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2012 Big Board, Defensive Players
Authored by Jeff Risdon - 19th April, 2012 - 8:47 pm

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Note that this does not indicate the order in which I think they will be drafted.

DT

1. Devon Still, Penn State. Built off his amazing Outback Bowl, where he dominated Maurkice Pouncey, by showing better run awareness. Consistent disruptive force as a 3-technique.

2. Jerel Worthy, Michigan State. Dynamic penetrator was wildly inconsistent but is dominant when he's on. Echoes of Nick Fairly in style and temperament.

3. Brandon Thompson, Clemson. Gap attacker with sudden quickness and strong hands that tackles well, but must get off blocks better. Solid, safe 3-down 1-technique.

4. Dontari Poe, Memphis. Freakish athlete for his size with amazing quickness, but underdeveloped technique and low production so far are concerns. Big-time boom/bust talent.

5. Michael Brockers, LSU. Powerful young run stuffer needs development as a pass rusher but could blossom in time. Should have stayed in school, a player you want for his second contract.

6. Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State. Has the complete physical package with exceptional speed but did little in the SEC. More of a project than most pundits make him out to be.

7. Jaye Howard, Florida. Really improved in '11, has great athletic potential. Eerily similar stats to Fletcher Cox in same league. Just sayin'...

8. Kendall Reyes, UConn. Relies on quickness and slippery hips, but not overly aggressive or strong; ideally a 5-technique DE.

9. Alameda Ta'Amu, Washington. Man-mountain nose tackle in the Casey Hampton mold, has some range. Best 0-technique in the class.

10. Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati. Late-blooming gym rat stood out at Senior Bowl, very scheme-diverse. Will be undervalued on draft weekend.

11. Mike Martin, Michigan. Short-armed former wrestler plays with intensity and great pad level. Weight room fanatic but he's not stiff.

12. Josh Chapman, Alabama. Smart immovable object plays through pain but offers little pass rush or playmaking ability.

13. Dominique Hamilton, Missouri. Smart and sneaky-quick, wound up near the ball a lot, but doesn't always have his "A" game.

14. Akeim Hicks, Regina. Massive Canuck & LSU recruit sorely lacks experience and refinement but has intriguing measurables.

15. Damon Harrison, William Penn. Small-school phenom has legit skills but 4 knee surgeries make him a big risk.

16. Kheeston Randall, Texas. Lightweight nose man gets by on hustle and smarts. Limited athlete should make solid reserve.

17. Loni Fangupo, BYU. Long, over-aged space eater has played 5-technique, could fit with heavy-scheme 3-man fronts.

18. Chigbo Anunoby, Morehouse. Big, long-armed HBCU stud has very limited range but great functional power.

19. Travian Robertson, South Carolina. Has troubling injury history but shows up outside a lot more than expected on film for a one-gap tackle.

20. Mike Daniels, Iowa. Consummate overachieving lunchpail rotational player that contributes on special teams.

Others: Brett Roy, Nevada (OLB); Marcus Fortson, Miami FL; DaJohn Harris, USC; Tydreke Powell, North Carolina; Charles Deas, Shaw; Trevor Guyton, California (DE); Vaughn Meatoga, Hawaii; Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, Baylor; Renard Williams, Eastern Washington; Ronnie Cameron, Old Dominion; JR Sweezy, NC State; Asa Chapman, Liberty; Matt Conrath, Virginia (DE).

DE

1. Melvin Ingram, South Carolina. Has rare ability to flatten around edge and close with great burst and power. Playing just one spot will only help him. Compares favorably to Tamba Hali.

2. Courtney Upshaw, Alabama. A bit of a tweener and he lacks great speed, but he closes quickly and brings the pain. Plays with great functional power and pad level.

3. Whitney Mercilus, Illinois. Hendricks Award winner has amazing first step and lived in opposing backfields. Similar to Brian Orakpo, best suited for 3-4 OLB duty.

4. Vinny Curry, Marshall. Needs some polish but his effort and athleticism are tantalizing. Very hungry. Spots 4-7 are basically interchangeable here.

5. Quinton Coples, North Carolina. Has the physical traits of Julius Peppers but didn't respond well to adversity in '11, often looked lethargic. Could dominate. Has ability to slide inside on passing downs.

6. Andre Branch, Clemson. Really improved his all-around repertoire in '11, has great continuing potential. Reminds me of Charles Johnson, only taller.

