OU battles: Top NFL prospect

Sooners have a handful of defensive players who could be headed to the league next year

Preseason camp nears for the Oklahoma Sooners, who are looking to rebound from what can only be described as a disappointment.

There’s new blood to lead the Sooners. On offense, Lincoln Riley begins his first season with Oklahoma and his first as a major conference coordinator. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops plans to work from the box this season and has two new assistants helping to mold the defense.

What happens on the field will be more important than what happens on the sideline, though. Oklahoma still has a few battles yet to be decided. Over the next week, Sooners Illustrated will examine those battles.

NFL Prospect battle - Charles Tapper vs. Eric Striker vs. Zack Sanchez

Who will set themselves up for the best defensive NFL draft options on the roster?

Case for Charles – For Tapper, it’s not about his athletic gifts. He has the innate skills to succeed as a professional. There’s still a bit of learning for him to do.

Last year was supposed to be a bit of a breakout season for him. It wasn’t. Teams focused on him, and he never responded the way he would have hoped. He pointed that out unprovoked midway through last season. He wanted to be better and had been distracted.

He can put it together and could be a prototypical 4-3 defensive end or even a 3-4 outside linebacker (maybe). Teams will line up for his athleticism. He’ll need the technique to go with it. And maybe a little more on his motor.

Case for Eric – Unlike the other two players in this battle, Striker’s issue isn’t production or talent or anything that he can really change. It’s size.

He’s just not big enough to play linebacker at the next level. He’s a tweener and a really talented college player.

A special teams dynamo in the NFL: That’s a role fit for Striker. To be an every-down player at the next level, he’ll need to be better in coverage. That might help him prove to be more than just specialist at the next level.

Case for Zack – As a cover corner, there aren’t many better than Sanchez. When he was tested last season, he usually got the better of the receiver or the quarterback. He’s a solid size for the NFL (just a hair under 6-feet). He has exceptional leaping ability and really great ball skills.

Sanchez has to prove he can tackle better. A shoulder injury held him back last season and made him look even worse than he would have been. A fully healthy Sanchez would have a chance to show he can be a complete cornerback.

Verdict – Now I know what you’re saying, “Sanchez isn’t a senior. He could come back next year.”

If he replicates his last two seasons at Oklahoma, he’ll be headed out the door. There’s no reason to think he can’t, either. He’s the youngest of all the big-time leaders on the roster. He’s also the best NFL prospect on the roster right now – save for maybe Samaje Perine, who is still at least two years from the NFL, or Sterling Shepard.

Striker will have a long way to go. He’ll get a shot but possibly as a mid-round selection. Without a big season, Tapper probably ends up the same way.

Sanchez has a real shot to break into the second round.

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