by Dave Syvertsen, Ourlads’ Draft Analyst
I am going to have a good amount of DTs graded in my top 100 overall. I think it is a good year for the position and the top guy isn’t exactly your traditional, big-bodied player. Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh) was my top DT going in to the combine and he only strengthened that position with his workout performance. He was ultra-impressive on tape, he is ultra impressive with how he carries himself off the field, ultra impressive in workouts. I think he needs a specific role to do well in the league, but he can be a high impact defender. He’ll finish top 10, if not top 5 overall on my board. Right behind him is Stephon Tuitt from Notre Dame. I know he played 3-4 DE in college and that is probably a good spot for him in the pros, but the 4-3 teams should still give him a hard look. His size, athleticism, and functional strength/power are elite. He can wear a few hats and he could be a dark horse for the top 15 overall. You don’t find guys like this every year.
There are a lot of BIG defensive tackles in this class. Guys with NFL-ready bodies from a thickness/strength perspective. Louis Nix would be on my radar in round 1 if I were a 3-4 team. He is about as solid as they come when eating space and blockers inside. Rashede Hageman (Minnesota) is one of the more impressive athletes you’ll find. He was good in Indy, but I still have worries about him when it comes to the tape. He spent a lot of time off the field. Was he injured? Not that I know of. Does he have conditioning/effort issues? A guy like that should be dominating week in, week out. He showed flashes, but wasn’t consistent. The ability is there though, no doubt. Daniel McCullers (Tennessee) is the biggest player I have ever scouted. I am actually intrigued by him because he actually shows some closing ability within the tackle box. He won’t be moved by anyone and that is always something teams want. Can he just slightly upgrade his foot quickness? If he can…watch out.
A couple names I’ve been high on since September are DaQuan Jones (Penn State) and Caraun Reid (Princeton). Jones caught my eye in almost every tape I saw of Penn State. He is a comfortable 320+ pounds with the easiest knee bend you’ll find and some sneaky quickness in tight spaces. Love the way he can stay low and play with strong hands, that’s a great combination to have for a DT. Reid is a tough guy to block on tape but he also has some Geno Atkins to him when I watch him in workouts. He is a low mover with explosive steps, incredibly strong base.
A name I am really down on in comparison to what I see out there is Will Sutton (Arizona State). He has a bottom tier grade for size and he looks out of shape. On tape he jumps out at you 2-3 times per game but he can be not just beaten, but dominated by quality blockers for such long stretches. A guy at that size needs to have some special characteristics to offset and simply doesn’t.
Back in the fall I said this DE class was very weak after Clowney and I still believe it. If you are a 4-3 team, this is NOT a good year to be looking for young pass rushers. That said…good ones come out of every class so while I think the market is scarce, they’re in there. Two guys that have been productive but don’t exactly fit the stereotypical DE body have equal grade on my sheet. Marcus Smith (Louisville) was a fun guy to watch in 2013. He is as explosive as it gets in short areas and he can close a gap fast with power and precision. He is a pure gamer. Chris Smith (Arkansas) is similar in that he plays a strong, powerful, but quick game that I think can translate well to the next level. He stands at just 6’1 but he is freakishly great length to him and he is as stout as it gets. He is simply one of those guys that is just annoying to block for these bigger OTs.
I want to like Kareem Martin (North Carolina) and Kony Ealy (Missouri) because of the upside they present. Both have the body and they have shown flashes against the run and pass to lead one to the notion they can be impact guys. But Ealy really struggled against some of his better competition and for a big guy, he gets overwhelmed too easily. Martin has slow reaction to the plays coming at him. He plays a high game and I question how much power he can produce from his lower body. They could be solid picks because of potential but I can’t see them breaking in to the top 55-65 on my sheet.
There are a few names I am trying to get some more tape on in the coming weeks. I had some good notes about them prior to Indy and they did well in their respective workouts. Larry Webster (Bloomsburg) has the frame you want in a guy that you are trying to develop. He showed really explosive movement in drill work and his workout numbers were among the best for the position. I’ve only seen one tape and it wasn’t a quality one…but I am really intrigued by him. A lot of things I look for physically, he has. Zach Moore (Concordia) on film is an angry, beat-you-up type guy which I love. He measured in better than I thought he would and he is really explosive. I think he is better than a lot of DEs from major programs and I can see him making an impact earlier than most guys from small schools.
There will be plenty of opportunities throughout the draft to bring in a quality linebacker. I’ve been back and forth a few times on Anthony Barr (UCLA) but I am going to have him in my top 10 overall. He is put together nicely and has the movement ability that you don’t often see at that position every year. He is not just a good mover though, he is a strong kid that plays a physical brand. He fits in to what NFL linebackers need. There are some holes in his game but he’s been playing the position for just 2 years now, he’ll shore them up. Some proclaim CJ Mosley as a legit top 10 talent, I don’t see it. He’s good, but we aren’t talking about Patrick Willis here. He’ll grade out in the top 25 I’m sure, but he can’t be considered really early.
