SEC's DLs, LBs strong at combine
February, 21, 2013
By Michael DiRocco | ESPN.com
Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites will look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins Friday in Indianapolis, and other predraft camps. Today: Defensive linemen and linebackers.
Alabama's front seven was rock solid and had a distinctive rock-n-roll flair in nose guard Jesse Williams. Though the Crimson Tide defense lacked a true superstar, Williams' Mohawk haircut, countless tattoos and colorful face paint made the unit stand out.
- DT Jesse Williams (Position rank: No. 8)
Strengths: Like his counterpart on the middle of the Alabama offensive line, Barrett Jones, Williams is nothing if not versatile. He played both defensive end and nose guard at UA and possesses the type of strength and quickness that would allow him to do the same at the next level.
Weaknesses: While Williams is above average in defending the run and the pass, he's not superb at either. His production at Alabama was less than ideal, which can be attributed to the scheme on defense, but a lack of sacks and tackles for loss highlight an inability to consistently rush the passer.
Comparable: In terms of versatility and athleticism, he is similar to Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams.
- ILB Nico Johnson (Position rank: No. 8)
Strengths: Johnson -- who no longer is scheduled to attend the combine -- has the look of an NFL linebacker at 6-foot-2 and 249 pounds. He is a solid wrap-up tackler with good instincts. The fact that he has had no off-field trouble or injury concerns will only help his draft stock.
Weaknesses: The emergence of C.J. Mosley hurt Johnson in 2012. When Alabama had to defend multiple-receiver looks, Johnson often came off the field in favor of Mosley. Johnson is built for run support, but his lack of athleticism hurts in terms of being an every-down linebacker.
Comparable: Johnson looks and plays like New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton. Both are sure tacklers with good instincts getting between the tackles and getting to the ball carrier.
- DE Quinton Dial (Position rank: No. 27)
Strengths: Every so often an Alabama player doesn't hit his potential until he has left college. Dial might be one of those guys. The big, thick defensive end has the raw size (6-foot-5, 307 pounds) and skill to play at the next level and will likely do well in team workouts leading up to the draft.
Weaknesses: A lack of production at Alabama will create a glass ceiling for Dial. While scouts can fall in love with measurables, they still want to see the talent on tape.
Comparable: Dial could learn a thing or two from Baltimore Ravens defensive end DeAngelo Tyson, who didn't blow away anyone at Georgia, but after being selected late in the seventh round has become a solid contributor. In terms of size, the two compare favorably, as Tyson comes in at 6-foot-2, 315 pounds.
- Damion Square (Position rank: No. 29)
Strengths: Square isn't going to light up the scoreboard with sacks or tackles for loss, but he's consistent. Under coach Nick Saban's watchful eye, Square developed into a solid defender against the run and pass, and understands the idea of gap-assignment football.
Weaknesses: Simply put, Square doesn't possess the necessary athleticism to get drafted. If there is a player hurt most by missing out on the Senior Bowl, it's him.
The heart of the Gators’ 2012 defense will participate in the combine today. DT Sharrif Floyd, whose stock is rising rapidly as he is projected to be taken as high as No. 3, had a fantastic season and anchored UF’s front. He dominated Florida State’s front, and his mixture of size, strength and quickness has scouts drooling. ILB Jon Bostic started every game the past two seasons and was UF’s leader on defense. Nobody was more dependable than Bostic. OLB Jelani Jenkins was limited in 2012 because of a broken finger, a strained hamstring and a broken foot, but when healthy he’s a solid player. OLB Lerentee McCray was forced into action at the buck position (hybrid end/linebacker) because of the injury to Ronald Powell. He didn’t produce big numbers but was a high-effort, high-motor guy.
- ILB Jon Bostic (Scouts Inc. position rank: No. 9)
Strengths: Bostic has the prototypical MLB size (6-foot-1, 243 pounds) and adequate speed. He has improved his ability to shed blockers and make tackles around the line of scrimmage. He can meet a fullback or running back in the hole and not lose ground. He reads plays quickly and rarely gets fooled by misdirection. He does a solid job in zone coverage and has five career interceptions. His durability can’t be questioned. He has played in every game for the past three seasons and started 32 games in his career.
Weaknesses: Bostic’s consistency aside, he doesn’t make as many big plays as a coach would like, especially behind the line of scrimmage. He’s not an effective blitzer from the middle, but that’s mainly due to the fact that the Gators didn’t have him do that much. He’s a great tackler near the line of scrimmage but sometimes has trouble with quick, elusive ball carriers who reach the second level.
