The annual scouting combine has become an entity of its own with all the coverage, media hype, and fan reaction. For the evaluators it’s a chance to see if your film thoughts are confirmed up close and personal. Nothing more, nothing less.
Teams have learned from past mistakes and will rarely change an opinion based on someone’s workout. I have fielded a ton of emails since the release of my latest rankings. Most of the questions have surrounded my statement that I was paying close attention to 17 draft prospects in Indianapolis. Everyone wants to know what 17 I’ll be watching and why I’ll be watching. The answer is simple…There’s a handful of guys that I want to confirm what I see in terms of speed, change of direction, or footwork. There’s another handful that I have limited tape on and want to see what type of athlete they are.
Outside those aspects I look forward to measurements to see how people have taken feedback and whether they are capable of making adjustments. It speaks to work ethic and character. We know that NFL teams evaluate interviews and medicals. Since we don’t have access to information (except for the occasional leak) we can’t judge on that.
Here’s a look at the defensive preview of the event. For those dying to know what 17 players I will be watching, it’s likely that they will be included in my offensive and defensive previews.
In yesterday’s offensive preview, I hyped up the offensive line as one of the best classes in the 2013 NFL Draft. Its rival is on the big men on the opposite side of the ball.
The defensive tackle class has plenty of top end talent. Star Lotulelei, Sheldon Richardson, and Sharrif Floyd are virtual locks to be taken early in the draft. Richardson is our top rated DT and second overall player. He and Floyd offer rare first step quickness and insatiable motors. Lotulelei is a big man with even bigger athleticism for his size.
Outside of the top tier DT’s there’s plenty of depth with some intriguing small schoolers in that 2nd to 3rd round range in Brandon Williams and Montori Hughes.
The defensive end group brings equal interest to the defensive tackle class. For the purposes of the Scouting Combine, guys like Dion Jordan and Barkevious Mingo will take part in DL drills although they may be best suited to standup in the NFL. Both those individuals could blow the roof off of Indy.
Pass rushers are in high demand in today’s NFL. Everyone is looking for the next Von Miller, JJ Watt, or Aldon Smith. Inevitably, comparisons come to these guys. I’m not sold on anyone filling those shoes out of this class with the exception of Dion Jordan but we look at a couple of intriguing prospects for very different reasons.
Who we’ll be watching
Akeem Spence is a bit of an enigma in my evaluation thus far. I really don’t know what I’m getting with him. I have taken a third look at his tape and still don’t have any sort of grade on him.
Spence is an undersized plugger that lacks the burst to be an effective interior pass rusher. Spence will need to show better burst at his size. He will be one that we are intently watching his weigh-in. He’s listed at 6-foot-1 but may come in shorter than that. If he’s under 6’1” he will need to improve to improve as a pass rusher to find a role in the NFL.
LSU’s Bennie Logan is another undersized DT but unlike Spence he has elite burst and major upside as a pass rusher. Logan will be looked at by some teams as a 5T candidate. Some added mass would help Logan out in a major way. His tape is all over the board as you pass rush potential but his technique is far from refined. He wins with flat out speed which won’t cut it at the next level.
If Logan can check in over 290 pounds and maintain his signature first step quickness and burst it should help him in the eyes of scouts. What Logan lacks in terms of technique can be taught by good coaching in the NFL.
The defensive ends will be a group that will be watched closely. Our eyes will be fixated on two Florida State pass rushers for very different reasons.
Bjoern Werner is a guy that could be a top five pick in April’s draft. I still have some questions with Werner. I see an underrated athlete but need confirmation that my eyes aren’t deceiving me. If Werner can run well in Indianapolis he could go a long in answering questions about his athletic ability. In a class chock full of elite athletes, Werner has gotten lost in the mix. This is his time to show he deserves to be mentioned among the Dion Jordan’s of the world
Brandon Jenkins hasn’t stepped foot on a football field since the 2012 opener. His Lisfranc injury has him being a forgotten man. Jenkins was dominant as a sophomore and has the movement skills to successfully transition to the rush linebacker position. Everyone in attendance will be waiting in anticipation to see how Jenkins moves following the injury.
