Now lets move along to the downtrodden defensive side of things and look for some mid-round prospects for next year.
DEVANTE DOWNS IB CAL 6’3/245 #1. The Golden Bears have been better known for their offensive exploits than their defensive efforts in the past decade or so. But they do have some solid defensive talent for new Head Coach JUSTON WILCOX after his starring role as DC for Wisconsin last season. DOWNS stuck around for his senior season after leading the team in tackles last season with 84. He’s a good overall athlete who can drop into pass coverage duties effectively. I believe WILCOX will cut him loose to search and destroy this season which may lead to some big numbers and attention as a Draft prospect.
MIKE EDWARDS FS KENTUCKY 6’0/200 #7 The first thing that we have to mention here is that Kentucky is not JUST a basketball school any more. HC MARK STOOPS has been recruiting well and actually took the team to a bowl last season. So it means we will be seeing more football Draft prospects coming out of Lexington. EDWARDS is leading the pack this season. He’s the best all-around baller/athlete on their D. he recorded 100 tackles last season, had 3 INT and 8 PBU. He’ll lead the secondary and D overall as they try to catch up with the accelerated Offense. He’s another guy who could possibly move himself into a Top 100 prospect ranking.
DUKE EJIOFOR DE WAKE FOREST 6’4/275 #53. The Duke is hard to miss if only because he plays in relative obscurity for little Wake Forest. But this young man is a major talent whom I think will be an impact defender at the pro level. He will fit nicely into today’s multi-formation defenses with enough size to hold the edge against the run in a 4-3 base scheme as well as enough athleticism to drop into pass coverage in a 3-4 scheme. Last season he had 50 tackles, which included 10.5 sacks and 6’5 TFL. He also was quite effective dropping into coverage duties with 4 PBU and 1 INT. With a big senior season he could crack the Top 100 Prospect lists.
GODWIN IGWEBUIKE FS NORTHWESTERN 6’0/205 #16. The Wildcats now take their D seriously in Evanston under HC PAT FITZGERALD. IGWEBUIKE is an above average athlete with a real feel for the game. He led the Wildcats in tackles last season with 108. He packs some serious pop in run support D. He also has a nose for the ball, having recorded 2 INT along with 7 PBU last season. He made 2nd Team all Big Ten for his efforts last year. He could be one of those guys who improves again this season, then blows up some big numbers at the NFL Combine.
JUSTIN JONES DT NC STATE 6’2/315 #27. Don’t be fooled by JONES’ uniform number. He’s a full sized inside warrior he may start on an all-senior DL for the Wolfpack. When looking at his stats for 2016 keep that in mind, plus the fact that he played almost exclusively inside. He’s stout enough to stop the run up the middle and also create some inside pocket pressure. He had 43 tackles last season, including 3 sacks and 3 TFL. He also was credited with 2 QBH for good measure. He gets lost in the numbers posted by DE’s STREET and CHUBB, but he more than holds his own on the interior DL.
TODD KELLY SS TENNESSEE 5’11/208 #24 I really thought KELLY might come out for the 2017 Draft, but he chose to stay in school. That’s great news for NFL teams who will be on the prowl for a do-everything S next Spring, not to mention Vols fans. He’s a solidly built guy who is not afraid to throw his body into the fracas in support of the running game. He does a little bit of everything. He led the Vols with 71 tackles, which included a sack and a TFL. In coverage he had 2 PBU and 2 INT. I luv this guy’s hustle, tenacity and FBI. He’s not an elite Draft prospect, but I project him to be awful tough to cut once on an NFL roster. Did I mention he looks like a sure thing to have an impact on Special Teams units at the next level?!
SKAI MOORE OB SOUTH CAROLINA 6’2/221 #10. MOORE missed the entire 2016 season due to a neck injury. Heading into 2016 MOORE had led the Gamecocks in tackles each of his first 3 years in school. Can he do so for a fourth time? He had 111 tackles in 2015. He’s a combination of OB/SS whose versatility will interest NFL teams greatly if he returns to form in 2017. He has the athleticism to do just about everything you could ask of a defender. Look for him to reassert himself as an elite defender in 2017. At times during his first 3 years at USC he has been a highlight-reel defender. Here’s a big wish that his neck is fully healed and he can resume a fine football career.
AUGIE SANCHEZ ILB SOUTH FLORIDA 6’2/245 #43. Meet an old-fashioned ILB who ranges from one sideline to the other looking for someone with the ball to hit. He led the 11-2 Bulls Defense with a whopping 120 tackles in 2016. And I can assure you he’s not just running around jumping on piles for tackles. He was credited with 6 sacks and 2.5 TFL. He also dropped into middle coverage well enough to record 3 PBU and an INT. He’s been starting games since his frosh year in Tampa, and 2016 was his second straight season with over 100 tackles. USF looks like a program on the rise and SANCHEZ could be the beneficiary of more TV exposure for he and the BULLS in 2017.
TEGRAY SCALES OB INDIANA 6’0/230 #8. What do I expect to see from SCALES in 2017? How about a do-it-all defender, who may be this coming season’s version of HAASON REDDICK of Temple, who exploded in his 2016 senior season to thrust himself into the first round of the Draft. While leading a feisty defense for the Hoosiers last season SCALES put up amazing stats, pretty much in anonymity outside of Bloomington. His final stat line read as follows: 126 T, 16.5 TFL, 7 S, 1 INT, 2 PBU. My projection is that he will continue his defensive dominance in 2017 and climb Prospect charts just like REDDICK did last season. In today’s pro game highly versatile and skilled players help fill multiple jobs and thus save valuable roster spots.
CONOR SHEEHY DL WISCONSIN 6’4/290 #94. SHEEHY toils in a very deep DL group for the Badgers, thus not posting huge numbers each week like some players who double up his play count. But he gets solid production during his time on the field. He is listed on depth charts as a DT, but I think he may be best suited for the 5-Technique at the next level. He has some natural pass rush ability and finds and pursues the ball quite effectively. He had 2.5 sacks last season, playing mostly inside. I’ll just say, let’s watch him on a weekly basis in 2017, then decide his future pro prospects. he should play a prominent role in their D in 2017.
This is just the tip of the iceberg so to speak. The 2018 Draft Class looks to be even deeper than 2017.