Comparison: The Gators have had a run of good MLBs, dating to Andra Davis (1998-2001), Brandon Siler (2004-06) and Brandon Spikes (2006-09). All three were drafted. Davis played for 10 years, and Siler and Spikes are still active. Bostic is similar in size to Davis and Siler, but Spikes was taller (6-4) and doesn’t run as well as Bostic. But Spikes had the knack for making big plays when the defense needed it. That’s the area in which Bostic needs to improve the most.
- DT Sharrif Floyd (Position rank: No. 2; No. 5 overall)
Strengths: Floyd is a big body (6-3, 305) who excels at creating havoc on the line of scrimmage. He has good power and because of that he demands double teams. Even so, he’s able to hold up at the point of attack and has good enough hands to disengage and make the tackle. He also has good lateral movement and can slide down the line and make plays to either side. He’s not exceptionally quick off the ball but he does have good straight-line speed. Has the nasty attitude coaches want on the field.
Weaknesses: He’s not a very good pass-rusher. Even when he played outside at end in 2011 he had trouble getting to the quarterback (1.5 sacks). He sometimes allows the offensive lineman to get underneath him and get him to the ground, but when Floyd plays with good pad level he’s almost immovable.
Comparison: In size and ability to run down tacklers, Floyd is similar to Marcus Thomas (6-3, 316) but isn’t as nimble (Thomas could do a standing back flip). Thomas was a fourth-round pick in 2007 by Denver and played five years for the Broncos. A better comparison would be Gerard Warren, whom Cleveland took with the No. 3 overall pick in 2001. Warren, who played 11 seasons in the NFL with four teams, was a run-stuffing beast like Floyd but also had the ability to play several spots on the line. He was a better pass-rusher than Floyd.
- OLB Jelani Jenkins (Position ranking: No. 4)
Strengths: Jenkins was one of the Gators’ smartest players. He doesn’t get fooled by play-action or misdirection and he quickly diagnoses plays. He has good closing speed and can be a physical tackler but is inconsistent there. Jenkins has good lateral movement and can be used as a rusher in a 3-4 scheme, although that’s not his strength. He’s good in pass coverage and is able to stick with backs and tight ends in one-on-one situations.
Weaknesses: Jenkins’ tackling fundamentals need some work; sometimes he’s just throwing his body instead of wrapping up. He sometimes gets himself out of position by trying to avoid blocks instead of taking them on. He needs more work on shedding blockers, too. Seems to be in the right spot to make big plays but sometimes doesn’t follow through: He dropped six interceptions in 2011.
Comparison: The Gators haven’t had an outside linebacker drafted since Mike Nattiel in 2003 (sixth round by Minnesota). Jenkins (6-0, 230) and Nattiel (6-0, 227) are similar in size, but Nattiel played the run a little better than Jenkins. Jenkins, however, is much better as a rusher and in pass coverage. In that aspect, he probably compares more favorably to Earl Everett, who owns a spot in Gators lore for his helmet-less sack of Troy Smith in the BCS National Championship victory over Ohio State. Everett and Jenkins are both great athletes. Jenkins projects to have a better NFL career than either one. Nattiel lasted two years with the Vikings and Everett went undrafted.
- OLB Lerentee McCray (Position ranking: No. 9)
Strengths: McCray played strongside linebacker in 2011 but was forced to move to the buck position (hybrid end/linebacker) because of the ACL injury to Powell. Early in the season McCray was the main source of the Gators’ pressure on the quarterback, especially in the Tennessee game, because of his relentless effort. He’s a motor guy and a tireless worker. He has decent speed and is able to hold his own in pass coverage and is solid against the run.
Weaknesses: McCray can play in games and not be noticeable -- again, not because of a lack of effort. He gets blocked way too much and isn’t powerful enough to fight through an offensive tackle in the pass rush. McCray also has a hard time disengaging from blocks.
Comparison: McCray (6-3, 249) is similar to A.J. Jones (6-1, 226) in career production. Jones was also an outside linebacker who played with relentless effort and made a few plays here and there, compiling 162 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and five sacks in his career. McCray’s career numbers are comparable, although he has far fewer tackles (65 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks). Neither guy made much of an impact but was the kind of player coaches love: hard-working, never complained, and played through minor injuries.
If there's any doubt where LSU will need to replenish its stockpile after the 2012 season, watch the NFL combine. LSU has four defensive linemen scheduled to attend, including at least two who are likely to go in the first round. Add linebacker Kevin Minter and the Tigers will have five players from their front seven at the combine. LSU might have the "DBU" reputation, but perhaps it should be more noted for its defensive line production.
