With the NFL Scouting Combine a thing of the past and the litany of Pro Days underway, we continue our draft buzz series, focusing on the hot-button prospects ahead of April's NFL Draft. Earlier, our team of draft analysts looked at the offense. Today, it's on to the defensive side of the ball ...
Defensive End (Josh Buchanan - JoshBDraft):
Two players who helped themselves at the defensive end position but have not been mentioned too often are Boise State's Shea McClellin and Syracuse's Chandler Jones. McClellin measured in at 6-3, 260 and ran a 4.63 40-yard dash, good for second among his position. He posted a respectable 9'10 broad jump to go with a 4.33 20-yard shuttle. He showed the speed to convert to linebacker in some schemes but is big enough to play end. McLellin was named first-team All-WAC with 50 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble, and a blocked kick in 13 games. Jones, meanwhile, declared for the NFL Draft after his junior season and came in to the combine at an impressive 6-5, 266. While he did not blaze in the 40, he boasted an impressive 10-inch broad jump, and 7.07 run in the 3-cone. One sleeper to consider is James Madison's D.J. Bryant, a small school prospect worth keeping an eye on as pro days come and go. Bryant measured in at 6-3, 245 in the postseason and has very long arms. He finished with 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks to earn first-team All-CAA honors as a senior as he broke out onto the scene. He's raw and needs to fill out but has great length and is faster than people think. Keep an eye on him late in the draft or as an undrafted free agent who could make a roster.
Our Take: McLellin is definitely one of the most intriguing players in this draft because of his versatility in both the 4-3 and 3-4 systems. For the Eagles, he could play as a defensive end in the Wide-nine, or possibly slide to SAM linebacker as well. He came into the season as a marginal prospect, but proved his worth and should be chosen on the second day of the draft. Jones is one of my favorite prospects as well because of his versatility. A long, athletic player coming off the edge, he brings the size and physicality you want and can shft inside on passing downs. Bryant is absolutely an interesting name for Eagles fans to keep a late eye on and he coincidentally shares the same alma mater as linebacker Akeem Jordan.
Defensive Tackle (Doug Lancy – Draft 101):
Defensive tackles rarely get the big name attention, but every football guy knows the value of these behemoths on the inside. After the combine, a name that has been getting some boost is Alameda Ta'amu from Washington, who ran a 5.34-second 40-yard dash and put up 35 reps on the bench press in Indianapolis. Ta'amu is a great penetrator and an excellent option at the 3-techinique. He is still a little raw and needs to improve his awareness, but once this guy is coached up, he'll be a beast on the inside. Ta'amu has one of the higher upsides at his position, and will likely go in the second round because of his potential, although he won't be the safest pick.
Our Take: Because of his exceptional size (6-3, 348), Ta'amu has been almost certainly tabbed as one of the top 3-4 nose tackles in the class. However, his style of play could put him as one of the top 3-techniques in this class in a 4-3 scheme. He's a big prospect with surprising athleticism who deceptively gets into the backfield to make plays. He put that on display during the Senior Bowl in Mobile, where he made a number of plays that stood out during the game. It would be a shock to me to see him fall out of the first round.
Linebacker (Joe Everett – Rookie Draft):
Demario Davis out of Arkansas State is currently one of the fast risers among the scouting community thanks to a fine showing at the Senior Bowl back in January and a stellar combine performance in Indianapolis last week that has the draft community buzzing. Davis' 32 reps on the bench press drill was the most among the entire linebacker group and his vertical leap of 38.5 inches was good for second best at his position. Davis is a three-down 'backer capable of diagnosing and breaking down run plays quickly but his best asset is his ability to close on ball carriers sideline to sideline out in space and to disrupt passing plays before they develop in coverage. While Davis may not posses a marquee name, he has a pro game and the natural athleticism needed to shine at the next level.
Our Take: Davis is one of the more underrated prospects in the entire draft, regardless of position. He impressed anyone and everyone in attendance down in Mobile and further improved his stock in Indianapolis at the Combine. Davis looked fluid in positional drills, and timed very well to boot. He's a player who will likely fall further than he should, but will be a good player down the line in the NFL.
Cornerback (Evan Silva – NBC Sports / RotoWorld):
One player who has clearly stood out this offseason is Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin. Boykin encountered some bad luck when he suffered a "slight" fracture in his lower right leg during the Senior Bowl game. He was unable to participate in February's NFL Scouting Combine and only weighed in and bench pressed at the Bulldogs' March 6 Pro Day. A feisty, physical corner ideally suited to cover the slot, Boykin goes 5-9, 181 but is muscle-bound and is an efficient tackler. He earned the 2011 Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most versatile player, tracking receivers all across the formation, excelling on returns, and even hauling in two touchdown receptions on offense. Boykin leaves Georgia with 39 career starts, 20 tackles for loss, and nine interceptions. He scored five return touchdowns, four on kickoffs and one on a punt. Boykin is Georgia's all-time leader in kickoff return yardage. He was also a 2011 team captain. Boykin is expected to be 100 percent for his April 9 personal Pro Day, at which he will run the 40-yard dash and go through cone drills. He projects as a second- to third-round draft pick and should be able to immediately step in as a team's "12th" defensive starter, covering the slot in nickel sets.
Our Take: Boykin is one of the more intriguing prospects at the cornerback position for Eagles fans, if not only because of his value as a return man. As Evan said, he was one of the top return specialists in the SEC the past four years, and is one of the top slot corners in this class as well. Boykin would be a great fit, and should come off the board sometime in the second round.
Safety (Chad Davis – Draft Breakdown):
The 2012 safety class was dinged by some talented players returning to school, and therefore lacks much real depth. But one player who generated some buzz at the NFL combine was Notre Dame's Harrison Smith. He is a converted linebacker, who most assumed didn't have top-notch athletic ability, but all he did was run a 4.57-second 40-yard dash, a 4.12 20-yard shuttle (second among safeties), and a 6.63 in the 3-cone drill (tops among safeties). At 6-2, 213, Smith definitely opened eyes and could be a surprise first-round pick in April. Another safety, and a personal favorite, who has a chance to be a real steal in the late rounds of the draft is Oregon's Eddie Pleasant. He led all safeties at the combine with 22 reps on the bench press, and really had a productive career at Oregon. At 5-10, 211., Pleasant is very aggressive near the line of scrimmage, but can he be effective in coverage at the next level?
Our Take: Smith certainly has the physical tools to be a top-level talent, especially in this thin safety class. A big prospect with surprising athletic ability, he will be one of the first at his position to come off the board in April. Pleasant shouldn't hear his name called until much later, but absolutely has the potential to be an impact player, at the very least on special teams, at the next level.