll be a longtime NFL tight end.
Offensive Line: Le-Raven Clark, Texas Tech, offensive tackle
6’5”, 316 pounds.
Not a deep offensive line class, outside of Tunsil and Conklin, but Clark is an athletic specimen on the field. Yes, he’ll be gone by the third round, which begs the question, is he really a sleeper? But, this is a thin offensive line class and he could become a future offensive line anchor sooner rather than later.
Consensus among scouts is that his technique is not perfect, but he does have quick feet. A big part of being a tackle is how he bends, and he is a good ‘bender’ to deal with the faster defensive ends who can get low to the ground. But, there are few mentions of how good his hands are at the point of attack, which worries me. You need good hands to keep up with all the moves by defensive linemen and linebackers these days. Ever see a JJ Watt spin move or a quick bend speed rush by Von Miller? Clark be mincemeat if he faces them without improving his hands. That aside, he’ll be a good pick with a lot of upside and potential.