- DE Sam Montgomery (Position rank: No. 6 DE; No. 27 overall)
Strengths: A hard-working and high-energy player, Montgomery is a solid if not completely polished pass-rusher and a good run defender. "Sonic Sam" makes a lot of plays away from his area and after the play develops, a sign that he doesn't often give up on plays. He plays with great passion and was the most productive of LSU's talented defensive ends. He's versatile, with the ability to play either end position in a 4-3 or even as an outside linebacker in a 3-4.
Weaknesses: At 245 pounds, he isn't a huge end and doesn't have elite speed. He suffered a season-ending ACL injury in 2010. He has work to do in technical areas of his pass rush. He lacks one truly elite skill area -- like teammate Barkevious Mingo's signature sprinter's speed -- that he'll be able to hang his hat on during his pro career.
Comparison: Tigers playing defensive end in the NFL tend to be hulking 3-4 ends like Dallas' Marcus Spears or Kansas City's Tyson Jackson. Montgomery might be more comparable to the Saints' Cam Jordan.
- DE Barkevious Mingo (Position rank: No. 1 DE, No. 8 overall)
Strengths: Mingo, a rare lineman who excelled as a sprinter in high school track, possesses rare speed for an end. He gets off the ball in a flash and changes direction on a dime. His speed at his position is so remarkable it can be fun to just watch him go in isolation. He's long and rangy with arms that allow him to both engage blockers with leverage and disrupt passes when he gets them up in the air. He can be one of the quickest ends in the NFL or can even be athletic as an outside linebacker.
Weaknesses: Mingo's skill set never led to him putting up dominant college numbers, as his potential always outmatched his production. His lean frame might not allow him to ever get to prototypical NFL DE size. He'll need coaching to improve his approach as a pass-rusher, as evidenced by his modest college sack numbers.
Comparison: He's not a defensive end, but Houston Texans linebacker Bradie James' name will likely be heard in comparison to Mingo. They played at the same high school (West Monroe, La.), too, and are personable men with futures in broadcasting. James once hosted a radio show in Dallas with Tony Romo. Mingo has already made an in-studio appearance on ESPN since his LSU career ended.
- DE Lavar Edwards (Position rank: No. 16)
Strengths: He's hard working and has good measurables to make him attractive to teams regardless of defensive scheme. He has adequate speed to play in a 4-3 scheme and good enough height and strength to play in a 3-4 scheme as well. Never a starter at LSU, he didn't seem to stew over the fact that he had to work for snaps behind Montgomery and Mingo in LSU's deep defensive end group.
Weaknesses: While Edwards is versatile and steady, he had no outstanding feature that allowed him to ultimately win a starting spot away from the Montgomery or Mingo. He isn't a great athlete who makes spectacular open-field plays.
Comparison: While he's not a lineman, Buffalo Bills cornerback Ron Brooks had a path to the NFL that Edwards would like to follow. Like Edwards, Brooks was never a starter at LSU (he was, in fact, the dimeback), completing his career in 2011. Despite that, Buffalo drafted him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft -- and he started two games as a rookie, one fewer than his total starts in four seasons at LSU.
- DT Bennie Logan (Position rank: No. 9)
Strengths: An athletic and hard-working tackle, he seems like a good fit for a 4-3 team looking for an athletic tackle who can get up the field. Logan was always good for coming off a block and punishing a ball carrier a couple of times a game.
Weaknesses: Despite his athleticism, he was not a dominant college pass-rusher, though it seems he has that potential. He lacks the size to a be a two-gap, 3-4 nose guard type, so his options might be limited by scheme.
Compares to: Logan's build is somewhat similar to ex-LSU star Ricky Jean Francois of the 49ers. He'd likely rather follow the lead of another Tiger who, like Logan, is from north Louisiana. Bills tackle Kyle Williams has had a solid career playing as both a 4-3 tackle and a 3-4 nose guard. While it's doubtful that Logan can play nose like Williams did for a few years, he can emulate his success in the 4-3.
- ILB Kevin Minter (Position rank: No. 3)
Strengths: A strong and solid player with above-average speed, Minter emerged as a consistent tackling machine in his junior season, giving LSU its most prolific tackling season of the Les Miles era. He played smart and with a good motor. When Florida challenged LSU with its running game, Minter did his part, stepping up for 20 tackles. NFL scouts will love his durability and professionalism. He's never one to miss, or even be late, for his responsibilities.
