Defensive Sleepers in 2014
2014 “All-Sleeper” Team: Defense
When the NFL Draft gets underway on May 8, fans of all 32 teams will be glued to their televisions to find out what prospect their team will select. First-round draft picks are usually sure things, but the later the draft goes on, the harder it becomes to evaluate talent. The best organizations know how to find the diamond in the rough; the next Tom Brady, Terrell Davis, or Richard Sherman.
DT – Justin Ellis, Louisiana Tech
Weighing in at an impressive 6-foot-1 and 334 lbs, Ellis uses his size to eat up blocks as a run-stuffing 1-technique. He has powerful legs, that allow him to anchor himself in the A or B-gap and not get pushed back by opposing linemen. Ellis is explosive off the ball and has good vision to track down a quarterback or ball carrier once he bursts through the line.
In his senior season, Ellis recorded 48 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
However with his size, Ellis tires easily. He has a bad habit of standing up in his stance and has suffered ankle and foot injuries related to carrying that much weight. He may not be an every-down tackle, but would be successful in goal line and short-yardage situations.
Also Considered: Caraun Reid, Princeton; Deandre Coleman, California
DE – Brent Urban, Virginia
Drafted by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL in 2013, Urban chose to remain at the University of Virginia, where he was an All-ACC honorable mention. With all the looks of an NFL defensive end, Urban can use his length to swat down passes similar to JJ Watt of the Houston Texans, or rush the quarterback with a quick swim move.
Urban is versatile. For his first two years in Charlottesville he played defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, but moved to tackle for his junior and senior year as a 1-technique DT in a 4-3. As a senior, he made 40 tackles and notched a sack, while breaking up nine passes in eight games (Missed four games with a leg injury).
Urban’s biggest problem is how his size works against him. Measuring in at 6-7 and 295 lbs, his long legs make it difficult for him to anchor down against double teams and control the line of scrimmage. He also struggles to recognize and avoid cut blocks.
Also Considered: Aaron Lynch, South Florida; Taylor Hart, Oregon
ILB – DeDe Lattimore, South Florida
An instinctual, run-stopping inside linebacker, Devekeyan “DeDe” Lattimore made 337 career tackles playing for the South Florida Bulls. Splitting time at middle and weak-side linebacker, Lattmore shows an explosive pass rush when coming from the outside and plays well in space.
An even 6-0 and 240 lbs, Lattimore plays aggressively despite his smaller size.
However, he does not have the coverage skill needed to play the weak side in the NFL, lacking the speed to cover running backs and biting on play action fakes more than is acceptable.
He also struggles getting off blocks once linemen latch onto him, and doesn’t have a frame conducive to adding more muscle weight.
Also considered: Max Bullough, Michigan State; Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky
OLB – Tyler Starr, South Dakota
Starr made his presence known at the combine, putting up 24 reps on the bench press, a 4.15 time on the 20-yard shuttle (fourth fastest among linebackers) and performed the three-cone drill faster than any other linebacker, in 6.64 seconds, highlighting his strength and agility.
At 6-4, 250 lbs, the former Coyote was the active FCS leader in forced fumbles, with 13 in his three-year career as a starter. In 2013, Starr made nine sacks and was named to the All-Missouri Valley Conference team. He plays aggressively and does not take plays off.
His core needs strengthening to let him get off blocks better, and his small hands make him less of a threat in pass coverage. He could also learn to use his hands better to keep blockers at bay.
Also considered: Prince Shembo, Notre Dame; Morgan Breslin, USC
SS – Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State
Lewis impressed scouts at the combine with his athleticism. His 36.5 inch vertical leap was third among safeties and his 10-foot two inch broad jump verified Lewis’ ability to make exciting plays in pass coverage.
A first team All-Big Ten senior, Lewis excels in coming up to the line of scrimmage and stuffing the run. He makes clean form tackles by wrapping his arms and driving his legs without having to dive and leave his feet.
However, the safety’s aggressiveness has caused him to give up big plays in the passing game more than once. He lacks recovery speed to catch up to speedy receivers, and struggles in coverage in man-to-man situations, when covering a receiver in the slot.
Also considered: Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama; Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
FS – Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State
One of the biggest snubs of the combine, Ty Zimmerman had a very successful career in Manhattan, Kansas, recording 257 tackles and 13 interceptions in four seasons and was the school’s first four-time All-Big 12 honoree.
With excellent football vision, Zimmerman is a disciplined player who rarely gets caught peeking in the backfield or biting on play action fakes or double moves. His tackling has excellent form in open space and when coming up to play in the box.
At the next level, Zimmerman will have to rely on his smarts over his physical ability. While he does not often make mental mistakes, his natural athleticism is not enough to make up for his errors. He also may not have the speed to match up against NFL slot receivers, so he will have to rely on being able to predict and read routes while in man coverage.
Also considered: Marqueston Huff, Wyoming; Tre Boston, North Carolina
CB – Antone Exum, Virginia Tech
Sharing the spotlight with teammate Kyle Fuller, Antone Exum was a marquee player in the Virginia Tech secondary for much of his career. Sporting decent size for a corner combined with sure hands and an impressive 35-inch vertical leap, he has the capabilities of a ball hawk.
Exum also has an excellent backpedal, keeping his hips low to change direction easily with a nice acceleration.
Despite his potential, Exum only played in three games in 2013. In the offseason before his senior year, Exum tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game. He returned to action in October, but was held out of the last three games with an ankle injury.
Also considered: Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma; Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
Kristopher Rogers is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.