Philadelphia Eagles: 10 Intriguing Defensive Prospects from the Scouting Combine

Ron Pasceri@@RonPasceriCorrespondent IIMarch 4, 2012

Philadelphia Eagles: 10 Intriguing Defensive Prospects from the Scouting Combine

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    With the 2012 Scouting Combine packed up and in storage until 2013, it's time to look at what has unfolded.

    We looked at offensive prospects last week.  Since the Eagles' major needs are on defense, it's time to take a closer look at that side of the ball.

    To be clear, this is not a Top-10 Players the Eagles Should Get or the Top-10 Combine Performances. This is simply a list of 10 defensive players who had a surprisingly good showing.

    Every one of these players has a possibility of being on the Eagles' radar. They are probably not all that likely to draft any of them, but regardless, here are 10 defensive prospects that became more intriguing after this past weekend.

    They are listed in the order in which they performed at the combine.

1. Andre Branch: DE, Clemson

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    The Eagles have no immediate need for a defensive end. Trent Cole and Jason Babin are entrenched as Pro Bowl players. That makes the Eagles a good fit for Andre Branch.

    Branch isn't the most polished prospect, but he flashed some great ability and explosiveness in Indianapolis. He measured in at 6'4" and weighed 260 pounds. He is a tall, long-armed athlete who ran a 4.70 in the 40.

    He could be used in specific situations to take advantage of his natural skills and they can allow him to develop without pressure to be a consistent performer out of the gate.

    In the past two seasons, Branch posted 15.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.

    He doesn't fill an immediate need, but he showed the ability to develop into something special.

2. Nick Perry: DE, USC

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    Nick Perry is similar to Branch, in that he wouldn't fill an immediate need. Perry was very impressive at the combine though.

    For one, he was projected as a 250-pound outside linebacker, but he weighed in at a significantly heavier 271 pounds. On his 6'3" frame, Perry has a very solid build.

    Add to that his 4.64 time in the 40 and his 35 reps at 225 pounds and you have an intriguing prospect.

    Perry showed a ton of explosion as an athlete and better balance in the line drills than anticipated. 

    His statistics don't appear dominant, but in three seasons at USC, he sacked the quarterback 21.5 times, had 30.5 tackles for loss and in the last two seasons he forced five fumbles.

    Perry exceeded expectations at the combine and he has a nose for creating turnovers, something any defense could use more of.

3. Dontari Poe: DT, Memphis

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    Dontari Poe came into the combine at 6'4" and 346 pounds. The only thing more impressive than his massive frame was what he could do with it.

    Poe showed an incredible amount of strength, speed, fluidity, and quickness. He turned heads when he lifted 225 pounds 44 times. He dropped everyone's jaw when he ran the 40 in 4.98. He even had a vertical leap just shy of 30 inches.

    His combine performance was probably the most raved about workout of the year. That alone probably pushed him up into the first half of round one.

    The Eagles were very shaky up the middle last season and a behemoth with the type of athleticism Poe possesses could only help. He shows a great ability to move laterally and he is capable of dropping into coverage as well.

    Poe's meteoric rise up the draft board may scare some, but if he can harness his amazing natural abilities, he will make any team that passes on him sorry. 

4. Kendall Reyes: DT, Connecticut

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    Kendall Reyes is a player that seems very much the Eagles' speed. He was one of the more impressive defensive tackles at the Senior Bowl and he isn't a giant space-eater.

    Reyes measured 6'4" at the combine and weighed in at a very well put together 299 pounds.  He showed a smooth running style in timing 4.95 in the 40. He also showed great explosiveness with his 34.5" vertical leap. 

    On top of his athleticism and explosion, Reyes also proved to be one of the strongest linemen in attendance, with 36 reps at 225 pounds.

    Reyes is a two-time team captain at UConn and he showed tremendous dedication to the game by transforming himself from 245 pounds to 299. Even more impressive is that he did it while maintaining his athletic ability.

    In his college career, Reyes produced at a consistently high level. He registered 11.5 sacks, 32.5 tackles for loss, six quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles. He also intercepted two passes and returned a fumble for a touchdown.

    Reyes may not be getting the same hype as Poe, but he looks the part as a disruptive defensive tackle in the NFL.

5. Mychal Kendricks: LB, California

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    Michal Kendricks may not impress many Philadelphia fans because of his smallish 5'11" 240-pound frame.

    Ever since the departure of Jeremiah Trotter, fans have longed for an imposing figure at middle linebacker. Kendricks would not be that player.

    He is a tremendous athlete though, blazing through a 4.47 in the 40. Also, what he lacks in size, he makes up for in violence.

    Kendricks uses every ounce of his 240 pounds to inflict pain on his opposition. He is hard hitting and he flies to the ball with reckless abandon.

    He is also quite a playmaker. In three years as a starter, Kendricks registered 34.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and four interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.

    He was a running back in high school, so with his speed and instincts, he could bring a playmaking element that the Eagles' defense has been missing.

