With most NFL draft’s it’s usually the first round picks who receive much of the attention and attract most of the spotlight. Yet over the years when you go back and review successful draft classes it’s typically the “sleepers” or day three selections that make a good class turn into a great class.
With that in mind we reviewed each NFL teams draft class, per division, and attempted to point out who potentially could turn out to be that groups “sleeper”
NFC SouthAtlanta Falcons – De’Vondre Campbell, OLB Minnesota 4th rd. 17th pick (#115 overall)
Head coach Dan Quinn continues to build and reshape the Falcons defense into a mold similar to what he had with Seattle by adding length and speed to his front seven.
With De’Vondre Campbell Atlanta added an athletic linebacker who possesses that aforementioned speed and terrific length. He has experience playing both the inside and outside linebacker positions. He can quickly accelerate and chase down quarterbacks and ball carriers from sideline to sideline.
Although he was asked to place his hand in the ground and rush off the edge as a Gopher, Campbell admits that pass rushing is one of his weaknesses. Which is why he has been working with former Falcon Chuck Smith in the off season to help improve his technique.
The Falcons will start Campbell off at the WILL position on their defense hoping to take advantage of his ability to run and chase down tackles.
Look for Campbell to battle fellow rookie Deion Jones and veteran Phillip Wheeler for snaps at the weak-side linebacker spot in 2016.
Carolina Panthers – Zack Sanchez, CB Oklahoma 5th rd. 2nd pick (#141 overall)
One of the more surprising moves this offseason was when the Panthers rescinded the franchise tag on All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, allowing him to leave and sign with Washington. The move not only saw one of the league’s better corners depart but it made the cornerback position an even greater need on defense.
The Norman move coupled with veterans Charles Tillman and Bene’ Benwikere both coming off season ending injuries Carolina used the draft to load up on defensive backs, drafting a total of three with their five allotted selections.
With Zack Sanchez the Panthers get a playmaking corner whose penchant to gamble on defense can allow him to not only make plays but also get himself in trouble and beaten at times.
Both confident and cocky Sanchez is a ball hawk in the secondary finishing with 15 interceptions over his three seasons in Norman. Sanchez quick-feet allow him to plant and drive jumping routes and getting his hands on the ball.
Sanchez lack of size (5’11” 185 pounds), strength, coupled with his quickness make him an ideal candidate to play the nickel position on the Panthers defense. With his quickness and ability to cover in confined areas Sanchez should excel covering receivers in the middle of the field.
Playing inside will also present him with opportunities to get his hands on the ball and create turnovers something he excelled at in college.
New Orleans Saints – David Onyemata, DE, Manitoba (CA) 4th rd. 22nd pick (#120 overall)
Looking to improve the league’s 31st ranked defense in 2015 the Saints went north of the border to draft a raw but physically talented prospect in David Onyemata.
Onyemata, who hails from Lagos Nigeria, attended the University of Manitoba and as a senior was awarded the J.P Metras Trophy, given to the top down lineman in CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) which is Canada’s equivalent to the NCAA.
Onyemata had not played football before trying out for the Bison’s prior to the start of their 2012 season.
Onyemata caught the eyes of scouts during the week long practices leading up to the East-West Shrine game. His stock really took off after he ran a 5.06 forty-time, benched 225 pounds 33 times, and vertically jumped 33 inches at Manitoba’s first ever Pro Day. Impressive athletic numbers for someone who stands 6’3” weighs 300 pounds, and possesses an 82 ¼ wingspan.
Besides his size, and strength Onyemata has good up-field quickness and is able to get after the passer. He plays with balance and displays some natural instincts for the position. His big powerful hands can jolt a lineman backwards once he plants them into their chest. Onyemata strength, and quickness allows him to be used at both the inside tackle position or outside as a defensive end.
That type of scheme versatility is one reason why Onyemata has drawn comparisons to former 10-year NFL veteran, and also a former Manitoba Bison, Israel Idonije.
The Saints will start off Onyemata on the outside as a defensive end initially, hoping to one-day pair him across from Cameron Jordan and next to first-round pick Sheldon Rankins.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Dan Vitale, FB Northwestern 6th rd. 22nd pick (#197 overall)
With their sixth-round pick the Buccaneers drafted themselves a “super back” in Northwesterns Dan Vitale.
As a Wildcat Vitale played a hybrid tight end/fullback position where he was asked to block as both a lead blocker, and as an inline tight end. Vitale also lined up and ran routes from the slot position as well as out of the backfield.
He has very good hands as he displayed by hauling in 135 receptions to go along with 11 touchdowns in his four-seasons at Northwestern.
Vitale, who currently is listed as a tight end on the Bucs roster, offers the team a very versatile offensive weapon who can be lined up in multiple positions and can be used in a variety of different formations.
While his game is not flashy what you do get with Vitale is a tough competitive football player who possesses high football character, and the ability to make big plays when you least expect it.
Look for Vitale to make contributions on both the offense and special teams units for the buccaneers as a rookie next season.
Danny Shimon is a graduate of Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp.Follow Danny on Twitter @dshimon56