Jaye Howard, DT/DE, Florida
Howard is one of those guys that may be drafted a little lower than he deserves because he was playing out of position at Florida. Howard played the nose, while he’s much better in a penetrator-type role. Howard is extremely athletic and that certainly flashes in his tape. Howard could gain to add some strength, but that’s one thing I like about guys who are so athletic. Howard can gain strength/bulk and still be as athletic or more than most DTs in the NFL. Howard wasn’t overly effective holding his ground against double teams, but in a one gap system, he can hold his ground and disengage and close with the best of them.
Olivier Vernon, OLB/DE, Miami
A team is going to get a serious steal out of Vernon. I understand the risks, he’s still a bit raw, and he was involved with the Miami pay scandal, but the guy can play. He’s among the most athletic pass rushers coming out. He looks natural dropping back into coverage, and he uses a nice mixture of power, speed and moves getting into the backfield. He also uses his power well to set the edge and anchor against the run. He has some change of direction issues and can overpursue at times, but with some NFL coaching, he can be a stud. He’s one of the most promising 3-4 OLB players in the draft. Watching his tape, he looks good in a three point stance, but really flashes when he’s on his feet.
Sammy Brown, OLB, Houston
There’s something to be said for production, and Sammy Brown certainly delivered. After coming in as a JUCO prospect, Brown had 7.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss his junior year and stepped his game up with 12.5 sacks and 28 tackles for loss his senior year. Houston is one of the rare teams in college football that runs a 3-4, so we actually go to see how Brown performed as a stand-up OLB pass rusher. I could also see him as an SLB in the NFL. I could see Brown coming in and contributing as a situational pass rusher, and then progressing as NFL coaches build him up. He’s got great athleticism, uses his length well, has some nice pass rushing moves, drops back into coverage comfortably and has decent vision against the run. I’d like to see him add some more strength, he can get lost when trying to penetrate from the inside. Brown’s a guy I’ve seen with as low as an UDFA grade and I don’t get it.
Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
Hightower’s versatility is the first thing that comes to mind for me. He’s a guy that you can plug into so many places, especially if you’re a team running a hybrid defense. I could see him playing SILB, OLB, DE, SLB and MLB at times during his NFL career. He’s an underrated pass defender, especially in zone coverage. He can break on the ball well due to his plus instincts. He can rush from the outside or from the inside and he’s a banger in the Brandon Spikes role who can fight through blockers due to his strength. He’s a massive linebacker in the mold of Levon Kirkland at 6-3 265. Comparing him to one certain player is tough, but he could be a Levon Kirkland, Mike Vrabel, Adalius Thomas type player in the NFL. Strong inside or out who won’t need to come off the field in passing situations due to his rush ability and his zone coverage skills.
Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas
Robinson is a guy I concentrated a lot on at the Senior Bowl because he was one of the few guys that actually fit the Patriots prototypical size for a LB. He’s got a great speed/size combo and is a really underrated pass rusher. He’s got a nice swim move that he told me he’d been working on after the season, but it flashes on tape as well. He doesn’t have plus instincts in pass coverage, but he can make up for it with his length and fluidity. He does flash nice instincts against the run and fills gaps very well. He was used in a variety of roles at UT, playing up on the line as well as even back almost at safety. I think Robinson can be a third round pick that could wind up being one of the best SLBs in this class. He doesn’t do anything extraordinary, but he’s solid in almost all facets of the game.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
I think I stated my case pretty well in my “Defending Janoris Jenkins” piece last week in regards to his character, but I really didn’t dive into his play on the field much. He’s an elite cover corner prospect that would be a top ten pick if not for his arrests. He was one of the best players on that 2008 Gators National Championship team, and looked even better than NFL star Joe Haden. He shut down some of the best WRs in college football during his time at Florida with a combination of solid press skills, fluid hips and nice ball skills. He’s also a great special teams guy who flashed his punt return skills at North Alabama. Jenkins really showed up big time at the Senior Bowl as well proving that none of those skills disappeared going against lesser competition in Division 2 when he wasn’t being targeted.
Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
It’s really unfortunate that Boykin got hurt at the Senior Bowl, because his 40 time could have seriously vaulted him on some boards. Boykin can be a premier slot corner in the NFL, and I think his skills outside are underrated as well. I’d project him to be a slot corner to begin with, who can become a no. 2 CB in base sets who will then come back inside in sub packages. Boykin is also one of the most versatile players in this draft. He’s a nice tackler, breaks well against the run, carried the ball and was used as a receiver his senior year, plus he was an elite kick returner for three years and a strong punt returner his senior year. He had one TD on the ground, two in the air, four career KR TDs and one PR TD. Boykin compared himself to Devin Hester at the Senior Bowl and he’s that kind of explosive athlete, plus he’s a much better cornerback. I’d have no problem with Boykin slipping into the first round, but I have him graded as an early second round guy.