NFL Draft 2016 Sleepers: Defense
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.