The NFL Scouting Combine starts tomorrow in Indianapolis with on the field drill work and lasts into Tuesday when it finishes up. Every year the Combine is one of the most important, yet over-hyped draft events and the key is for NFL teams to get the most out of the event without changing their entire draft board for the wrong reasons. The NFL is simply too complex for a workout warrior to succeed if he doesn’t have the natural ability. Here is a breakdown of some of the key defensive prospects to watch.
Top Names: Jadeveon Clowney, Kony Ealy, Stephen Tuitt, Scott Crichton, Dee Ford
-Really strong group at the top with arguably the best prospect in the entire draft in Clowney. It will be interesting to see if Clowney works out and what exactly he does in the workout. He’s got the physical gifts to put on a show and could even earn some consideration for the top overall pick. Ealy is another complete defensive end who is expected to have a really good day. Tuitt is coming off a down junior year and could use a good Combine to boost his stock back up. He could play inside in a 4 man front and outside in a 3 man front. Crichton and Ford are more of 2nd round talents, but given their pass rushing ability the are trending upwards.
Sleepers to Watch: James Gayle, Taylor Hart, Josh Mauro, Michael Sam, Will Clarke, Larry Webster
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-A lot of really interesting names here on the sleeper list (and plenty of others worth consideration). Defensive end is a deep position group though there are guys with a question mark here or there that keeps it from being a great group overall. Michael Sam and Larry Webster could really help their draft stock if they prove they can stand up at the Combine. If they can’t it’s really going to limit their market. Hart and Mauro are probably better suited a 5 techniques, but they need to show they can play base end in a 4-3 as well. Clarke is an intriguing guy with a very projectable frame. Where he lines up though is a big question.
Top Names: Aaron Donald, Louis Nix, Timmy Jernigan, Ra’shede Hageman, Will Sutton
-One of the most talented positions in the draft, particularly at the top of the board. All five of these guys could end up as first rounders and will be interesting guys to watch at the combine. Hageman has incredible size and potential, but really only flashed on tape, as he never truly dominated. Sutton and Jernigan have both shown the ability to be dominant defensive tackles, but consistency will be a factor with both. Aaron Donald is one of the most decorated players in this draft winning 4 major awards this past season. Donald also had an incredible Senior Bowl week, but questions will persist about his size. What he weighs in at will be key, as will continuing to show that he has the quickness to dominate at the next level.
Sleepers to Watch: Kerry Wynn, Jay Bromley, Brent Urban
-Some intriguing guys here to watch as sleepers. Wynn and Urban both probably project best as 5 techniques, where as Bromley is probably the best fit as a defensive tackle in a 4-3. All three though are worth watching and it will be interesting to see how they compare to the top players at the position group.
Top Names: Khalil Mack, Kyle Van Noy, Trent Murphy, Anthony Barr
-A lot of strong pass rushers in this group at the top. The first thing to watch will be if they can stay there at the next level. Murphy especially probably has the biggest question mark in that area. If they show well in the LB drills it goes a long way to solidifying their top draft positions. Mack has the most buzz right now, but Barr has plenty of potential and could have a really strong Combine.
Sleepers to Watch: Devon Kennard, Chris Kirksey
-A lot of solid sleeper names, but two to watch are Kennard and Kirksey. They really fit more in different systems and Kennard has some natural pass rush ability and is a better fit in a 3-4, where as Kirksey is more of a cover guy with nice range who fits a 4-3.
Top Names: C.J. Mosley, Chris Borland, Christian Jones, Shane Skov, Yarwin Smallwood
-Mosley will be the only ILB taken in the first round, but this is a pretty strong group with 5 guys in the top 100. The instincts with this group are incredible and all project to be at least very good starters if not better. All five should be immediate starters and they can reaffirm that with strong performances with the LB drills. The 40 times of Borland and Skov will likely be scrutinized to death, but both can flat out play, which is what matters at the end of the day.
Sleepers to Watch: Max Bullough, Tyler Starr, Jordan Tripp
-Bullough is the big name and all eyes will be on his weight and speed/quickness. He may not test the best, but his instincts are off the charts and should still get him in the 4th-5th round range. Starr and Tripp are really interesting smaller school guys, both will probably test better than expected and get them firmly on some teams radar.
Top Names: Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert, Bashaud Breeland
-Most of the CB talent in this draft is in the 2nd-4th round range it seems, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some first rounders to watch. Dennard and Gilbert are the top two corners in the draft and both should have good Combines. Gilbert will do better in the workout drills, but Dennard will likely shine in the position drills. A wild card emerging at the top of the class is Breeland. He could end up in that 2nd-4th round range, but he’s got incredible potential and is still somewhat of an unknown. If he has a big Combine he could really get a lot of people interested and he could push for the 3rd CB spot in the class.
Sleepers to Watch: Ross Cockrell, Pierre Desir, Andre Hal, Nevin Lawson
-There are a number of mid-late round guys who are very interesting. Desir is a small school guy who is typically thought of as a 3rd rounder, but there are some rough patches to his game. It will be interesting to see how he looks compared to some of the best CB’s in the class. Cockrell is another mid-round guy who is really interesting to watch. He’s got really good instincts and despite not having the best speed shows great coverage ability. Hal and Lawson are more late rounders, but both are intriguing guys who have flashed at times.
Top Names: Calvin Pryor, Ha Sean Clinton-Dix, Jimmie Ward, Deone Bucannon
-This is a top heavy group with really only two first round possibilities in Pyror and Clinton-Dix. Pyror will likely have a huge Combine and could earn himself a top 20 spot. Ward and Bucannon will push to be the next safety taken and both should show well here. Bucannon is the bigger more physical safety who is more ideal for the strong safety spot. Ward is also primarily a strong safety, but he’s smaller and quicker and could be more versatile of the two.
Sleepers to Watch: Vinnie Sunseri, Tre Boston, Dion Bailey
-While there is some drop off in the safety group there are some interesting mid-round guys. Sunseri is one of the hardest workers you will find and is going to be intriguing late. Boston and Bailey both have shown potential and could move up the boards in this class with a strong showing.