Happy Friday, friends. As promised, here’s my look at the defensive position groupings for the 2014 Draft. This class is strong at cornerback and interior defensive line, and it’s weak at linebacker, edge rusher, and safety.
Don’t be surprised if guys are over-drafted at those positions, because of the shortage there.
After the jump, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of things. Ready… BEGIN!!
Interior Defensive Linemen
I don’t think the Broncos will be terribly motivated to use early draft picks here. Their interior defensive line group of Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams, Terrance Knighton, Kevin Vickerson, Malik Jackson, and Mitch Unrein is the strength of the team. After using their top picks on Wolfe and Williams the last two years, expect the Broncos to focus elsewhere early.
Guy I Like – Dominique Easley, Florida
Easley was playing like the best defensive lineman in America last season before he tore his ACL. When he went out, Florida stopped being able to stop anybody, and with their offense already sorry, their season went off the rails.
Easley is a penetrating three-technique kind of player, who actually played DE as a sophomore. By all accounts, his ACL recovery is going well, and if he had finished 2013 like he started it (healthy and dominant) he’d be challenging Aaron Donald to be the top interior guy taken.
He’s a huge value in the second round, despite having had both ACLs reconstructed. If the knee is right, look for a Sheldon Richardson-caliber rookie season from Easley.
Guy I Don’t Like – Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
Jernigan is a solid player, but he’s not a first-round talent in my opinion. I think he projects as a rotation guy who is never all that impactful in the pros. Some see him as a three-technique, but I see him more as an undersized nose tackle.
He’s more strong than he is quick, and more of a plugger than a penetrator. He probably isn’t tall or stout enough for most odd-front teams, so I think he’ll be a 4-3 nose.
Possible Diamond In The Rough – Will Sutton, Arizona State
I’ve mostly been seeing Sutton rated as a fourth- or fifth-rounder, but to me, he’s a better player than that. After Donald and Easley, there isn’t another three-technique I’d rather have.
I think that Sutton is getting knocked because he’s only six feet tall, but ask John Randle if height matters when your job is to penetrate. If Sutton gets into a scheme that lets him do what he’s good at, he’ll be very successful in the NFL.
The Broncos definitely could use an early pick here, and a couple of edge guys like Dee Ford, Jeremiah Attoaochu, and Kony Ealy will be attractive around the 31st pick. After that, they kind of vanish until you get into the late second round. I don’t view this as a huge need for the Broncos, per se, but you can never have too many good pass rushers, as Seattle was just showing us all.
Guy I Like – Dee Ford, Auburn
Ford is probably going to be a situational pass rusher in the NFL, but he can be an outstanding one. Ford has excellent get-off quickness, and long arms, and I like that he plays hard on every snap.
To me, it’s worth a late first- or early second-round pick to get a guy who can play 25 high-leverage snaps per game, and hit the QB a lot. I think that’s what Ford will be.
Guy I Don’t Like – Trent Murphy, Stanford
Murphy was an outstanding college player, but I don’t see him as being strong or athletic enough to be a starter in the NFL. I’d start considering him in the fourth round, and I think his sweet spot is the fifth. To me, he’s a low part of the rotation guy, and a special teamer.
Possible Diamond In The Rough – Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Jeffcoat has NFL bloodlines, as the son of long-time Dallas Cowboy Jim Jeffcoat, and he was once a top-five national recruit out of high school. The talent is there, but Jeffcoat has never fully put it all together. I have long noted that Texas is known as a soft program, and I think that Jeffcoat needs to be coached harder than he was coached there. If he can maximize his effort and let his talent work, an NFL team could have something.
Mark me down as somebody who believes that Nate Irving can be a top-half of the NFL MLB, and that he’s been used foolishly by the Broncos, out of some misguided desire to make sure that they have a good backup Sam LB. That said, if the team doesn’t see Irving that way, they may very well be looking to get a MLB early. This is a weak class of true LBs, so again, they may be overdrafted.
Guy I Like – Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
I have historically not liked OSU players, because I think the Big 10 has been weak for a decade, and because OSU has been easily the top program in that league. That tends to distort things when you’re judging on-field quality.
That said, I love Shazier.
He’s fast and relentless, and I believe that he can be the MLB for the Broncos. I could care less that he only weighs 237 pounds (as opposed to what, a position archetype of 245?) because he moves so well, and because he’s strong enough to have done 25 reps on the bench press. This is a four-down player, and he’s the rare MLB I’d use a first-rounder on.
