Sheldon Day among sleeper D-line prospects for 2016

These three underrated defensive linemen could have a big impact in the NFL.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)

(AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)

Sheldon Day among sleeper D-line prospects for 2016

PFF’s team of draft analysts has spent the past weeks and months putting together their overall draft board and positional prospect rankings, in preparation for the 2016 NFL draft.

In doing so, PFF has identified players at each position who qualify either as potential sleeper picks, based on where these players are showing up on most evaluators’ draft boards.

Here are three sleeper prospects among this year’s defensive line class.

1. Sheldon Day, DT, Notre Dame

Sheldon Day was up there with the very best players in college football during the 2015 season. He finished the year with an overall grade second only to Oregon’s DeForest Buckner among interior defensive linemen, and graded positively in every single game. He generated 46 total pressures on his way to a 10.4 pass-rush productivity score, 10th-best in this interior defensive line class.

At 6-foot-1 and 293 pounds, Day is undersized for his position, which can be a problem when offensive linemen get their hands firmly on him, but he’s so quick at the snap that they struggle to do that, and even when it seems like an opponent has thwarted his initial move, Day counters well.

He may be limited to being a penetrating 3-technique defensive tackle, but if you’re going to be limited by role in the modern NFL, being a disruptive interior pass-rusher is the best “limitation” to have. Day isn’t the perfect prospect, but he is excellent at what he does best, and that’s getting after the quarterback.

2. Darius Latham, DT, Indiana

Latham is one of the most disruptive interior pass-rushers in this draft class. He has good size and excellent length for the position, and knows how to make the most of that length with active and physical hand use. He was good for the Hoosiers in 2014, but really stepped it up in 2015, recording five sacks and 39 total pressures despite missing two games due to suspension. Latham generated one inside pressure for every 21 pass-rush snaps in 2015, the second-best rate in this draft class. He graded decently against the run, but it’s an area that he will need to improve if he’s to assume a starting role at the next level.

Latham isn’t the prototypical prospect and needs to improve his conditioning, but he has an array of pass-rush moves and room to develop physically. He likely earns his initial roster spot as a pass-rush specialist, with the potential to grow into a larger role.

3. Will Anthony, DE/OLB, Navy

Flying well under the radar, Anthony is probably the most productive college player to be absent from the majority of draft boards. Listed at 6-1 and 254 pounds, Anthony was miscast as a defensive end in the Navy 3-4 scheme, yet he made it work. He earned an overall grade that was fifth-best in this draft class, and notched seven sacks among his 41 total pressures. Anthony wasn’t simply a productive interior pass rusher, he also excelled against the run, making himself a constant nuisance. He posted positive run defense grades in every 2015 game.

Size alone will force Anthony to the outside at the pro level, and his lack of burst likely limits him to a role as a base defensive end. A lack of measurables, and the complications of his commitment to the Navy may limit interest in Anthony, but his productivity is such that if he is given a chance he will likely take advantage of it.

| Analyst

Kevin has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, with a particular focus on college football.

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