NFL Draft 2012: Ranking 7 Defensive Prospects by Closing Speed

Chelena GoldmanContributor IFebruary 29, 2012

NFL Draft 2012: Ranking 7 Defensive Prospects by Closing Speed

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    Heck, defense needs love too.

    And the Combine wrapped up with the defensive players showing what they’re made of.

    Sure, we’ve heard plenty about the quarterbacks this week. But how quick and tough are the players that are going to be charging at them?

    And what does the speed that these d-men showed in the combine say about how hard they might be colliding with those QBs?

    You can argue that running on the combine track isn’t the same as charging across the line of scrimmage for a quarterback sack.

    But with the 40-yard dash being a top speed training tool to improve, not just acceleration, but also closing speed.

    Here’s a look at seven defensive prospects ranked by their closing speed, applying both how they fared in their collegiate careers, and how they performed in the 40-yard dash this past week:

Josh Robinson, CB Central Florida

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    40-yard Dash Time: 4.33 seconds

    Closing Speed Ranking: Awesome

     

    Who knows why this kid wasn’t on anyone’s radar until his top-ranked 40-yard dash time.

    ESPN mock draft guru Todd McShay said Tuesday that he’d initially ranked Josh Robinson as a fourth-round draft pick. But after a successful combine in which he posted the highest 40-yard dash time of any defensive prospect, McShay commented that he might have to re-think Robinson’s mock draft placement.

    Even more surprising is that, according to his scouting report on NFLMocks.com, Robinson is known for having incredible closing speed.

    If his strong combine doesn’t cause scouts to give Robinson a second look, nothing will.

Stephon Gilmore, CB South Carolina

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    40-yard Dash: 4.40

    Closing Speed Ranking: Okay

     

    Cornerback Stephon Gilmore is another under-the-radar prospect with good closing speed that had a strong combine. He’s a smart player, and is equally effective man-on-man as he is in the red zone.

    But according to several scouting reports, he isn’t normally a speedster. Which brings up concerns that his excellent combine times won’t translate into fast on-the-field play.

    Gilmore is an example of a good football player that has great athletic skills, but not necessarily stellar in-game skills. He’s “gym fast,” but not necessarily “football fast.”

    More than likely, Gilmore will remain a second-round draft pick, but good combine scores might elevate his stock in that round.

Janoris Jenkins, CB North Alabama

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    40-yard Dash: 4.46

    Closing Speed Ranking: Excellent

     

    It was so important for Jenkins to perform well in the combine. Jenkins, more than any other prospect, has an unreal amount of personal baggage.

    But he is also known for being aggressive on the field. And an already-solid closing speed, along with a strong combine, should certainly speak in his favor.

    Athletically, Jenkins has shown that he’s worthy of his first-round draft status. His team interviews and reflection on his past behavior might initially be what affects which teams chooses to pick him up.

Jayron Hosley, CB Virginia Tech

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    40-yard Dash: 4.47

    Closing Speed Ranking: Okay

     

    A speedy 40 reads well for Hosley, showing that his quickness can make up for his lack of size and not-so-efficient tackling.

    But Hosley—who one mock draft calls the next Asante Samuel—has fluid hip movement and great leaping ability. Plus, his size is countered by his long arms, great hands and good red zone instincts

    Hosley will likely be a late first round/ early second-round draft pick. But he will need to show that he can put his speed at the combine to use on the field when big tackles need to be made.

Morris Claiborne, CB LSU

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    40-yard Dash: 4.50

    Closing Speed Ranking: Excellent

     

    This is one of those guys on this list that was more-than-guaranteed to be a first-round draft pick before the combine. Scouts were probably very aware of his crazy speed well before he rounded out the top 10 for defensive backs in the 40-yard dash.

    And despite his tendency to not be a hard-hitting tackler, Claiborne is a smart cornerback with tremendous closing speed and incredible footwork. He also has the ability to back pedal and change directions quickly and fluidly.

    With a strong combine performance, in addition to his already-stellar collegiate closing speed, it would be surprising if Claiborne went later than top 10 in the draft.

Luke Kuechly, ILB Boston College

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    40-yard Dash: 4.58

    Closing Speed Ranking: Great, but there's room for improvement

     

    Even before a top 10 time in the 40, Kuechly was already touted for having great closing speed. He’s also an aggressive inside linebacker with an "uncanny ability to sniff out the football."

    Nicknamed a “Tackling Machine” by NFLDraftGeek.com, Kuechly averaged 173 tackles per season with Boston College, while exuding insane instincts and excellent tackling technique.

    The only thing keeping Kuechly from a top 10 draft spot is that he can be a little too easily overcome by bigger offensive linemen. Hopefully with a little bit  of NFL coaching in his first year or two in the pros, Kuechly can learn to overcome larger opposing players.

    His biggest draft opponent would probably by Alabama’s Don’ta Hightower, who has not-as-amazing closing speed, but has more size.

Dont'a Hightower, LB Alabama

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    40-yard Dash: 4.68

    Closing Speed Ranking: Good, but there's room for improvement

     

    With a successful championship season with the Crimson Tide, Dont’a Hightower was garnering attention from the NFL well before the combine.

    Hightower is already known for his massive size, high football IQ and great leadership skills. He will be an incredible asset to whatever team he is drafted to, which will more than likely be late in the first round.