There figures to be a high number of defensive linemen picked early in this year’s draft, as teams try to acquire quality pass rushers and players that can make a difference at the line of scrimmage. But beyond the players that will get selected early on, there are quite a few talented defensive ends and tackles. Let’s take a look at some of the defensive sleepers that play along the line of scrimmage.
Josh Boyd, DT, Mississippi State – In 2011, Boyd formed a great tandem with Fletcher Cox, last year’s 12th overall pick who’s now with the Eagles. However, without Cox around in 2012, Boyd became the top focus of opposing offensive linemen and his stat line suffered as a result. Without eye-popping numbers his stock has fallen, but he’s still a talented player. Boyd may not be a star, but he should be a nice complimentary player at the next level.
Cory Grissom, DT, South Florida – Grissom was the lone bright spot on a bad USF defense last season, so it was tough for him to get attention from NFL scouts. He’s a little small, but he has good athleticism and quickness that helps him get into the backfield and disrupt things, as he had seven tackles for a loss in 2012.
Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina – Taylor was not a highly regarded high school recruit, but he’s come a long way and had a real solid career at South Carolina. With so much attention given to Jadeveon Clowney, Taylor rarely got the credit he deserved for giving South Carolina one of the best defensive lines in the country last year. He’s tall at 6’7’’ but still has room to fill out, so he can continue to improve as he adds more strength and gets bigger. Taylor is solid against the run and can also be a disruptive pass rusher, which means he’ll be able to play every down in the NFL and has the potential to grow into a starting role.
Larry Black Jr., DT, Indiana – Black Jr. was a three-year starter at Indiana and was a very productive player during that time. He had 25 tackles for a loss over the last three seasons, as he’s consistently able to get into the backfield. In the NFL, he should be able to fit well in a 3-4 defense, where he could help plug the holes up front.
Quanterus Smith, DE, Western Kentucky – Smith’s stock is low because he tore his ACL late in the season and he’s a little light, despite a 6’5’’ frame, but he is a great pass rusher. He recorded three sacks this past season against Alabama while going against D.J. Fluker, who is one of the top offensive tackles in the draft. Over the last two seasons Smith had 20 sacks and 30 tackles for a loss. Once he recovers from his ACL and puts on a little weight, he’ll make a great third-down pass rusher in the NFL.