Most NFL fans are familiar with the big names of the 2016 NFL Draft. They fawn over highlight packages of players expected to be selected in the first and second round of the draft hoping that their team is the one turns in the card with their favorite prospects name on it. That's no surprise because that's where the splashes are made. But in reality, good teams are built in the mid-to-late rounds. Just ask Scot McCloughan.
Every year, there are players selected late in the draft that end up out-producing their suggested draft value and play crucial roles on their respective teams. You may have heard the term "sleeper" or "gem" in reference to these players. Here is a list of some of my top defensive sleepers in the 2016 NFL draft.
ILB Elandon Roberts - Houston - 5'11" 235 lbs.
My Twitter followers know I've been driving the Elandon Roberts bandwagon for awhile. He is a tackling machine with a nose for the ball and relentless pursuit. He hits like a ton of bricks. Scouts recently clocked him at his pro day running a 4.49-4.53. He displays tremendous leadership on and off the field. Roberts has the speed and aggression to make an impact on special teams early and has potential to work his way into a starting lineup.
OLB Yannick Ngakoue - Maryland - 6'2" 252 lbs.
Last year, the pass rusher wreaked havoc on an Iowa offensive lineman by the name of Brandon Scherff. That's a game the Redskins starting guard has said he never wants to talk about again. Ngakoue added 14.5 sacks this year to the 13.5 he recorded in 2015. He is a compact, thickly built pass rusher with quickness and good hand speed. The Terp standout posted similar test numbers as Washington pass rusher Junior Galette. Ngakoue is raw as a technician but with the the right coaching, he can cause problems on the blindside.
OLB Stephen Weatherly - Vanderbilt - 6'4" 268 lbs.
A pass rusher from the SEC with incredible length. Sound familiar? Scot McCloughan made Preston Smith a 2nd round pick last year and Weatherly is almost a carbon copy size-wise though far more raw with significant untapped potential. That can be a dangerous word in this business, but it can also be a goldmine. Weatherly didn't put up big sack numbers but harassed quarterbacks in the film I watched. Weatherly actually has longer arms (34 1/2 vs. 34), a faster 40 (4.61 vs. 4.74), and a quicker 10-yard split (1.59 vs 1.63) than Smith but is a tad less explosive. This is a McCloughan-type of player.
DE/DT Maliek Collins - Nebraska - 6'1" 311 lbs.
In most drafts, I think Collins generates more buzz than his current showing. This isn't most drafts. The defensive line talent is so great that very good players are being pushed down draft boards and left out of many pre-draft debates. This man is one of them. Collins offers a good blend of power and first step quickness. He surprises offensive lineman with his burst off the snap and has the power to drive blockers back. Some teams dedicated two blockers to deal with him. Collins has the talent and athleticism to penetrate to create an interior pass rush. He's a rare combination of mobility, agility and physicality. All that and Collins could wind up as a Day 3 selection.
CB D.J. White - Georgia Tech - 5'10" 193 lbs.
White plays with a swagger you want to see from a defensive back and backs it up with his play. He was a team captain and a leader on the football field. White is very good in press coverage. He is patient with his feet and is careful to not over extend showing the ability to mirror receivers footwork and get into his pads. Not afraid to stick his nose in the pile, While can be a factor in the run game. He shows good ball skills and on film you can see him sometimes try and bait the quarterback. White can play in the slot -- a possible need in Washington depending on Kyshoen Jarrett's physical status -- and has the potential to play outside as well.
Honorable mentions: DL Javon Hargrave (South Carolina State), DL Luther Maddy (Virginia Tech), DL Jihad Ward (Illinois), OLB Curt Maggitt (Tennessee), LB Antonio Morrison (Florida), S Deon Bush (Miami), CB Kevon Seymour (USC), S K.J. Dillion (West Virginia)
Paul Conner is the Film Analyst and a Draft Evaluator at Breaking Burgundy. You can follow him on Twitter @P_ConnerJr
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