The combine is a great time for the fringe defensive prospects to grab the NFL scouts’ eyes and make them take a second look at game tape, and a chance for players in schemes that may not have fit their strengths to display their athleticism and make an impression as well. Defensive players may not get the media coverage as the offensive prospects, but there were some strong showings this year and some great storylines coming out from the better side of the ball.
There were a few big prospects that did not get a chance to do all the drills for one reason or another and a few that could have taken a step forward and really improved their draft stock. On the defensive line, I would have liked to see the raw talent of Duke Ejiofor out of Wake Forest and see how he performed. Maurice Hurst, the stud defensive tackle out of Michigan, had a last minute medical issue and his stock likely isn’t hurt but it could have been helped. Incomplete combines from linebackers Tegray Scales out of Indiana and Jack Cichy from Wisconsin likely did not help there draft standing.
Who Stood Out?
Josh Sweat, Florida State- Josh Sweat took a huge step forward and graded out as one of the top defensive lineman, Josh is a little smaller than a prototypical defensive end at 251 pounds but still has displayed tremendous power. He had dominant moments with the Seminoles but looked to be a late day 2 or early day 3 pick. He was one of the fastest ends at 4.53 on the 40 yard and at the top in vertical and broad jump. Josh should be drafted on day 2 and provide a team with some pass rush from Day 1 in the NFL.
Marcus Davenport, University of Texas at San Antonio- Marcus was projected to go in the first two rounds, dominating competition at a lower level in college. Marcus could help shake the small school stigma and did so by having a great showing at the combine. Marcus ran a 4.58 40 at 264 pounds, good vertical jump and great broad jump of 10’4”, and even a respectable 7.2 in the three cone. He graded as one of the top defensive ends and likely strengthened his stock, a team that is willing to coach can easily mold Marcus into a dominant defensive end.
Taven Bryan, Florida- Taven put on an impressive display, standing out amongst the ends and helping his draft stock. Taven didn’t put up gaudy numbers in Gainesville, but showed great potential with athleticism and a motor that allowed his to wreak havoc on the defensive line. At 6’5” and 291, Taven ran a 4.98 40, 30 reps on the bench and his jumps as well as shuttle and three cone were all mid to upper level amongst the defensive lineman- impressive given his size. Taven has a high ceiling and has vaulted into late day 1 consideration after his showing.
Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State- Leighton ended 2017 with 141 tackles for the Broncos and came into the combine and tackled every drill with tenacity. Leighton has great linebacker size at 6’4” and 256 pounds, ran a 4.65 in the 40 but posted one of the highest vertical jumps as well as a great broad jump. He continued to display his athleticism posting one of the lowest shuttles at 4.15 and 6.88 in the three cone was also one of the lowest. These standout numbers along with his college resume vaults Leighton into first round consideration in a linebacker strong class.
Shaquem Griffin, University of Central Florida- One of the best stories in college football, Shaquem put up eye popping numbers at the combine with one of the fastest 40 times in history for a linebacker at 4.38 and also put up 20 reps on the bench press. Shaquem is a pure football player despite losing his left hand in his childhood. His tape shows a player with great instincts and ability to cover, tackle, and rush the passer. He entered as a day 3 pick and has put his name into late day 2, early day 3 consideration. It’s hard to quantify the heart he displays and the passion in which he attacks the game- it’s immeasurable.
Malik Jefferson, Texas- One of the most decorated linebacker prospects entering college, Malik was plagued with some inconsistent periods of play in college and not being as dominant as was expected. Prototypical size in the mold of a NFL linebacker, Malik ran the 40 in 4.65, put up 27 reps on the bench displaying his raw strength, and posted solid vertical as well as broad jumps. The combine showing highlighted how good his athletic ability is and he will build on his improved play in 2017 and be a good linebacker in the NFL. Malik will be a solid day 2 pick and could ultimately become a LB1 in the NFL.
Denzel Ward, Ohio State- Denzel stood out as the top cornerback coming into the draft and really helped his stock with some great numbers at the combine. Running a 4.32 40 yard dash and jumping over 11 feet on the broad jump, Denzel solidified his draft stock and should easily be the first cornerback taken on April 26. Denzel is an athletic marvel and has tremendous footwork, he should easily pick up the pro game and be a starter in the NFL from day 1.
Derwin James, Florida State- Possibly the most gifted defensive player in the draft, Derwin is going to make an impact in the NFL from his first step on the gridiron. He displayed great leadership at the college level and the ability to play everywhere on the field. Derwin ran a 4.47 40 yard, 21 bench press reps led the DBs, along with a 40” vert and 11’ broad jumps- amongst the best. Derwin will be a day 1 pick, and should be one of the first safeties taken.
Terrell Edmunds, Virginia Tech- Terrell posted nearly identical combine numbers as Derwin but did not participate in the bench press. Terrell hasn’t garnered the attention as his brother, but his showing has solidified his stock and he should be a day 2 pick and a starting safety in the NFL early in his career as well.
Following players projected well and did not disappoint followed by my positional ranking:
Bradley Chubb, Defensive End, North Carolina- #1
Harold Landry, Defensive End, Boston College- #4
Sam Hubbard, Defensive End, Ohio State- #5
Roquan Smith, Linebacker, Georgia- #1
Tremaine Edmunds, Linebacker, Virginia Tech- #2
Jaire Alexander, Cornerback, Louisville- #3
Justin Reid, Safety, Stanford- #4