Tag Archives: Defensive End

2014 NFL Combine Notes: Defensive Line & Linebacker

Monday brought with it my personal favorite day of the combine: conversions. Nothing intrigues me more than evaluating the hybrid types who have drawn the distinction of being a potential 3-4 rushers. We also got the opportunity to take a look at the rest of the linebackers and defensive linemen (both tackle & end) in attendance. Here are a few notes on Monday’s combine workouts:

Defensive Tackle

*Monday starts and ends with Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald. The undersized (6’0 3/4″ 285 lbs.) 3-tech ran a 4.68 – the best among defensive tackles by a wide margin – threw up 35 reps on the bench press, and displayed his short-area burst with an impress 7.11 seconds in the 3-cone drill. His movement in drills was top notch. Donald, a potential late 1st round selection, had a really strong combine and only helped himself with his performance in Indy.

*The big man Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota once again caught eyes with his stellar physical makeup. He carries his frame very well and got East-West pretty comfortably. An athletic body-type with room to grow. Struggled to regularly stay low when participating in drills, which is consistent with his game film.

*The squatty Florida State product Timmy Jernigan showed off good, quick feet and a pretty strong looking frame to match. Able to sink hips well when changing direction, using hands well on bags. Bent his hips very well, maintaining balance nicely when moving laterally. Overall, had a nice day.

*Another individual who carried a big frame well was LSU’s Anthony Johnson. Combined good footwork with decent lateral ability. Another balanced, wide-based individual in drills.

*Penn State nose tackle-type DaQuan Jones was moving well for a 6’4″ 322-pounder. A little stiff when changing direction, but that’s okay for someone of his stature. Managed to keep low and look the part of a leverage-savvy inside lineman.

*Mr. Irish Chocolate himself, Notre Dame’s Louis Nix did himself no harm, in my opinion. Ran about as slow (5.42) as you’d expect a natural 6’2 3/4″ 331-pound nose tackle to, but was moving better than I expected laterally and had a deceptively decent short-area burst.

*Louisiana Tech nose tackle Justin Ellis exhibited pretty decent movement for a bulky interior lineman. His lateral movement and ability to sink his hips, keeping a wide base, was something that particularly caught my eye. Late add at the Senior Bowl, where he was encouraging, Ellis has done a good enough job to keep the momentum going.

*Princeton’s Caraun Reid had a good day and is maintaining a solid pre-draft run up. He looked really quick in drills and ran a solid 4.91 as well. Movement skills were above-average, to me. He’s setting a good example for future Ivy Leaguers with pro aspirations. Do everything and make the most of opportunities.

Defensive End

*The big man on the draft circuit, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney blazed the best 40-time amongst the DL groups, posting a 4.53 at a filled out 6’5″ 266-pounds. He did not participate in drills, but tallied nice numbers in both the vertical (37 1/2″) and broad (124.0″) jumps. I, like most, would have liked to see him compete, as he’s by no means a lock for No. 1 overall, but he did the job in physical testing. With that said, nobody ever doubted that aspect of his evaluation.

*Oregon State’s Scott Crichton was a bit of an eye-opener on Monday, displaying his high motor in drills and good short-area quickness. He has big hands and used them well in bag drills. Also carried his 6’3″ 273-pound frame well.

*Missouri’s Kony Ealy has a heavier frame and was moving well with it. Good short-area explosion is what caught my eye when watching him. Looked a little stiff at times, but nothing overly concerning.

*Despite being a bit of a tweener, I’m a fan of Texas’ Jackson Jeffcoat. Had somewhat of an up and down workout overall, but I couldn’t help noticing his quickness when getting lateral. On the other end of the spectrum, his ability to turn and run with fluidity left a little to be desired. Still unsure as to whether he is a fit in space as a 3-4 player – might be better off adding to his frame and putting his hand in the dirt, full time.

*Shepherd’s Howard Jones is a lean athlete who looked more like a linebacker – which is where he will play at the next level – rather than a lineman. Physical testing was solid and he moved about the field really well in drills. A little stiff when flipping his hips, but the athleticism was on full display. 40.5″ vertical, 124.0″ broad, 7.16 3-cone. All top shelf figures.