Manti Te’o is going to be the talk of the Combine for more reasons than just the ‘catfishing’ story. Luke Kuechly came and shocked the Combine world with surprising athleticism. Coming into the week, many believed Kuechly’s (lack of) athleticism would be the only deterrent to him being a top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Kuechly answered any and all questions about him as an athlete and was taken inside the top ten of the draft. Te’o holds similar concerns about his ability as an athlete. Te’o lumbered in the National Championship game, raising red flags to those outside the draft community.
It won’t all be about Te’o as there are several other intriguing linebacker prospects that we will be keeping an eye on.
Who we’ll be watching
I don’t share similar concerns with Kevin Minter as an athlete. He won’t blow the doors off the 40 yard dash and isn’t an elite athlete by any means. That said, his ability to be in the right place at the right time isn’t coincidence. Minter has impressive size and strength and if he runs better than expected he could catapult into the top fifteen of the draft.
Missouri’s Zaviar Gooden is an elite athlete that plays sideline to sideline as well as any linebacker in the draft. His athletic talents may match those of Zach Brown’s who impressed in his Under Armour issued gear in Indianapolis. Like Brown, Gooden has to play more with more physicality.
Gooden’s senior tape wasn’t as good as his junior tape but he showed up big time in Mobile. He needs to capitalize on his Senior Bowl performance by doing as expected or better in Indy.
Maybe more than any other class in the draft, the defensive backs can really help or hurt their draft stock. The bottom line is that you need long speed to run with receivers. A 4.6 40 time will hurt a player at the cornerback position. A 4.7 is damning to their draft stock (with the exception of Leonard Johnson) and likely means a move to safety or late round flier.
This corner class features a possible headliner in Dee Milliner. But Milliner is a guy that really needs to run well in Indy to answer questions of his long speed. You don’t often see him being beat deep but teams rarely challenged him in his one starting season at ‘Bama.
Outside of Milliner there’s a conglomerate of corners that could come off the board in the late round one, early round two stages of the 2013 NFL Draft.
In recent years, the safety class haven’t produced deep into the draft. The 2013 class could be the exception. It has the potential for a headliner prospect in Kenny Vaccarro and appears to be very deep with potential starters deep into the third round and some late round sleeper prospects.
Who we’ll be watching
Logan Ryan of Rutgers is one of my personal favorite prospects in the draft. The one area of concern and the only reason he didn’t garner a top fifteen grade for me was that he gambled a lot and was beat by speed. He’s like having an extra safety in run support but needs to prove he can turn and run with NFL speed if he wants a shot at going in the first round.
A good showing in the 40 and positional drills could help Ryan as much as any corner in this class. A poor 40 time will draw more attention to the occasions that he is beat deep.
We haven’t seen Tyrann Mathieu play football in over a year. Mathieu was one of the true difference makers on the defensive side of the ball which garnered him Heisman attention. With all that attention, came a lot of off-the-field issues. Without going into all the off-the-field issues, the former Honey Badger will have more than just off-the-field questions to answer.
Mathieu lacks the size to play outside. He may check in at slightly above 5-foot-8 which will hamper his ability to be a pick before day three. Smallish corners better be able to run and Mathieu isn’t a speedster by any means. In my mind, Tyrann has to run in the 4.4’s, which is probably pushing his limits.
Duke Williams of Nevada has caught my eye on tape and I am anxiously awaiting to see him in position drills and speed/agility drills. He’s great in the box but has to push his coverage skills to the next level if he wants a shot to be drafted on day two of the draft. He will be someone that pushes the Phillip Thomas’ and Tony Jefferson’s of the draft world.
David Amerson of N.C. State was beaten like a drum by Cordarrelle Patterson earlier in the season. He was completely outclassed from a speed perspective as he was unable to flip his hips and run with Patterson. He’s a ballhawk but there are major concerns as to whether he can play the corner in the NFL. Many have projected a move to safety. One problem there is that he isn’t an overly physical tackler that could be exposed in run support. Amerson’s 40 time will be one to watch on Tuesday.