A few days ago I released my “All Sleeper Offensive Team,” and I’ve followed that up with my “All Sleeper Defensive Team.” The players featured on this list consist of prospects who are from small schools and dominated their level of competition, hardworking guys who fly under the radar and don’t get the credit they deserve, and players who come from big programs and were overshadowed by highly touted prospects.The defensive team features 2 DEs, 2 DTs, 3 LBs, 2 CBs and 2 safeties. These players are prospects that teams can grab in the mid-to-late rounds and possibly as undrafted free agents. Keep an eye on these guys, as they may become intrical parts of your favorite team down the road:
DE, Trevor Scott, Buffalo
Strengths: Scott is an undersized speed rusher who has a lot of athleticism. He’s quick off the snap, uses his hands well and shows great strength getting around the end. He has a closing burst of speed and is good in pursuit. He alters his angle of attack and diagnoses the action well to track down a ballcarrier. He’s still developing and has tremendous upside.
Weaknesses: He only has two years experience at defensive end. He’s a streaky defender and gets overwhelmed on occasion at the line of scrimmage. He has a nice frame, but lacks size and will have to develop better technique to be successful at the next level.
Overview: Scott began his career at Buffalo as a tight end and was moved to defensive end before the 2006 season. A transition that could have been tough, Scott accepted it with open arms and flourished by recording 45 tackles, 13.5 for a loss and nine sacks. This past season, Scott bettered his previous year’s performance and amassed 46 tackles, 15 for a loss and 10 sacks. At Buffalo’s Pro Day, Scott measured in at 6-foot-5, 256 pounds and had an impressive workout. He ran a 4.57 in the 40-yard dash and showed great athleticism with a 33.5-inch vertical, 9’9” broad jump and a solid performance in 20-yard shuttle (4.19) and 3-cone drill (6.84). He also demonstrated great strength in the bench press by putting up 225 pounds 32 times. Scott is an intriguing athlete with a lot of great tools and skill.Draft Projection: Fifth – Sixth Round
Strengths: Williams is a hard working defender who gets good penetration up the middle. He’s quick off the snap and plays with leverage. He moves well laterally, uses his hands and strength to his advantage and is able to get in the backfield and make positive plays.
Weaknesses: He has to improve his overall quickness inside and disengage consistently. He gets fatigued as the game goes on. He tends to rely on his strength too much and doesn’t use proper technique to shed blocks.
Overview: Williams is an underrated interior presence who had a productive career at Missouri. He saw limited action as a redshirt freshman, but has been a starter on defense since his sophomore season and has been very durable. Since he’s become a starter, Williams has improved his sack total each year and has been consistent against the run. As a sophomore, he collected 5.5 sacks; as a junior, six sacks, and this past season he recorded 6.5. Williams is also an effective run defender. In 2006, he had 53 tackles and 10.5 were for a loss. This past season, he had 33 tackles and 10 were for a loss. At Missouri’s Pro Day, Williams looked solid physically and while running through drills. He added 12 pounds of muscle, shed 8-percent of his body fat and measured in at 6-foot-1, 305 pounds. He had a great showing on the bench press and did 29 reps of 225 pounds. That performance landed Williams an interview with the Chicago Bears. Williams is a hard working DT who may be a steal towards the end of the draft.Draft Projection: Seventh Round – Free Agent
Strengths: McCray is an undersized lineman who moves well inside. He displays a solid burst of speed in a short area, uses his size to his advantage and gets underneath the opposition to gain penetration. He shoots the gap and gets in the backfield to make plays.
Weaknesses: He lacks size and explosiveness. He struggles against bigger opponents. He tends to wear down as the game progresses. Durability is a concern.
