2016 NFL Combine Recap: Defensive Prospects

Story posted March 2, 2016 in Sports, CommRadio, NFL Draft by Sports Staff

DEFENSIVE LINE

The defensive linemen in the 2016 NFL Combine were a little disappointing this year with no spectacular stats or broken records to talk about. Nobody made a name for themselves, and nobody made too many mistakes either. For the highest rated players heading into the draft, like Ohio State’s Joey Bosa and Oregon’s DeForest Buckner, It doesn’t matter too much. There were also a few standouts in the lower ranked players as well.

 

Joey Bosa, Ohio State

Bosa, who has been named the first pick on many fantasy drafts, had a forgettable day at the combine. At 6’5” and 269 pounds, his 4.86 dash time wasn’t impressive, though he did make up for it with a quick 6.89 3-cone drill. For defensive linemen the 3-cone drill is much more important than their ability to run 40 yards, so his draft stock isn’t harmed and with the highlight reel he has built up, he shouldn’t lose any sleep at night.

Deforest Buckner, Oregon

Buckner, who is also one of the players expected to go early in the first round with Bosa, had an equally average combine day. Weighing in at 291lbs and 6’7” tall, his 5.05 40 time and 7.51 3-cone time were nothing to write home about. His results don’t change the fact that he is still an NFL ready player, and whichever team drafts him won’t worry about it.

He did make news during the combine for his humongous 11 ¾ inch hands, tying a combine record. Large hands can help linemen in so many ways, only adding to the list of reasons NFL offenses won’t want to face him.

Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky

Spence, who is expected to be the top edge-rusher in the draft, also had a poor 40-yard dash time. With his 4.80 time, he isn’t the Khalil Mack or Von Miller teams were hoping for. This doesn’t ruin his draft stock though, as he could still be the best edge-rusher to join the NFL this year. He has amazing endurance and plays hard consistently, destroying his competition with 11.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss and 63 tackles in 11 games.

The biggest problem with Spence is that he has some serious off-field issues. His drug addiction ended up causing him to be booted from the Ohio State football team and banned for life from the Big Ten, leading to his transfer to Eastern Kentucky.

Chris Mayes, Georgia

Mayes proved himself to be the strongest defensive lineman in the 2016 Draft with his 33 bench press reps. The strongest linemen have an easier time trying to pancake their blocker, getting to the QB or get a hand on a running back trying to get through.

Mayes’ other Combine results aren’t too impressive, and at 338 pounds, that’s not surprising. Despite his strength, he isn’t expected to be drafted, as players in the NFL need to be more than strong to succeed.

Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State

If there was one lineman who took full advantage of his NFL Combine day, it was Emmanuel Ogbah. He ran his 40-yard dash in 4.63 seconds, flew for an almost three foot vertical and launched himself to a 10’1” broad jump, certainly impressive for his 273 pound build. Each one of those results were the top performance amongst defensive linemen.

Ogbah is rated highly in the list of DEs going into the draft and is expected to be drafted somewhere in the late first or early second round.

Carl Nassib, Penn State

Nassib, the Cinderella story out of Penn State, had a very average workout, with his 4.84 40 time and 21 bench press reps being his highlights of the combine. The fact that he was at the combine at all is the impressive part for his former coaches.

Back in high school, Nassib never started a game, being just a tall and skinny kid. He still didn’t start through college until the 2015 season, where he capitalized on the chance he was given. He set Penn State’s single-season sacks record with 15.5, won conference player of the year over top-rated Joey Bosa, won Lombardi and Hendricks awards for best lineman/linebacker/defensive end, and eared All-America honors. He is now predicted to be drafted in the second or third round.

 

LINEBACKERS

As the best of the brawn and the brutes took the field on the third day of the NFL Combine, draft hopefuls took off their pads and let their athleticism do the talking. A stellar group of linebacker prospects set out to leave a lasting impression on all scouts in attendance in order to prove why they deserve to have their name called in Chicago as April fades into May.