I’ll say it again (I know its getting old), but Chris Borland (Wisconsin) is one of my favorite players in this class and he has been since the early fall. I have him slightly graded above Mosley. He measured in bigger than I thought. Will the height/short arms hurt him in the NFL? Sure. But what he has besides those issues far outweigh anything negative. Watch a few games of his and I don’t know how you wouldn’t be able to agree. Another instinctive, violent guy I like is Jordan Zumwalt (UCLA). He always jumped out at me while scouting Barr. He is a little stiff though but the upside is huge with him.
I really want to like Christian Jones (Florida State) but I can’t find any games where he plays well for long stretches. He has the good physically and he plays multiple spots/roles…but he is an underachiever. Ryan Shazier (Ohio State) is in a similar situation, but I think he has more football-based skills than Jones. Shazier had one of the best workouts you will ever see out of a LB, and I expected it. On tape he gets overwhelmed way too easily though and he is at his worst in traffic. He is a football player but again, I think he has underachieved considering his natural talent.
I think this is a strong group overall with some guys that I really like later in the draft. At the top, I still have Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State) and I think he’s there to stay. He has all the movement skills a corner needs and he has some natural tools size-wise that are rare to find. Does he have it all between the ears? That is my only concern but his tape in 2013 was so much better than what we saw in 2012. I think his game is on the rise. Right behind him is a small but quick/agile/explosive corner in Jason Verrett (TCU). I understand the concern with his size but this guy is so impressive on tape every week. He can move all over the field with anyone and he gets his hands on the ball as much as any corner you’ll find. He has “it”.
Where do I have Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State) on my board? I didn’t see anything at the combine that would move him in to top 20 consideration. He’ll sit somewhere between 25-35 overall. I like him but don’t see the special in him that some do. Love the physical style of play but I am still down on his reaction and lateral movement. I have him behind Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech) whom I really think is going to be a stud in this league. He measure out better than I thought he would and his injury is in the past. Fuller plays a complete game and didn’t show a weakness in any game tape. His performance against Alabama early in the year was as good as I saw against the Tide in 2013. He has a shot at breaking in to the top 15 on my board.
I have two names that are likely day three guys. First is Travis Carrie (Ohio) whom I have spoken about here once or twice already. He needs to check out medically but I love his ability on tape to play press coverage but also sit back in a zone and anticipate throws. Really looking forward to seeing what he can do in the NFL. My next guy wasn’t even at the combine, but BJ Lowery of Iowa is my dark horse of the year. I see a lot in him that I saw in Micah Hyde last year, whom I had a very high grade on despite the low rankings elsewhere. Hyde was one of the best defensive rookies last year. Lowery is well-sized athlete with playing power and easy hips. He can stick with faster receivers all over the field, his reaction and awareness are outstanding.
This group is pretty top heavy, as I don’t see the depth here that I usually find at the position. Calvin Pryor (Louisville) is my top guy and he’s been there since September. He is a missile that plays a more physical game than you would think. Very good tackler and reliable in coverage. Does he have the deep range in coverage? Questionable and that is the only thing that prevents me from throwing him in to the 90+ category, a tier reserved for elite-only prospects. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama) brings everything to the table you want in a safety but I don’t see a huge gap between him and a few others. Definitely not a top 15 guy, maybe not a top 25.
If you are looking for elite run defenders that do well enough in coverage, I am liking Dion Bailey (USC) and Deone Bucannon (Washington State). Both are trucks in space that bring a lot of power presence to a defensive backfield. I actually think Bucannon has the potential to be a special player. He was just on such a bad team with little-to-no talent around him. I think with a specific role, he can be a star. Bailey is more limited but he is just a gamer. He’ll do well on hustle alone but he has the talent to make a lot of big plays for a defense.
Some of these undersized guys that are getting a lot of love haven’t stood out to me. Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois) doesn’t have the impact on a game that a safety should. He doesn’t stuff the run, he doesn’t intimidate over the middle, and he has issues changing direction in deep coverage. Isaiah Lewis (Michigan State) look overwhelmed in a few Big 10 games this year, what’s gonna happen in the NFL? He had issues sticking with tight ends with change of direction ability, that just won’t fly at the next level.
Terrance Brooks (Florida State) brings the versatility and movement ability to the position that warrants an earlier look that what most project. He is a tough kid too that tackles well, something I need out of a safety. Tre Boston (North Carolina) didn’t have a great workout but he shows good movement and awareness/reaction on the field. I think he can stick somewhere and eventually start.