Adrian Wilson & Antrel Rolle (Getty)
The Arizona Cardinals have found several capable players in the later rounds of the draft and will strive to continue that trend later this April. There are numerous prospects already on the minds of NFL teams, but a few will certainly slip through the cracks. Brad Wilbricht breaks down five defensive sleepers currently flying under the radar who could develop into dependable performers.
Mitch King, DE, Iowa
While King (6’1”, 280 pounds) is undersized by NFL standards, he features tremendous quickness in the trenches. He was extremely productive during his college career and faced consistent double teams during the past two seasons in Iowa City. King’s versatility would fit in well in Arizona, particularly as the team continues to transition to the 3-4 defense. In addition, he’s familiar with defensive line coach Ron Aiken who formerly held the same position at Iowa. The Cardinals invested two draft picks on defensive ends a year ago, but if King’s available in Round 4 or later, his abilities would be tough to pass up.
Antonio Appleby, ILB, Virginia
Arizona doesn’t have an immediate need at inside linebacker but there is a void to fill left by the departure of Monty Beisel. Beisel was a jack of all trades for the Cardinals’ defense and his resourcefulness will be missed. While the inside linebacker position could be one of the weakest groups in this year’s draft, Appleby would present value in the later rounds. Appleby (6’3”, 243 pounds) has the size to hold up at the NFL level and demonstrates the ability to drop back in coverage, a must in the 3-4 scheme. He was a shore handed tackler in the college ranks and could prove to be a steal under the guidance of new defensive coordinator Bill Davis.
Lee Robinson, OLB, Alcorn St
Arizona has been craving a young pass rusher in recent years and if they pass on one early, Robinson could be the answer later on. Robinson (6’2”, 249 pounds) exhibits a tremendous burst off the edge and could develop into a viable pass-rushing specialist if he continues to refine his technique. The Cardinals proved they don’t shy away from small school prospects a year ago, selecting Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie from Tennessee St and former Richmond standout Tim Hightower. Both players had tremendous rookie campaigns and GM Rod Graves might continue to search for diamonds in the rough from smaller schools.
Bradley Fletcher, CB, Iowa
King’s college teammate Fletcher also joins this list as an underrated player coming out of the Heartland. Fletcher was relatively quiet during his first three college seasons but emerged as a formidable cornerback as a senior. His recent performance at the NFL Combine and his Pro Day opened eyes around the league and he could be drafted as early as Round 3. Fletcher (6’0”, 196 pounds) possesses ideal size and has confirmed his status with adequate speed figures during his pre-draft workouts. Along with Rodgers-Cromartie, Fletcher would supply Arizona with a talented young cornerback tandem for years to come.
Troy Nolan, S, Arizona St
With Adrian Wilson firmly planted at strong safety and Antrel Rolle completing his transition to free safety, Arizona has stability in it’s last line of defense. However, they would prefer to acquire more depth and Nolan is a versatile prospect that could fill multiple roles. Nolan (6’1”, 207 pounds) is a highly instinctual player who does an excellent job of reading opposing quarterbacks. He’s a reliable tackler and doesn't shy away from contributing in run support. In addition to his skills in the secondary, Nolan could progress into a core special teams player.
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