Junior Sylvestre's reputation precedes him.
The speedy, undersized linebacker has been the first "impact player" mentioned on Toledo's defense for two seasons now, and his play was recognized with First Team All-MAC honors following his junior and senior campaigns.
What makes Sylvestre such a star? The Hollywood, Fla. native excels in run-stopping, using his closing speed and sleek frame to slip into running lanes and meet ball-carriers with force. Sylvestre led Toledo in tackles over each of the past two seasons and teamed with the Rockets' solid defensive line to absolutely stifle opposing runners.
Sylvestre and the Rockets' defense were downright miserly against the run in 2014-15, ranking first in the MAC and 14th in the nation in rush defense. Toledo gave up just 3.5 yards per carry and 116 yards per game, numbers that outshone the likes of Missouri, Kansas State and National Champion Ohio State. Sylvestre's ability to read plays and meet rushers before they could break through the second level was a primary reason for that success.
Potentially holding Sylvestre's NFL draft stock back is his specialization in run-stopping. Number 33 was routinely asked to stay home in Toledo's defensive scheme, and he did not blossom into a world-beating cover linebacker or pass rusher. Sylvestre recorded just 7.5 sacks in his four seasons with the Rockets, and only collected a single interception. While his coverage skills were not his focal point at Toledo, the former high school defensive back may need to improve that area of his game if he hopes to contribute at the next level.
At 6-foot-0 with defensive back speed, Sylvestre may be suited to a hybrid linebacker-safety position used with increasing frequency by NFL teams. Due to his speed and below-average size, he might be called upon to defend in spread offense situations, making a focus on honing his coverage skills a must. The instinct and ability are clearly in place for Sylvestre to be a useful rotation player in the NFL, and he will hope to land in a situation with a coach that can make the most of his skillset.
While Sylvestre is not a lock to be drafted, he appears to stand a reasonable chance ahead of the offseason evaluation period. DraftCountdown.com rates him as its 16th-best outside linebacker prospect in the 2015 draft, and CBS Sports projects him as a seventh-round pick and its 253rd-ranked candidate overall (while the number fluctuates due to compensatory pick awards, there are ordinarily around 255 picks in each NFL draft).
Like a host of MAC prospects before him, Sylvestre may have to test very well in pre-draft measurables and stand out in training camp to earn NFL snaps early in his career. However, if his conference accolades are any indication, NFL running backs might become just as familiar with him over time as MAC running backs were.