2016 NFL Scouting Combine: Defensive Prospects Who Will Shine in Workouts

Ryan McCrystalFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2016

2016 NFL Scouting Combine: Defensive Prospects Who Will Shine in Workouts

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    The 2016 NFL Scouting Combine is well underway for the offensive prospects, who made up the first two groups to arrive in Indianapolis. 

    The defensive prospects have been split into the third and fourth groups, arriving in Indy on Thursday and Friday, respectively. NFLcombine.net has the full schedule of events for the week. 

    With the two defensive groups preparing to take the field for workouts beginning Sunday, here's a breakdown of some of the prospects who are expected to excel. 

    These are the prospects most likely to generate some serious buzz for their performances in Indianapolis, potentially boosting their stock with strong numbers in certain events. 

    However, it's important not to count their strengths twice. When evaluating these prospects, remember which traits they showed on the field, and don't overinflate their draft stock simply because they showed those same skills in workout clothes in Indy.

Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky Colonels

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    The 2016 draft class is lacking elite pass-rushers, especially ones who can win with pure speed off the edge. 

    Noah Spence is one of the few prospects in this class who can consistently use his explosive athleticism to fly into the backfield, which was one of the major reasons why he emerged as one of the stars of the Senior Bowl. 

    Spence will be surrounded by more talent at his position in Indianapolis due to the inclusion of juniors such as Ohio State's Joey Bosa and Clemson's Shaq Lawson. But Spence should still stand out as the premier athlete in the group. 

    If Spence hadn't already solidified himself as a top-10 prospect, he should be able to do so with a well-rounded performance in the workouts in Indy. 

Miles Killebrew, Southern Utah Thunderbirds

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    To keep up with the evolution of the spread offense in the NFL, teams have been adjusting their defenses to include more smaller, faster linebackers.

    The Arizona Cardinals took that adjustment to the next level in 2015 by shifting former safety Deone Bucannon to what they have termed the "moneybacker" position. Since the NFL is a copycat league, Arizona's success will likely lead a handful of teams to explore the use of a similar position in their schemes in the near future. 

    Southern Utah's Miles Killebrew has an excellent chance to put himself atop the list of hybrid safety/linebacker prospects in this class with a strong performance at the combine. 

    Killebrew has a blend of strength and athleticism that is tough to find on the defensive side of the ball. With a well-rounded performance in Indy, Killebrew should solidify himself as a Day 2 prospect. 

Rashard Robinson, LSU Tigers

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    Some NFL team is going to land an elite talent on the third day of the draft in former LSU cornerback Rashard Robinson. 

    After multiple violations of team rules, LSU head coach Les Miles suspended Robinson indefinitely during the 2014 season, and Robinson failed to take the necessary steps to get reinstated. As a result, he's an extremely talented prospect who hasn't set foot on the field in nearly two years. 

    The NFL combine will, most importantly, serve as an opportunity for Robinson to answer questions from teams about his past. However, it will also give him a chance to remind scouts just how much raw talent he has as a cornerback. 

    At 6'1", Robinson has impressive height for the position and blazing speed to go with it. 

    Expect Robinson to generate some headlines as one of the fastest defensive prospects in Indianapolis. 

Jihad Ward, Illinois Fighting Illini

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    Jihad Ward gave fans a taste of what's to come at the combine when he shared a video of himself throwing down a reverse dunk on Instagram. 

    The dunk is an impressive athletic feat for anyone, but especially for a defensive lineman who tips the scales at 300 pounds.

    It's been a strong offseason for Ward, who also generated some buzz with an impressive week at the Senior Bowl. He's a developmental prospect who is still raw on the field, but the flashes of athleticism he's shown give him a high ceiling. 

    Ward appears to have the athletic traits necessary to shine in most combine events and should rank among the top defensive tackles in Indianapolis. 

Darron Lee, Ohio State Buckeyes

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    As good as Darron Lee was during his two years at Ohio State, he may only be scratching the surface of his NFL potential. 

    Lee was a 195-pound high school cornerback in 2012, and he was starting at outside linebacker for the Buckeyes in the national championship game just two years later. 

    With relatively limited experience at his position and elite athletic traits, there's obviously room for Lee to grow at the next level. 

    There's not much Lee can do to boost his stock in Indianapolis—NFL scouts are already well aware of his elite tools—but his workouts will still be fun for fans to watch, and imagine what he'll be capable of in the pros. 

Xavien Howard, Baylor Bears

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    A year ago, Byron Jones exploded onto the NFL draft scene with a dominant performance at the combine. This year, that prospect could be Baylor cornerback Xavien Howard. 

    Part of the intrigue with Jones was the fact that he had the size (6'1", 199 pounds) to match the athleticism. Howard will likely weigh in with a similar physical profile as Jones and hopefully posts comparable numbers in the workouts. 

    Howard appears to have the explosive athleticism which will allow him to excel in more than just the 40-yard dash. 

    With strong numbers in the vertical leap and broad jump to go with his obvious speed, Howard could emerge as a first-round prospect. 

Artie Burns, Miami Hurricanes

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    Artie Burns is not as well-rounded of a prospect as some of the other names on this list, but his speed will be enough to get him noticed in Indy. 

    Burns was a two-sport star at Miami, also competing in track, which gives him an obvious advantage in the 40-yard dash. 

    As a cornerback, Burns also demonstrated strong hands, hauling in six interceptions in 2015. 

    His raw speed and his track experience make him a candidate to turn in the fastest time at the combine. 

    Obviously scouts won't be surprised by Burns' speed, so it won't give a significant boost to his stock. But it never hurts to generate some headlines by posting an eye-popping number in the event. 

Jalen Ramsey, Florida State Seminoles

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    Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey won't be the fastest at his position, and he probably won't be the strongest, either. But he'll have a chance to impress scouts with one of the most well-rounded workouts in Indianapolis. 

    Having played both safety and cornerback at a high level at Florida State, Ramsey showed off the smooth athleticism that allows him to play so many different roles in the defense. 

    Unlike some athletes who generate ridiculous numbers in one event but fall off in others, Ramsey appears to have the type of athleticism that will allow him to excel in every event. 

    With a strong performance in the workouts, Ramsey will continue to keep his options open as both a cornerback and a safety in the NFL.