*Another player who will likely be playing in space as a 3-4 rusher moving forward is Boise State’s DeMarcus Lawrence. I was very impressed with his workout, as he had fluidity on display throughout every movement drill. I didn’t see much stiffness either. One of the players who won from his group, in my mind.

*One of my 2014 NFL Draft favorites, North Carolina’s Kareem Martin did well. At 6’6″ 272-pounds, ran a 4.72 time, moved without much stiffness, and had pretty active hands. Didn’t shock or awe the way I thought he was capable of, but still put together a good performance.

*USF’s Tevin Mims caught my attention at times. Pretty fluid in free-flow movement, change of direction was nice in conversion drills, and carried a 6’4″ 260-pound frame well. I see the foundation for a decent stand up 3-4 linebacker in his skill set.

*Ball State’s Jonathan Newsome looked like a linebacker running through drills with defensive linemen. Well-built athlete who was noticeably loose in movement. Change of direction and hip-flip skills were pretty solid, as well. Definite stand up conversion in most base fronts.

*The polarizing Michael Sam of Missouri was so-so throughout the day. Competed well and showed off a solid physical makeup, but was very rigid in change of direction throughout drills. Looked too stiff to play in space, lacked the sort of lower-body explosion I was expecting, and didn’t time well (4.91). Without sounding as though I’m piling on, as I do think there is a fit for him in a base 4-3, he’s got some work to do before May.

*Arkansas’ Chris Smith had a better day than I expected. Better in space than I saw compared to his in-game footage and showed off a good initial burst in many instances. Ran a 4.71, which was better than the 4.8-range I had him pegged for. Still needs to get a little strong, in my opinion.

*Lastly, Boston College’s Kasim Edebali was a high energy mover throughout the day. Noticeable quickness and burst in drills, ran alright at 4.79. I liked his change of direction skills and I think his best fit will come as a 3-4 player at the next level.


*Buffalo’s Khalil Mack entered the day with the distinction of being the best player available amongst the LB group. He didn’t disappoint, as he stayed fluid, looked loose, moved freely, and made a couple good catches. As a space player, he should be just fine. No hindering limitations in that regard. Ran well too, posting a 4.65 – good enough to tie him for the fourth best time. Impressive 40.0″ vertical and 4.18 shuttle numbers.

*Interesting UCLA product Anthony Barr put his raw talent on display. Bends very well and stayed really flexible in movement. Ran a solid 4.66 time and coupled it with a nice 6.82 in the 3-cone. Effortlessly carries his 6’5″ 255-pound frame and showed great initial burst. Definite 3-4 player to me if you’re looking to maximize Barr’s capabilities.

*I am very intrigued by Florida’s Ronald Powell. Very talented player packed with upside – a former top HS recruit at DE, I see a nice fit as a rush linebacker. Pretty fluid in space and has a little better hip bend than I saw on film. The physically gifted Gator also ran a nice 4.65.

*The Florida State linebackers had a solid day. In particular, Telvin Smith, who posted the second best time at 4.52, was flying through drills at high speed, and changed direction with ease. Versatile Christian Jones wasn’t as fluid as his teammate, but did exhibit quality footwork and used his hands well in bag drills.

*Boston College’s Kevin Pierre-Louis posted the fastest time, at 4.51, and put his footwork, good bend, and lateral quickness on display. Unfortunately he’s undersized and rounds a little when he’s changing direction.

*Notre Dame’s Prince Shembo was a pleasant surprise at the combine. Physical player who’s athleticism wasn’t believed to be the equal of some other peers in the LB group, but he proved capable. Much-better-than-expected 4.71 time, strong hand usage in bag drills, and was improved in East-West movement.

*Another athlete with versatility, USC’s Devon Kennard has played inside, outside, and at defensive end while with the Trojans. Great physical makeup, ran a clean 4.70, and looked pretty loose hipped for a player who exited HS as a defensive end. He has a lot of untapped pass rushing potential.

*Small-schooler Jordan Tripp from Montana had a very solid workout. Consistent and quick were the two positives I took from his combine. In a day where more than half the linebackers couldn’t catch a cold, let alone a football, Tripp made comfortable off-body grabs with regularity. He was active with good footwork. Even ran an impressive 4.67 time. FCS kids standing out.