7. Nick Perry, USC. Classic tweener has great first step and good power but doesn't always do much with them. Could be very good if it all clicks, and it might.

8. Malik Jackson, Tennessee. Strong and athletic with experience playing all over the line, but has never mastered any one skill. Coachable upside.

9. Cam Johnson, Virginia. Thick, smart base end does everything well except rushing the passer around the edge. Hurts his draft value, but coaches will love him.

10. Tyrone Crawford, Boise State. Muscular thumper with strong hands and good feet, improved a lot as '11 progressed. The rare underrated Boise prospect.

11. Julian Miller, West Virginia. Could blossom with better coaching and positional fit in the NFL, lots of pretty raw ability. Hard worker.

12. Olivier Vernon, Miami FL. Powerful anchor end with some ability to slip blocks, could be a 5-technique for a blitz-happy 3-4 team like the Packers or Texans. Was much better in '10 than '11.

13. Jake Bequette, Arkansas. High-cut tweener with high football IQ and great motor, limited quickness and strength. Has the makings of fan favorite reserve.

14. Scott Solomon, Rice. Big power end with deceptive speed and quick first step. Needs work on countermoves and patience, and has foot issues.

15. Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy. Has great length and finishing burst, but struggled to locate the ball and overruns the play a lot.

16. Tony Jerod-Eddie, Texas A&M. Heavy-legged 5-technique with strong motor and decent ability to get off blocks against the run.

17. Chandler Jones, Syracuse. Very upright, underproductive project with injury issues and poor lateral agility. Compares unfavorably to Michael Johnson, currently the #4 DE in Cincinnati. Might be the most overhyped prospect in the last 5 years.

18. Jared Crick, Nebraska. Oft-injured edge setter looked awesome next to Suh, only average without him. Still has decent potential as a 5-technique, if healthy.

19. Jacquies Smith, Missouri. Speedy OLB/DE tweener plays tall but knows how to finish plays, good student and film room guy. Should thrive on special teams.

20. Adrian Hamilton, Prairie View. Incredibly speedy one-trick pony wide-9 rusher with impressive body but must make huge leap.

Others: Billy Winn, Boise State; Chas Alecxih, Pittsburgh; Jamie Blatnik, Oklahoma State; Jamaar Jarrett, Arizona State; Frank Alexander, Oklahoma; DJ Bryant, James Madison; Vince Browne, Northwestern; Jack Crawford, Penn State; Zary Davis, Morgan State.

OLB

1. Lavonte David, Nebraska. Addressed his biggest knock by adding 10 pounds of muscle. Great instincts, range, and tackling, plus fluid in coverage.

2. Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma. Decent pass rusher can also play in space, hits with great force. Good fit as strongside OLB for 3-4 team.

3. Miles Burris, San Diego State. Underrated athlete can blitz, cover, and really hit. Could play inside too, has strong instincts. Might be best inside in a 3-4 front.

4. Demario Davis, Arkansas State. Shark in the Sun Belt guppy pond, outstanding first step and closing burst. Could be coached into a real stud but needs refinement, lacks great instincts.

5. Zach Brown, North Carolina. Exceptional range and track speed, almost like a supersized corner. Struggles to get off blocks and catch the ball. Cover 2 Will backer.

6. Bruce Irvin, West Virginia. Freakishly fast edge rusher has tough back story. Pass rush specialist, but could excel in that capacity with zone blitz potential.

7. Terrell Manning, NC State. Slender, speedy hustle and flow backer reacts quickly but really lacks strength and has had knee issues.

8. Josh Kaddu, Oregon. Long, lean, fast, and intense. Pretty green and needs to fill out his frame; better long-term project than immediate contributor.

9. Shea McClellin, Boise State. Solid, versatile hybrid DE/OLB does most things well but doesn't stand out. Overhyped but not lacking skill.

10. Kyle Wilber, Wake Forest. Savvy, long, versatile and cat-quick, but sorely lacking bulk and strength. A skinny Kam Wimbley type.

11. Nigel Bradham, Florida State. Leggy read-and-react type with some coverage skills. Sure tackler.

12. Sammy Brown, Houston. Solidly built outside/in seek and destroy agitator. Could blossom as 3-4 LOLB.

13. Keenan Robinson, Texas. Wildly inconsistent thumper looks awesome one week, terrible the next. Echoes of Justin Durant.

