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Lawlor's Favorite Draft Prospects: Defense

Posted Apr 13, 2017

Over the weekend, I profiled some of my favorite draft prospects on the offensive side of the ball, with a focus on players who will not be first-round selections. Now, I want to preview some defensive players who might make sense for the Eagles.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Jim Schwartz loves big, athletic defensive linemen. Chris Wormley from Michigan is such a player. He is 6-5 and 297 pounds. Wormley played mostly defensive end in college, but has told NFL teams he is willing to play inside or outside. His Pro Day results were similar to the numbers that Fletcher Cox put up at the Combine back in 2012. That should tell you just how athletic he is. The Eagles could look at Wormley as an end or a tackle. Schwartz has had big defensive ends before with guys like Mario Williams and Kevin Carter. Schwartz also loves to use long, tall players to rush inside. Jason Jones did a terrific job of this for him in Tennessee. Wormley will likely be a second-round choice.

This is a deep draft overall, but one of the strongest areas is the group of pass rushers. I think DeMarcus Walker from Florida State is a bit overlooked. He isn't as big as Wormley, but is still 6-4 and 280 pounds. Walker was very productive for FSU. Every time you watched a game, he seemed to be the guy making big plays. Walker had 16 sacks and three forced fumbles … as a senior. There is no question that he will play end in the NFL. One of the things I like about him is that he can slide inside in passing situations and rush up the middle. He did that in college. Walker uses his hands well and interior blockers struggle with his athleticism. Walker will go in the second or third round.

Unlike Walker, Jarron Jones had an up and down college career. He did have a good senior season for Notre Dame. Jones had 10.5 tackles for loss and batted down three passes, even coming up with one interception. I find Jones to be intriguing because of his size. Jones is 6-6 and 316 pounds. He has big hands and long arms. There are times when he looks physically dominant. You will see him toss around blockers and blow plays up. If the right coaches can get Jones to play that way on a consistent basis, he could become a really disruptive force on the inside. The Eagles have some good defensive tackles, but none who has size like Jones. He is a bit of a boom or bust prospect, but could be an interesting mid-round target.

One late round player I love is Patrick Gamble from Georgia Tech. He played defensive tackle at 6-4 and 277 pounds. That is not ideal size. He had 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles as a senior so he knows how to make plays. He uses quickness to penetrate and be disruptive. Gamble would need to get bigger and stronger to play inside in the NFL, but he could be a terrific value selection in the late rounds of the draft. We also know that Schwartz loves players who can get to the quarterback. Gamble can do that.

LINEBACKER

The Eagles might look to add a linebacker. One mid-round player I like quite a bit is Anthony Walker. He had a terrific career at Northwestern and could be a good NFL player. Walker doesn't have great size or athletic ability, but he is instinctive. Walker is also a playmaker. He finished with 37 tackles for loss, four interceptions, and eight forced fumbles. He might remind you a bit of Jordan Hicks. I think Walker could play inside or outside for the Eagles.

There are some interesting late-round targets as well. Jalen Reeves-Maybin is undersized, but is an athletic, explosive player. He is a big-time hitter. Maybin has some injury concerns that will hurt his value. He would be an outside linebacker in the NFL. Blair Brown really emerged as a senior. He had a great season for Ohio, totaling 128 tackles and 15 tackles for loss. I love his closing speed and his tackling ability. Some guys love to hit. Brown will wrap-up his targets and put them on the ground.

CORNERBACK

We know the Eagles need help at cornerback. In an ideal world, they will get their guy in the first round. Things don't always work that way so it is a good thing that this corner group is very deep. It is possible Marlon Humphrey could still be on the board in the second round. His combination of size, speed, and toughness could make the Eagles love him. Adoree Jackson is a player who draws mixed reviews. Some teams love him, others don't. I could see Jim Schwartz liking him. Jackson is a gifted athlete, and he plays with a lot of confidence and emotion. He picked off five passes in 2016 and is a major threat when he has the ball in his hands.

Tennessee star Cam Sutton is one of my favorite corners in the draft. He could be a third-round target. He's another athletic, aggressive corner. Rasul Douglas from West Virginia is a one-year wonder, but he did have a great season. Douglas led the nation with eight interceptions. He has excellent size and is very aggressive. The big issue with Douglas is that he isn't a top athlete. How will he handle NFL receivers? Probably my favorite corner in the draft is Damontae Kazee from San Diego State. He has great ball skills and is versatile enough to play inside or outside. Kazee made a ton of plays in college and I always want corners who can help create turnovers.

SAFETY

This is a good group of safeties. A lot of them will go in the first couple of rounds. There are some talented prospects outside of that top group. John Johnson was a versatile defensive back for Boston College. He played corner, nickel, and safety. The Eagles love defensive backs who can do multiple things. Johnson had nine pass deflections and three interceptions as a senior. He could play in the slot or back deep for the Eagles. If the team prefers a late-round ballhawk, small-school star Lorenzo Jerome would make a lot of sense. Jerome picked off 18 passes in his career at St. Francis. He then played well at the Senior Bowl, showing those ball skills and instincts against elite competition. He lacks ideal size and speed, but safety is a position where instincts are hugely important. I think Jerome has a chance to succeed in the NFL.

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