With the offense done now with the Combine, it’s time to take a look at the defensive side of the ball, and today especially at the front seven.
This day is most notably for seeing which defensive ends can make the transition because of their athleticism to play a 3-4 outside linebacker in the pros.
Also, today we can find out which linebackers can drop back in coverage and be complete linebackers and not just first and second down guys, which could be the difference between first round money and third round money.
Keep an eye on the cone and shuttle drills, as these are the best indicators for quickness for a defensive lineman.
Alex Carrington, DE, Arkansas State
In my mind the biggest Senior Bowl winner, the Sun Belt defensive end has a shot to rise up boards even further.
Carrington has the size to be either a 4-3 power end or a 3-4 defensive end, and can really take on blockers well and disrupt the play from his end position.
After showing it on the field at the Senior Bowl, he’ll have to show that he has the athletic ability to translate that to the NFL. He should run in the 4.85 area in the 40, but he needs to excel in the jumps and the shuttles above his defensive end teammates if he hopes to be a solid second round pick.
Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech
Considered by most as the best defensive end in this class, believe he could fit as a base defensive end in a 4-3 front or a pass rusher in a few 3-4 defenses. If he hopes to keep that versatility open, he’ll need to show how athletic he really is.
I’m expecting a 4.75 for his 40 time and a great showing in the shuttles for a guy his size (6’4", 275). However, I also think he needs to put up some solid bench press numbers as well, as he’ll need to show he can shake off bigger offensive tackles.
If he can have an above average—dominating not necessary—combine showing, I highly doubt he falls past 13 to the 49ers and could go as high as five to the Chiefs.
Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama
He could be the biggest question of this draft because teams will have to decide how much of an issue his 365 weight will be at the pro level.
At the Senior Bowl, he played at times out of shape and lackluster in drills. However, when you turn on the film, you can’t help but notice the two or sometimes three blockers in the middle of the line needing to absorb the force of Cody.
I believe he’s a first round talent based on the film, but teams will understandably be cautious when taking an overweight prospect. If he can show that he can play every snap at his weight by running a sub 5.40 40 time, running some respectable shuttle times, and move well in drills, he could re-emerge as the top pure nose tackle in this draft class.
Sergio Kindle, OLB/DE, Texas
Although he played defensive end at Texas most of the season this year, I feel that Kindle could be the safest defensive end-to-linebacker transition player in this draft.
He moves well in space and has shown ability to drop back and dissect the play from his end spot. Kindle plays with good leverage and balance and could be a consistent pass rush threat off the edge.
I expect him to be one of the better athletes on this day and prove why he’s the best outside linebacker for a 3-4 defense in this draft. I’ll wait until I see his athleticism to call him a first round lock, but if he performs well, he could go as high as 13.
Austen Lane, DE/OLB, Murray State
Arguably the top senior defensive player, Lane has been shooting up boards since his Senior Bowl showing and has the size teams covet for that pass rushing end/linebacker off the edge.
He should excel in the speed and movement drills, especially the cone drills and the shuttles. His 40 time should be around a 4.70 region, very good for a defensive end.
He may need to show to scouts that he has the power and size to handle bigger blockers as well as the coordination and versatility to play in both a 4-3 and 3-4. If he does perform well in his workouts, I look for him to be a solid second round pick.
Carlos Dunlap, OLB/DE, Florida
While interviews may be the biggest and most important part of Dunlap’s combine visit, teams will still definitely want to see how this next great Gator athlete can transform into an outside linebacker.
Following in the footsteps of former first round pass rushers Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey, both of which are either out of the league or are struggling to be a solid starter.
Dunlap will need to show good athletic ability to make the smooth transition to linebacker, which is key for a player like him. But, to prove he’s not another Gator struggler in the pros, he’ll need to show good strength as well if he hopes to be a successful starter.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, South Florida
From a Combine perspective, Pierre-Paul is already a winner. The 6’6", 265lb. monster at defensive end never really showed up on film as a dominating pass rusher.
However, at the Combine, he’ll make scouts think Julius Peppers plus. Reports are that he could run in the mid 4.7s, run an outstanding shuttle, have a 38+ vertical, and move well in all the drills.
If that does happen, I think he won’t get past pick 16 to the Titans and could go to “Al’s Athletes” in Oakland. Both teams value athletic ability and quickness over production. The Titans have taken Combine studs like Chris Johnson, Chris Henry, and Michael Griffin, while the Raiders have taken guys like Darius Heyward-Bey.
Darryl Washington, LB, TCU
Playing in arguably the most consistent defense in college football, Washington may be the most NFL ready and NFL talented linebacker to come out of TCU.
He has the football IQ and versatility to play in a 3-4 as an inside ‘backer or a 4-3 at weak and middle linebacker. He moves well side-to-side and has shown the ability to roam the field and always seems to be around the ball.
If he can display some athletic ability and the pass coverage skills needed to be an effective 4-3 linebacker, I could see him fly up boards. Now viewed as a third round pick, he could shoot up to as high as the Top 40 if teams feel he could be a starter early on.
Navorro Bowman, OLB, Penn State
One of my favorite players in this draft, I’m shocked to see that he doesn’t get a first round grade from some people.
He flies to the ball, he can deliver a great hit, and can drop back in coverage. He isn’t a great blitzer, but wasn’t asked to do it much once Sean Lee went down with injuries.
He reminds me of Lance Briggs, and he’ll need to show that ability to drop in coverage at the combine. I’m not so much worried about his speed and shuttles as I am for how he moves his hips and makes a play on the ball in coverage drills.
If he can show that he’s able to drop back and play tight ends and play in a zone, I think he’ll be the clear cut top outside linebacker in this class and should go in the first round.
Eric Norwood, OLB, South Carolina
It’s not too often anymore that we see a college linebacker with the ability to play in a 3-4 scheme on the outside as a pass rusher.
But, Norwood’s dominance as a blitzer in college may have teams intrigued to see if his versatility is worthy of a first round pick.
He isn’t great in coverage for a linebacker, but should do decent in those drills and likely won’t hurt himself there. I’m more concerned with his overall athletic ability in the 40 and the cone drills, as if he can hold his own with the Carlos Dunlap-s of the Combine, he should be a first round pick for a hybrid defense team like the Saints.
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