NFL Draft 2012: 7 Defensive Players to Keep an Eye on in 2011

Andrew ReichardtCorrespondent IJuly 6, 2011

NFL Draft 2012: 7 Defensive Players to Keep an Eye on in 2011

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    SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 18: Quarterback Taylor Martinez #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers is tackled by Alameda Ta'amu #74 of the Washington Huskies on September 18, 2010 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    With the lockout nearing its end, most eyes turn towards the abbreviated free agency period and training camps that will occur later this summer. That said, college players have been grinding it out all summer on their respective college campuses, preparing for the upcoming football season. 

    For these ten players, a lot more than just the fate of their teams and personal college glory is on the line. With millions of dollars at stake next year, each of these players needs to remove any doubts that NFL scouts may have about them, and prove that they deserve a spot in the first 32 picks next April. 

Quentin Coples, DE, UNC

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    CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 11:  Quinton Coples #90 and Tydreke Powell #91 of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates after sacking Jimmy Clauson #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Kenan Stadium October 11, 2008 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo b
    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Most likely the most well known name in this list, Quinton Coples is an absolutely dominant physical force. 6'6" and 272 pounds, Coples boasts Lawrence Taylor like speed. Tallying 15.5 Tackles for loss and 10 sacks, Coples was both dominant and versatile. Due to last year's NCAA sanctions as UNC, Coples was forced to rotate all around the defensive line. It certainly didn't slow him down.

    Look for him to have a monster year. The only things that could knock him out of the top 10 next spring is either a catastrophic injury or an incredibly lackluster fall. Knock on wood Tar Heel fans.

    Estimated pick: #2-#5 overall.  

Donte Paige-Moss, OLB/DE, UNC

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    ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 04:  Quarterback Jordan Jefferson #9 of the LSU Tigers against Donte Paige-Moss #98 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Georgia Dome on September 4, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/G
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    It is pretty absurd to realize that the Tar Heels enter the 2011 season with two projected two 10 draft picks up front on their defensive line. Rather undersized for a 4-3 Defensive End at "only" 6'4" and 242 pounds, Paige-Moss projects as a 3-4 rush linebacker. With impressive speed and agility, moss has the athleticism necessary to exploit mismatches against slower, less athletic tight ends and offensive tackles. 

    For Paige-Moss, the primary factor that will determine his draft stock is whether he is able to add at least ten pounds of muscle while maintaining his impressive speed. If he does, look for him to shoot up to the very top of most draft boards. 

    Estimated pick: #6-#15 

Zach Brown, OLB, UNC

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    courtesy: goasu.comElsa/Getty Images

    As a Duke fan, it is pretty terrifying to realize just how stacked UNC's front seven will be next season. Three first round picks on one side of the ball has never been done by any college as far as I know. 

    Ignoring the obvious ruin of Duke football's dignity at the hands of these three next year, it is important to note just what makes Zach Brown a possible first round pick. He's rather undersized, at 6'2" and only 225 pounds. But what makes him so special is his absolutely blazing speed. 

    When Quan Sturdivant went down with an injury last season, Brown showed up, tallying an impressive 72 tackles and three interceptions last season. He has great playmaker ability and the ability to provide great run stopping help as well as drop into coverage effectively. 

    Estimated Pick: #15-25

Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State

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    After last season's great 11-1 regular season, look for the Spartans to be in the thick of the Big Ten race again this year. One big reason? Jerel Worthy. An prototypical Defensive tackle at 6'3 and 305 pounds, Worthy has impressive lower body strength and is able to occupy multiple offensive linemen, while also boasting explosive penetrating ability a la Nick Fairley. 

    Look for Worthy to have a monster year in 2011. Literally the only things that could drop him out of the first round are severe legal/disciplinary issues or an injury. 

    Estimated Pick: #3-#10. 

Alameda Ta'amu, NT, Washington

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    What does a scout look for in a NFL grade nose tackle? A massive lower body, ability to maintain balance and use lower body strength to provide leverage/"punch," incredibly long arms to snatch and grab at passing running backs as well as to envelop multiple offensive lineman. 

    Although Ta'amu lacks the general athleticism of 2011's top nose tackle Phil Taylor or Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji, he is reminiscent of Ma'ake Kemoeatu. He is not going to beat you with any sort of burst, but he will hold his ground against offensive lineman and open rushing lanes for his linebackers. 

    At best considered a borderline first round pick right now, scouts will be on the lookout all season to see if Ta'amu has the motor and drive to be an NFL-caliber starter. However, given the rarity of quality nose tackles, a team will most likely take a chance on him in next year's draft. 

    Estimated pick: #25-32.  

Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

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    As of right now, Kirkpatrick is considered the top defensive back in the 2012 draft. He is certainly an unusual prospect. At 6'3", Kirkpatrick is far taller than the average cornerback. Despite his height, Kirkpatrick boasts impressive quickness and agility. 

    With Alabama's team looking locked and loaded for next year, Kirkpatrick will have plenty of time in the limelight next year. If he is as impressive this season as he was in 2010, look for him to go really early in next year's draft. 

    Estimated Pick: #4-#12. 

Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State

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    At 6'3" and 250 pounds, Jenkins certainly has room to add at least another 15 pounds of muscle. Right now he is somewhat one dimensional as a pass rushing specialist without the size and strength necessary to dominated offensive line and stuff the run. With pass rushers always at a premium, perhaps that is not such a bad thing. 

    A monster year could put him in the top 5, a mediocre season should keep him in the first round. If UNC and Florida State were to reach next season's ACC title game, keep an eye on Coples and Jenkins. The one who dominates more may just push themselves to the very top of the draft. 

    Estimated pick: #5-#25. 

    (A large range, but he has that much untapped upside.) 

In Conclusion...

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    With talks between the NFLPA and the NFL generating hope for an agreement relatively soon, let's go ahead and get ready to enjoy the 2011 NFL season. But while you're at it, tune in to some college games during the week. Who know's if one of these guys will be dominating in the NFL for your team in a few years. 

    Tune in next week when I'll deliver my 7 offensive players to watch for next year's draft.