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Late draft picks with star potential: Defense

Late draft picks

It has been over three months since the 2018 NFL Draft took place. Teams have seen their rookies in OTA’s and minicamp, and now have watched them go through one week of training camp. These organizations are monitoring rookies for different characteristics depending on if they were early or late draft picks.

Most first-round picks are expected to make an immediate impact on the football field. On the other hand, coaches closely watch their late draft picks for the ability to play in defined sets or on special teams. However, there are always a few under-the-radar players who break out and make strong contributions for their teams.

Here are three late-round picks on the defensive side who have high ceilings and have shown potential in training camp.

Josh Sweat, Philadelphia Eagles DE (130th pick)

Although NFL scouts considered Josh Sweat a first-round talent, he dropped due to knee injury concerns. Sweat had a near career-ending injury and had surgery on his ACL, MCL and PCL before college. While he only missed one game in three seasons at Florida State, he had a meniscus injury in the 2016 offseason.

Late draft picks
Josh Sweat (Number 75) at Eagles training camp (Image by NJ.com/Tim Hawk)

The Eagles rookie’s biggest strengths are his explosiveness off the edge and his dependable ability to disengage and make tackles. Sweat confirmed his athleticism/explosiveness with great numbers at the combine, including a 39.5″ vertical (highest among EDGE/DL), 10’4″ broad jump (third) and 4.53 sec 40-yard dash (third). In his college tape, Sweat looks a bit slow on some of his rushes, but that is explained by the way FSU used him. He frequently lined up in a four-point stance (both hands on the ground) and inside rather than on the edge. However, when he lined up on the outside in a two or three-point-stance, which is how the Eagles will use him, Sweat showed his ability to create disruption and collapse the pocket.

Josh Sweat is a luxury for the Eagles, who have the deepest and most talented defensive line in the league. Last year the team used a seven-man D-line rotation; in training camp, Sweat has impressed with the second-team and is pushing Philadelphia to use an 8-man rotation this year. Sweat is showing he has the talent to join Derek Barnett as the future at D-end for Philadelphia.

Leon Jacobs, Jacksonville Jaguars OLB (230th pick)

A seventh-round pick for the league’s best defense, Leon Jacobs would normally be low on the depth chart. However, due to Paul Posluszny’s retirement in March, Myles Jack is moving to middle linebacker full time. The Jaguars have a hole to fill at strong-side (SAM) linebacker in their 4-3 base defense, which they run about 30% of snaps.

Leon Jacobs, who played SAM linebacker primarily in college, has great athleticism and size. This allows him to blow past tackles on the outside and beat interior linemen with his length and hand technique. When he drops back in coverage, he keeps his men in front of him and holds them to short gains. Jacobs is a consistent tackler – he rarely misses ball carriers after lining them up. Further, Jacobs always plays with a full motor, leading to some incredible chase-down tackles born from pure effort.

So if Jacobs gets through blockers, is good in coverage, and tackles well, why did he fall so far? The biggest knock on the former Wisconsin linebacker is that he isn’t very good at reading plays and can be easily fooled by play actions. He also didn’t take the best angles to the quarterback, causing some wasted opportunities when he blasted around the edge.

Essentially, Leon Jacobs showed all the necessary skills, but lacked a high football IQ in college. Interestingly, the Jaguars coaches have not only been impressed with his athleticism, but also pointed out his intelligence. If Jacobs keeps showing mental ability at training camp, he has a great chance to earn the SAM linebacker spot. By adding a high football IQ to his exceptional physical tools, Jacobs could become yet another star on Jacksonville’s defense.

Maurice Hurst, Oakland Raiders DT (140th pick)

Maurice Hurst is the most likely player of any late pick to be a star because, well, he should’ve been a first-round pick. Most scouts and GMs had him as a first round talent until his NFL Combine physical showed his heart condition. Even though doctors fully cleared Hurst after the combine, many teams were hesitant to draft him.

Late draft picks
Maurice Hurst, 73, bursts past a Wisconsin guard immediately after the snap (Image by Sports Illustrated)

Hurst is a bit small for DT, but makes up for lack of size with quickness, hand skill and effort. Hurst bursts right at the snap, frequently getting past guards before they even leave their stance. His entire body is agile, as he uses quick feet to find holes and slithers through those gaps. When he engages with a lineman and is at a strength disadvantage, Hurst uses quick, powerful hands to fight away blocks. Maurice Hurst is a machine on the inside of the pass rush who always draws multiple blockers and opens up rest of the line. Inthe run game, Hurst is quick to disengage and make tackles near the line of scrimmage.

Oakland found a gem in the fifth round with Maurice Hurst. By attracting blockers inside, he will create opportunities for Khalil Mack and other pass rushers. In training camp, Hurst is lining up against Pro bowl guard Kelechi Osemele to help both of them improve. This speaks volumes about the rookie’s talent; as long as Hurst’s heart condition doesn’t suddenly become a problem, he will change the dynamic of this Raiders defense.

 

Featured image by USA Today

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