Let’s move on over to the defensive side of the line-of-scrimmage for a few profiles of some very good defensive Combine performers, who deserve more attention over the next month.
I’m not sure any one performer proved more in Indy than CB/JAIRE ALEXANDER of Louisville. Going into the Combine I think many scouts felt that Alexander was right on the cusp of being a first rounder. Coming out of the Combine I think the question had become whether or not he might be the best “pure” Corner in the draft class, after DENZEL WARD. I’m thinking for a lot of folks the answer to that question is now a resounding “yes”. Though only 5’102″ tall JAIRE is a solid 196 lbs., and still burned up the track with a 4.38/40 time. He also sports 9 1/2″ hands. He showed very solid change of direction quickness while posting a 6.71 sec 3-Come drill. He also looked very fluid doing on-field work, especially adept at flipping his hips in back-pedal drills. I think consensus is that he’s a top notch press corner, who could also help out in the slot if needed. It’s my take that coming out of his Combine performance he’s now slotted in the middle of the first round by multiple teams.
A bigger surprise to me with his excellent workouts was AVONTE MADDOX/CB/Pitt, who posted workout numbers that back up the solid week he had at the Shrine Game venue. MADDOX did not grow any in the weeks between the Shrine and Combine, still measuring 5’091″and weighing 184 lbs. His hands are fairly small at 8 3/4″, but he did confirm the combination of speed and quickness that we all felt we saw in St. Pete, by posting a 4.39/40 and 6.51 3-Cone. He looked very smooth in field-drills flipping those hips and changing direction. He proved in St.Pete that he’s a tough little guy, who can deliver a blow to break up a reception or help in run support. Maddox looked like a player whose tools will enable him to handle the Slot spot as well as help on the Corner as needed. Doubtful that he can slide into a Top 100 selection spot, but early on Saturday seems very likely when you review the sum of his work.
Another young man who used the Combine to continue to add impressively to his late career body of work was NATRELL JAMERSON/S/Wisconsin. If you will recall, I raved about him during Shrine Week and he was voted Defensive Player of the Game there. His impressive work continued in Indy. He was 5’105″ and a solid 201 lbs., with 9 3/4″ hands and 32 5/8″ arms. He also ran well, posting a 4.40/40 time. He drew several positive comments from NFLN on-air personalities during their Combine coverage. I have a very strong feeling that because it took Badger coaches until his senior year to make him a full-time starting S, he is not going to go as high in the Draft as his numbers and film indicate he should. My gut says that some team still gets a shot at him as late as early Round 5, and that will be one hell of a bargain. He should be a Special Teams standout as well as a starting Safety in the NFL.
Besides the medical testing, the Combine also provides invaluable opportunities to see declared underclassmen display their talents. As usually happens more than a few of them shine at the Combine. One such surprise to my eyes was JOSH SWEAT/Florida State, who I will label as an ER/DE/OB/ATH for now. And of course the cause of my indecision on what position label to put on him is due in part to the sum of all the numbers he posted for us to peruse at the Combine. SWEAT measured 6’406″/251 lbs. His hands measured 10 1/4″ with vine-like arms of 34 5/8″. SWEAT smoked a 40-time dash of 4.53 seconds. Now let’s stir in a Vertical Jump of 39 1/2″ and a BJ of 10’4″. Despite a very poor 2017 season the FSU program still has plenty of top athletes in their football program, especially on Defense. As a result, many FSU defensive player stats sheets are a bit skimpy on the productivity side. So at first look SWEAT’s 2017 numbers of 56 tackles, 12.5 TFL and 5.5 Sacks may look a bit puny. However, his Combine numbers clearly indicate he’s a heck of an athlete, and can get after the QB, which is a highly sought after talent in the NFL. I say it will be quite interesting to see if SWEAT ends up being a Top 100 Pick thanks in good part to the Combine.
