NFL Scouting Combine Storylines: Defense and Special Teams

Eddie GriffinSenior Analyst IFebruary 19, 2009

There’s no Glenn Dorsey, Chris Long, Sedrick Ellis, or Vernon Gholston to get wild about in the 2009 NFL Draft, at least at this point.

All of those guys were in contention to be the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft, and all four were off the board in the first seven picks.

What this year’s draft class may lack in headliners, it makes up for in terms of plenty of depth throughout the defensive positions, and a lot of talent will be on display this weekend in Indianapolis.

Who will garner the most attention, and who should you be watching for this weekend? Here’s a look at the defense. Oh, and special teams too.


Defensive Linemen

This year’s draft is light on headliners at the top, but momentum seems to be picking up at just the right time. Boston College tackle B.J. Raji had an impressive Senior Bowl, and looks to be a good bet for the top 15, at worst.

As he goes, so might Ole Miss tackle Peria Jerry. Jerry was an absolute force this past season for the Rebels, and his stock is also on the rise. If Raji goes in the top 10, Jerry could be off the board soon after.

Keep an eye on Auburn’s Sen’Derrick Marks. Indianapolis is need of a tackle, but the way things are starting to look, Raji and Jerry won’t be there at No. 27. But if Marks does the opposite Pat Sims this week, he’ll be a more than viable option there.

The defensive ends group features a bunch of sack machines who might be better suited for that hybrid rush linebacker position than a spot on the front line.

Florida State’s Everette Brown is becoming a popular name at No. 3, and he could prove why in Indy.

Then you have the big name (TexasBrian Orakpo), the freakish athlete (Georgia Tech’s Michael Johnson), the ‘upside’ guy (Penn State’s Aaron Maybin), and the guys that those who don’t watch the big conferences will get to know this weekend (Utah’s Paul Kruger, Northern IllinoisLarry English, Cincinnati’s Connor Barwin).



Wake Forest’s Aaron Curry is considered by many to be the top defensive prospect on the board, but where will that land him? Cleveland at No. 5 seems to be a popular destination, but what about No. 3 to Kansas City? No. 2 to St. Louis?

Could the Lions want to make him the cornerstone of their defense? We’ll have a better idea after the next several days.

There is a big gap between Rey Maualuga and James Laurinaitis and the other top inside linebackers on the board, so that’s where a couple of SEC ‘backers in LSU’s Darry Beckwith and Georgia’s Dannell Ellerbe, who were slowed by injuries in their senior campaigns, need to prove that they’re first-day talents.

If they do, the James Laurinaitis drop watch could be on. I don’t think he’ll drop nearly as far as Dan Connor did last year, but don’t pencil him into the first round for sure.

But, instead of filling that gap with, say, one of those guys, how about a Clint Sintim or a Brian Cushing?

Both might project more on the outside, but Cushing can move inside, and so can Sintim, and both could lock down a spot in the first round (or early in the second, depending on need) with impressive workouts.

Another guy to watch for is Southern Miss star Gerald McRath. McRath has first-round talent, but his size (6’3, 220) hurts him. If he somehow drops to the third round, he’d be the steal of all steals.

But, with a great combine, he could at least position himself to be taken in the second round, where he’d still be a steal.


Defensive Backs

Malcolm Jenkins could’ve left a year early and been the first corner selected in the 2008 draft.

Waiting has hurt many a top prospect’s draft stock over the years, but that’s not the case for Jenkins, who’s still the top corner on the board.

That being said, he has to continue to prove it, otherwise IllinoisVontae Davis could yet jump him. Vontae won’t go as high as his brother Vernon, but he could make himself an attractive option to New Orleans (#14) or Houston (#16), and ensure that he doesn’t last past the top 20.

The sooner he goes, the better for Vanderbilt’s D.J. Moore, who could fall to the second round, because corner isn‘t a need for most of the teams drafting late in the first, but could use a bump in Davis‘ stock and his own stock to be an option in the top 20.

Safety wasn’t a strong position at the top in last year’s draft, and with the lack of a headliner in the group (sorry, William Moore), just how good of a decision did USC’s Taylor Mays make by staying for his senior season, when the talent pool will be a lot bigger at the top in the 2010 draft?

Still, there’s a lot of quality depth throughout, to the point where a team looking for a safety could, wait a few rounds, and still get a quality prospect.

Keep your eyes on Missouri’s Moore, who needs to rebound from a rough Senior Bowl to put himself back into solid first-round status.

If he doesn’t, then Western Michigan’s Louis Delmas can lock himself down as the top safety available.

Just as much, watch for a bunch that includes guys like Oregon’s Patrick Chung, Alabama’s Rashad Johnson, and Utah’s Sean Smith, who may well prove themselves worthy of consideration late in the first round.


Special Teams

Believe it or not, these guys have to go through all of the drills too. Will we have a long snapper make headlines like San Diego State’s Tyler Schmitt did last year?

Utah’s Louie Sakoda and Florida State’s Graham Gano, the reigning Lou Groza Award winner, are the top two kickers on the board, and both are equally adept at punting.

If long distance is your game, watch out for UTEP’s Jose Martinez, who hit from 57 and 64 yards in his time in El Paso, and LSU’s Colt David, who was 4 of 6 from 50+ in 2008.


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