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Baltimore Area Gets Defensive In 2016 NFL Draft

May 16, 2016
It feels like there is a new wrinkle to the NFL Draft every year. A few years back, the league moved the initial rounds to primetime. Now, it appears the site may bounce between cities. And on April 28 in Chicago, football fans across the nation watched Ole Miss offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil tumble to No. 13 overall after an incriminating video of him surfaced on social media.

You've got to give it to them; the NFL is never boring. The same can usually be said for Baltimore-area prospects in the NFL Draft, and 2016 was no different, especially on the defensive side of the ball. With the start of the season still four months away, here's a look at the players with Charm City ties who were drafted or have since landed on rosters as undrafted rookie free agents:

Sean Davis, S, Maryland

The Pittsburgh Steelers added tackle-machine Davis to their leaky secondary with the 27th pick of the second round (58th overall) a day after grabbing Miami cornerback Artie Burns in the first. Davis, a Washington, D.C., native, accumulated more than 100 tackles in his sophomore and junior seasons at Maryland before earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors despite switching to cornerback as a senior.

"He is a really productive player at two positions: safety and corner," Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake said. "He has been really productive in the tackling department. He has a good eye for playing the ball in the passing game. We really look forward to having him in the building."

It sounds like the Steelers plan to play Davis at safety initially, but his versatility was undoubtedly an attractive feature. Pittsburgh ranked 30th in the NFL against the pass last season. Davis should get a chance to compete for playing time right away. While he never was able to put it all together in a Terrapin uniform, he has the experience and prototypical size to do so in the NFL.

Cyrus Jones, CB, Alabama

With Davis off the board, the New England Patriots snapped up Jones (Gilman) two picks later with the 29th selection of the second round (60th overall). Jones won two national championships at Alabama, notching five tackles and a forced fumble against Clemson in January. From Gilman to Alabama, Jones should have no issue assimilating into yet another championship atmosphere.

"I feel as though I'm greatly prepared for the next level thanks to Coach [Nick] Saban," Jones said. "He's a great coach, arguably one of the best, arguably the best in the country -- and I've heard many things that he's compared to Coach [Bill] Belichick and that our program is ran similar to how the Patriots' is run."

Jones is only 5-foot-10, leading some to believe he might be best utilized in the slot. But the Baltimore native proved time and time again he could hang outside against the best the Southeastern Conference had to offer. Either way, he should contribute right away on special teams after returning four punts for touchdowns as a senior. Hey, the converted wideout might even play some offense for the unpredictable Patriots.

Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Maryland

The Jacksonville Jaguars' selection of Ngakoue with the sixth pick of the third round (69th overall) marked the first time in a decade two Terps have gone in the top 70. Ngakoue, who grew up in nearby D.C., had a brilliant junior season in College Park, Md. His 13.5 sacks last season were an all-time Maryland record and ranked second nationally, earning him first-team All-Big Ten honors.

Ngakoue was just one piece of a Jacksonville draft that was widely lauded by draft pundits. Defensive back Jalen Ramsey (No. 5 overall) and linebacker Myles Jack (No. 36) could start right away. With last year's No. 3 overall pick, defensive end Dante Fowler, returning from injury, Ngakoue could find himself part of an impressive young core on defense. His ability to get to the passer directly translates to the pro level.

"I had a strong feeling that [Jacksonville was] going to take me," Ngakoue said. "I just left it all on the field at the workout and showed that I'm in shape. ... I'm thankful for the whole organization to believe in me and pick me."

Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

The Good Counsel (Montgomery County) product became the fourth Fuller brother to reach the NFL when the Washington Redskins called his name with the 21st pick of the third round (84th overall). A torn meniscus ended Fuller's junior season, otherwise he might've gone much earlier, like his brother, Kyle, who went 14th overall to the Chicago Bears in 2014.

"He's too talented of a player to pass up," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "He can play nickel, obviously. There's a big hope for him. He can play outside. He's got great, natural football instincts at the nickel or corner position. Obviously, he's got great bloodlines. I think it's a great pick."

Fuller was second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference and Defensive Rookie of the Year as a freshman in 2013. He followed that up with first-team all-conference honors in 2014 as well as second- and third-team All-American nods. The Redskins ranked 25th against the pass in 2015 but suddenly have a bundle of talent in the secondary with Fuller, second-rounder Su'a Cravens and free-agent cornerback acquisition Josh Norman.

Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma

The Dallas Cowboys selected Tapper with the third pick of the fourth round (101st overall). Not bad for a guy who didn't play football until his junior year at City College. Once a standout basketball player, the Baltimore native uses that athleticism in pass-rush situations and could compete for playing time right away in Dallas.

"When Dallas called, I was just so happy," Tapper said. "I feel like that's just the best place for me, being able to play the 5-technique, be one-on-one with the tackle, be destructive, get up field. They treat every play like get off the ball and then just react."

Tapper was miraculously named first-team All-Big 12 as a sophomore in 2013 and bookended it with first-team honors again as a senior in 2015. Last season, he had 50 tackles from defensive end -- 10 went for a loss and seven for sacks -- and helped the Sooners surge into national title contention. Tapper possesses an attractive blend of raw ability and a well-rounded skill set.

Quinton Jefferson, DT, Maryland

No player benefited more from Maryland's switch to the 4-3 defense last season than Jefferson, who impressed enough for the defensive-minded Seattle Seahawks to trade up for him with the eighth pick of the fifth round (147th overall). Jefferson has now played tackle and end in two different defensive schemes, which should help him provide depth in Seattle.

"I think I bring a lot of versatility," Jefferson said. "I think I can play all along the front. I think I am very disruptive inside, with the run and the pass. I feel like I can really get after it on third downs, kick inside on sub packages and rush the passer. That's at a premium in this league right now."

Jefferson's junior season ended prematurely in 2014 due to a knee injury, but he came back stronger than ever a year later. He collected 6.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss en route to honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. He has a ways to go before he can make an impact at the next level, but there's nowhere better to learn than Seattle.

Notes: Navy quarterback-turned-wide receiver Keenan Reynolds and Auburn cornerback Blake Countess (Good Counsel) were also drafted. The versatile Reynolds went to the Ravens in the sixth round (182nd overall) and could be used in any number of ways in Baltimore. Countess went 14 picks later (196th overall) to Philadelphia, where he figures to provide secondary depth and play special teams for the Eagles. Marylanders Tavon Young (Oxon Hill, 104th overall to the Ravens) and Wendell Smallwood (Eastern Christian Academy, 153rd overall to the Eagles) will join them in Baltimore and Philadelphia, respectively.

Below is a list of local players who went undrafted but have since latched on with NFL teams:

Chris Swain, FB, Navy -- signed with San Diego Chargers

Brad Craddock, PK, Maryland -- signed with Cleveland Browns

Andrew Zeller, OL, Maryland -- signed with Detroit Lions

Brandon Ross, RB, Maryland -- signed with Minnesota Vikings

A.J. Hendy, S, Maryland -- signed with Miami Dolphins

Issue 221: May 2016