NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Gerken
Last week, I wrote an article previewing the offensive side of the ball as it relates to next year’s draft class. This week, let’s talk defense.
It is an exciting time to be a Patriots fan when looking at potential defensive prospects. For years, certain criteria such as the 6’4″, 4.6 rule were ingrained in our heads. These were the minimum requirements Coach Belichick wanted from his 3-4 outside linebackers, and for years if a player didn’t meet these measurables, you could take them off your draft board immediately even if you liked what they did on the field.
The rules seemed to have loosened up recently, meaning the pool of players has expanded. Guys like Dominique Easley and Jamie Collins are examples of the rules being bent, or maybe even broken. Time will tell if breaking the rules will pay off, but in Collins’ case, the early returns look promising. So let’s take a moment to look at the defensive positions and some guys who might be able to help the Patriots in the future.
There are several players with the potential to be high first round picks if they can continue to improve from last year’s performances. Some of these guys will be making position changes once they make it to the NFL, be it to DT or to OLB, but one thing is for sure, this should be a fun position to watch this fall.
DE-Who to Watch:
1. Leonard Williams, USC (could play DT as well)
2. Randy Gregory, Nebraska (OLB)
3. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan St. (OLB)
4. Vic Beasley, Clemson (OLB)
5. Dante Fowler, Florida
The DT/NT position should be exciting to watch as well. It has some dynamic players with big time potential. What is so intriguing to me is the size of the players in this class (i.e. Ra’shede Hageman). In recent years, one or two have been this big and athletic but this year there are several physical freaks. The Patriots took Dominique Easley in the first round last year, but they having aging veterans in Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly who are bigger, more traditional DT’s than Easley, so they may look to add youth at the position once again next year. Again, some players may see a position change, playing more of a DE role in a 3-4. Leonard Williams, who I have in the DE section, could also be put in this category as well.
DT/NT-Who to Watch:
1. Carl Davis, Iowa
2. Ray Drew, Georgia (DE)
3. Mario Edwards, Florida St.(DE)
4. Michael Bennett, Ohio St.
5. Shawn Oakman, Baylor (DE)
This is probably my favorite position to watch and scout because it’s fun to watch these big athletic guys run around the field and make plays. Two players of the same size may be asked to do completely different things for their respective teams. One may be asked to rush the QB while the other plays well in space and has the athletic ability to drop into coverage. It is inevitable, every seasonI find a guy who falls into the 6’4″, 4.6 rule, and I fall in love. I am not sure who that guy is this year yet, but it will happen. Most of the guys on the list below fall into the OLB category as the crop of ILB looks to be a little weak on talent, at least going into the season. Refer to the DE watch list for a few additional names, that way I can list more than 5 guys in my top 5, ala Mike Mayock.
LB-Who to Watch:
1. Noah Spence, Ohio St.
2. Benardick McKinney, Miss. St.
3. Alvin Dupree, Kentucky
4. Cedric Reed, Texas
5. Eric Kendricks, UCLA
The cornerback position is going to be interesting to follow this season. Depending on what underclassman declare will determine if this is a strong class or not. In my early rankings, I do not have a single senior at the position other than Ekpre-Olomu in my top 10, and the position has already had some turmoil with one if its top underclassman, Kei’Varae Russell from Notre Dame, having been kicked off the team.
CB-Who to Watch:
1. P.J. Williams, Florida St.
2. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
3. Trae Waynes, Michigan St.
4. Jalen Mills, LSU
5. Josh Shaw, USC
The Safety position has become increasingly important in the NFL but top-end talent has been hard to come by. There are two guys that I feel deserve preseason first round grades and others who are strong day 2 picks. By the time the draft rolls around though, they could get pushed into the first round.
Safety-Who to Watch:
1. Landon Collins, Alabama
2. Kurtis Drummond, Michigan St. (go read the write-up on Drummond by fellow NEPD writer Adam Bogdan)
3. Derron Smith, Fresno St.
4. Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
5. Durrell Eskridge, Syracuse
Overall, the potential for this defensive draft class is strong. Just like in the past several years, the strength will be greatly influenced by the underclassman who decide to forgo their remaining college eligibility for the NFL. The defensive line looks to be one of the deeper position in the entire draft, not just on the defensive side of the ball. I am also intrigued by talent of the hybrid DE/OLB’s pass rushers. Last year’s draft lacked talent at the position, but this year teams will have an opportunity to get players that can help get after the QB. CB could also be a strength of this draft if we see a mass exodus of juniors.
All I know is that I cannot wait for football to start and the scouting to begin. Throughout the season, I, as well as several other talented writers here at nepatriotsdraft.com will be bringing you an in depth look at the college players who hope to become household names in the NFL, so check back often.
Tags: 2015 NFL Draft