It would seem that more than a few folks continue to downplay a 13-1 record in 2017 for the Badgers football team. That was not accomplished with smoke and mirrors my friends. Like the previously mentioned JAMERSON, I fell pretty strongly that at least 6 Badgers will be drafted in April, though none may go until Round 4. A sports radio friend of mine back in Wisconsin, who we shall call Huffy, has been telling me for 3 years that one of the Badgers top football athletes was a guy named LEON JACOBS. But he has been kind of running under the radar, in large part due to all the coaching changes in Madison. But under new DC JIM LEONARD, JACOBS found his spot as an IB part-time in 2016 and full-time in 2017. For the 2017 season LEON had 60 T, 9.5 TFL, 3.5 S, 3 PBU, 2 INT. Sounds like an excellent all-around LB to me. JACOBS has also had quite a run of it in the draft post-season. He stood out during Shrine Week, and IMO, he aced the Combine. JACOBS checked in at 6’011″ and 246 lbs. He has 9 5/8″ hands and 33.5″ arm length. He ran a 4.48/40, second best among LB to SHAQEM GRIFFIN, and faster than all but 4 RB in Indy. He looked solid and fast in workout drills, including some smooth back-peddle drops into coverage. I can guarantee you that JACOBS will be an immediate hit on NFL Special Teams coverage units. He should join JAMERSON in Round 4, but if not he becomes a great value as a later pick.
NATHAN SHEPHERD/DT/Ft Hays State, began his rise up the prospect rankings lists with his showing in Mobile during Senior Bowl week. Even though he was finished there after only 2 days because of a broken bone in his hand, he made a strong impression at the weigh-in and on the practice field. His numbers at the Combine only served to confirm that he is a naturally big/strong guy, who can anchor a DL in any 4-3 defense in the NFL. Many of his Combine numbers should jump out at you. He was 6’036″, 315 lbs, with 10 1/8″ hands. His arm length is not great at 32 3/8″, but he plays inside and has a wing span of 80 1/2″. His 5.09/40 time was most impressive given his size. This Canadian-born specimen has clearly jumped into most folks Top 100 prospect lists. In fact, after reviewing his notes from the Combine, NFLN Draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah just this week placed SHEPHERD solidly in his Top 50 list. I certainly agree with Jeremiah’s high regard for Shepherd. He has checked an awful lot of boxes on any prospect evaluation sheet in the past two months.
One last profile I want to feature is the Combine work of underclassman OLB,LEIGHTON VANDER ESCH/Boise State. Some folks expressed surprise that VANDR ESCH came out early after only 1 full season as a starter. But before you even go to find some tape of his play I want to detail the numbers he put up in Indy. Leighton stood 6’042″ tall and weighed 256 lbs. His hands measured 9 3/4″ protruding from 33 7/8″arms, with a total wingspan of 81 1/8″. He posted a solid 4.65/40-time and a 6.88 3-Cone time. His vertical measured 39 1/2″, with a 10’4″ broad jump. He also looked pretty smooth and fluid in field drills. I actually believe he has a chance to crack the end of Round 1 next month. Just some food for thought; he reminds me of a big OLB who played for the Giants a while ago named Brad Van Pelt. He was another long guy who covered a lot of ground and could handle any/all assignments.
As a general observation I would comment that the DB group this year has generally been rated as talented and deep. And I still believe that to be true, but as a group they did not run as fast as I had expected. 3 guys (WARD, NICKERSON & D. JACKSON) hitting the 4.32/40 mark was solid. But with 70 DB in Indy overall, I thought that only 8 of them being able to break the 4.40/40 mark was a bit disappointing. Not to mention that no one came close to touching the John Ross/WR 4.22 from last year.
Along those lines let me say that after Combine workouts I am no longer presenting MINKAH FITZPATRICK as a serious CB prospect. He is still my top rated S, and may still be a Top 10 draftee overall. But his body of work, although very good as a S, does not measure up as an elite CB on a full-time basis. My concerns began when he ran a 4.46/40. That’s fine for a S, but not really impressive for a CB. Fitzpatrick is still a superior football player and looks like a perennial Pro Bowler in the NFL.
Other Combine Defensive Participants of Note:
TROY APKE/S/Penn State
TERRELL EDMUNDS/S/VA TECH