Lion’s Den: 2014 NFL Draft Defensive Preview

Lions Den Defense 2014 NFL Draft GuideIt occurred to the Lion that I did not write about the best Centers in college FB.  I don’t see one being taken in the first two rounds of the draft.  I did not forget them. I reserve the right to supplement this if I see any who convince me otherwise.  As a former OL, it’s really hard to snap a ball and block somebody in the same motion. I have huge respect for centers.  Having said that, on to the other side of the football…

DEFENSE:

Despite all of the rule changes to favor the offense, defense still matters.  Good defense still beats good offense.  Need evidence?  How about the Giants beating the Patriots in two Super Bowls.  Despite putting up 40+ points game over the past decade, how many national championships has Oregon won?  How many have Bama and LSU won?  Oh that’s right.  I think you get my point.  Teams built to pound offensive skill players, like the guys from Brazzers will eventually pound Kendall Jenner within the next 6 months now that she has reached the age of consent in all 50 states, win championships (Editor’s Note: I’m not too proud to say it, I’d watch).  Without further ado, I will run down a few of the defensive players at each position that are going to be drafted at the top of their group.

DT

You are darn right I am starting here.  All good Defenses start here too.  The old saying goes that a great baseball team is built up the middle.  Football is no different, the team that controls the line of scrimmage controls the game.  I will quickly rank the top 3 DT’s at this point in the season.

#1.

Louis Nix, Notre Dame:  (Editor’s Note: Another fucking homer prospect) This guy was the real key to the Irish defense last year.  He is a mountain of a man at 6-3 345 and word from campus is that he’s hung like a stallion.  The chaos he caused at the line of scrimmage allowed human punchline Manti Te’o to rack up stats and get all the accolades.  Since he is a NT in a 3-4, his job isn’t so much to rack up stats as it is to swallow up offensive lineman, so his numbers don’t indicate how disruptive he is at the line of scrimmage.  The best argument for how good he is, last year in the blowout loss to an Alabama Offensive line that is full of NFL first round picks, Nix actually played really well.  In fact, he was essentially the only player on overmatched and overrated Notre Dame to hold his own against a superior opponent.  Bama could not run in between the guards and only had success running off-tackle.  By “only had success” I mean they dominated the game by running off tackle.  Still, that was not the big man’s fault.  Coming into this year, Nix needed to make more plays himself since the Irish ILBs are very weak, and Nix also needed to show he was better conditioned to play more snaps.  Against Michigan, he had 4 tackles for a loss.  He has stayed on the field for a much larger percentage of ND’s defensive plays as well.  If he stays in shape for the combine, he could be a top 15 pick in the NFL draft, especially because 3-4 NTs are rare.  He is also undefeated in pie eating contests.

1a.

Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota:  Traditional spelling of “Rasheed” be damned, let’s throw a god damned apostrophe in there for the hell of it.  Everybody has Hageman as their number 2 guy.  Unlike Nix, this guy is a 4-3 DT (the difference between a 3-4 NT and a 4-3 DT?  Hageman is 6’6 311, compare that to Nix).  As a result of the different responsibilities, he puts up better numbers.  In 2012 he put up amazing stats for a DT.  He put up 35 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, two passes broken up, one forced fumble and six sacks.  It just so happens that I happen to be watching him completely dominating the LOS against Nebraska as I type this. Unlike McShay, I watch as many college football games as my WAG and job provide time for (I’m fairly certain McShay watches games only in between Real Housewives reruns on Bravo, which is never).  I digress, Hageman looks like the real deal to me as a top of the rotation guy in a traditional 4-3 defensive front.  The shift of many NFL defenses to a 3-4, requiring a NT like Nix, and the scarcity of NT’s both in the NFL and amongst prospects, is the only thing that lowers Hageman’s value to #2 at his position.  In the right defensive scheme, Hageman will be a beast.

The annual LSU monster.

Anthony Johnson LSU: Every year LSU produces a first round defensive player that goes in the top 20 picks and turns out to be one of the best defensive players in the draft.  This is the guy this year.  Johnson is explosive, very fast and athletic for his 6-3 304 frame.  He can do a standing back flip.  He’s been nicknamed “The Freak” because of this size and speed combination.  The problem is that his stats haven’t reflected his potential.  LSU’s defense has been largely unimpressive this year.  He is the upside DT pick.

DE

The glamor DL position, if there is such a thing. For this group I will give you the 2 best guys and two hybrid type guys who may be an OLB in a 3-4.

JaDeveon Clowney South Carolina: Not much to say that hasn’t already been said. 6’6 272. Not an ounce of fat on his body.  Freakish athleticism.  He put up video game statistics last year, amassing 54 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles, two passes batted and 13 sacks.  That is a sack per game by the way.  You may have seen a highlight of him in the past year.  He became an internet sensation and thus far, he has not handled this attention particularly well, nor has he lived up to expectations this year so far.  He showed up to camp out of shape and just seem to have a pissy attitude.  He was the number 1 H.S. recruit in the country a few years ago and despite his lackluster by his standards year, he will go in the first round, although, had he been able to enter the draft last season, he would have been #1 overall.

