2021 NFL Draft: DB Sleepers

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Derrik Klassen
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For the purpose of this exercise, only prospects expected to be drafted outside the top-100 are to be considered "sleepers." All it takes is one team to fall in love with a player and draft them higher than that, but the consensus is all the players listed below should be Day 3 picks. That said, here are a handful who have a decent shot to outplay their expected draft range.

Cornerbacks

Camryn Bynum, Cal

For teams looking to snag a press cornerback on the cheap, Camryn Bynum is the dude to look at. Though not the biggest cornerback at 6-foot and 200-pounds, Bynum looks well-built on film and plays with desirable strength and mean streak at the line of scrimmage.

Bynum is not some loose-cannon press cornerback, either. He does not look to get by on strength and violence alone. No matter the type of wide receiver, Bynum does well to extend a one-hand jam while playing with feathery footwork that allows him to mirror the stem of the receiver. It is rare that Bynum just gets worked immediately off the line of scrimmage.

In fact, Bynum even took it to 2020 first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk, who is now with the San Francisco 49ers. Aiyuk was held to just two receptions and 31 yards against Cal, in large part because of how consistently Bynum corralled him at the line of scrimmage. Granted, Aiyuk was never billed as the strongest wide receiver around, but it is still impressive that Bynum could almost entirely remove a first-round NFL wide receiver from a game.

Where Bynum tends to struggle is when asked to gear down, drop his hips, and transition. If working vertically or on reps where Bynum completely dominates the line of scrimmage, that is less of an issue. But if Bynum only goes even in the battle at the line of scrimmage, it is tough for him to smoothly match route breaks, which is why press coverage is so valuable for him because he needs to beat routes before they really develop. Bynum sort of reminds me of Akhello Witherspoon in that way, who has had an up and down journey as a pro, but clearly holds his own well enough to be a good backup and spot starter.

Darren Hall, San Diego State

A player from the same state as Bynum, Darren Hall serves as the perfect antithesis to the Cal corner. Whereas Bynum is someone who wants to get jammed up to play vertically along the sideline, Hall wants to play from a more reserved starting alignment and play what is in front of him. The 5-foot-11, 188-pound CB plays with exceptional spacing and footwork in zone coverage, allowing him to click-and-close the instant he senses something developing.

Hall’s sense for how a play is developing in front of him is further enabled by his explosiveness. At San Diego State’s pro day, Hall leaped 38.5 inches in the vertical and 132 inches in the broad jump. Those figures place Hall in the 80th and 95th percentile for the vertical and broad jump, respectively. Once Hall triggers on moving downhill, it is quite rare that the ball beats him to the spot.

The concern with Hall is how well he can turn and run. Not only did Hall’s poor 7.07-second three-cone time confirm his stiff hips, but Hall did not ever look comfortable turning to find the ball down the field. Hall’s ball production at SDSU was quite good, but most of that came from being able to play things in front of his face. When Hall had to turn and run, he often lost ground upon flipping his hips, did not show the makeup speed to absolve that initial lost ground, and rarely turned to play the ball instead of the wide receiver.

As such, Hall will either need to work on a smoother hip turn when playing vertically or be cast as primarily a Cover 2 cornerback. Even if limited down the field, someone with Hall’s trigger and explosiveness downhill is worth taking a chance on in Day 3.

Tre Brown, Oklahoma

At 5-foot-10 and 188-pounds, Tre Brown sure is not the biggest cornerback around. Brown teeters right on the edge of how small a cornerback can be in order to survive on the outside. The good news is that Brown does not play small — or at least he tries his best not to.

Brown will not absolutely terrorize cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage, but he can play in press coverage and mirror route stems effectively. From there, Brown has proven he can play a little chippy at the top of route breaks, sometimes working himself into an inside track against slants, posts, and other in-breakers. He does have to overcompensate with some pretty reckless and violent movements in order to get the strength requisite for this style of play, which can lead to penalties, but that is still more encouraging to me than a small cornerback who very clearly plays like a small cornerback.

Brown also tested fairly well at Oklahoma’s pro day. In addition to a flat 4.40 40-yard dash, Brown hit a 38-inch vertical and 123-inch broad jump. Neither of those figures are elite territory, but they are good enough to not warrant any questions about his speed and explosiveness. The athletic testing for Brown is not so much as a clear positive as it is him clearing the bar, which sometimes is all you can ask for on Day 3.

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Safeties

Eric Burrell, Wisconsin

Nothing about Eric Burrell’s athletic profile catches the eye. Burrell measured at 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds at Wisconsin’s pro day before going on to clock a middling 4.64-second 40-yard dash. While he fared a bit better in some other drills, particularly the broad jump (123 inches) and short shuttle (4.16s), none of what Burrell did was eye-popping.

And, to be honest, the same is more or less true on film. Burrell is not the biggest hitter, which comes as no surprise given his frame. He is also not going to be flying sideline to sideline as a deep safety, either. Burrell instead made his name as a smart, consistent strong safety in the Badgers defense.

Burrell was regularly asked to drop down and handle tight ends. Both in the run and pass, Burrell proved more than capable. He played with absolutely zero fear in the run game as well as adequate strength for his size, often enabling him to help force plays back inside. In the pass game, Burrell shows patient, sound technique as he feels out the routes in front of him. Burrell sort of relies on his technique and intuition a lot because he does not have the athletic tools to fix his mistakes, but it is clear Burrell is a heads-up player.

From an athletic standpoint, it is tough to get behind Burrell as any sort of hidden star player. Day 3 is the perfect chance to get quality depth and a feisty special teamer, though, and Burrell can provide that handily while perhaps building up a wealth of knowledge to become a high-floor, low-ceiling type of starter.

Tariq Thompson, San Diego State

That San Diego State defense did not finish seventh in ESPN’s SP+ rating by mistake. They had some dudes in the secondary, as is usually the case for them. In addition to the aforementioned Hall, Tariq Thompson helped lead a strong Aztecs secondary over the past few seasons.

Thompson is of the safety mold who is almost more suited to be a slot defender rather than a true deep safety. At 6-foot and 200 pounds, Thompson has solid size and capable, albeit uninspiring, athletic traits. Thompson instead gets by with fantastic spacing in zone coverage and smart leverage when in man coverage. Some of the shiftier wide receivers around have gotten the best of him, but against some bigger receivers and tight ends, Thompson showed he could keep up.

The four-year starter also plays with some feistiness at the catch point. Not only does Thompson do well to track the ball in as it is arriving to its target destination, but he also has an admirable sense for how to fight for the ball no matter his positioning. If nothing else, Thompson can be sprinkled in as a nickel DB or third safety (which continues to grow in popularity in the NFL) as he tries to develop into a legit starter.