Cowboys Potential Draft Pick: Ricky Sapp, DE/OLB, Clemson
There is no doubt the Cowboys have one of the strongest (and probably the strongest) sets of starting outside linebackers in the NFL in Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. We all know of Ware’s dominance, but Spencer led all 3-4 outside linebackers in tackles (56) and quarterback hits (26) and was a big ticket to the Cowboys’ 2009 defensive success.
The backup situation at OLB, though, is a bit cloudy. The Cowboys have two unproven second-year players in Victor Butler and Brandon Williams. Butler did show some signs of athleticism last season, particularly against the Panthers, but the future contributions of both players is a giant question mark for Dallas.
The Cowboys have shown they are willing to provide their young players with an opportunity to play in recent years. Last season, they released T.O., paving the way for Miles Austin. This season saw the somewhat-shocking releases of Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin, leaving Doug Free and Alan Ball/Michael Hamlin as the current starters at left tackle and free safety (hopefully Free is at left tackle and not free safety).
Having said that, the outside linebacker position is one that seems near and dear to coach Wade Phillips’ heart. We really think he would draft players at the position with every selection would it not be for, you know, having to win football games.
We have already profiled Michigan’s Brandon Graham as a “Cowboys Potential Draft Pick.” He may just be the best edge rusher in this year’s class. If that is the case, today’s feature–Clemson’s Ricky Sapp–isn’t far behind.
Sapp is an ideal fit for a 3-4 scheme at 6’4”, 252 pounds. He has experience playing in a stand-up position at Clemson, which makes him even more attractive to 3-4 teams.
The majority of Sapp’s success is a result of his speed (4.61 forty-yard dash at the Combine). The man can absolutely fly and he utilizes his speed regularly on the football field, often chasing down ball-carriers from across the field. He also does a great job of implementing a variety of pass rush moves into his game in addition to the speed rush.
There are currently two knocks on Sapp’s game. The first is health-related: he tore his ACL in 2008 and played 2009 at what he said was “about 60 percent.” However, he claims he is 100 percent healthy now and he did appear to check out just fine medically at the Combine. We aren’t particularly concerned with Sapp’s health because of his work ethic. This is a stand-up individual who will outwork just about anyone, so teams can rest assured that he will do everything possible to prepare himself to play at 100 percent.
The second critique of Sapp’s game is that he might just be a pass rush specialist at the next level. Some think he will get overpowered if he gets tangled up with a bigger offensive lineman. However, we don’t really think this “con” of Sapp’s game is justified. Sapp has the type of frame upon which muscle can be added, and we know his work ethic will have him hitting the weight room to improve his game.
We tend to grade player’s not simply on where their game is now, but where it can be in the future. As dominant as Sapp was in college, it is scary to think just how much better he can get.
Sapp is projected to go in the late-second to early-third round range, but, like South Carolina’s Eric Norwood, we are not completely sure why he is not rated higher. It is probably more due to Sapp’s health than his on-field play. If the Cowboys have cleared Sapp medically, though, we see his selection as holding incredible value.
For the Cowboys to nab Sapp, they would likely have to spend their 59th overall selection on him. He may or may not be there at that point, but there is zero chance he drops to the back of the third round in our opinion.
The chances of the Cowboys drafting Sapp increase dramatically should they sign either a left tackle or free safety prior to the draft. In that scenario, Dallas would be freed up to select the best player available in the second round.
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