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2012 NFL Draft: Players Who Will Have a Better NFL Career Than Many Drafted Higher Than Them (Part II, Defense)

Defensive Ends:

Vinny Curry, Marshall – Curry will be looked at as both a 4-3 defensive end and a 3-4 outside linebacker.  Curry had 23 sacks and 171 tackles during his last two years at Marshall .  At 6’3.1”, 266 pounds he ran a 4.69 forty (1.58 10 yard split), had a 35” vertical, and 28 bench presses.  He also showed his agility by running a 6.90 three-cone.  Curry is more than just a pass rusher; he pursues and plays the run well.

Shea McClellin, Boise State – McClellin was invited to the Combine as a defensive end, but should make his living in the NFL as a linebacker.  The book on McClellin was that he was a hard worker who brought it every snap.  In some scouting circles they questioned how athletic McClellin was.  As it turns out, he is very athletic as his 4.62 unofficial forty at the Combine (4.66 official), 4.33 short shuttle, 7.07 three-cone, and 9’10” broad jump illustrates.  He also demonstrated his athleticism both on and off the field during Senior Bowl practices and the game itself.

Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma – Lewis is another player invited to the Combine as a defensive end who will make his living at linebacker in the NFL.  When it comes to a mix of strength and speed, it’s hard to ignore Lewis’ 36 bench presses and 4.65 forty (unofficial time, official time was 4.67).  Best of all the kid’s strength and speed match his play on the field.  Lewis is a bit a raw, but he should develop into an all around player, not just a pass rush specialist.

Cam Johnson, Virginia – What I like about Johnson is that he is just at the tip of his potential, and I believe he possess the work ethic to develop into a solid starting defensive end.  Johnson has kept his weight at the lower end of what he can carry which placed him in the bucket of the pass rushing, hybrid defensive ends.  However, at 6’3.4”, 268 pounds, I believe he can add 10 to 15 pounds and become a base end rather than a pass-rushing end.  His production and measureables indicate he could come up short as a hybrid, but his numbers (even if they go down a bit with the added weight) translate very well as a base end.  He will have to hit the weight room to get stronger and to ensure his added weight is muscle.

Oliver Vernon, Miami – One of the more head-scratching early entrants because of limited college production, Vernon has the skill set to succeed in the NFL.  He had 31 bench presses, ran a 4.64 forty, had a 34.5” vertical and a 10’2” broad jump.  However, he is very raw.  At 6’2.1”, 261 many have Vernon pegged as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.  I don’t.  His movement skills are more in line with a defensive end.

Defensive Tackles:

Dontari Poe, Memphis – Poe wowed at the Combine, saw his draft stock rise, and now it’s settling a bit lower.  That’s a mistake.  Players who have the size, strength and athleticism of Poe are extremely rare.  His strength and size alone will clog up the middle of a 3-4 defense.  His speed, athleticism and movement skills are tremendous value-added traits.  The reason Poe has dropped a bit is his game tape.  I DON’T CARE.  At 6’3.5”, 346 pounds with 4.87 speed in the forty (4.91 official time) with a 1.68 ten-yard split, 44 bench presses, and a 4.56 short shuttle and a 8’9” broad jump; I would be surprised if his game film didn’t show him getting by on his natural athleticism.  By all accounts this is a good kid, so when he gets to the NFL and works with an NFL staff, the sky is limit.

Kendall Reyes, Connecticut – After Cox and Poe, the names you hear most for round one include Brockers, Worthy and Still.  And while there are faint cries of Reyes, those cries should be shouts.  Reyes not only belongs in the first round of the draft, but is my third rated defensive tackle behind Poe and Cox.  Reyes, who could also kick outside to end in a 3-4 defense, may be the best athlete of all the defensive tackles in the draft as evidenced by his 34.5” vertical and 9’5” broad jump.  He also ran a hand-held 4.85 forty at the Combine (official time 4.87) and has long arms.  Reyes projects as a difference-maker at the next level.