*BYU’S Kyle Van Noy is an energy player who flowed well in drills. Good hips, changed direction pretty well, and did every drill at a high pace. He’s an all around player who needs to establish a fit for himself, but I see him succeeding in a number of schemes. Actually hit is head on a camera tripod while laying out for a ball near the sideline at one point.

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NFLDraftUpdate’s Top 5 Players By Position

1. Geno Smith, West Virginia
2. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse
3. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
4. E.J. Manuel, Florida State
5. Matt Barkley, USC

HM: Mike Glennon, NC State

Geno Smith peaks this years somewhat pedestrian quarterback class. After the top dog, perhaps the only one among secondary passers capable of developing into a reliable franchise player is Ryan Nassib. The Syracuse product possesses all the physical ability needed in order to be an impact player at the next level – something of a rarity in comparison to others in this class at the position. Tyler Wilson and E.J. Manuel are a pair of projection players that have flashed ability at the college level, but have struggled to solidify early consideration due to a lack of polish and turnover concerns. Wilson could be a steal if take late day two or early day three – scrappy passer with few holes… this season was a transition year for his team and he handled it as well as he could have. Matt Barkley is a cerebral threat to defenses but lacks the power arm to consistently make NFL stick throws. I view him as an overall better prospect than that of, say, Colt McCoy coming out of the draft in 2010, but there are physical limitations that are comparable between the two. Glennon features both a big frame and arm to match his proper delivery, but lack of even average athleticism and sub-par pocket presence must be worked through. Fit will be the determining factor in which pivots are successful from this class more-so than most years, as there isn’t much in the way of blow-your-socks-off natural talent at the top of the board. Lots of work to do with this group.

Running Back:
1. Montee Ball, Wisconsin
2. Knile Davis, Arkansas
3. Eddie Lacy, Alabama
4. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
5. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA

HM: Christine Michael, Texas A&M

It’d surprise many if there was a running back selected in the first round this year. Lots of talented players but none that will give war rooms a tough time passing on, on day one. The group is led by productive Big Ten ‘back Montee Ball. Although he lacks the second gear that you’d prefer from a true impact rusher, he is well-versed in all aspects of the position and can be a work horse in the right situation. Were it not for injury, Knile Davis would be one of the more touted in this year’s running back group, but he’s missed a significant amount of time and plays a position that withstands a hefty amount of punishment on a down-by-down basis. Still, his intriguing blend of size, lateral fluidity, and straight line speed are tough to dismiss despite the medical. Eddie Lacy lacks the natural fluidity and short-area movement skills that former Tide runners Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson have, but he’s a between-the-tackle banger with deceptive speed and quick feet. 3rd down ability isn’t what it could be, but there is room for improvement. Gio Bernard is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands and will be able to contribute on special teams while being integrated into an NFL offense. Size is a bit of a concern, but when touting the rock, he can make things happen. UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin has bolstered his value greatly in the pre-draft. His highly productive senior season and overall reliability as a feature ‘back are noteworthy, as are his close-quarter creativity skills and ability to make tacklers miss. Lots of players in the next tier are capable of contributing in some way to an NFL offense, such as UF’s Mike Gillislee, Clemson’s Andre Ellington, Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor, and Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell, amongst countless others. However, the one player who could really become one of the draft’s best rushers down the road, health-providing, is Christine Michael. Former blue chip recruit who’s struggled mightily with injury, he is a thickly built off-tackle runner with no physical limitations. Speaking of former blue chippers, South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore may be the ultimate wildcard of this group – coming off his second major knee injury in as many years, he was once perhaps the most coveted rusher eligible for this class. This year’s running back class offers a copious amount of complimentary + specialty runners and very few who are capable of being true, feature players. That said, there are many who should contribute effectively in some capacity right away.