Weaknesses: He's stocky and doesn't have elite length and while his speed and quickness are good, they are not elite. He might be a candidate to come off the field on passing downs at the next level.
Comparison: Like Minter, Buffalo Bills linebacker Kelvin Sheppard is a Georgia native who starred at LSU. While Minter lacks Sheppard's length, his production in his last LSU season was even greater than Sheppard's best LSU season.
Georgia’s time to shine in Indianapolis will arrive Monday, when the defensive linemen and linebackers take the field for their combine workouts. The Bulldogs will have six players on the field, including a trio -- John Jenkins, Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree -- who have a strong chance to become first-round draft picks in April.
- NG Kwame Geathers (Position rank: No. 14)
Strengths: Geathers’ greatest strength as a pro prospect is his size (6-foot-6, 355 pounds), which will likely convince an NFL team to draft him earlier than his college production might indicate. There is always a place in the league for oversized defensive linemen who can occupy multiple blockers, and Geathers certainly has the pedigree to become a longtime NFL performer, with several family members having played in the league.
Weaknesses: Of the draft-eligible juniors who opted to leave Georgia early, perhaps Geathers’ decision was the most questionable. He has never been a regular starter and was an inconsistent performer for much of his career. A team will likely draft him based on potential, but he still has a lot to work on before he becomes an NFL regular.
Comparison: Kade Weston. Much like Geathers, Weston was a massive interior lineman at Georgia several years back. The New England Patriots drafted him in the seventh round of the 2010 draft, but injuries kept him from playing for the team. He spent last season with the Edmonton Eskimos in the CFL.
- NG John Jenkins (Position rank: No. 7)
Strengths: Like Geathers, the 359-pound Jenkins intrigues pro teams with his immense size. But he brings a bit more to the table in the short term than his former position mate. Extremely quick for a player carrying his weight, Jenkins has the ability to dominate against the run. He will likely appeal most to a team that runs a 3-4 base defense like Georgia does, taking advantage of his ability to eat up blocks in the center of the line.
Weaknesses: Jenkins doesn’t provide much in the way of a pass rush, but he’s serviceable enough to potentially be an every-down lineman if he drops some weight. More than likely, however, he’s a two-down player in the pros. He tends to disappear in passing situations.
Comparison: Johnathan Sullivan. The over-sized defensive tackle went to the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the 2003 draft. Sullivan never fulfilled his pro potential, however, sticking around in the league for just four seasons.
- DE Abry Jones (Position rank: No. 26)
Strengths: Jones’ well-rounded game allowed him to be a solid contributor on Georgia’s defensive line in 2011 -- promise he never truly recaptured in an injury-shortened senior season. While rarely a player who jumped out when healthy, he was capable of playing inside and outside at Georgia in certain formations, and that versatility could help him catch on with a pro club.
Weaknesses: Another way of saying Jones is versatile is to call him a "tweener." He might not be quick enough to become a dominant defensive end in the NFL and hasn’t played enough defensive tackle in a four-man front to know whether he can excel in that capacity as a pro. He can probably do both capably, and that might help him become a role-player at the next level.
Comparison: Jeff Owens. If Owens had played at Georgia in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 and not Willie Martinez’s 4-3, it’s reasonable to question whether he might have played end instead of an interior position, as well. The Philadelphia Eagles picked Owens in the seventh round of the 2010 draft to play defensive tackle in a 4-3 and he enjoyed a brief career with the team.
- OLB Jarvis Jones (Position rank: No. 1)
Strengths: Jones set a new school record with 14.5 sacks last season, displaying devastating quickness off the edge. Perhaps the top pass-rusher in the draft, Jones has been ranked as one of the best 2013 prospects throughout the last year, no matter which analyst you asked. He possesses a high motor and good closing speed, tackling skills and locker room presence.
Weaknesses: There will be questions about whether Jones is durable enough to justify a high draft pick, particularly in light of the serious neck and spine injury he suffered as a freshman in 2009 at USC. All-America seasons in 2011 and 2012 at UGA seemed to answer that question, although Jones did struggle with several ailments last fall. Many teams will also question whether his best position is as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 or whether he can still excel in a 4-3 scheme.
Comparison: David Pollack. The two players’ college careers were similar only in that they were both adept at taking down quarterbacks -- Pollack from his spot at defensive end and Jones off the edge at linebacker. The better reason to compare the two is that both were dominant college players who entered draft prep facing questions about where they might fit best in an NFL defensive scheme.
