1. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina, 6’6 275
2. Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina, 6’2 272
3. Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska, 6’4 285
4. Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois, 6’3 265
5. Nick Perry, DE, Southern California, 6’3 250
Overall: This is a very solid group of prospects from top to bottom. The concern is deciding how many of these players will have to transition from defensive end to linebacker in the NFL. I tried to rank each player based on the position I evaluated on film, but many of these prospects are hybrid capable players with the measurables to change position based on NFL specific responsibilities.
Boom or Bust: Quinton Coples. With Coples’ size and movement skills he clearly looks the part of an NFL cornerstone defensive end. However his effort was never consistent the past two seasons and it became apparent that his motor was off/on. Teams will have to decide if he’s the next Mario Williams or Derrick Harvey.
Highest Upside: Andre Branch. I see Branch as a very good option to make the transition to rush linebacker in the NFL. He’s still unpolished from a fundamental standpoint and needs to refine his technique and functional strength. He plays with smooth movement for a 6’4, 260 pound man. He’s agile with light feet, and shows good closing speed on the ball; leaves Clemson with 16.5 sacks the last two years.
Sleeper: Jake Bequette. A three-year starter at the University of Arkansas and team captain, Bequette doesn’t have an elite trait but does everything pretty well. He’s disciplined and strong enough to contain the edge in run support, shows adequate quickness off the ball, and works hard to be productive; a coachable player with room to improve.
Class Grade: B+
1. Devon Still, DT, Penn State, 6’5 310
2. Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis, 6’3 350
3. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State, 6’3 305
4. Michael Brockers, DT, Louisiana State, 6’6 306
5. Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State, 6’4 295
Overall: This may be the best group among this draft class. There are top tier prospects that should be available early in the second round, and plenty of talent available into the middle rounds that have the size, length, and potential to develop into NFL contributors; a versatile crowd that offers value at any technique in multiple defensive fronts.
Boom or Bust: Devon Still. Playing in a Penn State uniform, it’s hard not to see the similarities between Devon Still and former first round pick Jimmy Kennedy. Both show excellent strength at the point of attack and flash very good initial quickness to drive the pocket. On the downside both give you as many lazy plays as they do motor plays. If Still can keep his motivation and conditioning, he’ll be a staple for the team that drafts him.
Highest Upside: Michael Brockers. Brockers could be the best defensive lineman in the NFL at some point. His natural talent is off the charts at 6’6 306- a young Richard Seymour. He’s still a bit raw in his technique and isn’t always consistent. But he has plenty of room to be coached up and has a very high ceiling.
Sleeper: Dominique Hamilton. Hamilton stands at 6’5, 320 and bends well for his size. He has good measureables, locates the ball and pursues it aggressively; a strong run defender with the strength and technique to hold two gaps inside or play the base in a 3-4 front. His limited quickness and overall movement skills should make him available late.
Class Grade: A
1. Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College, 6’3 237
2. Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama, 6’4 260
3. Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State, 6’3 250
4. Audie Cole, ILB, North Carolina State, 6’4 248
5. Mychal Kendricks, ILB, California, 5’11 240
Overall: Coming into the 2011 season the inside linebacker position looked like it may be one of the top classes in terms of first round talent and middle round value. Unfortunately many prospects didn’t develop as expected, and a few even regressed throughout the year. The top of the class has three potential Pro Bowl level prospects, but after that the talent level falls into middle round value with players that will need developmental time.
Boom or Bust: Vontaze Burfict.
At his best, Burfict is a dominant talent across the board. His skill set shows versatility in any scheme. He’s fast to the football, flashes elite initial quickness, reliable in zone and man coverage, and shows excellent power on contact. The concern is his lack of discipline on and off the field. He was an “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalty machine at Arizona State. And he’s clearly a dirty player on film, often playing after the whistle and using unnecessary tactics on the opponent. He should explode in the NFL one way or the other.
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