1. Kyle Juszczyk, Harvard
2. Tommy Bohanon, Wake Forest
3. Zach Line, SMU
4. Lonnie Pryor, Florida State
5. Mike Zordich, Penn State

HM: Dan Moore, Montana

There is an array of different fullbacks available depending on what you are looking for. Harvard man Kyle Juszczyk is a better ball carrier than he is as a pure lead blocker, but has the capabilities of a three down player – a complete fullback. Tommy Bohanon is a bulky lead blocking type with a strong lower half, but also doubles as a capable outlet receiver who’s not lost with the ball in his hands. Zach Line is the premier running fullback from this group. Three consecutive seasons with 1,000+ rushing yards, he can take on the role of a bigger tailback or 3rd down option at the next level. FSU’s Lonnie Pryor is an athletic ‘back with a particular savvy for short-yardage situations – even managing to score 18 TDs on the ground throughout his collegiate career. Conversely, Mike Zordich of Penn State is a true lead blocking type. The former linebacker added both a receiving and short-yardage rushing element to his game – he’s also hailed for his notable leadership qualities. Finally, honorable mention Dan Moore is a scrappy player who exhibits a high level of compete, and can contribute on special teams.

Wide Receiver:
1. Keenan Allen, California
2. Justin Hunter, Tennessee
3. Tavon Austin, West Virginia
4. Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
5. Robert Woods, USC

HM: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia / Kenny Stills, Oklahoma

Like the other offensive skill positions in the 2013 class, this year’s wide receivers lack the obvious standout among the bunch. Kennan Allen of Cal, once considered a blue chip high school safety, has dealt with injury all throughout the pre-draft. A true athlete with the ability to adjust and track passes, he also doubles as one of the best blockers out wide in this class. There are knee concerns, but Allen has the look and makeup of a No. 1 receiver. Justin Hunter is an explosive athlete with a big, projectable frame and wide catch radius. If this red-zone threat can overcome injuries and the one year wonder concerns, he could wind up being a premier player from this class – limitless upside. There is no more versatile weapon available in this year’s draft than Tavon Austin. A dynamic, versatile slot player who can stretch the field, he has also spent a fair amount lined up at tailback. If teams can overlook the size/strength questions, someone could very well wind up with a player defenses must specifically game plan against. Another one year wonder gaining notable consideration is former JUCO transfer Cordarrelle Patterson. The Volunteer wide out possesses a big frame with plus speed to match. He only played one season at Tennessee but flashed enough playmaking ability to warrant early consideration. Patterson still has much to learn as it’s evident he is not the most polished natural catcher among this group. Conversely, USC’s Robert Woods is one of the draft’s best route runners and gains separation nicely. Proper, off-body catching technique and the versatility to play in the slot or out wide, Woods is a solid prospect who has a bit of Reggie Wayne to his game. I’d be doing a disservice by not mentioning Tavon Austin’s partner in crime, Stedman Bailey.  A thinner bodied target who doesn’t physically impose himself over DBs, but exposes his true value when being forced to adjust and make tough catches. A personal favorite prospect of mine from any position in this class is Oklahoma’s Kenny Stills. Not a physically gifted receiver who will make a living as a mismatch threat, but simply knows the particulars of the position. Natural, off-body catcher with a knack for winning in jump ball situations.

Tight End:
1. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
2. Zach Ertz, Stanford
3. Travis Kelce, Cincinnatti
4. Gavin Escobar, San Diego State
5. Joseph Fauria, UCLA

HM: Vance McDonald, Rice

It’s all about the passing game these days, and nobody high-points the football and make NFL caliber catches better than Tyler Eifert. A big-bodied, potential mismatch receiver in the passing game who has projectability as a blocker. Zach Ertz is a smooth route running tight end that can find soft zones and make tough catches. Has a bit of work to do in order to become a truly competent blocker, but will contribute to any passing game from day one. Travis Kelce, brother of Eagles center Jason Kelce, is another well-put-together tight end prospect. Strong at the point of attack as a blocker and possessing a highly intriguing blend of size, speed, and physicality, Kelce has all the tools needed to be relied on at the next level. Health has prevented him from contending for earlier consideration in the pre-draft process. Gavin Escobar possesses a long, athletic frame with an impressively wide catch radius and the ability to stretch the seem, overmatching linebackers with his straight line speed. A really raw blocker and a lacks a step when getting to top speed. Joseph Fauria, a Notre Dame transfer, is an absolute red zone threat. A thick, tall frame with long arms, he’s another high-point catcher who physically outmatches most defenders in the passing game. Although he’s not overly effective as a route runner, nor will he run past many linebackers, he can be reliable when catching the ball underneath coverage. One of the players who’s helped himself the most in the pre-draft process is Rice’s Vance McDonald. A balanced prospect with quality receiving skills. He’s able to make routine catches and turn up-field without losing much speed. It will be interesting to see just how much he’s bolstered his value – later day two, early day three projection.

