NFL Draft: Top 5 LB and DB Prospects

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By Frankie Coppola

During the Off-Season, SABIU member Frankie Coppola has been taking a look at each position in the upcoming NFL draft, and giving scouting reports. We continue today with Linebackers and Defensive Backs.

Linebackers:

  1. Myles Jack (UCLA) – Projected Pick: Top 5

Myles Jack is the most well-rounded and versatile prospect in this year’s draft class. Throughout his three-year career at UCLA he has had experience at running back and safety in addition to linebacker, displaying his speed, athleticism, and versatility on the field. Jack is an explosive tackler who has quick reaction time and can use his speed and agility to make plays anywhere on the field. A sideline-to-sideline playmaker, he has the lateral speed to make tackles both in the backfield and outside the hash marks. He is a tremendous field leader and operates with a non-stop motor. He is powerful and explosive enough to be a pass rusher and exploit gaps in the line, and also to drop back into coverage with the speed to stay with tight ends and some receivers. Unfortunately, Jack suffered a knee injury in September 2015, which cut his junior season short. The only real concern with his draft stock is whether or not he will recover and be back to full strength. Barring any more setbacks, Jack looks to be recovering as planned and should be able to perform at full speed by training camp. Myles Jack is an NFL-ready linebacker with superstar potential who will be able to contribute in every aspect to a defense.

  1. Darron Lee (Ohio State) – Projected Pick: Top 20

Although he only played two seasons of college football at Ohio State, Lee made the most of his opportunities and proved his value to the NFL. As a redshirt freshman in 2014, he quickly made an impact, registering 81 total tackles, including 16.5 tackles for loss, as the Buckeyes went on to win the national championship. Lee continued this success into his sophomore season, totaling 66 tackles with 11 going for a loss of yards, earning him second-team All-Big Ten honors. He is effective in all aspects of the defense. He has the speed and agility to play in coverage and lock down receivers and tight ends when needed, but can also pursue the backfield as a pass rusher through gaps in the line. He proved his ability to track down ball carriers and make tackles anywhere on the field at the combine, exemplifying his pursuit speed with a 4.47 40-yard dash time, the fastest among all linebackers this year. The main weakness in his game is his lack of size, which diminishes his play strength. Lee is not the type of linebacker to make tone setting hits and often struggled with missed tackles at Ohio State. However, his elite athleticism and defensive instincts give him the potential to become a starter in the NFL, and if he increases his size and play strength, he could develop into a superstar, playmaking linebacker in any defensive system.

  1. Leonard Floyd (Georgia) – Projected Pick: Mid-Late 1st Round

The 2015 second-team All-SEC selection led the Georgia Bulldogs in sacks each of his three years with the team. He was also selected to be a finalist for the 2015 Butkus Award, which is given to the nation’s top linebacker each season. He is an effective pass rusher from both the inside and outside, and is able to explode through gaps in the middle and around the outside corner with an angle to disrupt backfields. He has great speed, running a 4.60 40-yard dash time at the combine, displaying his ability to not only rush the passer with ease, but also his ability to stick with receivers and ball carriers to make plays. Floyd, like Darron Lee, struggles with size and strength limitations. He is a lanky 6’6’’ linebacker whose lack of pure strength and power has limited his ability to pass rush and make tackles consistently. Despite this setback, Floyd is a natural defender who can pass rush, provide coverage, and be a run stuffer at the line of scrimmage. If he can overcome his size limitations, Floyd will become a multi-threat linebacker in the NFL.

  1. Reggie Ragland (Alabama) – Projected Pick: Mid-Late 1st Round

The 2015 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and unanimous All-American selection was a leader of the Alabama defense that won the national championship. The run stuffing machine racked up 195 total tackles in his final two seasons with the Tide, and he is proficient in reading running plays and breaking through gaps in the interior of the offensive line. He has great instincts and makes plays with an elite motor, missing only 3 tackles in 2015. His play speed is the main weakness in his game. He often struggles in man coverage in the middle of the field and is caught playing slow when attacking the perimeter and stopping outside runs, screens, and short passes. Overall, Ragland is a strong, instinctual linebacker that will be an interior run stuffer and a consistent tackler in all NFL systems.

  1. Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame) – Projected Pick: Late 1st Round-Early 2nd Round

The winner of the 2015 Butkus Award was a consensus Top 10 draft pick throughout his junior year at Notre Dame before suffering a gruesome injury in the Fiesta Bowl. Smith is an instinctive linebacker who is able to do it all. He recorded 226 total tackles in his last two years with the Irish, 18 of which were for a loss. He has the size and athleticism of an elite NFL linebacker and was a clear field general in the middle of his defense. Although he never made any interceptions during his three-year collegiate career, he was success in coverage and has the quickness to continue that at the professional level. He also has the potential to provide help in blitz packages despite his low sack total. Unfortunately, Smith tore both his ACL and MCL during the 2015 Fiesta Bowl matchup against Ohio State to end his Notre Dame career. The injury raises many red flags as to his value and draft stock. There is no question that Smith is one of the most talented, all-around defensive players in this year’s draft class, but major injury concerns do often damage a player’s value as a draft prospect. If it weren’t for the late-season injury, Smith would have been selected at the top of this year’s draft.

