2014 NFL Draft Prospects: Defensive Stars Who Will Get Major Boost at Combine

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2014

Jan 1, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Baylor Bears safety Ahmad Dixon (6) and linebacker Eddie Lackey (5) talk on the sidelines before the first quarter against the Central Florida Knights during the Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Central Florida defeated Baylor 52-42. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 NFL combine is the perfect place for prospects with major question marks to put on a show and see their draft stocks soar.

The nature of the combine itself means that the biggest, fastest and strongest thrive and look the best. It's a time for the best athletes in the class to excel and create the kind of buzz they weren't during the season.

Sure, it can only be a fleeting boost for some, but others can parlay a strong combine into a strong pro day, and then everybody starts looking at players differently.

Looking ahead to February, these three players should help their draft position in Indianapolis. They have the kind of skills that will help them flourish in the combine setting.


Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas

Nov 2, 2013; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (44) against the Kansas Jayhawks during the first quarter at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Texas beat Kansas 35-13. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Jackson Jeffcoat came into Austin with a ton of expectations, and now that he's on his way to the NFL, you can't help but think about what could've been.

Injuries limited his time in 2010 and 2012, and it never came together for the defensive end while at Texas. Now he can wipe the slate clean to a certain extent in preparation for the draft.

The problem is, Jeffcoat doesn't have any opportunity ahead of the combine. As Bleacher Report's Matt Miller pointed out, he's not in either the Senior Bowl or East-West Shrine Game.

Durability and technique are major concerns with Jeffcoat, but those aren't tested too much at the combine. He should be insulated somewhat from those criticisms, which will let him showcase his speed and agility, both of which are what you look for from a reliable pass-rusher.

Opposing linemen in college knew how difficult it was to reel in a player of Jeffcoat's ability, per The Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton:

“Jeffcoat is kind of an anomaly because he is 245 pounds, but he can bull rush a guy better than a 330-pound guy can,” Oregon offensive tackle Tyler Johnstone said. “With him, it’s just leverage. He knows how to use his weight. He knows how to use his muscle.

“He’s really good at keeping his hands off you, so that is the biggest challenge: locking on him and keep him going.”

By virtue of his above-average athleticism, the Longhorns star should make a good impression in Indianapolis.


Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana

I may be stretching the term "star" here, but Jordan Tripp excelled at the FCS level. Playing outside of the FBS can be a problem for players heading into the draft, as legitimate questions about level of competition always crop up.

How can you prepare for the NFL when you're facing lower-division opponents every week?

The good news for Tripp is that he's got the Senior Bowl and scouting combine to go head-to-head with FBS prospects and prove his worth. Plenty of small-school stars have demonstrated their true worth by doing well at both events.

B/R's Tyson Langland thinks the Montana Grizzlies linebacker is one to watch in the coming months.

Here's what Miller had to say about Tripp toward the end of December:

It's fun to imagine how dominant Jordan Tripp could have been at a major program or even at Montana if used better. A fluid, impressive athlete in space, Tripp was never unleashed on the offense. His numbers may not be special, but his upside is.

Tripp is an attacking player off the edge, and I see a future NFL starter in his range, instincts and three-down ability as a linebacker.

Tripp has the speed and athleticism to impress scouts in Indianapolis. While he's not going to become a first-round prospect overnight, he could jump into the second or third round.


Ahmad Dixon, SS, Baylor

Nov 16, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Baylor Bears safety Ahmad Dixon (6) reacts to the sidelines during the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Ahmad Dixon is one of the more volatile defensive secondary prospects in the 2014 draft class to project. He could sneak into the late first round just as easily as he could fall to the third or even fourth round.

The more teams and scouts look at his game film, the more they'll likely find to hate. Dixon has a little trouble reading the game, and he can be too reliant on his physical tools at times to help him get out of jams.

On the other hand, Dixon is such a great athlete that he's bound to make waves at the combine. He's got the speed to cover the entire secondary, and he can change directions quickly, which helps him make up ground quickly.

Don't be surprised to see Dixon given a late first-round grade or early second in the days after the combine. It's during the time between February and May that his stock could plummet.