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Mailbag: Sleeper Draft Prospects On Defense?


After listening to Stephen Jones' 105.3 interview and what he said about the SAM/DPR (designated pass rusher) role, it made me think of 'tweener-type' DEs who may have had good college numbers, but didn't fit certain NFL molds if you will, who usually fall to the back half the draft — guys like Jalen Jelks from last year. Can you give me some names of those type of players for this year's draft? — MARCO ASPAAS / VANCOUVER, WA

David: Can I interest you in Alex Highsmith, out of UNC-Charlotte? It's hard to believe the guy was originally a walk-on, considering he finished his final college season with 21.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks. At 6-3, 248, he's definitely got that "tweener" build, and he's probably going to have to bulk up when he reaches the pro level, but he's got solid athleticism and it's hard to deny his college production. If he's still hanging around on Day 3 of the draft, he could be a sneaky good addition.

Rob: How about Notre Dame's Julian Okwara? Productive pass rusher who played in a multiple defense as a stand-up rusher and with his hand on the ground. A broken leg ended his senior year early and has limited his pre-draft participation, but he had 12 sacks in his final 21 starts.

Do you think that league-wide we might see better quality drafting (fewer early-round busts) than in years past since teams will be forced to rely on game tape more so then getting blown away by the potential of workout warriors at pro days and private workouts? — JOSH BACKMAN / WESTCHESTER, NY

David: I can't wait to look back on this draft class in two or three years, because it's probably going to look either really good or really bad. I think you're exactly right that teams will have to rely more on tape to make these picks, but it's worth remembering that their medical and off-field evaluations are probably not as complete as they'd prefer. That could lead to some wonky decisions as the draft goes along.

Rob: Josh, I sort of get your point. In some ways I think the Combine has grown into such a monster (from a media perspective, at least) that the hand measurements and the drills overshadow what guys have actually done on the field. I think teams like the Cowboys don't lose sight of that – the game tape is most important. Overall, I don't agree with your premise, though. There's probably less medical information on certain prospects this year because of our nation's current circumstances. And those in-person prospect visits are so valuable because this whole thing is like one big job interview. Hard to replicate that virtually. But, that's the situation. Every team is dealing with it.