Share & Connect
Following on from our recent look at offensive players who could turn out to be bargains on the third day of the 2014 NFL Draft, we bring you the defensive edition. There are few things as rewarding in football as finding a late-round prospect who turns into a pivotal member of your franchise, and these players all have the potential to do just that.
Eathyn Manumaleuna, Defensive Tackle, BYU
Manumaleuna is a scheme-versatile lineman who can provide depth initially, but also has the potential to become a good quality starter in a year or two. The fact he will be a 25-year old rookie, and has struggled to get after the quarterback during his time at BYU, will ensure Manumaleuna is still available come day three, but his ability to play in a both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses and shore up any side’s ability to stuff the run. Teams that are seeking depth and versatility on their defensive line will be interested in Manumaleuna in the sixth round, with the New England Patriots one of the more obvious fits.
Michael Sam, Defensive End, Missouri
Few prospective third day players have stolen the headlines like Sam has these past few months, but being able to draft the co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year in the later rounds could prove to be a real bargain. Undersized is the biggest knock on Sam, but he could excel as a situational pass rusher in the right team. It’s a struggle to see Sam replicating his college production in the NFL, but an initial role as a situational pass rusher and special teams contributor for a side like the New York Giants or Seattle Seahawks could see him ultimately develop into a solid starter.
Prince Shembo, Outside Linebacker, Notre Dame
Shembo isn’t the kind of outside linebacker who will push 10+ sacks a season, but he is a very proficient tackler, who can help set the edge and solidify a team’s run defense. He also has experience of playing on special teams, something which most guys picked on the third day would love to have given their likely role in their rookie seasons. The Atlanta Falcons were woeful at stopping the run last season, and with rumors that they may be switching to a 3-4 defense, Shembo would be an ideal pickup for them in the fourth or fifth round.
Uani Unga, Inside Linebacker, BYU
Unga faces a race against time to be fit for the 2014 NFL season after he tore his ACL, MCL, and meniscus during his last season at BYU, but that doesn’t mean teams won’t be interested in the underrated prospect. Unga had notched 96 tackles before injury curtailed his season, and whilst some say that pure tackling machines are losing their value at the inside linebacker position, they still have a role, particularly in 3-4 defenses. There’s no doubting he’s a developmental guy, with other areas of his game needing work, but the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, two teams who have relatively few needs and a plethora of draft picks, could be very interested in Unga.
Phillip Gaines, Cornerback, Rice
Gaines’ draft stock has been consistently rising since the end of the college season, and there’s a chance he could go before the third day, but if he does last, the athleticism he showed at the NFL Combine could have teams salivating. Durability and off-field issues will have some teams hesitant, but his length is impressive, as are the five kicks he blocked during his senior season. A special teams contributor in his rookie season who may also see time at the nickel, Gaines would be an intelligent fit for teams with ageing cornerbacks and those looking for a potential difference maker on special teams, such as the Chicago Bears.
Vinnie Sunseri, Safety, Alabama
Sunseri tore his ACL early in the college season, but then made the somewhat surprising decision to declare for the draft, despite still having another year of eligibility. Going into the draft on the back of this injury should see him fall to the third day, but his talent far outweighs where he will likely be drafted. A highly versatile player, Sunseri projects best as a strong safety in the NFL, but he also has significant ball-hawking skills, as demonstrated by his pick six against Texas A&M last season, and has a very bright future if utilized the right way. All the NFC East franchises make sense for Sunseri, but the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles in particular, as their need at the position is considerable.
Image credit: Prince Shembo via Facebook.com