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Pre-Combine Defensive Big Board
Authored by Jeff Risdon - 22nd February, 2012 - 8:34 pm

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As I have written before, other than the interview process and medical evaluations the Combine is almost completely pointless for players from BCS programs, particularly the quarterbacks.

The hyper-specialized training that costs agents between $10K and $80K in advance money is geared directly for the drills in Indy, many of which do not directly translate to the football field. There are some exceptions though: the 10-yard split time for receivers, running backs and cornerbacks; the three-cone drill for pass rushers and linebackers; and the short shuttle for linemen and safeties/linebackers.

Use the times and results in Indy to validate game tape, not override it!

Sorting out the defensive line is tough because of the very different skill sets required between the different schemes. To keep things simple, I rate players as tackles if they fit best playing anything between a "0" technique (straight nose tackle) to a "5" technique (in front of offensive tackle), which is technically an end in a three-man front.

Guys that play end in a 4-3 scheme or outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme are listed here as ends, as long as they weigh enough to merit looks as a 4-3 end. Otherwise they will be listed with the outside linebackers, which tends to focus here on all-around backers and less on pass rush specialists. Confused? Imagine being an agent trying to market a 6-foot-2.5, 258-pound player that played base 4-3 end but went inside on passing downs in college...

Defensive Tackles:

1. Michael Brockers, LSU -- Great upside as a pocket-collapsing three-technique, but needs a lot of work to get there.

2. Dontari Poe, Memphis -- Great fit for teams that prefer active slant/nose tackles with beef. Reminds me some of Shaun Rogers in his Detroit heyday.

3. Alameda Ta-Amu, Washington -- Immovable object type of 0- or 1-technique a la Casey Hampton, the kind of player that makes everyone around him look better.

4. Devon Still, Penn State -- Has better all-around ability than former Nittany Lion Jared Odrick, but not as much of a pass rush threat.

5. Jerel Worthy, Michigan State -- Big time boom/bust player, often in the same game.

Defensive End:

1. Courtney Upshaw, Alabama -- Thickly built strong-side attacker in the mold of Brian Orakpo. People undervalued him too.

2. Melvin Ingram, South Carolina -- Edge rusher with athleticism, does not always play downhill well.

3. Quentin Coples, North Carolina -- Body and potential of Julius Peppers, frequently does not play to it though.

4. Cam Johnson, Virginia -- Natural 3-4 outside linebacker with unexpected toughness.

5. Andre Branch, Clemson -- Long and crafty pass rusher from a program noted for disappointments.

5a. Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State -- A real unpolished potential gem. Did I mention he is raw?

Outside Linebackers:

1. Zach Brown, North Carolina -- Has Lance Briggs-like potential, though has disturbing lapses at times.

2. Bobby Wagner, Utah State -- Outstanding instincts and thump, a bit of a tweener 3-4 inside linebacker/4-3 outside linebacker sized.

3. Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma -- Hustle and flow closer that can cover pretty well.

4. Lavonte David, Nebraska -- Undersized, but not small, might be better inside a la Jon Vilma.

5. Josh Kaddu, Oregon -- Pretty raw, but very speedy and coachable.

Inside Linebackers:

1. Luke Kuechly, Boston College -- A near clone of James Laurinaitis with a little less oomph.

2. Dont-a Hightower, Alabama -- Great size for a 3-4 inside linebacker, capable of greatness.

3. Mychael Kendricks, California -- Shorter run-and-hit bopper with some cover skills.

4. Demario Davis, Arkansas State -- Shark in a guppy pond in the Sun Belt, big jump to NFL but he could be special.

5. Audie Cole, North Carolina State -- Reminds me of A.J. Hawk for more than just the hair.

Cornerbacks:

1. Morris Claiborne, LSU -- A potentially elite lockdown cover man with size and ball skills.

2. Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama -- Florida transfer has great spirit, good instincts, appears to have finally grown up.

3. Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama -- Zone corner with great length, a demon in run support.

4. Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma -- Good length, never gets badly beaten, can play zone or press.

5. Brandon Boykin, Georgia -- Excellent fight/size of dog ratio, very quick hands in coverage.

5a. Chase Minnifield, Virginia -- Lacks top shelf traits but should be a very good No. 2 corner.

5b. Dwight Bill Bentley, LA-Lafayette -- Short, small school hitter reminds me of Antoine Winfield.

5c. Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina -- The Shrine Game week stud is making a big jump in level of competition.

The corner class is extremely deep this year.

Safety:

1. Mark Barron, Alabama -- Safest of the middling class, very solid, well-coached all-around talent.

2. George Iloka, Boise State -- Great size, good speed, great upside but pretty tight in the ankles.

3. Antonio Allen, South Carolina -- Improved his stock with an impressive Senior Bowl week.

4. Christian Thompson, South Carolina State -- Great size, good range and physicality.

5. Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State -- Played big in key moments; was asked to do a lot with very little around him.


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