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Sun Belt NFL Draft Sleepers

NFL Draft

Sun Belt Conference features two defensive NFL Draft sleepers

Though often unassuming, the Sun Belt Conference, home to several NFL Draft sleepers, has produced quality on-field play and sent an abundance of players to the NFL. It also boasts the first school to take down two Power-5 teams in a single season, brewing rivalries, and a plethora of next-level talent.

I’ve identified Appalachian State linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither and Troy defensive tackle Marcus Webb as two Sun Belt NFL Draft sleepers, highlighting their prospects for the 2020 NFL Draft.

Akeem Davis-Gaither

Over the past two seasons, Davis-Gaither has quietly emerged as one of the best linebackers in the country. Predominantly known as special teams dynamo and spot performer on defense early in his career, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound outside linebacker has been a prominent contributor to the Mountaineers’ success against Power-5 programs in 2019.

Last season, the rangy defender announced his arrival to the college football world in his first season as a full-time starter. Altogether, he was credited with a team-leading 105 tackles, 1.5 sacks, seven pass breakups, and two forced fumbles last season. Davis-Gaither earned second-team All-Conference honors, and his eight pass breakups were eighth best in the nation among non-defensive backs.

Davis-Gaither saved his best for last, however, compiling 71 tackles (11.5 for loss), 3.5 sacks, six pass breakups, and an interception through the first nine games of his senior campaign. As it currently stands, first-team All-Conference honors — and potentially All-American recognition — are within reach.

NFL outlook

At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Gaither-Davis has the ideal build that defensive coaches look for at the next level.

Though he will likely never grow into a role as a traditional, downhill thumper against the run, his elite athleticism and coverage acumen should allow him to see the field early in his NFL career. With more teams implementing the spread offense and 12 personnel to get their best athletes on the field, rangy coverage specialists like Gaither-Davis are in high demand.

He will likely need to gain another 10-15 pounds to be able to effectively disengage from offensive lineman at the next level, but his unique size, speed and relentless sideline-to-sideline pursuit should be enough to make him a fixture in sub-packages as a rookie. His best long-term fit will likely be as a pass-rushing outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment.

Marcus Webb

Coming off back-to-back All-Sun Belt Honorable Mention honors, Webb proved to be a model of consistency in the middle of Troy’s defensive line. But after compiling just 19 tackles and a sack a season ago, he would need to piece together his best performance yet for a chance at the next level.

The 6-foot-3, 279-pound defensive tackle wasted little time making his presence felt, racking up a sack in the season opener against Campbell. His best performance of his senior season — and his entire collegiate career, for that matter — was his seven-tackle, three-sack outing in an upset win over Georgia Southern last Saturday. He flashed in run defense against the Eagles’ two-headed rushing attack and showed a vast array of pass-rushing moves against a fairly formidable offensive line.

Webb is currently the Sun Belt Conference sack leader (6). Among the Sun Belt NFL Draft sleepers, he is one of the most intriguing prospects.

NFL outlook

Webb is an interesting player to grade. On one hand, he failed to demonstrate special qualities early in his Trojans career; qualities that would deem him worthy of a long look at the next level.

On the flip side, he has progressed immensely season-to-season, developed a stable of pass rush moves for his repertoire, and showed he can be efficient against the run.

While some teams will see his 279-pound weight as less than ideal, and cite concerns about his ability to hold up against NFL offensive lineman, others are sure to be blown away by his athleticism, hand usage, and burst off the ball. Perhaps he will be afforded the opportunity to showcase his talents at one of the many all-star platforms, to create some buzz with draft season looming.

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