Draft Sleepers: Eric Taylor and Derrick Ballard

Fans and NFL teams alike are always in search of the sleeper come draft day. A middle round pick that surprises everyone to start in his first year or the player that steps up from nowhere to produce as a rookie always makes people feel like their favorite franchise is headed in the right direction. Eric Taylor and Derrick Ballard of Memphis may just be two players that fit the bill.

Eric Taylor an athletic 308-pound defensive lineman is starting to gain notice and momentum according to several NFL scouts. During a recent workout Taylor posted numbers of 4.83 seconds in the forty and 28 reps on the 220-pound bench. He also touched the tape at 33-1/2 inches in the vertical jump. Taylor has strong lateral pursuit, a relentless motor and compared favorably to Wade Smith, the starting left tackle for the Miami Dolphins who was a third round pick out of Memphis in 2003.

"Eric has the same work ethic as Wade," said his trainer Dean Lotz said. "He has improved his hand and foot speed, flexibility and vertical explosion. Most of all, the guy never misses a workout."

In four years at Memphis, Taylor started 24 of 42 games, totaling 151 tackles, including 11 for loss with six sacks. He showed his versatility by playing three years at tackle then moving to defensive end as a senior when he had a remarkable 52-yard interception return for a touchdown against Louisville. The ability to play in either a one-gap or two-gap system has teams salivating and they are knocking on Taylor's door.

The Jets have already worked out Taylor privately, and he has a pre-draft visit to the Seahawks scheduled. Other teams showing interest are Pittsburgh, Miami, Atlanta, Tennessee, New Orleans, Houston, New England, Chicago and Green Bay.

Taylor's defensive teammate at Memphis, Derrick Ballard, is also a prospect whose play is characterized by versatility. A linebacker most of his college career, Ballard started 39 of 45 games in college, posting 314 tackles with 31 for loss and five interceptions. As a junior, he led Memphis in tackles with 101 and tied for the team lead with three interceptions. This past season Ballard totaled 91 tackles. Yet at 206-pounds scouts have their questions; is he an outside linebacker or a safety?

While most teams view him as a safety, others feel like they can put 15 pounds on Ballard's frame and keep him back to linebacker.

"A lot of the scouts I've talked with like my versatility of being able to play two positions," Ballard said. "Some of them want me to play safety, some of them want me to play linebacker. They want to know my favorite position, and it doesn't matter to me because I just want the chance to play."

Ballard's best skill on the field? Tackling of course.

"All we did in practice when I was at linebacker was tackle drills," Ballard said. "That's why I'm a good open field tackler."

And those skills were evident this year.

Another player scouts have on the radar, he has privately worked out for the Houston Texans, as well as Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. While these two former Tigers will not be early draft picks, it's best fans become acquainted with them as they could soon be making plays for their favorite teams or worse yet, disrupting them as part of the opposition!

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