- LB Alec Ogletree (Position rank: No. 1)
Strengths: Everything about Ogletree screams potential. He has speed, pass-coverage skills, the ability to deliver a big hit. He can be as good as he wants to be, particularly if he learns to play with improved discipline as he learns more about playing the linebacker position.
Weaknesses: There’s no way around it, Ogletree is going to be closely scrutinized because of his off-the-field issues. He was arrested early in his college career, served substance-related suspensions and recently was booked on DUI charges in Arizona. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had Ogletree as a top-10 pick in a recent mock draft, but he’s going to have to prove to teams that they can trust him to be a responsible professional.
Comparison: Thomas Davis. Like Davis, Ogletree started his college career as a safety capable of creating sideline-to-sideline havoc. Ogletree shifted to linebacker earlier in his career, but he has similar playmaking ability that should make him a pro commodity. Davis’ NFL potential has been damaged by a series of season-ending knee injuries, but he remains a member of the team that selected him in the first round of the 2005 draft, the Carolina Panthers.
- DE Cornelius Washington (Position rank: No. 12)
Strengths: He had a quiet senior season while playing defensive end and occasionally at outside linebacker, but Washington’s raw potential seemed to turn some heads at the Senior Bowl. He is quick, strong and capable of using a basic set of pass-rushing moves to blow past offensive tackles. Plus he has the length to fight off their blocks on the edge.
Weaknesses: Washington was seemingly a candidate for a breakout season every year, but the production never surfaced. He’s one of those imposing-looking players coaches want to be the first ones off the bus and will probably impress teams with his physicality in Indianapolis. If he can ever figure things out, Washington has the tools to make it as a pro, but nothing on his college resume suggests that stardom awaits him in the NFL.
Comparison: Jarius Wynn. Like Washington, Wynn was a seemingly limited edge rusher during his time at Georgia, but the Green Bay Packers saw some potential in him and picked him in the sixth round of the 2009 draft. Now with the Tennessee Titans, Wynn just finished his fourth pro season.
Texas A&M's defense was a question mark coming into the 2012 season, but those questions were answered definitively as the Aggies became a solid defensive squad, thanks in large part to three players who will be participating in the combine:
- DE Damontre Moore (Position rank: No. 4)
Strengths: Explosiveness and production. Moore was a handful for opposing offensive tackles this year because of his quickness and explosiveness as a pass-rusher. He has good speed for his size and position; that could be seen against Mississippi State when he chased down receiver Chris Smith from behind on a 42-yard completion. He was near the top nationally in sacks and tackles for loss.
Weaknesses: He can be too aggressive in his pursuit occasionally, although he has good instincts. A year ago, inconsistency might have been a concern and there also might have been character questions because of an arrest for marijuana possession before his sophomore season, but neither appear to be issues now. He seems to have matured and has become a consistent, day-in and day-out player under Kevin Sumlin.
Comparison: Todd McShay compared Moore to Atlanta defensive end John Abraham. They have similar frames (both are 6-4, Abraham is about 15 pounds heavier than Moore's 248), and both are quick and fit well as 4-3 defensive ends.
- OLB Sean Porter (Position rank: No. 12)
Strengths: He's durable, reliable and became a leader for the Aggies. Showed good speed when serving as a pass-rusher in 2011. He is quick and can close quickly. Good instincts, versatile talent.
Weaknesses: Doesn't excel in coverage, though he has showed improvement in that area. Could be a more physical player and more consistent overall.
Comparison: Lance Briggs. About the same height as Porter, though a little bigger in weight, Briggs has good range and is a playmaker. It might be too much to say Porter will be at the level of Briggs (seven-time Pro Bowl player), but he should fit in nicely as a versatile starting weakside linebacker for someone.
- LB Jonathan Stewart (Position rank: No. 16)
Strengths: Smart player with good size for his position. Shows good instincts as he's often around the ball. Was one of the leaders on A&M's defense this year.
Weaknesses: Not a dominant playmaking presence. Has speed but not tremendously explosive.
Comparison: Kirk Morrison. Stewart should be a solid, though not flashy, linebacker in a 4-3 scheme which is what Morrison has been throughout his career with Oakland and Buffalo. Both are of similar size and frame.
Saturday's top plays in the SEC
Final Eastern Kentucky 3 Florida 52 Final Charleston Southern 9 10 Georgia 55 Final South Alabama 12 South Carolina 37 Final 8 Ole Miss 0 Arkansas 30 Final Western Carolina 14 1 Alabama 48 Final Samford 7 14 Auburn 31 Final 20 Missouri 29 Tennessee 21 Final Vanderbilt 0 4 Mississippi State 51