Overview: McCray is an interesting prospect who has a lot of potential. He’s an undersized defensive tackle, but he’s a competitor who made his presence felt immediately at Miami. As a redshirt freshman, McCray didn’t start in a game, but he played in 11 and contributed 21 tackles, four for a loss and 2.5 sacks. The following season, he tore his left ACL during Spring Practice and had surgery. But to everyone’s surprise, he returned that same season, played in the final five games of the year and contributed a sack. McCray got his opportunity to start as a junior and played well, despite having his left knee scoped during the spring, which only affected his play early in the season. He played in 12 games, started eight and missed a game due to a lower back injury. He recorded 25 tackles, five for a loss and two sacks. This past season, McCray was fully healthy, started every game and had a breakout season. He had 33 tackles, 10.5 for a loss and six sacks. At Miami’s Pro Day, the 6-feet, 296 pounds McCray had a nice showing in front of scouts. He ran a 5.08 in the 40 and showed good athleticism with a 29-inch vertical jump. He also did well in the bench press, as he put up 225 pounds 27 times. McCray’s stature and injury history may detour teams from selecting him, but if he’s given an opportunity, he can develop into a nice rotation player.Draft Projection: Free Agent
Strengths: Mitchell is an athletic prospect with an improving game. He plays with good leverage, is fast off the edge and has a high motor. He’s rarely off his feet and is explosive at the point. He’s instinctive and understands his assignments. He’s versatile and can be used in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense.
Weaknesses: He lacks ideal size and can be handled at the point by a single blocker. He has to improve his strength and technique and not allow the opposition to knock him off his rush. He has to locate the ballcarrier quicker and get off blocks better. Durability is a concern.
Overview: Mitchell is an undersized DE with a lot of potential. He saw action in 12 games as a true freshman and got his first career sack against Louisiana Tech. Mitchell’s sophomore season was mired by injuries, and he didn’t have the opportunity to make an impact due to a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. As a junior, he was finally healthy and started 11 games and recorded 43 tackles, eight for a loss and four sacks, which included a team leading 13 QB hurries. This past season, he started all 14 games and posted 51 tackles, seven for a loss, two sacks and an interception. Mitchell was invited to the Texas vs. Nation game, and he had an up-and-down week at practice. He struggled against bigger blockers and appeared overmatched, but he played well in the game and showed a solid burst off the edge. At Tennessee’s Pro Day, the 6-foot-2, 258 pounds Mitchell had a good performance in front of scouts and took part in all workouts. He ran a 4.86 in the 40, registered a 36 1/2-inch vertical and benched 225 pounds 24 times. He also showed nice agility in the 3-cone and shuttle drills.Draft Projection: Free Agent
Strengths: Mapp is an overachiever who gives maximum effort on the football field. He’s a hard-hitting defender who’s always around the ball. He has a quick first step, anticipates the action and attacks the line of scrimmage. He moves well laterally and is good in pursuit. He plays well in coverage and has great instincts.
Weaknesses: He doesn’t have elite timed speed and only shows a good burst in a short area. He has to use his hands better and get off blocks consistently.
Overview: Mapp is a former walk-on at North Carolina, and because of his hard work, he contributed immediately. As a freshman, he played in 10 games and was primarily used on special teams. The following season, he was used as a backup linebacker during the first half of the year and then was named the Tar Heels starting middle linebacker for the final six games of the season. The promise he showed during his sophomore season landed him the starting job at outside linebacker as a junior. Mapp started nine of 12 games, played extremely well and led the Tar Heels in tackles with 87. This past season, Mapp emerged as one of the most ferocious tacklers the nation had never heard of and registered an ACC leading 132 tackles. He also contributed three sacks and an interception. His production this past season earned him an invitation to the Scouting Combine. Mapp measured in at 6-foot-1, 227 pounds and ran a 4.71 in the 40-yard dash. He didn’t participate in shuttle drills due to leg cramps, but he displayed his strength in the bench press and did 27 reps of 225 pounds.Draft Projection: Seventh Round
Strengths: Graham is a tough, athletic, active linebacker. He’s an intelligent defender who understands assignments and reads the action well. He has great range and athleticism. He takes good angles in pursuit and wraps up the ballcarrier. He’s always willing to get involved in a play.
