The Pro Day circuit continues and as we inch closer and closer to draft weekend. Players all over the country are striving to set themselves apart from the rest of the pack. Once again, we look to our panel of Draft Insiders to see who is standing out at each position. Here, we focus on the defensive positions ...
Defensive End (Shane Hallam - DraftCountdown)
A defensive end who scouts are buzzing about is Clemson's Andre Branch. The former Clemson Tiger lined up with his hand on the ground in college, but could also transition to the linebacker spot for a 3-4 team at the next level. Not only did Branch excel at the NFL Scouting Combine (4.70 40 time), but he looked impressive at his pro day and reports say he aced the interview process. Branch may have moved into the first round and may even warrant Top 20 consideration. Boise State's Shea McClellin is a Top 50 pick whose measurables are comparable to Brooks Reed (now of the Houston Texans) from last season. McClellin is another player who may stand up at linebacker, but played primarily as a down lineman at Boise State.
Our Take: Branch is one player who has grown on me throughout the evaluation process. I remember not being all that enamored with him in 2010. He was good as a senior, but I never really envisioned him as a player I'd personally take in the top half of the first round. After sitting out the Senior Bowl with an injury, I didn't get to watch him in person. However, I have grown into more of a fan of his as the process as developed. Branch is a long prospect who uses his hands well and has a motor that never stops. I could see him turning out to be a better pro than most think. McClellin played all over the field for Boise State in 2011. He primarily lined up as a linebacker during the drills at the Senior Bowl. His versatility and football intelligence will make him an attractive option for many teams, perhaps as early as the second round.
Defensive Tackle (Jeff Risdon – Real GM)
Jerel Worthy is an intriguing player to evaluate because of the inconsistency of his play. At times, Worthy was a dominant gap-shooting tackle with excellent quickness and burst off the snap. However, he frequently appeared fairly static and easily neutralized. The key for Worthy's success is his ability to anticipate the snap count and dictate the action before the blocking has a chance to set up. He is light on his feet for a 308-pound lineman and possesses a nice variety of pass rushing moves. He has a strong closing burst and consistently wraps up his tackles.
Worthy does not play with much power or use his hands real effectively once the blockers engage with him, which is why he struggles when he fails to get the jump on the play or is not attacking. Teams had success running right at him at times, as Worthy prefers to sidestep rather than anchor, though he does locate the ball quickly and tends to at least get in the way and force a cut.
His on-field demeanor often harkens to Nick Fairley, someone who enjoys pushing the rules and agitating the opponent. That will endear Worthy to some coaches, but make a poor fit with others. He fits best in the classic Tampa-2 scheme as the 3-technique attack tackle in the mold of a Kevin Williams or vintage Tommie Harris. Worthy performed very impressively at Michigan State's Pro Day recently, and that performance likely solidifies his draft status in the late first-to-early second round.
Our Take: Worthy has always been one of my favorite prospects at the defensive tackle spot. Despite his consistency, he has shown that he can play at a high level against a high level of competition. He battled against quality offensive linemen in the Big 10. A sturdy 3-technique with the ability to rush the passer and stop the run, he may not have put up the Combine numbers of a Dontari Poe or have the sheer physical tools of a Michael Brockers. However, I think Worthy is very comparable to them as prospects and deserves to be in the conversation in the middle part of the first round.
Linebacker (Chad Davis – DraftBreakdown)
An overlooked linebacker who by all accounts shined at Alabama's Pro Day was Jerrell Harris. Often overlooked on a defense full of stars, the 6-2, 241-pound Harris ran in the low 4.6's and managed a very respectable 35" vertical jump. In addition, he displayed the type of athleticism and versatility that should make him a valuable commodity at multiple linebacker positions in the later rounds.
Another lesser known and underrated prospect who also dazzled at his Pro Day was Washington State's Alex Hoffman-Ellis. After measuring in at just over 6-feet and 233 pounds, Hoffman-Ellis clocked a 4.54 in the 40-yard dash and put up an astounding 36 reps on the bench to go with a 36.5" vertical jump. After being considered as an undrafted free agent, Hoffman-Ellis may have worked himself into late round consideration with those impressive numbers.
Our Take: Harris quietly was a standout player for the Crimson Tide during his time at Alabama, and I don't think enough people are talking about what he brings to the table in regards to the NFL Draft. A quick-twitch player with good size and athleticism, I think Harris can play a number of different positions and excel at the next level. Hoffman-Ellis is coming from one of the worst programs in the country over the past few seasons. He is a tough, smart linebacker who could develop into a special teams ace at the next level.
Cornerback (Lou Pickney – DraftKing)
One cornerback who has received a ton of positive buzz over the last couple of weeks is Central Florida cornerback Josh Robinson. A two-time Conference USA first-team selection, Robinson posted an impressive 4.33 time in the 40-yard dash at the Combine as part of an overall outstanding showing. At 5-10, 200 pounds, Robinson doesn't have elite size for the position, but his athleticism is tremendous. Robinson would be an ideal addition for any team looking to improve on the back end.
Our Take: Robinson has been one of the most highly talked about prospects at the cornerback position since the Combine, and with good reason. The performance he put on in Indianapolis was one of the best ever by a player at his position. The question is, will it be enough to vault Robinson into the first two rounds of the draft after having a not-so-productive junior season? Robinson has a lot of talent, but Conference USA teams stayed away from him in 2011 after a productive sophomore campaign in 2010.
Safety (Josh Norris – RotoWorld)
In a less than impressive safety class, it would not surprise me if a prospect who is widely considered a late-round pick turned out to be the best of the bunch a few years down the line.
One player who fits this possibility is San Jose State's Duke Ihenacho. A true downhill force, Ihenacho takes aggressive angles after quickly reading the developing play. He is not satisfied in meeting the ball-carrier halfway. He flies towards the line of scrimmage to deliver jarring hits. Admittedly, this does leave him susceptible to quick lateral moves and cut back lanes, but I am confident Ihenacho can contain his forceful style.
In coverage, he possesses a similar mindset, undercutting routes that result in laying out for deflections or interceptions. Ihenacho stands flatfooted for too long while digesting the play in front of him. However, he is not shy about staying physical with receivers within 5 yards. Despite being larger in person than I expected during Shrine Week (6-0, 213 pounds), Ihenacho still posted quality workout results at his pro day (4.51 40, 39.5" vertical, 10'3" broad jump). At the very least, I see Ihenacho as a special teams nightmare that forcefully finishes hits with plenty of upside as a safety closer to the box.
Our Take: Watching the Shrine Game, you could see Ihenacho has the talent to hang with some of the "big boys" from around the country. During his career at San Jose State, he made a living off of intimidating opponents with bone-rattling hits and big plays on the back end. That may not always translate to the NFL, where those players on the other side of the field are a bit bigger than the ones you saw in college. However, you have to like his style of play and what it could potentially bring to your team down the road. I agree that Ihenacho could come off the board much earlier than most expect come draft weekend.
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