CFF Overview: LB - Sleepers
When we started CFF, it was the sleepers that we had in mind. Every year there are high-level starters drafted in the second half of the draft (or not drafted at all) and we wanted to see if there was a way to identify those players before they slip.
This year we zeroed in on two linebackers who were extremely productive college players — with traits that we think can translate to the NFL — who we haven’t seen much draft hype for in the media.
Zach Vigil, Utah State
At linebacker you can have all the measurable in the world, but at the end of the day it means nothing if you don’t produce and Zach Vigil produced more last season than any other inside linebacker in the draft. His performance was consistent week in and week out with two negatively-graded games in 15 weeks.
When you think of a small school linebacker with big production getting little draft buzz it’s easy to assume that he’s a poor athlete, but that’s not the case with Vigil. His pro day numbers put him right around the inside linebacker average for almost all the events compared to historical combine figures. When you watch his tape, though, his coordination and instincts both jump out as above average.
The middle linebacker graded well above average rushing the passer, in coverage, and against the run. Vigil’s 76 total stops were the second most in the draft class and his 36 total pressures were the second most as well. He was also a very reliable tackler missing just 12 all year compared to 131 combined solos and assists.
Signature Stat: Vigil had a 12.9 Run Stop Percentage last season, but that number jumped to 14.3% against the Power 5 schools he faced.
Josh Keyes, Boston College
Keyes has flown under the draft radar for two main reasons, his lack of statistical production and his size/positional question marks. The outside linebacker had just 55 solo tackles, four sacks, and zero combined pass break-ups and interceptions a year ago. The only number that is above average there are the four sacks, but even that doesn’t tell Keyes’ impact last season. Keyes led all off-ball linebackers in hits (10) and hurries (28). Pass rushing ability as an off-ball linebacker is a very strong indicator of that player’s ability against the run as they require similar skills (shedding blocks, aggressiveness, power, etc.).
While his pass rushing ability is a huge plus, what really stands out to me about Keyes game is just how fluid of an athlete he is. He looks like an overgrown safety the way he can turn and change directions. The only problem is that at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds he might be limited to a 4-3 weakside linebacker in the NFL.
His size didn’t hurt him against the run in college, but he was also playing an odd position in Boston College’s defense where he lined up as a hybrid nickelback/outside linebacker. This led to him very rarely taking on blocks and when he did it was mostly keeping contain against a tackle. Still, Keyes was forced to make many of his plays in space, which makes his 11.2 Tackling Efficiency (eighth-best among outside linebacker prospects) all the more impressive.
Signature Stat: Keyes wasn’t just racking up unblocked pressures, 27 of his 42 total pressures came after beating a block.
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