Defensive End (Josh Norris - RotoWorld):
Depth at pass rushing positions is more important now than ever, and one gifted edge player who may fall through the cracks is Rutgers' Justin Francis. Francis was the best pass rusher during the East-West Shrine Game's week of practices for either squad, using a nice first step inside oand outside to beat heavier-footed tackles to the spot. He is a feisty competitor but plays recklessly at times, guessing on the play rather than reacting. Because of his frame (6-2, 268), Francis needs to learn proper leverage to get under bigger tackles' pads, but he flashes natural strength and a willingness to fight through contact with counter moves. He did not workout at the Combine and SI's Tony Pauline says Francis "has serious leg issues that will warrant extensive examinations." But wherever Francis gets drafted (or signed post draft), he will work tirelessly with a high motor at all times. I would give that kind of player a chance any day of the week.
Our Take: There's plenty to like about what Francis brings to the table, and it was good to see him put his skills on display during the Shrine week practices. In a draft class with a lot of intriguing options at strong-side defensive end, he is a player who could get lost in the shuffle a bit. I would expect Francis to come off the boards late in the draft when it's all said and done.
Defensive Tackle (Dane Brugler – CBS Sports):
Just like when he came out of high school in Ohio, defensive tackle Derek Wolfe seems to be flying under the NFL Draft radar, even after one of the most productive senior seasons in 2011, in which he lead all defensive tackles at the FBS level with 19.5 tackles for loss. Wolfe is quick off the ball and is the spark plug of the defense, but he isn't a quick-twitch mover with most of his impact in college coming on hustle plays. Wolfe never quits and keeps fighting through the whistle with an overachieving mentality, but his lack of lower body strength and inability to take on double-teams will keep him from being a superstar. Nonetheless, he's a scrappy, full-motor player who does his best damage when he's isolated in one-on-one situations. Wolfe offers some scheme versatility and has the make-up that will cause defensive coaches to go to bat for him in the draft war room --probably much earlier than most would expect.
Our Take: Wolfe is one player who I could see coming off the board, shockingly, as early as the first or second round. His playing style will make him a favorite of coaches and scouts alike, and he stood out on film both during his senior season and during the Senior Bowl. While he does need to get stronger, his work ethic and personality would lead one to expect that he will fulfill his potential when he arrives in an NFL weight room.
Linebacker (Sigmund Bloom – FootballGuys.com):
Notre Dame's pro day was a big story because Michael Floyd's performance opened the door to him challengingJustin Blackmon for the top wide receiver spot in the draft, but another Fighting Irish prospect did a lot for his draft stock. Linebacker Darius Fleming had a rough NFL Scouting combine, cramping up and disappointing in the 40-yard dash. He literally stumbled out of the blocks for the first of his pro-day attempts, but followed it up with two times in the 4.5-second range, a vast improvement from combine times in the 4.7s. Fleming played outside linebacker in the Irish 3-4 defense, but he is also getting calls from 4-3 teams who like him as a potential weakside linebacker, while some have him projected as an inside linebacker in a 3-4. He wasn't a sure thing to get drafted before his pro day, but Fleming has teams taking another look at him after he burned up the track in South Bend.
Our Take: Fleming's athleticism and positional versatility will make him an attractive option for sure as we inch closer to draft weekend. In a linebacker class that is looking for more athletic playmakers, Fleming could fit the bill, and could eventually hear his name called in the sixth or seventh round.
Cornerback (Scott Wright – Draft Countdown):
It seems like every year there is a small-school prospect who shoots up draft boards on the heels of a strong Pro Day performance and this time around it may be Albion cornerback Chris Greenwood. A playmaker in the secondary and standout at the Division-III level, Greenwood checked in at 6-1, 193, and blazed a 4.42-second forty for scouts. Greenwood reportedly has workouts and visits lined up with at least 11 teams and counting and will likely be selected in the mid-to-late rounds despite not even receiving an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine.
Our Take: Greenwood caught my eye at the East-West Shrine game, where he reportedly had a strong week of practice that concluded with him winning a starting job in the game. He has a ton of upside and is one of the more intriguing size/speed prospects in this draft class. This group of cornerbacks has a lot of interesting options late, and Greenwood fits in that group. He could come off the board as early as the fifth round on draft weekend.
Safety (Eric Galko – Optimum Scouting):
Generally viewed by many as a "weak" class, the safety class may better depth proportionally than any other defensive position outside of defensive end. While Mark Barron of Alabama is the clear cut top safety, as he can play some deep coverage but is a ball hawk in the mid-range area at strong safety, there are some intriguing options after round one. In an NFL that will soon turn to focus on both having athletic tight ends and defending them, a safety who can do just that will be highly valued. Three players in particular stand out as fillers of the tight-end coverage role: the long George Iloka of Boise State, former linebacker Winston Guy of Kentucky, and the powerful yet lanky Antonio Allen of South Carolina. They will likely be highly valued come draft day.
Our Take: Barron is clearly the top safety in this class, but all three of these other prospects have a lot to like about them as well. Iloka, I believe, is a better athlete than some give him credit for, actually lining up outside as a cornerback late in the year due to injuries and performing fairly well for a prospect of his proportions. Allen is a phenomenal wrap-up tackler and a physical, downhill presence, but he will have to prove that he can play in space at the next level. Guy is intriguing because he is somewhat of a complete package athletically, but must refine his technique and improve a bit with the ball in the air. At the very least, these three players have plenty of special teams potential, and should hear their names called in the draft's middle rounds.