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Last-day value picks on defense indicate depth of 2011 draft class

 

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With the fourth through seventh rounds upcoming, it's time to take a look at the best players left on the board for whatever reason. This is less a "value list" and more a list of the guys whose tape I liked the most among the remaining players. Here are the top 10 players left on defense, the top offensive sleepers can be found here.

Southern Arkansas DT Cedric Thornton

Thornton is this year's example as to why small-school players should never turn down an invite to the Senior Bowl. Through the drills in the week of practice, he faced off against linemen like Rodney Hudson and held his own, building on a collegiate career that saw him dominating at the point and raking up tackles for loss all over the place.

Texas DE Sam Acho

Acho is a tweener; it's possible that teams just don't know what to make of him. He put up high quarterback pressure numbers in college more on motor and pure energy than first-step speed, which may have the NFL thinking that he might drop off pretty seriously at the next level. But Acho is also a good all-round player with starter potential against the pass and run.

Iowa DE Christian Ballard

Lost in the media love for Adrian Clayborn, and it didn't help that he reportedly failed a drug test before the scouting combine. But there are as many people in the know who will tell you that Clayborn owed his amazing 2009 season as much to Ballard coming off the other side, and things changed for both players when Ballard was put in different positions. A hybrid player with potential in just about any scheme.

Michigan State LB Greg Jones

An inside linebacker in college, Jones projects better as a strong-side player or nickel inside man at the NFL level. Doesn't bring the physical pop against the run you need from a true 4-3 MIKE 'backer, but Jones reminds me of Jacksonville's Kirk Morrison, because he's so good at reading what's in front of him and he closes so quickly to it.

UNC LB Quan Sturdivant

Sturdivant was almost literally the last man standing after the suspension virus that destroyed the UNC defense, but until his own season was derailed by injuries, he turned in a series of heroic performances with very little around him. Reminds me of veteran Mike Peterson in his ability to play well in space.

New Mexico State CB Davon House

Based on pure talent, I had House with a second-round grade. But after Boise State's Kyle Wilson struggled in his journey from the WACto the NFL, pro evaluators may be wondering about House's early potential to make that jump. There are issues — he still gets eaten up by combo routes and he'll get beaten on jump balls, but his man coverage skills and savvy on zone coverage would seem to have him as a quick-start nickel corner, and a starter in time.

Utah CB Brandon Burton

Burton is very quick to the ball in ways that would make him a fit with teams playing a lot of man, though his skills may project better in zone. He will need coaching to get the NFL-level subtleties of the position, but he's a good player and a vocal team leader.

Texas CB Curtis Brown

Impressed at the Senior Bowl. Brown's corner skills are still playing catch-up with his raw athleticism, but if the two ever meet, watch out. Can run with deep receivers and won't get juked on double moves anywhere on the field. Teams may like him to be more physical

Appalachian State FS Mark LeGree

Not a headline-maker, but there is a pretty big buzz among those in the know about this player. One of the most productive pass-defenders in FCS history, LeGree managed to make plays even as opposing quarterbacks were desperate to throw anywhere he wasn't.

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