Offensive Tackle:
1. Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
2. Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
3. Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
4. D.J. Fluker, Alabama
5. Menelik Watson, Florida State

HM: Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Topping many rankings since the day he declared, Luke Joeckel has drawn rave reviews as the potential top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Eric Fisher the most athletic blocker to come out of CMU since Joe Staley in 2007, one of the best blindside protectors in the NFL today. He projects to be as good or better than his Chippewa counterpart. While I can’t condone a team selecting Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson in the top 10, it’s tough to question his unmatched athletic ability and explosion off the snap. He has the makeup to neutralize speed rushers off the blind side at the next level. D.J. Fluker is an interesting case – potential to be a guard, may be a right tackle only of team’s are set on keeping him outside, but has the tools to play the left as well. Regardless, he’s a strong, balanced blocker who doesn’t play with heavy feet like most players of his stature occasionally do. Menelik Watson and honorable mention Terron Armstead are two more freakish athletes that round out my rankings. Watson is raw unlikely to effectively step in and contribute right away, but possesses comparable physical skills to Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith, a fantastic young tackle. Small schooler Terron Armstead flashed his athleticism at the combine and has been steadily rising ever since. He’s second day projection, but could remind some of Texans All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown – a shock first rounder in 2008.

Offensive Guard:
1. Chance Warmack, Alabama
2. Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
3. Larry Warford, Kentucky
4. Kyle Long, Oregon
5. Earl Watford, James Madison

HM: Eric Herman, Ohio

The guard class is pretty stocked up at the top end. A pair of potential top 10 selection in Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper with very different styles – it’s essentially pick your fit with the two players. Warmack is a leverage blocker with a strong lower half and solid get off at the snap. He’s a plug and play guard who should fill a need for five to ten years for the team that selects him. Cooper is a much more athletic interior blocker with excellent lateral quickness needed to be an effective pulling guard – very similar to that of the Bucs’ Davin Joseph. One of the more powerfully put together guards in the draft is Larry Warford of Kentucky; a natural fit in a power, man-to-man blocking scheme. Kyle Long, brother of Rams defender Chris Long and (obviously) son of Hall of Famer Howie Long,  is a guard/right tackle with quality bending ability. He will be an interesting, versatile addition to whomever lands him. James Madison guard Earl Watford has flown under the radar, but he’s a quick-footed, strongly built project with a fair amount of upside. Another mild sleeper worth keeping tabs on is Ohio’s Eric Herman. Good technique and a pretty fluid lateral mover.

1. Barrett Jones, Alabama
2. Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
3. Khaled Holmes, USC
4. Brian Schwenke, Cal
5. Braxston Cave, Notre Dame

HM: Mario Benavides, Louisville

Both Jones and Frederick are versatile interior blockers who can project to either guard position or center depending on where they wind up. Jones, a fundamentally versed veteran, Frederick , a wide bodied and balanced “Wisconsin lineman.” Khaled Holmes dealt with a right shoulder injury during the combine bench press and lost his opportunity to rise in the pre-draft, but his athleticism and quickness off the snap are undeniably impressive, in addition to his prototype size. Cal’s Brian Schwenke has perhaps the best movement skills of any interior blocker available – very fluid off the snap. Braxston Cave is an intelligent football player and individual. Certainly a projectable NFL blocker, but he will need development time prior to being relied on for first team snaps. Mario Benevides is an experienced player who’s worth a late round flier in my books – agile mover with some natural bend.