Defensive Backs:

  1. Jalen Ramsey (Florida State) – Projected Pick: Top 5

The two-time All-American and two-time first-team All-ACC selection is one of the best defensive backs to come out of college in recent history. Ramsey is an elite athlete, being not only a dominant force in football, but also as a sprinter and long-jumper for the Florida State track and field team. He thrives as a press corner, slowing down receivers’ acceleration and redirecting routes. He also has the agility to effectively shadow receivers and make consistent plays on the ball, recording 22 total passes defended in his three year career as a Seminole. His experience as a safety makes him effective in zone coverage as well. He has emerged as a true shutdown cornerback, allowing an average completion percentage of just 30.7% when quarterbacks target him. The weak point in Ramsey’s game is that he often gets beaten at the line and allows for receivers to get some separation off the snap. However, his elite speed and athleticism help him make up the gap and stick with receivers downfield to make plays. Altogether, Ramsey is a defensive back with all-pro potential who will make an immediate impact in the NFL and can play many different positions in the secondary. He will be an asset that front offices could build a defense around for many years to come.

  1. Vernon Hargreaves (Florida) – Projected Pick: Top 15

It did not take Hargreaves long to gain recognition at Florida, winning first-team All-SEC honors in all three of his collegiate seasons, as well as All-American selections as a sophomore and junior. He is an incredibly instinctive corner who is smooth in mirroring receiver routes and maintaining tight coverage on both the sideline and in interior crossing routes. He is versatile in coverage: able to press, play back in off-coverage, or drop into zone. He exhibits expert body control and balance when backpedalling to stay with receivers and closes in on routes when making plays on the ball. He was very productive as a Gator and made his presence known on the field, successfully defending 38 passes and intercepting 10 during his three years at Florida. Hargreaves’ main weakness is his size. Being only 5’10’’, he may struggle to compete on jump balls against big NFL receivers, but he has shown that his athleticism can help him overcome his size disadvantage. He also has a tendency to be overly aggressive, which although leads to his high volume of interceptions, can also cause him to get beaten on double moves down the sideline. Hargreaves has been a nightmare for quarterbacks and receivers to deal with since first stepping on the field in high school, and he will be able to continue that success in the NFL with his elite coverage skill set.

  1. Eli Apple (Ohio State) – Projected Pick: Top 20

Apple started 14 out of 15 games in 2014 as a redshirt freshman during the Buckeye’s national championship title run. He made an impact in each of his two collegiate seasons at Ohio State, recording 4 total interceptions to go with 18 passes defended. He was also voted a second-team All-Big Ten selection by coaches as a sophomore in 2015. He has prototypical cornerback size to go along with strong balance and good discipline when staying square to his receiver in coverage. He plays with a tremendous motor and has been praised for his work ethic and passion for the game. Although he has very strong man coverage skills, he was penalized often for defensive holding and pass interference, two penalties that are usually committed by a corner who allowed too much separation to their receiver and was beaten on their route. He also struggles as a tackler in the open field, not fully utilizing his body size to make tackles. After being given some time to adapt to coverage in an NFL system, Apple will emerge as a potential starter who can be effective at locking down receivers and causing turnovers.

  1. William Jackson III (Houston) – Projected Pick: Mid-Late 1st Round

Jackson got his collegiate football start at Trinity Valley Junior College, but transferred to Houston for his sophomore season and remained there through his senior year. He was selected to be a second-team All-American Athletic Conference pick in both his junior and senior seasons as a Cougar, allowing only a 40% completion rate on throws that targeted him. He has instinctive ball skills and plays with smooth mechanics in coverage to dominate receivers on the outside. He attacks passes in the air and has the awareness to play the ball instead of the receiver when the quarterback makes a pass. Jackson III put up stats to back up his case as a shutdown cornerback, totaling 33 passes defended and 7 interceptions in his junior and senior seasons combined. His main weakness is his transition from backpedalling to turning and running when following a route, and this leads to lending some separation to speedy receivers. He also often struggles in run support, failing to beat most blocks along the perimeter of the line. Overall, Jackson III was a lockdown corner at Houston that produced in key situations and can cover many types of receivers. He may take time to develop for a year or two at the next level, but with some improvement, he has the skill set and the intangible coverage abilities to become a viable starter and an effective defensive back in the NFL.

  1. Mackensie Alexander (Clemson) – Projected Pick: Late 1st Round-Early 2nd Round

A highly rated recruit in high school, Alexander decided to redshirt his freshman year, but showed his value in his only two years playing for the Tigers in 2014 and 2015, earning third-team All-American and first-team All-ACC selections in 2015 as a sophomore. He proved that he could be a lock down corner, allowing a completion percentage against of only 29.6%. He is a competitive player who plays with a fire and boosts the energy of the entire locker room. He has very quick reactions and is able to read receivers and quarterbacks to anticipate routes and make plays on the ball. Although he is on the shorter side for a corner, his speed and agility help him stay with receivers on the outside and recover any separation that he allows. His main problem in man coverage is the fact that he often needs to rely on his elite speed to make up for his sloppy footwork at the line of scrimmage. He also has a tendency to get too caught up in trash talk and, although this fuels his competitiveness, could lead to on-field problems as a professional. Despite his skill as a corner, his production was surprisingly low, defending only 11 passes and making no interceptions in his two-year career at Clemson. He will need some time to progress and work on his man coverage skills, but ultimately Alexander is an elite athlete with a ton of talent. Once he finds a way to harness his full potential, only time will tell the impact he will make on the football field.

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