Some stepped up to the occasion while others fell short and will need to make up for it at their Pro Day. Here is how this year’s group of linebackers looks following the NFL Combine:

 

Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame

The Irishman lead his team last season with 113 total tackles and nine tackles for loss, which put him towards the top of draft boards heading into his team’s bowl game against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, but that is where things went downhill. In that game he tore his ACL and MCL in his left knee, leaving him incapable to perform for NFL teams during the offseason at events like his pro day or the Combine. 

While he sat on the sidelines for Sunday’s events, he still sits at the top of the list of this year’s linebacker prospects. He has everything a pro team looks for in a guy coming into the league: good size, speed and athleticism. His ability to play as a hybrid is very attractive to the eyes of scouts, but the whole injury thing sticks out like a sore thumb, or knee in his case, when it comes to marketability. NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread reported that no fewer than five NFL squads have major concerns about Smith’s medical exams taken at the Combine, which may scare some clubs come draft day. Teams will continue to keep a good eye on his health progress, especially if they expect to use a top five or ten pick on him.

Myles Jack, UCLA

Another member of the did-not-fully-compete-at-the-Combine club, Jack has been nursing a torn lateral meniscus since the Bruins’ third game of the year. While he may not have been able to show his talents in front of those in attendance for the athletic festivities, Jack’s game-film speaks for itself. Incredibly versatile player earned not only the Pac-12 Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013, but he also took home the same award on the offensive side of the ball through his playas a running back. He eventually converted over to a pure defender but remains an uber-athletic prospect that carries with him 245 pounds of force.

Unfortunately, the injury issue may be one of concern to scouts, for he was not fully cleared for the scouting Combine. He still was able to do interviews and be checked out medically, but he was only able to do the bench press in actual competition. There he cranked out an average 19 reps, finishing 13th of all linebackers. Scouts also have some concern in his build, arguing he remains built like a running back and could use a little more length. Regardless, he has drawn comparisons to former perennial pro bowler and Penn State standout NaVarro Bowman, and even has been called the best player in the draft according to one scout, according to Goodbread.

Reggie Ragland, Alabama

As one of the leaders of the defending national champions, Ragland was a big-bodied anchor that helped stuff the box for the Alabama defense against the run. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year was the highest-rated linebacker prospect to actually compete in Indianapolis on Sunday, and Ragland did not disappoint. The big boy shed 12 pounds since the Senior Bowl and ran a 4.72 40-yard time, which is not especially spectacular, but coupling that with his 247-pound frame proves he will not be outrun by the opposition he will be paid to bring down. Ragland also had a solid 20-yard shuttle at 4.28 seconds which was good for sixth among his position. 

Other than his speed, scouts look at his inability to remain consistent on downhill play as a flaw in his game. He has been known to sometimes misread a runner’s speed or angle and can at times get locked up on blocks that he chooses to take on. While Ragland could not prove those intangibles to NFL teams in his workout, he still left an impression that put some doubts to rest.

Darron Lee, Ohio State

Of all the linebackers, Darron Lee had the most dazzling performance of the day when he blazed by his competition in the 40-yard dash. Lee clocked in at an official time of 4.43 seconds, eclipsing every linebacker since New Mexico’s Quincy Black in 2007 when the Lobo ran a 4.42. This is especially eye-popping since it ties him for ninth among all defenders at the combine and it shows he will have the speed to meet running backs on the edge or even cover receivers in the slot. The average receiver 40-time at the combine was well below Lee’s at a dismal 4.56 seconds. 

There is a tradeoff for his speed, however, as his biggest fault is his smallish size. At 6-foot-1, 232 pounds, NFL.com says he “Has the body type of a big safety” and that his tape shows a lack of the overpowering strength that is a necessity at the position. Despite this, FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman says one NFL scout thinks Lee can be the best NFL player among the 14 Buckeyes entering the draft this year. 

Deion Jones, LSU

Another speedster at the Combine, Jones showed off his best wheels with a 4.59 40-time. His speed is easily the Tiger’s greatest asset as he plays like a getaway car looking to wreck anything in its path. In the drills Jones continued to dazzle, showing off his fluidity with smooth shuffling and a 1.6 second 10-yard split. He will be able to use his abilities to find defenders to wrap up as well as covering short-mid distance receiving routes. 