Defensive End:
1. Dion Jordan, Oregon
2. Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
3. Margus Hunt, SMU
4. Bjoern Werner, Florida State
5. Datone Jones, UCLA

HM: Stansly Maponga, TCU / Mike Catapano, Princeton

Pass rushers are an annual premium in the draft, and the top two are potential-packed. Jordan, a former tight end, locates and tracks the football well, always playing around where the action is. At 6’6″/6’7″ with lots of bend and an impressive first step off the snap, he’s an imposing pass rusher and potential 3-4 conversion rusher. Ansah is a raw talent who will require developmental time – a bit of a boom or bust prospect – but oozes potential. There may not be a more freakish physical specimen than Margus Hunt this year. The Estonian-born defender is a huge, well-built, high motor rusher. The 6’8″ frame forces him to get a little high off the snap, but if coached up, Hunt could become a force in the NFL – potentially as a 5-tech in a base 3-4. Bjoern Werner has slipped in the pre-draft, but the one-time potential top 10 pick is a powerful strong side end who can hold the edge in the run game and reach home on some blitzes. If he isn’t over drafted, Werner should be a solid starter at the next level. Datone Jones is a bit of a tweener in that he may not be a natural 5-tech and he may be over sized as a 4-3 end, but simply put… he can play. Stansly Maponga of TCU is a squatty, leverage rusher who can bend around the edge. A good project despite leaving school a year too early in his development. Another honorable mention that’s drawn some recognition is Ivy League defender Mike Catapano. Strong at the point of attack and vs. the run, Catapano emerged as a disruptive pass rushing force this season, notching 12.0 sacks and an impressive 15.5 tackles for loss. Long, athletic Devin Taylor of USCar and Utah’s Joe Kruger are a pair of interest too.

Defensive Tackle:
1. Sharrif Floyd, Florida
2. Star Lotulelei, Utah
3. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
4. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
5. Kawann Short, Purdue

HM: Josh Boyd, Mississippi State

This year’s crop of defensive tackles will garner a fair amount of early selections. The days of a bulky nose tackle type who can play two downs vs. the run are all but gone and the players who can disrupt in the passing game are of major value at the top of the draft. We start with Sharrif Floyd, whose athleticism has enabled him the flexibility to even line up at defensive end in Gainesville. He’s similar in ways to Raiders DT/DE Lamarr Houston – fluid mover, low base, plays with leverage, athletically gifted – but possesses significantly more upside as a prospect. Star Lotulelei isn’t a fire-rushing 3-technique, but his massive frame and plus movement skills will offer a new dynamic to a multitude of base defensive formations. Featuring some qualities that make Haloti Ngata one of the most coveted 3-4 lineman in the NFL, Star is a difficult talent to pass on if you’re seeking an interior presence. Sheldon Richardson has similarities to Eagles 2012 1st round pick, Fletcher Cox. Disruptive 3-technique with size and excellent lateral movement skills. Sly Williams of UNC is a natural 3-technique who offers a blend of size and 10-yard quickness. Much like Williams, Big Ten defender Kawann Short is another 3-technique with a strong base and the ability to get upfield. A bit of a squatty 4-3 nose tackle who can push the pocket, Short is a natural fit in balanced fronts. Honorable mention goes to Miss. State nose tackle Josh Boyd. While he may be a two down-type, he exhibited impressive movement skills at the combine and carries his large, wide frame, very well. He could be a nice value in the mid rounds.

Outside Linebacker:
1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia
2. Barkevious Mingo, LSU
3. Arthur Brown, Kansas State
4. Jamie Collins, Southern Mississippi
5. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers

HM: Trevardo Williams, UConn / Ty Powell, Harding

While not an elite cover linebacker, Jarvis Jones is a true playmaker. Diagnoses plays very well and finds the football as good as anybody, closing well. The USC transfer lives in opposing backfields (44 TFL, 28.0 sacks at UGA) and thrives when he’s able to read + react. A defensive rookie of the year candidate from week 1 of his rookie season. Kiki Mingo has become a polarizing prospect in the pre-draft among pundits, but while his natural pass rushing ability as a downed end is sub-par at this point, he – to me – has some of the capabilities that Von Miller did coming out of A&M. He’s not nearly the complete prospect Miller was, but Mingo’s niche is playing in space and has the athleticism to play east and west. If a team is patient, they could wind up with a true defensive stalwart. Arthur Brown is a supremely talented athlete who moves with great fluidity. Another read + react linebacker with closing speed. Jamie Collins is an explosive athlete with an impressive first step. A sure tackler and a developing knack for hitting home on blitzes.  Khaseem Greene is a natural Tampa 2 linebacker. Sideline to sideline player with smooth movement skills, Greene is a tackling machine and has improved his pass rushing skills notably over the past two seasons. Trevardo Williams caught my eye at the combine – a rocked up pass rusher with long speed. Another combine notable is Harding’s Ty Powell. Versatility and strength to hold up at the point of attack. He will help on special teams and can line up at end, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, and perhaps at defensive tackle in some nickel packages.