6. Luke Kuechly: LB, Boston College

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    Luke Kuechly has not been looked upon with favor from a large sector of the Philadelphia fan base, this writer included.

    Many have savored the idea of Vontaze Burfict's size and physicality. As excited as people get over Burfict, he was that disappointing at the combine. As disappointing as Burfict was at the combine, Kuechly was that impressive.

    Kuechly stood 6'3" and weighed in at a solid 242 pounds. He ran significantly faster than expected, at 4.58 seconds in the 40. He also proved to be one of the stronger linebackers in the weight room with 27 reps of 225 pounds.

    He even showed exceptional explosiveness, touching 38 inches on his vertical and landing 10'3" on his broad jump.

    Kuechly's tackling prowess has been well-documented in his three years at BC, but you don't hear much about his other statistics.

    As a three-year starter, Kuechly had 35.5 tackles for loss and seven interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. He's been viewed as sort of a boring prospect, but he may be more intriguing than many people realized.

7. Stephon Gilmore: CB, South Carolina

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    When it comes to defensive backs, most of the hype has centered on Senior Bowl standouts like Janoris Jenkins and Brandon Boykin.

    Stephon Gilmore did well for himself in Indianapolis.

    Gilmore measured 6'0" and weighed in at 190 pounds. He ran an incredibly fast 4.40 in the 40 for a corner at his size.

    In drills, he looked very fluid and flashed some short-area quickness when he had to break forward. He had some drops in the final drill, but looked good catching the ball on deeper throws.

    In his career, Gilmore has shown a lot of versatility.  As a corner he intercepted eight passes, broke up 17 more, registered 7.0 sacks and 15.0 tackles for loss.

    In addition, he completed 2-of-3 as a passer for 68 yards, ran the football seven times for another 37 yards, and returned 28 punts for 206 yards and two kicks for another 47.

    He scored one touchdown in his career. 

    Gilmore is an aggressive player, both in coverage and in run support.  He will play physical with receivers, go after the ball when it's in the air and throw his body at ball carriers.

    Gilmore could be available when the Eagles pick in the second round, and if he is, he could bring the attitude and vocal leadership that fans crave.

8. Jayron Hosley: CB, Virginia Tech

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    Jayron Hosley was not so highly touted entering last weekend. He measured just 5'10" and just 178 pounds.

    Short and slight doesn't play well in the NFL these days, but Hosely ran a very fast 4.47 in the 40 and he looked consistently impressive through all the drills. His movements looked sharp and he showed nice hands and awareness when the ball was in the air.

    Aside from his impressive combine, Hosley would actually be a perfect fit for this Eagles defense. 

    The Eagles have two big corners in Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They also have a small and slight corner of their own in Asante Samuel.

    The problem is, none of them is adept at playing inside, and they just don't fit together. Hosley could change that. He is small, but he possesses all the physicality that Asante doesn't.

    He also has better pure speed.

    In two years as a starter for the Hokies, he grabbed 12 interceptions and broke up 20 passes.  He was also a very productive return man.

    Hosley returned 68 punts in his career for a 12.0 yard average and two touchdowns. He also returned 10 kicks for 219 yards. 

    Hosley could come in and immediately help in two areas. He also plays with a lot of courage and attitude and his toughness more than makes up for his lack of size.

9. Brandon Taylor: S, LSU

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    The Eagles have spent consecutive second round picks on the safety position the past two drafts. That makes it hard to imagine them spending another high pick on the position.

    Whether they are thinking that way or not, Brandon Taylor was very impressive at the combine.  He is better built than any current Eagles' safety at 5'11" and 209 pounds.

    For his size, he ran a good 40 at 4.58.

    Taylor was one of few safeties in drills to actually attack the ball at its highest point and he showed good awareness around the sideline.

    Taylor isn't a big hitter, but he is a sure tackler who is stout against the run. He is also a former cornerback, giving him an advantage in coverage.

    He can't line up one-on-one against top targets, but Taylor should be able to handle some receivers and tight ends in coverage.

    Being a playmaker for LSU's defense should translate at the next level, and Taylor is a player who can help shore up the back end of the Eagles defense.

10. Christian Thompson: S, South Carolina State

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    Christian Thompson is a little-known safety from a very small school. He showed up to the combine in a big way.

    He ran the fastest 40-time among safeties at 4.50. Even more impressive when you take into account his solid build at 6'0" and 211 pounds.

    Thompson showed nimble feet and a surprising ability to track the ball in the air. He showed a great combination of size and speed in the defensive back drills.

    Wes Bunting of the National Football Post has Thompson rated as the No. 2 free safety prospect in the draft. 

    Thompson intercepted two passes last year, returning them for a combined 79 yards. He also returned four kicks for 82 yards.

    Thompson is intriguing because of his blend of size and athleticism and also because of his reputation as a hard hitter. 

    The Eagles could use an enforcer on their defense, and Thompson would be worth the shot if he was around in the third or fourth round.