In addition to his lackluster overall performance this season, which many speculate is  fueled by his desire to stay healthy rather than risk injury in the course of dominating once again, plenty of teams that appeared set at QB are suddenly back in the market.  I’m talking about the Vikings (Ponder), Jags (Gabbert), Browns (Weeden, born 1961), Eagles (Vick/Foles), Texans (Schaub), Cardinals (Palmer) and possibly the Steelers (Roethlisberger – don’t rule it out) and Rams (Bradford).  A year ago, all of these teams were prepared to let their young QBs develop (or let older models such as Schaub, Roethlisberger, and Palmer provide a steady hand on a veteran team).  A year later, with each of these teams struggling and likely to own an early first round pick, plenty of them might like what they see in the draft more so that what they see in their own depth chart.  The slight drop by Clowney, who should be a dominant NFL DE for years to come, underscores how important the QB position is to an NFL football team.  There is no QB in this years draft who is as great, relative to his position, as Clowney is.  Yet, a handful of the top QB prospects may, and likely will, be selected before Clowney in May.

Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame:  (Editor’s Note:  With all the love they get in the Draft Prospect columns suggesting they basically field an NFL team, you’d think ND would be slightly better this season)  Much like Anthony Johnson at LSU, Tuitt is kind of a physical freak.  He is 6-6 and 312, which is DT size, but athletic enough to play DE.  He has a rare combination of power and quickness.  Last year, he was the breakout sophomore in all of college FB, recorded 12 sacks with 47 tackles, three forced fumbles, one pass break up and a 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown.  Down the stretch he suffered a hernia, which required surgery in the offseason.  It clearly affected his performance in the last two games of 2012 and the first few games of this season.  He showed up to camp weighing too much due to recovery from the hernia.  He has worked himself into shape and has started to look like his old self.  He is only a junior so, due to his taste for mediocre looking average bodied Midwestern women, he will stay in school unless he thinks he will be a high first round pick.  I like his versatility at the next level, he could play DT or DE in a 4-3 or a DE in a 3-4.

Hybrid Guys:

These two might be a little small to play DE in a 4-3 in the NFL so they could be OLB’s in a 3-4 or put on weight.  Hard to say.

Trent Murphy Stanford: This 6’6 261 horse has played all over the place for the Cardinal in their 3-4.  I think he was the best player on their very good defense last year, which says a lot.  His strength is his technique.  Murphy totaled 56 tackles with 10 sacks, 18 tackles for a loss, four passes broken up, one interception and a forced fumble last season.  He is not terribly undersized as this next guy so I think he will go in the late first early second.

Michael Sam Mizzou: He has been the breakout star of this team’s defense.  He, more than anybody else, has been responsible for their surprising undefeated run.  He dominated in the Georgia game, and even returned a fumble for a TD.  It just so happens I watched him in that game for the only time this year so I may be overrating him a bit.  His stats are very impressive, with 23 tackles, 10 for a loss, and six sacks this season.  At 6-2 and only 255 he is the type of tweener I am talking about.

Vic Beasely Clemson: At 6-3 and 235, while a great pass rusher for the Tigers, he is clearly too slight to play DE in the NFL.  He’ll have to work on his pass coverage skills to make the transition to OLB, but if he is capable of staying on the field in passing situations, watch out.

OLB

Just to be clear, I am writing about the best 3 pure OLBs here, not the tweener hybrid guys.  There are as many as 6 OLBs I think could go in round 1 but we have a lot of other positions to get to.

Anthony Barr UCLA: This guy seems to be the consensus number one guy.  He actually has an amazing story.  He was a fullback for two years who just didn’t seem to click at the college level, and then Jim Mora Jr. decided to move him to OLB.  He set the world on fire, collecting 13 sacks, 83 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, five passes batted and four forced fumbles.  His sack total was the second largest in the nation behind only Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, the Steelers 1st pick last year.  I am weary of 1 year wonders, (see Aaron Maybin), so I was intrigued that he came back for his senior year after receiving some hype in draft season last year.  He has continued to learn his position and hone his skills this year. He has 26 tackles with 10 for a loss, four sacks and three forced fumbles so far this year.  At 6-4 235 he is the right size for the position in the NFL.  He is a great pass rusher because he is explosive around the edge.  Jarvis Jones is a good comparison.  His main weakness is coverage, so I see him more successful playing in a 3-4 defense in the NFL.  I actually think this next guy is better but teams might bank on Barr’s blood line.  His dad, Tony Brooks, and two of his uncles played in the NFL.