Guy I Don’t Like – Max Bullough, Michigan State
Bullough is one of these football-royalty types, but he’s more Casey Matthews than Clay Matthews. Have you ever heard of the Fairbanks-Bullough 3-4? His grandfather Hank is the “Bullough” there, and his dad and several of his uncles played big-time college football.
Max has excellent knowledge and instincts, but he’s a really limited athlete, and he’ll always leave an NFL team wanting to upgrade. I think Bullough is a less explosive Joe Mays, who will play from C-gap to C-gap, and top out as a fringe starter, and be best suited as a backup. At least he's white and gritty, though, so I bet he'll have a robust fan base.
Possible Diamond In The Rough – Jordan Tripp, Montana
Tripp is an outstanding athlete, and his quickness and change of direction skills are at the top of the LB class. I think he’s a WLB who can be a starter in the NFL with some better coaching than he got at the FCS level. He also long-snapped for all four years in college and brings that skill-set to the NFL.
The cornerback class has a lot of good players, but no shutdown players. People see Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert as top 15 picks, but I don’t think either of them is going to be in that top tier of players at the position. There are many guys who can compete, but few-to-none who are going to be superstars. The Broncos could use another competitor at the position, so watch for them to take one in the first three rounds.
Guy I Like – Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has been down the last couple years, but Fuller has been an outstanding player there, amid the troubles of the total team. Scouts are going to like guys like Justin Gilbert and Bradley Roby more, because of their measurables, but any coach would take Fuller for his ability to play good football right now. Fuller will be most successful in off-man or zone schemes, and with his length, recognition skills, and ball skills, I think he’s the best CB in this class.
Guy I Don’t Like – Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
I’ve always preferred tall corners, and I want to like Jean-Baptiste, but I just can’t get there when I watch him. He’s slow and weak, and he has stiff hips. For a guy who is 6-3 and 218 pounds, he lacks physicality too, and his arms aren’t terribly long for his height.
He’s also going to be 24, which is a concern, because he’s probably closer to his peak now than a 21-year old is. I think Jean-Baptiste will need to be in a really favorable scheme to have success, and that he’ll need to learn to be more physical than he is. If Seattle or Jacksonville take him, then he has a good chance. More likely, though, a team that wants to copy Seattle will do so, and they won’t maximize the good in Jean-Baptiste.
Possible Diamond In The Rough – Brandon Dixon, Northwest Missouri State
It’s hard to find a lot of tape on a guy from Northwest Missouri State, but I think it’s worth taking a late round shot on a CB who ran 4.41 at 5-11 and 203 pounds, and who bench-pressed 17 reps. This is a developmental CB and special teams kind of guy, and in those roles, it’s better to have a great athlete than some limited/crafty guy. The fact that he was a first-team All American in Division II works in Dixon’s favor too.
This is a weak group, especially after you get past the first four guys (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor, Deone Bucannon, and Jimmie Ward), who I think will all go in the first 40 or so picks on the draft. Actually, given the re-prioritization of the safety position, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them all get into the first round. After they go, there’s a significant drop-off. Terrance Brooks from Florida State may be a starter, but if he is, he’s probably the fifth of five. The Broncos probably ought to be thinking about succession planning for Rahim Moore, who may or may not be back next year.
Guy I Like – Deone Bucannon, Washington State
Bucannon looks like a box safety, and he hits like a box safety, but I think he can run with TEs in man coverage. He actually reminds me a lot of T.J. Ward, where he’s probably not a centerfield guy, but he can be a tone-setting player in both the passing and running games. I think he may sneak into the late first round or early second round, because safety is such a limited position group this year.
Guy I Don’t Like – Brock Vereen, Minnesota
Vereen’s brother Shane is a decent NFL player, but I don’t see the physical attributes for Brock to be a starting safety. He lacks size, and he doesn’t tackle well. He also has short arms and suspect ball skills.
I think he’ll be more of a special teams guy than a starting safety in the NFL, despite his impressive speed and bench press numbers.
I think of Vereen as a David Bruton type, who you love in the kicking game, but you don’t want to see on the back end much defensively.
Possible Diamond In The Rough – Dez Southward, Wisconsin
Southward looked good to me every time I saw a Wisconsin game, and he’s the classic later-round size-speed guy. He was a hybrid type of player in college, and I like the fact that he covered slot guys man-to-man at times. This could be a Sam Brandon, big-nickel kind of safety.
That’s what I’ve got, friends. I’m not going to bother with special teams. Watch for the annual Rational Actor Mock Draft, coming sometime next week.