Weaknesses: He lacks ideal height and tends to get lost in the shuffle. He over pursues and will miss tackles. He doesn’t have good ball skills and isn’t a playmaker.
Overview: Graham contributed immediately when he arrived at Michigan and saw significant time as a freshman. He played in all 12 games on special teams and saw action at linebacker in two games. The following season, Graham received more playing time. He played in all 12 games as a sophomore, started four games at middle linebacker and totaled 42 tackles. As a junior, Graham missed two games due to injury, but played in 10 games and started four games at middle linebacker, but his production dropped to 25 tackles. But this past year was Graham’s finest. He was the Wolverines starting weakside linebacker in all 12 games and amassed 90 tackles, seven for a loss and a sack. Graham didn’t receive an invitation to the Scouting Combine, but at Michigan’s Pro Day he showed scouts in attendance that he’s a legitimate prospect. The 5-foot-11, 232 pounds Graham ran a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash and showed off his athleticism with a 31-inch vertical. Graham also put his strength on display as he lifted 225 pounds 37 times.Draft Projection: Seventh Round – Free Agent
Strengths: Humpal is a smart, instinctive defender who’s always around the ball. He understands his assignments and is always looking to get involved in the action. He has above average sideline-to-sideline range, but covers his area extremely well. He has great awareness and demonstrates good ball skills. He moves well laterally and flows nicely to the ball carrier.
Weaknesses: He’s not a natural athlete and gets by on maximum effort. He struggles to beat fast ballcarriers on the edge.
Overview: Humpal saw limited action in two games as a freshman, but suffered a back injury the following week and missed the remainder of the season. As a sophomore, Humpal was a backup linebacker and saw action in every game. He finished the season with 25 tackles and played a key role on special teams. Humpal finally broke into the starting lineup as a junior and started at outside linebacker. He missed one game due to injury and finished the season with 49 tackles and three interceptions. This past season, Humpal exploded and finished fifth in the Big Ten and was first on the team with 123 tackles. He also had a sack and three interceptions to cap off a tremendous career at Iowa. Humpal was invited to the Combine and had an opportunity to show scouts his attributes. The 6-foot-3, 244 pounds Humpal ran a 4.82 in the 40-yard dash, showed good athleticism with a 31-inch vertical and a 9’11” broad jump, but disappointed with 20 reps of 225 pounds. Humpal won’t impress in individual drills, but on game day he shows up and plays.Draft Projection: Sixth – Seventh Round
Strengths: Tate is a physical corner with good cover skills. He’s a tremendous athlete with excellent speed and agility. He’s fluid transitioning off the line, backpedals nicely, anticipates the action and displays a great burst defending the throw. He’s solid against the run and isn’t afraid of contact.
Weaknesses: He lacks ideal height and struggles against taller receivers. He anticipates well, but doesn’t have great ball skills. He’s not a big play prospect.
Overview: A former recruit of West Virginia, Tate transferred from West Virginia and decided to enroll at Akron following his freshman year. Tate didn’t play football in 2004 because he had to fulfill NCAA requirements from his transfer. But when he got on the field at Akron as a sophomore, he was an immediate contributor who ended up starting the final nine games of the season and recording 41 tackles. As a junior, Tate played in all 12 games, started nine and had 54 tackles, 4.5 for a loss. This past season, Tate started all 12 games and emerged as a defender. He had 73 tackles, four for a loss and two interceptions. He also led the MAC with 17 passes defended in 2007. The 5-foot-10, 186 pounds Tate wasn’t invited to the Scouting Combine, but at Akron’s Pro Day he really showed his athleticism and skill. He was timed at a 4.26 and a 4.35 in the 40-yard dash and finished the workout with a 40-inch vertical.Draft Projection: Sixth Round – Free Agent
CB, Brandon Carr, Grand Valley State
Strengths: Carr is a physical defensive back who has great size, speed and athleticism. He’s explosive up the field in run defense and positions himself well to make plays. He has good cover skills and anticipates the action very well. He plays physically at the line of scrimmage and transitions well in coverage. He challenges big receivers down field and uses his agility to compete.
