Alright so last week, we went over five offensive players in this upcoming draft class who could be called sleepers. The sleeper is a tricky player to pin down: a great football player, but not renowned; a player who’s got all sorts of talent, but will somehow find themselves picked in Day 2 or Day 3.
Why look for sleepers? Well, one reason is because it’s cool. Everyone wants to be the one to find that diamond in the rough, and to be able to say “You know who’s really good….?” and blow your friends’/coworkers’/family members’ minds. But, also, because a sleeper pick means low-cost/high reward. If a team hits on a key player in the later rounds, they’ve got a leg up on the competition.
Tom Brady was a sleeper pick. And now he’s Ares, God of War, three-time Super Bowl Champion, and one of the Top Five quarterbacks of all time.
But, today, we’re looking at defensive players. When healthy, the Pats’ D might actually be in better shape than the offense, and one of the better units in the AFC. But there are some definite holes that could use patching.
Here are some players to watch.
Larry Webster, DE, Bloomsburg
The Patriots are as set as it gets at their starting defensive ends. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones are productive, team leaders, and still have more than a few years left in them (Nink is a sprightly 30 years old, while Jones is only 23). Backing them up, Michael Buchanan will be entering his second season, showing some promise last year, while, more importantly, straightening out his technique. The Pats will almost certainly add a higher profile defensive lineman early in the draft, but if they wanted to wait in the later rounds, they could get a raw prospect with upside.
Enter Larry Webster. The 6’6, 250 end out of Bloomsburg University (it’s in Pennsylvania) is as raw as it gets. The former basketball players only had only two full years of football under his belt, and is still learning the finer points of pass-rushing. But he’s got a projectable frame, has terrific quickness, and has athleticism to spare. To be clear, Webster will not play often in his rookie season. But they could stash him on the practice squad till he bulks up and works on his technique, and could be a key player a few years down the line, with the potential to terrorize quarterbacks on a regular basis.
Ryan Carrethers, DT, Arkansas State
Just like the Patriots will add a pass rushing end at some point in the draft, they will add a run-stuffing tackle, bolstering a defense that struggled to stop backs without Vince Wilfork’s help. Ryan Carrethers, at 6’1, 330, is an unmovable force in the center of the line. Carrethers had a fine senior year at Arkansas state, tallying 4 sacks and 63 tackles, including an insane game against Louisiana-Lafayette in which he racked up 16 TACKLES. Remember this isn’t a linebacker, but a defensive tackle. That’s insane.
The downsides to Carrethers? Well, the Sun Belt ain’t exactly the SEC. Carrethers is still raw as a prospect, and doesn’t offer as much in the pass-rush game as some of his counterparts. That being said, he could be a low-risk prospect found in Day 3, and could project to a nose tackle that would gobble up running backs for a living.
Vinnie Sunseri, SS, Alabama
It’s weird to think that a starting safety at Alabama would ever be a sleeper, but here we are. The 6-1, 210 junior shocked scouts when he declared for the Draft, especially after losing most of the season to a knee injury. All of this could leave Sunseri available by the fifth round.
But, oh boy, could Sunseri be a steal. He isn’t bursting with athleticism, but Sunseri was one of the most instinctive secondary members in college football, able to diagnose formations quickly and get his teammates on the same page. He has no fear in run coverage, and throws his stocky frame willfully. At the very worst, Bill B. would have another ace special teams player, another one of those coach’s favorites to put next to Matt Slater and Nate Ebner. But there’s still upside to spare, and if he puts it all together he could be a solid safety at the pro-level.
Dontae Johnson, CB, NC State
With the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl, teams have been desperately searching for the next long, tall corner in the tradition of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. And with Pierre Desir, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, and Keith McGill all greatly impressing lately, NC State’s Donate Johnson may slip down a bit.
The 6’2, 199 lb senior spent time at both free safety and corner during his college career, pulling in 3 INT in 2013, along with 81 tackles. He didn’t impress much in the Senior Bowl and has faltered at times in coverage. But the Patriots saw how their secondary fared against Demaryius Thomas when Aqib Talib went down, and may look to add some length to their secondary, even if it’s in a hybrid corner/safety capacity.
Jordan Tripp, LB, Montana
Brandon Spikes has almost certainly seen his last days in a Patriots uniform. The Pats do get Jerod Mayo back, but with only Steve Beaurnhais on the roster as a backup (Dane Fletcher is a free agent) the ranks are a little light. Jordan Tripp would be a key backup, and much, much more.
The 6’3, 237 linebacker may very well have been the best small-school defender in the country, earning a spot in the Senior Bowl (and impressing). But middle linebackers are undervalued these days, and it’s a deep class as it is (CJ Mosley, Chris Borland, Yawin Smallwood, etc.), so Tripp may somehow slip. If so, the Pats should grab him. Tripp looks like a bonafide NFL linebacker, and impressed in both run defense and rushing the passer. He’s not the most physical tackler, but he is an incredibly intelligent player and was a leader in his time at Montana. Tripp would be a key sub package asset, and could possibly allow Dont’a Hightower to put his hand in the dirt on third down. A versatile piece who was incredibly prolific in college and who might be available by the 4th or 5th round? Yes please.
As much as I want to write a “5 draft sleepers at kicker/punter”, the Pats are pretty set with Ghost and Ryan Allen.