Jones’ biggest knock happens to be his size. At just 6-foot-1 and 222 pounds he will come into the NFL undersized at his position and will have to find a way to use his hands to shed off of big blockers that move up to the second level. He also comes into the league with only one year of starting experience in Baton Rouge, which could concern some NFL teams with high values in leadership. Even with the small concern, he should be able to tween his way successfully into an inside or outside linebacker position at the next level and can possibly get good experience with special teams early on with squads as he develops. 

 

DEFENSIVE BACKS

The defensive backs in this 2016 NFL Draft class have an abundance of speed. Monday’s performances did nothing but prove that their class has the ability to fly all over the football field.

Here are some prospects that increased and decreased their draft stock on Monday:

 

Jalen Ramsey, Florida State

This is the guy everyone wanted to see perform and he lived up to expectations. Ramsey posted gaudy combine numbers to go along with this impressive game tape.

He was the top performer amongst defensive backs in both the vertical jump (41.5 inches) and the broad jump (135.0 inches) to along with a 4.4 second 40-yard dash.

Teams were already drooling over the prospect of taking him and after this combine, Ramsey did nothing but vault himself even higher into the first round where he could potentially be taken in the top 5.

Eli Apple, Ohio State

Apple is a guy that could be a steal in this draft. He has the body frame to compete with physical receivers and also ran a 4.4 second 40-yard dash at the combine.

He was a prominent player in Ohio State’s championship run in 2014-2015 and even though his numbers dipped this season, he showed scouts and coaches his ability to be a lockdown corner.

Apple could be a second- or third-round guy that finds immediate playing time covering the slot receiver.

Vernon Hargreaves, Florida

Hargreaves is considered the second-best defensive back prospect in this draft class. Considered more of a “true cover corner” than Ramsey who can play every position in the secondary.

While Hargreaves combine didn’t blow anybody away, it certainly backed up what everyone sees on the tape. With a 4.5 40-yard dash, 39.0 inch vertical and 130.0-inch broad jump, he confirms that he’s a quick twitch athlete with explosion.

Hargreaves, who’s expected to be drafted in the first round, didn’t do anything to help his stock, but certainly didn’t hurt it as teams can use these numbers to confirm their pre-combine thoughts.

Vonn Bell, Ohio State

Bell is another player who won a title with the Buckeyes in the 2014-2015 season and saw his statistics drop the next year. 

Bell, a safety prospect, hurt his draft stock this week by not running the 40-yard dash. The main concern scouts have with him is lack of speed, so not participating this week hurts him. Scouts are also put off by his lack of size and say he can’t play down on the line of scrimmage only in coverage.

Bell will have to perform well on his Pro Day to prove he’s worth a high draft pick, but will probably end up in the second or third round.

Mackensie Alexander, Clemson

Alexander is in the argument for “next best corner” with Hargreaves after Jalen Ramsey. Alexander, an extremely gifted cornerback, is an intense competitor who is a great in man coverage. 

Not running at the combine due to a hamstring injury hurts his stock just a little bit because there are no numbers to back up what scouts and teams see on tape. However, this shouldn’t hurt him too much since he’s an exceptional talent (probably round 1 guy) and there’s still his Pro Day coming up.

Darian Thompson, Boise State

Thompson is definitely one of the most interesting prospects in this defensive back’s class because he looks like an NFL player and his college numbers are great (19 interceptions), but his tape his raw and scares many scouts.

The safety prospect posted average numbers at the combine; 4.7 40-yard dash, 32.5 inch vertical and 118.0 inch broad jump. Even though his coverage skills are undisciplined on tape, he shows that he’s a willing tackler and takes on blocks from pulling lineman willingly.

Cyrus Jones, Alabama

The Alabama prospect switched positions from wide receiver to cornerback his sophomore year and the transition went fairly smoothly. 

His height (5’9”) and lack of speed (4.5 40-yard dash) are the biggest concerns regarding his physical attributes, but teams have the ability to use him as a return man (4 TD returns.) He also plays with some edge and is well liked in the locker room.

Jones will probably be used to cover the slot receiver, but he will be most effective in a team’s return game

 

The follwing recaps were written by Tommy Buttler (defensive lineman), Ryan Berti (linebackers) and Brad Wakai (defensive backs).