Darryl Sharpton graduated as a fifth-year senior from the University of Miami at Florida, appearing in 53 games throughout his college career with only 19 starts. Like many players at The U, Sharpton was redshirted as a freshmen and didn't see any action on the field until his sophomore year. Since the Hurricanes usually have a wealth of talent at their disposal, upper classmen tend to hold onto the starting positions until they graduate. That was the case with Sharpton, but he got off to a late start and only consistently cracked the line-up in his junior year before starting in his fifth season.
For his career, he had 255 tackles, 27 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and one interception, which he returned 73 yards for a touchdown. He was certainly very productive during his limited exposure to the starting lineup, but the question many scouts will pose is why would they draft a player to start on Sundays if he didn't consistently start on Saturdays?
Add in the fact that Sharpton is undersized to play middle linebacker for most teams at 6 feet and 229 pounds and it's easy to see why he's currently ranked as the seventh-ranked prospect at middle linebacker according to Scout.com and is the 135th-ranked player overall, which would drop him towards the end of the fourth round or the early fifth round.
But, Miami has a well-deserved reputation for cranking out NFL-level talent, so that pedigree will serve Sharpton in the months leading up to the NFL draft, particularly at their Pro Day, which is always well attended and organized.
Sharpton improved his stock by shining in practice, both in pass protection and run support, making a number of splash plays, including stoning Southern Cal offensive lineman Jeff Byers, a man who is three inches taller and 70 pounds heavier. He showed his athleticism and quick twitch ability, exploding into ball carriers and blockers and generally proving that he plays bigger than his weight class.
Scout.com Senior NFL Analyst Ed Thompson saw Sharpton in practices, met with him, and observed him during the Senior Bowl.
"He's a personable, talkative player off the field, but a very focused, physical one on the field," Thompson said. "The foundation of Sharpton's game is his big-hit capability. He obliterated a lead blocker during one practice, knocking him to the ground with the hit, and with one additional step had his arms wrapped around the ball carrier, taking him down. Sharpton is a speed player who uses gaps and angles well, and he shows good lateral pursuit skills.
"He blends in a bit in the passing game. He covers his zone adequately and swoops in for the hit if someone makes a catch in his area, but he's average at shadowing a player on a route. I didn't see him get burned by the pass, but I also didn't see him make any memorable plays, either. That said, I think he'll be a valuable addition to a team with his run-stuffing ability and his open-field tackling ability will be an asset on special teams during his rookie season."
In the fourth round, Sharpton would make an awful lot of sense for a Colts team that has a history of taking unheralded, undersized players and making them stars at the linebacker position. Though many would project Sharpton to play on the outside on Sundays, Indianapolis actually has a lot of quality depth at Sam and Will linebacker and would most likely use Sharpton's speed and explosive playmaking ability on coverage units, grooming him as the replacement for defensive captain Gary Brackett. Brackett himself was undrafted and eventually grew to prominence in the Cover 2 system that the Colts deploy, so there is a precedent for their ability to best utilize a player's skill set and fill in the rest of the gaps through coaching.
It remains to be seen, though, what Sharpton will do to help his draft status between now and April. He has already shown scouts what he can do with pads on against some of the best players in college football and must be eager to show them what he can do in shorts in position and workout drills at the scouting Combine and his Pro Day. Additionally, Miami is home to some of the best conditioning programs and services in the country, including the private workouts and drills held by current players and their extensive and successful alumni network. It is entirely possible that Sharpton will give scouts enough quantitative and qualitative evidence between now and April to convince them that he is worth even a second-round pick.
At that level, he is probably not worth the investment to an Indianapolis team that has bigger needs to address, but he would be a very intriguing player for them to scoop up at some point early in the second day of the 2010 draft.
Ed Thompson talked with Sharpton at the Senior Bowl. Read that Q&A here!
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