Inside Linebacker:
1. Manti Te’O, Notre Dame
2. Alec Ogletree, Georgia
3. Kevin Minter, LSU
4. Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
5. Kiko Alonso, Oregon

HM: A.J. Klein, Iowa State

Te’O made waves after the catfish situation, but purely as a football player, he’s one of the more reliable overall players available at any position. A high level of football IQ, he’s able to diagnose plays and instinctually locate where the ball is going. While not the most fluid or fastest linebacker around, he’s able to still be effective in short coverage. Somewhat limited physically, but will that prevent him from ever contributing? On the other end of the spectrum, UGA’s Alec Ogletree is gifted athlete with size whose speed enables him to make plays anywhere on the field. Off-field concerns are noteworthy, as are questions surrounding his ability to hold at the point of attack against big, strong lineman. A little undersized, but very smart at the position, Kevin Minter of LSU is one of the more unsung underclassmen in the 2013 bunch. Plays hard and tough when attacking downhill and relishes contact. Kevin Reddick is a strong, big bodied interior linebacker with long speed. Oregon’s Kiko Alonso is fluid when dropping and moving in coverage, he is a nice fit for most zone schemes. Last but not least, A.J. Klein does not have the intriguing physical skills to warrant early buzz, but he’s a well-versed football player who doesn’t miss tackles and is capable of leading a defense.

1. Dee Milliner, Alabama
2. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
3. D.J. Hayden, Houston
4. Desmond Trufant, Washington
5. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU

HM: Robert Alford, Southeastern Louisiana

Milliner lacks the elite ball skills of a Morris Claiborne from last April, but simply plays sticky coverage as good as anyone. Possessing size and thickness, he’s able to step up and make tackles with relative ease. Teams veered away from him in the passing game, yet he was still able to accumulate a staggering 20 pass breakups as a junior last season. Xavier Rhodes is a natural zone corner with intimidating physicality and press coverage skills. Occasionally lets receivers cross his face too easily when covering the boundary, but he’s a presence out wide and makes tackles while generating a fair bit of pop behind them. Houston’s D.J. Hayden is a long armed athlete with impressive speed and press coverage ability. He’s proven to be a reliable tackler as well. Desmond Trufant is a natural man-cover corner but needs to improve his tackling willingness and form. Final determination on Tyrann Mathieu: off-field concerns aside, I like him. Whether he’ll play strictly as a nickel or vie for time on the boundary in some coverage schemes, he has potential for stardom. A player with his caliber of ball skills is not an every day commodity. If the Honey Badger stays clean, he will be a very good slot defender. Lastly, Robert Alford is a playmaker with impressive leaping ability. Wins in many 50/50 situations and can create with the ball in his hands – a good day two.

1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
2. Johnathan Cyprien, FIU
3. Eric Reid, LSU
4. Matt Elam, Florida
5. Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse

HM: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma / Bacarri Rambo, Georgia

Featuring no physical limitations and the ability to cover and tackle, Kenny Vaccaro is the unquestioned top dog at his position in this class. His ball skills are not elite and he can get a little stiff in the hips due to his plus size, but he still moves fluidly. Johnathan Cyprien was once a sleeper – not anymore. A rock solid, 6’0 217 lbs. sure-tackler who has the physicality to matchup with fast or big NFL tight ends. Matt Elam is undersized and it may hurt his value, but he is an athletic hit-safety who attacks and flashes ball skills when defending passes. Eric Reid needed to adjust to life without Claiborne in Baton Rouge this year, but he’s a deep safety who can play center field effectively and make tackles. Shamarko Thomas is a specimen whose physicality and strength allows him to play effectively near the line of scrimmage, but can get a little stiff in tight areas. OU underclassman Tony Jefferson has had periods of spotty tackling on tape, but he’s a very willing downhill defender who hits hard and with purpose. TJ is solid in all facets of the position. Another quick hit – UGA safety Bacarri Rambo. Character concerns, coupled with some spotty tackling form, but he’s a natural in coverage and features impressive ball skills.

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