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Draft Buzz - Defense

Posted Apr 22, 2012

Earlier, we focused on the offensive prospects who project as potential third-day picks for the Eagles come draft weekend. Now, we turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball as our panel of draft analysts highlights a few possible future Eagles.

Defensive End (Rob Rang -  CBS Sportsline):

With pass rushers ranking behind only quarterbacks in terms of value to today's NFL scouts, finding players in the late rounds capable of wreaking havoc off the edge is akin to the cliché of searching for a needle in a haystack. The Philadelphia Eagles' Wide-nine scheme, however, allows the team to look past the normal size constraints that other teams put on pass rushers making the search a bit easier as the draft heads into Day Three. Miami (Fl.) junior Oliver Vernon isn't going to blow anyone away with his production totals but he does possess some of the athletic traits scouts are looking for -- including an impressive first step and the lateral agility and balance to re-direct his charge. The 6-2, 261-pound Vernon is certainly raw. Frankly, scouts would have liked to have seen him return for his senior season, but he has the burst to cross the face of opposing offensive tackles and showed surprising strength at the NFL Scouting Combine (31 repetitions of 225 pounds), as well. Vanderbilt senior Tim Fugger is another intriguing prospect to keep in mind. Despite enjoying a breakout senior season in which he led Vanderbilt with 13.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks, the SEC standout was not invited to the Combine. The 6-3, 248-pounder posted impressive numbers during his Pro Day, however, demonstrating the quick, light feet that could lead to success if allowed to attack from the edge.

Our Take: Vernon is one of the more “underrated” players in this draft in media circles, but make no mistake he is one of the most physically gifted pass rushers in this draft class. As Rob pointed out, he may have benefited from another year at Miami, but regardless he should hear his name called sometime in the middle rounds. He is a very athletic player on the edge, with the type of dynamic movement skills you want from a top-notch pass rusher. Fugger may not have earned a Combine invitation, but he sure put the draft community on alert after a lights-out performance at the team's Pro Day this spring. He should hear his name called on the latter stages of the draft's third day.

Defensive Tackle (Josh Buchanan – JoshBDraft):

Two defensive tackles to keep an eye on are Hawaii’s Vaughn Meatoga and Gannon’s Randy Colling. Meatoga is a 6-1, 294-pound one-gap defender who ran his 40-yard dash in the 5.00-second range at the NFL Scouting Combine and earned second-team All-WAC honors in 2011. He’s quick off the ball, smart, reads the play well, and can move well for his size. Keep an eye on him in the late rounds as a guy who will provide quality depth for schemes like the Eagles run. Colling likely won’t get drafted because he has a strained hamstring and has not been able to complete a full workout during the pro day circuit but this 6-4, 321-pound tackle is worth keeping an eye on. He ran a 5.34-second 40-yard dash but likely would run a sub 5.1 or better if healthy. I really like his tape and production. He’s a three-time All-PSAC selection with a very good motor, big body, and solid strength. The downside is his level of competition and the fact he is raw but he will give great effort and can make plays. I think he will stick on a roster despite likely going undrafted.

Our Take: Josh brings up two very interesting names here from complete opposite ends of the country. Meatoga, who performed admirably well at the East-West Shrine Game in January, is a quick-twitch defender on the defensive line who can do a number of things well. He's got a very good first step and possesses exceptional quickness to evade blockers and get into the opposing backfield. Colling, an All-American selection in Division II this past season, is a very strong, athletic former wrestler who dominated the competition at Gannon. He's extremely raw, and needs to learn to become a better practice player in preparation for the NFL, but he's got a lot of potential and could excel in the right situation. Both of these players are borderline draft picks, but could possibly hear their names called sometime towards the end of Day Three.

