NFL Combine 2014: Defensive Prospects to Watch During Event's Final Days

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2014

Brigham Young linebacker Kyle Van Noy (3) high fives Brigham Young fans as he walks off the field following their NCAA college football game against Middle Tennessee Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, in Provo, in Utah. Brigham Young  defeated Middle Tennessee 37-10.  (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

The offensive stars have already shone at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Now it's up to the defense.

The spotlight is bound to shine brightest on guys like Jadeveon Clowney, Anthony Barr, Khalil Mack and Kony Ealy. They're among the best at their positions and could all be selected in the top 10.

There isn't any intrigue there. You know they're all going to do well.

More fun comes from watching guys a little down the pecking order trying to improve their draft stock. They know that a strong showing on the bench or fast 40 time could result in moving up a couple of picks or even a round or two come May.

Although most of these guys are fringe first-round prospects, the scouting combine is a chance to move a little bit and go from the 25-30 range to the 15-20s.


Dee Ford, DE Auburn

Here's the headline for the same story you see every year at the combine: Player X says he's better than Player Y. As Bleacher Report's Matt Miller tweeted, this isn't newsworthy:

With that said, you have to applaud Dee Ford's brashness in going right after somebody whom many scouts will tell you is the best player in this draft. Ford has seen a lot of Jadeveon Clowney in college, and as a result, he is confident in calling himself the best defensive end in the draft anyway, telling SiriusXM radio, per

I'm better [than Clowney]. Let's put it like this. People like to talk about size all the time. Size is pretty much overrated in my eyes.

You can look at guys like Robert Mathis, Elvis Dumervil, Von Miller. These are 6-2 guys and under. People are just looking at the fact that [Clowney] is a physical specimen. Honestly if you watch the film, he plays like a blind dog in a meat market basically.

Although Ford won't be able to demonstrate his believed advantage over Clowney at the combine, it will be interesting to see how well he performs. He can't say something like that and then lay an egg.


Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU

The knock on Kyle Van Noy is that he lacks elite athleticism. He can't change directions too well and doesn't explode toward the line of scrimmage.

His performance at the combine could reinforce that fact. In the event Van Noy runs a subpar 40-yard dash, and his shuttle run is poor, scouts will come to the conclusion that he's a solid linebacker—just not the kind you take early in the draft.

On the other hand, Van Noy could blow scouts away. He won't be the fastest linebacker on the day. If he can post a high 4.6 or low 4.7, though, his stock will take a nice bump.


Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

Darqueze Dennard is the top cornerback on many experts' draft boards. That doesn't mean that there isn't room for somebody like Jason Verrett to sneak into the middle of the first round or even be the first corner taken.

Miller had this to write about Verrett in his top 10 CBs slideshow:

The Horned Frogs' best defender stands out on film as a playmaking stud in the secondary. He's able to take away top wide receivers of various sizes and speeds with excellent short-area quickness and top-flight instincts. He has the hands to get to the football, too.

Teams may worry about his smaller stature (5'10'', 176 lbs) and that he may be too aggressive, but others will fall in love with his all-out effort and intensity.

With a strong showing at the combine, Verrett could allay scouts' fears that he's too small by simply outworking and outperforming every other CB prospect in Indianapolis.

Being 5'10" isn't an ideal height, but it doesn't preclude somebody from becoming a lockdown corner. Ty Law and Darrelle Revis were both 5'11", so you can't say that one inch makes a massive difference.


Ahmad Dixon, SS, Baylor

One of the biggest problems with Ahmad Dixon is that he doesn't read the game well. Sometimes he'll drift a bit and let receivers get behind him. He also runs into trouble with read-options and play-action passes.

The combine won't help solve any of those issues, but it will accentuate what are Dixon's best assets. The former Baylor star is very quick and agile. He should shine in the shuttle drills and 40-yard dash. Scouts will likely be raving about Dixon.

As the draft gets closer, you'll hear more about how raw Dixon is and how much he struggled in coverage.

With a strong showing at the combine, though, he should ensure himself a good draft position, because a team will see his potential and think it can mold him into something special.