14. Sean Spence, Miami FL. Essentially an oversized SS, could be an intriguing weapon for a creative defense.

15. Travis Lewis, Oklahoma. Quick, smallish run-and-hit coverage specialist should make solid nickel backer.

16. Brandon Lindsey, Pittsburgh. Tweener with good motor, has coachable upside and showed steady improvement in '11.

17. Danny Trevathan, Kentucky. Old-school undersized hitter with great instincts. Good fit at WLB for Cover 2 scheme.

18. Ryan Davis, Bethune-Cookman. HBCU product has NFL body, needs refinement and patience on the field. Long-term project.

19. Steve Johnson, Kansas. Looked good when facing pro-style sets, exposed in space vs. spreads. Potential special teams ace.

20. Emmanuel Acho, Texas. Heady with good speed, but doesn't always trust what he sees or reads and tends to play tall. Could be 3-4 ILB.

Others: Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Washington State; Tyler Neilsen, Iowa; Braylon Broughton, TCU; Kyle Knox, Fresno State; Adrian Robinson, Temple; Nate Stupar, Penn State; Nick Webb, Weber State; Brandon Marshall, Nevada; Jerell Harris, Alabama.

ILB

1. Dont'a Hightower, Alabama. Thumping playmaker has the size 3-4 scheme teams covet inside, good blitzing skills. Lacks ideal speed and quickness, but he has enough of both to play either MLB or SLB.

2. Luke Kuechly, Boston College. Tackling machine is fantastic between the tackles, lacks great range outside and doesn't force turnovers. A quicker Demeco Ryans.

3. Bobby Wagner, Utah State. Hard hitter with excellent lateral quickness and reaction speed, lacks great size and instincts. Could be great if properly directed.

4. Mychael Kendricks, California. Short but versatile thumper has strong instincts, plays with menace. Good blitzer, solid in coverage.

5. James-Michael Johnson, Nevada. High cut read-and-react backer should excel on special teams, play nickel backer. Excellent character.

6. Audie Cole, North Carolina State. Former boxer has great feet in coverage but also a sturdy tackler, lacks range and speed. Bonus points for great hair.

7. Marcus Dowtin, North Alabama. Dominated at his level after being decent in SEC, but got kicked out of Georgia and immaturity is a big issue.

8. Shawn Loiseau, Merrimack. Small-school stud is tightly wound, straight line attack dog. A poor man's Rey Maualuga.

9. Jerry Franklin, Arkansas. Rangy and athletic, sound tackler with some cover skills. Needs to get stronger and play smarter more consistently.

10. Kadarron Anderson, Furman. Seek-and-destroy missile with excellent burst, decent instincts. Nice sleeper.

Others: Najee Goode, West Virginia; Tank Carder, TCU; Noah Keller, Ohio; DJ Holt, California; Caleb McSurdy, Montata; Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State; Aston Whiteside, Abilene Christian; Brian Hendricks, Wyoming.

CB

1. Morris Claiborne, LSU. As natural in coverage as any draftee since Revis, has shutdown corner potential and mentality.

2. Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama. Great measurables and well-coached by Saban, reminds me of Joe Haden at times.

3. Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama. Rated this high based on talent potential, but has serious flags for character and drugs. Very risky.

4. Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech. Well-heeled zone corner has good ball skills and awareness, good against the run.

5. Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina. Has admirable athletic metrics and tackles well but didn't always play to his potential. Boom/Bust.

6. Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska. Strong and aggressive press-man corner is fearless but needs safety help over the top.

7. Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma. Off-field issues cloud a strong, instinctive cover man that plays the run well and flips hips easily.

8. Brandon Boykin, Georgia. Small but has a bulldog mentality and great timing with the ball in the air. Added value as a stellar return man, but knee injury adds concern.

9. Dwight Bill Bentley, LA-Lafayette. Has great fight/size of dog ratio and excellent instincts, but can be overpowered.

10. Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina. Star of Shrine Game week has great physical tools but it's a huge jump in quality of passing attacks.

11. Dequan Menzie, Alabama. Underrated steady performer could become a very good slot corner. Good mid-round sleeper can play safety too.

12. Ryan Steed, Furman. Small-school stud acquitted himself nicely during Senior Bowl week, doesn't lack confidence or length.

13. Trumaine Johnson, Montana. Looks like Charles Tillman at times, but loses focus too often. Might be better at safety.

14. Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt. Rangy, lanky zone corner with great ball skills but iffy hands. Echoes of Chris Houston.

15. Leonard Johnson, Iowa State. Zone specialist is sure tackler, sees the field well. Not a playmaker or dynamic athlete.

16. Chase Minnifield, Virginia. Football IQ is off the charts, but he needs to get stronger and lacks great speed/quickness.

17. Omar Bolden, Arizona State. Big, strong, rangy off-man specialist has great talent but a scary injury history.

18. Coryell Judie, Texas A&M. Aggressive, oft-injured tight zone boundary corner. Great KR/PR potential.

19. Ron Brooks, LSU. Underrated athlete used to playing next to stars, can blitz and make plays.

20. Shaun Prater, Iowa. Run-aware slot nickel guy lacks strength but plays smart. Good competitor.

21. Josh Robinson, UCF. Speed demon with good size but is very raw and lacks instincts in coverage. A project that will be overdrafted.

22. Keith Tandy, West Virginia. Very physical and strong, loves run support but needs deep help and guesses too much. Could thrive on special teams.

23. Donnie Fletcher, Boston College. Great length and ball skills but gets jumpy at times, lacks deep speed.

24. Asa Jackson, Cal Poly. Cat-quick FCS playmaker has versatility and confidence, return skills are a nice bonus. Good sleeper.

25. Trevin Wade, Arizona. Ballhawking, quicker-than-fast inside corner had up and down Zona career.

Others: Desmond Marrow, Toledo; Chris Greenwood, Albion; Jeremy Lane, Northwestern State; Coty Sensabaugh, Clemson; Emanuel Davis, East Carolina; Cliff Harris, Oregon; Terrence Frederick, Texas A&M; Derrius Brooks, Western Kentucky; Buddy Jackson, Pittsburgh; Micah Pellerin, Hampton; Mike Harris, Florida State; Dion Turner, Southern Utah; Cam Chism, Maryland; Deandre Pressley, Appalachian State.

S

1. Mark Barron, Alabama. Big, physical playmaker lost range with groin injury, will be great if he recaptures it.

2. Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State. Coverage specialist plays best in key moments; could transition to slot/nickel back.

3. George Iloka, Boise State. Pretty straight-linish but has exceptional size and closing speed. Wasn't lost when playing corner.

4. Harrison Smith, Notre Dame. Tight-hipped combo safety with great instincts. Misses too many opportunities but keeps plays in front of him.

5. Antonio Allen, South Carolina. Played hybrid S/LB role and it shows vs. the run. Not quick or instinctive in coverage but a fluid athlete.

6. Trent Robinson, Michigan State. Hybrid CB/S has strong instincts and good closing burst but tweener size and balky hands.

7. Christian Thompson, South Carolina State. Has great size and leapt off what little film I saw, but making a big jump and instincts are iffy.

8. Kelcie McCrae, Arkansas State. Long and skinny with decent range. Good tackler but must bulk up. Opportunistic.

9. Winston Guy, Kentucky. Converted corner is sure tackler with good instincts. Has coachable upside but just a relatively average athlete.

10. Brandon Taylor, LSU. Attack dog vs. the run, understands coverage principles. Excellent locker room guy but often plays on train tracks.

11. Brandon Hardin, Oregon State. Excellent athlete with great size looked good when healthy, but missed '11 and was never a playmaker.

12. JJ Jones, Wayne State. Undersized CB/S tweener has great instincts and power for his size. Very bright but might not have a true position.

13. Duke Ihenacho, San Jose State. Big, rangy read-and-react thumper needs polish and discipline in coverage but can really lay the lumber.

14. Jerrell Young, South Florida. Ideal Tampa-2 strong safety plays downhill well, a little stiff and often a half-step slow in coverage.

15. Tony Dye, UCLA. Box safety with some zone cover skills, lost luster with knee injury in 11. Could surprise if fully healthy.

Others: Cyhl Quarles, Wake Forest; Justin Bethel, Presbyterian (CB); Aaron Henry, Wisconsin; Eddie Whitley, Virginia Tech; Janzen Jackson, McNeese State; Tramain Thomas, Arkansas; Lance Mitchell, Oregon State; Delano Howell, Stanford; Tysyn Hartman, Kansas State; Eddie Pleasant, Oregon; Corey White, Samford (CB).