Linebacker (Matt Alkire – Scouts Notebook):

We’re talking about the later rounds here and there are two players I like for the Eagles. Both have one thing in common and that is their outstanding workouts, something Philadelphia has focused on in the past. Tank Carder from TCU is a very aggressive, hard-hitting playmaker at linebacker who I really like in the fifth round. The Horned Frogs run a unique 4-2-5 defense and Carder was asked to be versatile, so he can blitz and cover well. Carder isn’t the best at shedding blockers, but that can be worked on. He’s a very exciting player to watch. The second ‘backer I would keep in mind hails from North Broad Street, and that’s Tahir Whitehead of Temple. He is a very fast and athletic player who is more of an attacker off the outside. Whitehead has good instincts and will rip the ball loose while tackling. Whitehead is a guy who will really put a licking on running backs and the quarterback. He really needs to learn to handle linemen and has never been asked to cover much though. He’s a project, but that’s why he’ll be available in the later rounds.

Our Take: Carder has some very similar traits to linebacker Casey Matthews, in that he comes from a college scheme where he was asked to do a number of different things. He has some things to work on, including taking on and shedding blocks, but he certainly is an exciting player to watch on film and has some attractive traits. Whitehead is a three-year starter who has great athleticism and is technically sound. He's not the biggest of players, so strength and shedding blocks could be an issue early on, but he has the motor, potential, and versatility to fit a number of schemes, including with the Eagles.

Cornerback (Jeff Risdon – RealGM):

Iowa's Shaun Prater predominately played in zone coverage (mostly in cover two) at Iowa but has some experience in off-man as well. His game is based on his quickness, which is his best athletic attribute. He has an explosive first step, with great suddenness and good leaping ability. Prater has very quick feet and hands with little wasted body movement. Prater is a very solid tackler who quickly reads his keys and diagnoses the play, and he packs some pop for his size. His lateral quickness and long-for-his-height arms could allow him to slide inside in nickel and dime packages, but he lacks the power to handle bigger slot receivers. Average size (5-10, 190) and a lack of great top end speed are his biggest drawbacks, and the lack of speed really shows when teams tested him vertically. He is the kind of corner that will need to play in a zone scheme where his downfield exposure is limited. He didn’t see a great deal of throws his direction in 2011, and he helped compensate for his mere one interception by forcing four fumbles, three of them on receivers after the catch. Prater is a good fit for a cover-two or cover-three zone scheme, thanks to his tackling prowess and quickness to react in the short area. He has proven to be coachable and comes from an NFL-based scheme at Iowa. Prater helped himself after the season by adding about five pounds of cut-up bulk and shining during Shrine Game week. He should come off the board in the late third to mid fourth round, with his lack of speed limiting his draft upside.

Our Take: There aren't many programs in the country that prepare their players for the NFL more than Iowa, and Prater is one of the latest examples of that. He's limited athletically, as Jeff pointed out, but he plays fast and has natural instincts. A technically sound cornerback with good quickness and change of direction, he has the potential to be a slot cornerback at the next level, but will need to learn the position some before seeing quality game action. Still, he is a very good prospect, and should hear his name called in the middle rounds.

Safety (Josh Norris – RotoWorld):

The nickel corner role has been widely discussed throughout this offseason, however, many teams are choosing to employ a trio of safeties instead. In fact, some teams run an even split of these packages, breaking the "sub-package" label. Therefore, that third safety needs to add some kind of versatility the base safeties lack. Michigan State's Trenton Robinson has experience as an off-coverage man safety, shadowing slot receivers with a linebacker shifted out in space. Sure, he struggles with vertical speed and double moves since he really doesn't have that deep-half range, but Robinson is comfortable in space and in getting physical in routes. It didn't happen often, but Robinson sparingly pressed at the line and released into intermediate zones, baiting the quarterback while watching his eyes. He had little wasted movements in the instances. Robinson needs to improve his tackling but the Michigan State product is an intriguing rotational safety during the Draft's third day.

Our Take: Robinson was a player of interest during the Senior Bowl in Mobile this January, and he made an impression as a slightly undersized but very aggressive playmaker. He's not an elite athlete, but Robinson plays with decent technique and is an above-average tackler for the position. He has to learn to take better angles to the football, but overall Robinson is a good prospect and should fit into a safety rotation somewhere at the next level.

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