CJ Mosley Alabama: Every year or every other year the Tide produce a first round NFL LB who is just a beast of a man.  This is the next one coming up the pike.  He is everything I would want in an OLB.  He is 6-2 234, a great tackler side line to side line, good against the run and blitzing and also very good in pass coverage.  He was the leading tackler for the Tide last year and is on pace to be again this year.  Like a drunk college chick who hates her long distance boyfriend just enough to follow me up to my dorm room and make some bad decisions circa 2001, Mosley is just the type of person the Lion really can get behind.  Not much else to say.  If I had to find a weakness, he seems to be nicked up a lot (physically, not emotionally, like the aforementioned prey the Lion pillaged in his all to distant past).

Khalil Mack Buffalo: A rare small school prospect.  He just racks up tackles for this team.  He has the measurables, (6’3 245) and his stats are amazing.  Last year, he registered 94 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, four forced fumbles, one blocked kick and two passes broken.  He has been doing this for multiple years.  The game he jumped out at me is this year against OSU, when he put up nine tackles with 2.5 sacks, plus an interception that he returned 45 yards for a touchdown.  He plays downhill really well.  Where a lot of people see him as a 3-4 LB in the pro’s I think I would rather see him bulk up and play the middle.  To do that he would have to get stronger to take on blockers.  It seems kind of counter intuitive, but great tackling technique is wildly undervalued by NFL talent evaluators.  Coaches have the arrogance of believing that they can teach proper technique and turn any athlete into a great tackler.  No doubt, they can make a difference, but the instinctive tacklers are always the best.  Some guys can just stop the ball carrier, Mack is one of those guys.

ILB:

The NFL doesn’t value this position as much as it used to, but if you look at the two teams in last year‘s Super Bowl, they had Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis at MLB so, yeah.  There is only one ILB who I see going in the first round this year.

Christian Jones FSU: He is fast and powerful.   FSU lines him up at DE, MLB and OLB, so he is versatile and athletic.  He is a little small for the middle in the NFL, at 6’4 232, yet he is strong enough to play DE right now.  If he puts on 10-15 lbs in the offseason without sacrificing too much speed he will be fine.

I also want to give a shot out to Max Bullough from MSU.  While too slow to play in the NFL, he plays the position the way it should be played. If you happen to be watching Sparty this year, take a couple of plays and just watch him.

CBs:

The Lion admits that he is not the best evaluator of cornerback play.  While CB is maybe the hardest position to play in football besides QB, it’s really hard to judge good ones and very easy to judge bad ones.  To me, the best CBs are the guys you don’t hear from in the passing game because QBs don’t throw to their side.  I also appreciate guys that can come up and tackle on the edge.  I will hold back on some of the analysis here for that reason.

Louchiez Purifoy Florida: While he isn’t everybody’s favorite he is mine.  The reason I like him is that he is big for a CB at 6’1 190, but still runs around a 4.4 dash.  He is so good the Gators use him on offense and kick returns.  What I love the most about him is that he is physical and plays with a huge chip on his shoulder.  Reminds me of Patrick Peterson a little bit.

Bradley Roby OSU: Everybody likes him but I have seen him get beat real bad this year by Wisconsin and even a little bit against Northwestern.  He is the prototypical NFL CB at 5-10 190 and runs a 4.3 and change dash.  He also has a knack for big plays, (like his huge blocked kick against NW) which is probably why the pundits are high on him.  Big WRs can beat him a little bit.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu Oregon: I don’t like him.  Everybody else does.  I don’t see it.  Maybe it’s because I can’t even pronounce his name.

Kyle Fuller VT: I just realized a trend while writing this.  I love tall physical CBs.  Fuller is like Purifoy in that way.  He is 6-0 193 and really has been all over the field for the Hokies this year. His standout game to me was when shutdown Amari Cooper from Bama this year.  He needs to run a good 40 to creep into the first round, but I like the way he plays.

The fact of the matter is, NFL WRs are getting bigger and stronger each year.  I don’t care how skilled a 5’10” lightning quick CB is, you cannot explain to me how someone that size has a chance against Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson ,Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, or any of the other beasts currently playing WR in the NFL.  In a youth football league somewhere, some bright, 6’5” father, is going to recognize that his beast of a son should play CB instead of WR and stop any coach he ever has from trying to switch him to offense all the way through the collegiate level.   That’s when we’ll have the first of the massive/lightning fast CBs who makes as much money as a lower first tier QB.  It’ll happen eventually.

S:

Like MLB, S is a position that teams don’t value, but if you get an elite one, like Ed Reed, or Troy Polumalu, it can change your defense.  There is only one safety in this draft that I see being thought of as having that potential.  His name is Ha-Ha Clinton Dix.  He is 6’1 210 and runs about a 4.5 dash.  He shut down a very good Tyler Eifert in the BCS championship game last year and when he is on the field this year makes his presence felt.  Despite the fact that he has the most ridiculous name in all of sports since Rusty Kuntz and Dick Trickle, (its actually Hasean which is equally terrible/reminds me of terrorism), I see him being a first round pick.

Hope you enjoyed the way too early grades of college football’s best players.  There is still half a season to play and the combines to come.  Sometime in the spring I will revisit these rankings and we will see if I am just as much of an idiot as McShay and Kiper.  Either way, I won’t ruin anybody’s life like McShay did.

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