Brandon Thompson, Clemson – With the depth and talent at defensive tackle in this draft, Thompson, who looked terrific at the Senior Bowl, is not getting the press he deserves.  Thompson is a strong kid (35 bench presses) who is the highly-coveted run-stuffing defensive tackle.

Mike Martin , Michigan – Martin is another quality defensive tackle in this draft.  Martin has the physical gifts to be a special player in the NFL.  His measureables stack up well against any defensive tackle in the draft.  With a 4.84 forty and 1.69 ten yard split, an impressive 4.25 short shuttle, an equally impressive 7.19 three-cone, a 33.5” vertical, a 9’5” broad jump and 36 bench presses; Martin also possess a good motor.

Alameda Ta’amu, Washington – Ta’amu impressed me during the Senior Bowl.  At 6’2.5”, 348 pounds he lifted the bar 36 times.  He is the big strong player that a team wants in the middle of its 3-4 defense.  While he does not posses the special athletic gifts of Poe my top ranked behemoth., Ta’amu will be a long time starter at nose tackle in the league.

Inside Linebackers:

Mychal Kendricks, California – Kendricks can play inside or outside; however his best fit is a 4-3 middle linebacker because of his size (5’11.1", 239).   Kendricks combines a great attitude and work ethic, with a non-stop motor, and phenomenal measureables.  I have him with a first round grade and he is my number two ranked inside linebacker.  Kendicksran a hand-held 4.43 forty at the Combine (4.47 official time), a 1.57 ten yard split, had a 4.14 short shuttle, an eye-popping 6.68 three-cone, a 39.5” vertical, a 10’7” broad jump and 24 bench presses.  All of his numbers were towards the top of the middle linebacker class.  Kendricks will make the team that drafts him very happy.

Bobby Wagner, Utah State – Wagner combines excellent college production (280 tackles the last two years) with measureables that indicate he will be able to translate his skills to the next level.  Wagner will need to be coached-up a bit to help him diagnose plays better, but once he gets it, he could be a very effective starter either at MIKE or WILL.  Wagner’s numbers include 24 bench presses, a 4.45 forty, a 39.5” vertical and an 11’0” broad jump.  Worst case, Wagner will be a terror on special teams.

Jerry Franklin, Arkansas – Franklin was not invited to the Combine but caught my eye at the East West Shrine Game.  Since the East West Shrine Game is for secondary prospects, not the top prospects, I wanted to see his workout to help me determine if he had the measureables to continue what I saw of him at the next level.  Franklin ’s numbers were just fine, in fact in some areas they were much better than fine.  With a 4.63 forty, a 6.93 three-cone, a 37.5” vertical and a 10’3” broad jump, I’m confident the Franklin I noticed at the East West Shrine Game will be able to carve out a good NFL career, even if it’s as a quality reserve and top special teams player.

     
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Outside Linebackers

Lavonte David, Nebraska – Possibly the top WILL in the draft, David is getting overlooked a bit because of all of the conversion, pass rushing linebackers available in this draft.  With 285 tackles and 11.5 sacks the last two years, David is one of the most productive linebackers entering the draft.  David is known for being a hard worker and, as his 4.56 unofficial forty (4.59 official), 4.22 short shuttle, 36.5” vertical, 9’11” broad jump and 19 bench presses demonstrate, also possess the physical gifts to excel in the NFL.

Miles Burress, San Diego State – All drafts have players who are labeled effort, over-achievers who are limited athletically.  Then after workouts some remove the limited athletically label and become players with both the intangibles and tangibles.  That is what happened to Burris. His workout line of a 4.67 forty, 4.20 short shuttle, 11.54 long shuttle, 6.80 three-cone, 37.5” vertical, 10’1” broad jump and 31 bench presses is quite impressive.  Burris will be a good get for a team and worst case be a solid backup and special teams player.

Nigel Bradham, Florida State – Bradham is a big hitter with speed (4.53 unofficial, 4.60 official forty time at the Combine) who plays with reckless abandon.  Worst case this kid will be a special team’s star and valuable situational player.  With 4.53 speed in the forty (4.60 official time at the Combine), 37" vertical, 10'1" long jump, 24 bench presses and 7.18 three-cone, Bradham has the physical traits to succeed in the NFL.

