Like I said in my previous offense recap of the Combine, this event has always been a favorite of mine. I firmly believe that the tape is where you scout a player but the ‘underwear Olympics’ add another level where you can, as they said, check off the boxes on a prospect.
The Combine also lets you, in a sense, get to know the prospect a little better. In my first edition, I covered the offensive side of the ball, now I will tackle the defensive prospects and give you all my opinion on how these prospects fared in Indy.
I think this year’s safety and corner back class is really good. The safeties in particular, I thought were very impressive in Indy; so many of them ran extremely well. Minkah Fitzpatrick was solid as well as Derwin James. Both are elite athletes, physically gifted, and high first round picks. Fitzpatrick just brings so much to the table, it’s going to be hard for teams to decide where they like him best. James is just such an elite athlete that is tough, physical, can play in the box, cover the slot; there is a ton to like about him and at this point, I see him being a top 10 pick. Denzel Ward is another top 10 pick, the size was really my only concern with him, but he’s a fantastic coverage CB that is a tough tackler. Terrell Edmunds is a guy that had a good Combine, I am a bigger fan than most of his tape; I think he played injured a lot this past year and once he’s healthy I think he’s got first round talent. Having said that, his medical needs to be good to pull the trigger on him early. Quin Blanding is another underrated and overlooked guy. He’s not a great athlete, he ran like 4.6, only jump 31.5 both he’s smart, tough, in the box guy and very reliable on the field; I can’t remember off the top of my head but he’s got like 30 + straights games in which he’s started. I really like this young man. Jessie Bates is getting a lot of attention and I recently got into a lot of his film and this kid can play. I don’t think he’s got an elite trait, but he’s always around the ball, he trusts his eyes and there is no hesitation when flying to the football. I also think he’s versatile enough to cover outside the numbers and the slot. I have a 2nd round grade on him. Dane Cruikshank is a guy I need to watch film on; he benched 25 reps, bigger guy, and from the very small sample size of tape I’ve seen, I think he’s a versatile guy that can do a lot. Kameron Kelly is intriguing because of the size, but he seems raw to me and I don’t think he’s got enough speed to really cover man. I do think he’s aggressive and is a very good in the box/ run support player. DeShon Elliot is another in the box guy that I do have coverage concerns on. He does have a good motor though and he flies to the ball. Rashaan Gaulden didn’t run all that well, but I don’t really care. I don’t think he’s a CB anyway, I think he could play both safety positions and his tape is really good. J.C. Jackson is another guy I really like; I think he’s a guy who has potential to start early in his career and a 4.47 is a great time for him. I was happy to see Jaire Alexander do well....again medical for him is very important, but if he checks out, he’s a strong first round pick.
There are a lot of linebackers that I really like in this draft. First off Tremaine Edmunds is ridiculous. I can’t believe he’s only 19 years old. He’s a lock top 10 pick that the Dolphins probably (assuming we stay put) won’t have a chance to draft. Roquan Smith is another special talent in this draft. I love his style of play and I think he’s a day 1 plug and play starter that will be an immediate difference maker. Leighton Vander Esch is a guy who I thought had really good film this past season. I think I had him in the 30s in my last big board rankings, but I may need to bump him up a bit. I think he showed that he’s a 3 down backer who is always around the ball and plays with great toughness and play recognition. Josey Jewell is another guy I just am a big fan of. He’s not big, doesn’t blow you away with athleticism but he’s a phenomenal football player. He’s a playmaker, tackling machine and I think he’s going to be a steal in the middle of this draft. Lorenzo Carter was a well-known athlete before the Combine and his numbers do nothing but just check off boxes. He’s a guy that excites me, I think he’s a little raw and needs to be more consistent but he’s got potential to be a special LBer in this league. Rashaan Evans also check off boxes for me. I think he’s a good LB, not an elite one, but he’s another possible day 1 starter; tackles well, has coverage skills, smart player and plays with toughness and aggressiveness. Now, the guy that everyone is talking about Shaquem Griffin; I can’t believe how fast he is. That is truly elite. Look, this is a first for me; his tape is good, high motor, disruptive player, good leader, strong, deceptively quick and you know with him he’s never going to give up. He just has one hand, I honestly don’t know where to put him but he’s a really good football player that will have an impact wherever he goes. I honestly think he’ll end up a top half of the draft selection this April. Lastly, to wrap up the LBers, I think Micah Kiser is flying under the radar, he’s a solid football player, Christian Sam is intriguing, his 28 reps on the bench is very impressive and Okoronkwo from Oklahoma ran a little slower than I thought he would but his bench number (27) was impressive and his tape is very good. Overall, there is some real talent in this LB class and this Combine certainly helped me get a better understanding on them as a whole.
My favorite positions to scout are along the D-line and this year there are some serious defensive playmakers. Lets start with the big boy from Washington, Vita Vea; he’s an insane athlete and a versatile one too. He’s going top 10. Da’Ron Payne also posted a great 40 time clocking in at 4.91. Both these DTs have a chance to be high first round draft picks. Harrison Phillips did 42 reps on the bench which is crazy good. He’s not a flashy pick but he’s a great ball player and a day 1 contributor. B.J. Hill also looked really good to me. I like his film but haven’t watched him as much as I have these other guys. I need to get into more of his film. Taven Bryan is a versatile guy that helped himself. Rasheem Greene is an interesting guy, in the fact that I think he’s raw but he’s a talented kid. He’s got talent that I believe will only improve. I think he can play multiple positions along the D-line and that will make him valued in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of this draft. As for the edge guys, Bradley Chubb is a top 5 pick. He’s a freakish athlete that is an easy prospect to scout. He is one of the elite prospects in this draft. Marcus Davenport is one of my favorites guys in the entire draft. Every time I think of his film one word comes to mind: violent. Sure, he’s raw and coming from a small school but I see talent and an extremely high ceiling with him. Harold Landry is a slightly undersized DE/OLB that had a great 2016 season and an ok 2017 season. I still have homework to do on him; but I see that talent. He’s got bend, good hand use and he’s a great athlete. 3-4 teams are going to love his ability to rush the passer. Dorance Armstrong is another very athletic pass rusher that posted great numbers. He’s a little inconsistent on film but I think he’s very talented kid with a ton of potential. Josh Sweat is a guy who is also very inconsistent to me but boy, he can jump out in film. His 1.55 10 yard split is unreal and I think he’s got a chance to really develop into a quality player. Lastly, Ade Aruna is a guy that catches my attention. I think he’s very raw but shows potential to be a really good DE. He measured in at 6-5 260 but only managed 18 reps on the bench so he needs to get stronger but I think Aruna has a high ceiling with his best football ahead of him.