We've already taken a look at which NFL Draft prospects on the offensive side of the ball have increased their "draft stock" over the past few weeks through the Pro Day circuit. Today, we focus on the defensive side of the ball as our NFL Draft experts take us position-by-position ...
Defensive End (Tony Pauline - Sports Illustrated):
Maybe the hottest defensive end on the draft market right now is South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram. The former Gamecock is perhaps one of the most versatile front-seven players available and can line up at several positions. Ingram enjoyed an extremely productive season in 2011 as one of the most dominant playmakers in the SEC. He is projected at outside linebacker or as a one-gap end by most teams. Ingram is athletic and explosive enough to play as a coverage player or off the edge, and is strong enough to handle the move inside to tackle on pass-rushing downs. Entering the season, most had a late-first or early second-round grade on Ingram, but now he is a shoe-in to be taken within the draft's top 10 selections.
Our Take: Ingram may be the best fit as a defensive end coming into a "Wide 9" in this draft class because of his ability to get off the ball and make plays off the edge. The Eagles would almost certainly have to move up to gain the rights to his services, but of all the prospects projected in the top 10, he may be the most attractive option in the Eagles' case. As one of the top playmakers in the SEC a year ago, Ingram's attitude and professional mentality make him a great prospect.
Defensive Tackle (Lance Zierlein – Sideline View):
It's safe to say that you can look for Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox to start shooting up the draft boards of pundits across the internet and broadcast circles as the media begins to catch up with what teams have already seen. After the top six players in the draft, there seems to be a collection of players who haven't distinguished themselves just yet -- which is why I think Cox will fly up into the top 10. Like it or not, many NFL teams give credence to players who have played at a high level in the SEC and Cox did just that, earning First-Team All-SEC honors this year. Cox has the length and quickness off the snap to play in a 4-3 as a penetrating 3-technique or in a 3-4 as a 5-technique in a one- or two-gap system. Cox's ability to rush the passer from the interior is evident and it is the trait that is moving him up the draft boards.
Our Take: Cox is one of the hot names associated with the Eagles for mock drafts around the country, and for good reason. His abilities as a versatile pass rusher make him a very attractive prospect at the defensive tackle spot. He's got great natural athleticism, is a "quick-twitch" player who can do anything a defensive coordinator can ask of him. Tackles who move as easily as he can rarely escape the top half of the first round, and that is likely to be the case with Cox.
Linebacker (Cecil Lammey – ESPN Denver):
Nigel Bradham had a reputation at Florida State as a vicious tackler who could make game-changing plays. However, some felt he wasn't going to transition to the NFL because of a perceived lack of fluid athletic ability. Bradham is continuing to prove the doubters wrong, and has seen his draft stock rise in recent weeks. He began his post-college career by impressing scouts at the Senior Bowl back in January. Bradham followed that up with an impressive showing at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. He posted some good numbers as scouts warmed up to his athleticism. In the 40-yard dash, he was clocked at 4.64 seconds to go along with a 4.37 in the shuttle drill, and 7.18 in the three-cone drill. He also had a 37-inch vertical and 121-inch broad jump to go along with 24 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press. At the Florida State Pro Day, Bradham stayed with his combine numbers and didn't participate in the timed speed drills. However, he did showcase his agility in position-specific workouts. On film, some thought Bradham was too stiff to turn and cover athletic move tight ends. However, he's been impressing scouts with his ability to turn, change direction, and flow to the football. Bradham has seen his stock rise from a fourth- or fifth-round guy to a player who is likely to be selected in the third-round. Most in the scouting community now see him as a top 100 pick.
Our Take: Bradham was one of the clear "winners" from the week down in Mobile at the Senior Bowl. He looked good throughout the week in practice during drills, and he made more than a couple of plays out on the perimeter outside the numbers during the Senior Bowl game, something that was a bit of a question based on his game film. He's a tough, physical player who absolutely has the mentality needed to play the linebacker position at the next level. As a mid-round pick, he has great value for any team needing some extra nastiness in their front seven, and he should come off the board sometime during the second or third round.
Cornerback (Josh Norris – Roto World):
Not every cornerback can be a shutdown boundary player. In fact, the nickel defensive back has become many teams' "12th" starter. Texas A&M'sTerrence Frederick fits that slot role very well and will likely be drafted late in the third day. Frederick is an experienced player who excels when covering inside receivers while starting off the line in a zone scheme or trailing on crossing routes. He certainly has the toughness to hold his own on the edge, forcing runs up the middle while fighting through blocks. In fact, Frederick's best trait is his blitzing prowess after disguising it pre-snap. The Aggie certainly is not perfect since he rarely pressed at the line, but he is a reliable tackler and offers intriguing slot traits as a great value in the later rounds.
Our Take: Frederick is one of the more intriguing "slot" corners available in this draft, and should be a very solid player in that role at the next level. He ran a 4.54-second 40-yard-dash at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, and improved on that number at his Pro Day, clocking in at 4.47. If he can get coached up a bit technique-wise, he has all the potential to be one of the late-round 'steals' in this draft class.
Safety (Scott Wright – Draft Countdown):
Janzen Jackson was a highly sought after prep recruit who looked like a future Top-50 overall pick early in his college career at Tennessee. However, Jackson was dismissed from the Volunteers' program in August of 2011 following multiple failed drug tests and an arrest. Jackson transferred to McNeese St. at the FCS level, where he was eligible to play immediately, and after a rather ordinary junior campaign opted to enter the 2012 NFL Draft. A bit of a 'tweener who could project to either safety or cornerback, Jackson is a terrific natural athlete with excellent coverage skills who is also a playmaker in the secondary. Most agree that Jackson is an early round talent with the ability to compete for a starting job at the next level but those off-the-field issues will most likely take their toll on his draft stock. That said, safety is one of the weakest positions in this class and, as a result, there has been speculation that some team could roll the dice on Jackson as early as round three. If Jackson can stay out of trouble, some team could get a steal -- but that is a major "if".
Our Take: Early in his career, Jackson looked like he could be an Eric Berry-type prospect coming out of Tennessee as a ball-hawking safety who could be employed in centerfield to clean up the middle of the field. Unfortunately, some off-field issues sent him to McNeese State, and a sub-par year at that level of football has his abilities and motivation even more in question. A classic "boom or bust" type player, Jackson could develop into a long-term starter or be out of the league in two or three years. It would take a lot of trust and hard work from both him and the team that selects him to keep him on the straight and narrow and get him to reach his full potential at the next level.