Cornerbacks:

Stephon Gilmour, South Carolina – A few weeks ago this would have looked better, but Gilmour has risen on most draft analysts’ boards.  However, I’ll go on record and say he is a top-ten talent.  Gilmour has excellent cover skills, is a very confident player and has good size for the position.  His 4.40 forty, 3.94 short shuttle, and 6.61 three-cone indicate he can stay with both the speed and quick receivers. Gilmour will be a star in the league.

Josh Robinson, Central Florida – When you go to a small school and hope to be a top draft pick you have to stand out.  Robinson did just that.  The next question is whether Robinson stood out because of the lower level of competition or because of his skills.  This is where workout numbers come into play.  If they were average, then competition played a major role.  However, when they are outstanding, as in Robinson’s case, that indicates that he has the potential to transfer his skills to the next level.  Then it becomes a case of your belief in the player.  I believe in Robinson and his unofficial 4.29 forty (4.30 official time), 3.97 short shuttle, 6.55 three-cone, 38.5” vertical and 11’1” broad jump.  And these numbers were all at the Combine, not a Pro Day where conditions are often better for getting better results.

Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma – Fleming is a player I like more than most other draft analysts.  I have a high second round grade on him.  Fleming had academic issues at Oklahoma, but eventually got his act together.  Fleming has good ball skills and is ideal for a zone scheme.  However, he also has the speed to play man-to-man and the quickness to cover receivers in the slot.  His versatility adds to his value.  I believe Fleming, who combines on field performance with measureables will be a steal in this draft.  FYI – 4.43 unofficial forty (4.46 official), 3.97 short shuttle, 10.75 long shuttle, 6.71 three-cone, 34” vertical, 10’5” broad jump and 23 bench presses – as impressive a line as any player in the draft.

Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina – Norman looked so good at the East West Shrine Game that he was a late add to the Senior Bowl where he held his own.  Norman isn’t the fastest or quickest corner, but he has good instincts and will be a valuable nickel corner and special teams player.

Terrence Frederick, Texas A&M – Frederick was initially viewed as a solid player who was not a special athlete.  The he worked out.  Frederick had a 4.43 forty with a 1.48 ten yard split, a 4.03 short shuttle, a 11.13 long shuttle, a 6.59 three-cone, a 35” vertical, a 10’1” broad jump and had 16 bench presses.  Frederick offers excellent value beyond the name cornerbacks in the draft.

Safeties:

Harrison Smith, Notre Dame – Smith is the second best safety in the draft and is a player I wouldn’t hesitate drafting in the first round.  He has the range and speed to play free safety and the size and strength to play strong safety.  He also has the size (6’1.7”), speed (4.56 forty) and quickness (4.12 short shuttle, 6.63 three-cone) to cover tight ends.  He also has a 10’2” vertical and had 19 bench presses.

Justin Bethel, Presbyterian – Every year there is a safety who I like better than most.  Usually their true value lies somewhere in between where I have him ranked and where others have him ranked.  Last year it was Joe Lefeged who went undrafted, but ended up starting some games for the Colts.  This year that player is Justin Bethel.  He is a top character individual, he was a tackling machine, he blocked kicks and he is a terrific athlete.  With a 4.54 unofficial forty (4.56 official), a 4.30 short shuttle, a 6.79 three-cone, a 39.5” vertical, a 10’11” broad jump and 19 bench presses, this kid is a keeper.

Brandon Hardin, Oregon State – This talented safety/cornerback was not invited to the Combine.  He missed the 2011 season with a shoulder injury, but did play in the East West Shrine Game.  However, Hardin has a very interesting skill set.  He has good coverage ability for a safety, is strong (24 bench presses), runs very fast (times reported as low as 4.36 in the forty), is quick (4.17 short shuttle, 6.88 three-cone), and is a good athlete (10’4” broad jump).  He also has the size (6’2.5”) to cover tight ends.  Hardin is a very intriguing prospect.  Worst case he will be a top special teams player and nickel safety.  Best case he is a solid starter who can play the pass and the run.