Weaknesses: He plays aggressively and will give up a big play. He loses focus in coverage and gets caught behind the receiver. He has to become more aware of his surroundings and keep his head on a swivel. He didn’t play at a top level of competition.
Overview: A small school standout, Carr saw action as a true freshman and played in eight games. He was primarily used on special teams, but was also a reserve cornerback during his first season. As a sophomore, Carr started 13 games at cornerback and finished the season with 78 tackles (58 solo) and three interceptions. Carr continued to impress during his junior campaign and started all 15 games. He demonstrated excellent instincts and ball skills as he recorded 71 tackles and six interceptions. This past season, Carr had a drop in production while starting in all 13 games. He only amassed 45 tackles and two interceptions, but successfully defended 13 pass attempts. The 6-feet, 207-pounds Carr displayed his talents in front of Scouts at Grand Valley State’s Pro Day. Carr didn’t disappoint as he ran a 4.43 in the 40, had a 35-inch vertical and 10’4” broad jump and timed well in shuttle drills.Draft Projection: Seventh Round
FS, Tony LeZotte, James Madison
Strengths: LeZotte is a smart, instinctive defender. He’s disciplined, diagnoses the action and attacks the opposition. He defends sideline-to-sideline and rarely gets caught out of position. He has good ball skills and is always looking to make a play. He has a lot of playing experience and is a consistent performer.
Weaknesses: He lacks ideal size and quickness. He doesn’t have elite speed and doesn’t play with a lot of suddenness. He didn’t play against top competition at the Division I-AA level.
Overview: LeZotte made a great first impression at James Madison and set the school’s freshman tackle record finishing with 144 tackles. He also contributed two interceptions during his freshman year. Over the next two seasons, LeZotte didn’t have the same success he enjoyed during his freshman year, but still recorded 95 and 82 tackles respectively and added three interceptions during that span. This past season, LeZotte stayed consistent with his sophomore and junior campaigns and posted 95 tackles, 4.5 for a loss and two interceptions. The 6-feet, 198-pounds LeZotte was a Combine snub and was unable to workout at James Madison’s Pro Day due to a hamstring injury, but will hold a private workout on April 15th.Draft Projection: Free Agent
Strengths: Davis is a tough, versatile defensive back with great athleticism. He shows good awareness in the secondary and takes good angles in coverage. He plays with a great degree of suddenness and defends the run very well. He has good recovery speed and has playmaking ability. He’s a hard hitter who plays sideline-to-sideline. He’s a standout on special teams.
Weaknesses: He tends to lack focus and will over pursue in coverage. He’s a tweener who doesn’t have a definitive position.
Overview: Davis started his career at Syracuse as a cornerback, but was quickly moved to safety prior to the 2005 season. He participated in all 12 games as a freshman, but overall didn’t see much playing time. But as a sophomore, he started every game at safety and had his best season, as he recorded 78 tackles, three for a loss, two interceptions and a sack. Davis continued his solid play into his junior season, but didn’t show the same playmaking ability he had the year prior. He finished the 2006 season with 70 tackles. This past season, Davis, who totaled 61 tackles, showed his versatility and played safety and cornerback, but still lacked the playmaking ability he displayed earlier in his career. He was invited to the Texas vs. Nation game and showed tremendous athleticism all week long at practice, but struggled in coverage. At Syracuse’s Pro Day, the 6-feet, 202-pounds Davis stood out to scouts as he ran a 4.46 in the 40 and showcased a 34-inch vertical and a 9’11” broad jump. Davis also put up 225 pounds 21 times.Draft Projection: Seventh Round – Free Agent
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.