2015 NFL Draft: Top 13 Defensive Diamonds in the Rough

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In the first of two pieces, last week, we examined the 2015 NFL Draft’s Top 13 Offensive Diamonds in the Rough here on Cleveland Sports Zone. With the exception of the 2013 NFL Draft, this Diamonds in the Rough series has been a staple in my draft evaluations, including 2014 with Buckeye State Sports, 2012 and 2011 with End Zone News.

This week, we’ll turn our focus to the defensive side of the ball, as we profile what players in the later rounds of the NFL Draft could have game-changing upside in the National Football League.

Players featured in the past columns have included valuable contributors such as Mychal Kendricks of the Eagles, Josh Norman and Tre Boston of the Panthers, Sam Acho of the Bears, Scott Solomon of the Browns, Chris Conte of the Buccaneers, Casey Matthews of the Vikings, Mike Mohamed of the Texans and the jury is still out on 2014 fourth-round I.R. victims Cassius Marsh and Kevin Pierre-Louis of the Seahawks. So what late round gems this year could be future stars of the NFL on the offensive side of the ball?

Henry Anderson, DE, Stanford

One of my favorite prospects in the draft, Anderson comes from a stout Stanford defense that emphasized stopping the run. With the ability to diagnose the offense, Anderson had the freedom to drop back in the Cardinal defense, following the play and often getting his hands up in the passing lanes to deflect the football. At times, Anderson can remind you of Texans’ star J.J. Watt with his footwork and relentless motor, but his ability to consistently get to the passer is why he falls to the middle rounds. Anderson alternates between the Bull Rush and Swim move, but when those don’t work, his effectiveness breaks down. If he can learn a couple more pass rush moves in the NFL, the sky is the limit for him.

Projected Round: 3rd-4th 

Video of Anderson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDgAKPjS8EE

Lynden Trail
Trail has the opportunity to really make an impact at the next level.

 

Lynden Trail, DE, Norfolk State

Trail is an intriguing prospect and the ultimate developmental front-seven player. An Urban Meyer recruit at Florida, Trail red-shirted Meyer’s final year and never quite fit with new coach Will Muschamp, prompting a transfer to Norfolk State. At 6’6″ and 269 pounds, Trail has a long, lean body that allows him to line up and utilize his speed from the outside linebacker position, or he can also put his hand in the dirt and rush from the end spot. Trail’s pass rush repertoire is lacking, but his motor is unrivaled, as is his work ethic. Trail will put the time in, but he will have to be a defensive end coach’s project, as he’s a bit of a one-trick pony whose Bull Rush won’t work at the NFL level like it did in the FCS.

Projected Round: 5th-6th

Video of Trail: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iKq5cUdIro

Kristjan Sokoli, DE, Buffalo

An Albanian immigrant, Sokoli had a tough work ethic instilled in him at a young age. Sokoli played out of position while at Buffalo, often playing nose tackle, but he is much better suited for defensive end in a 3-4 defense or interior in a 4-3 scheme. A grinder in every sense of the word, Sokoli struggles to keep his pad level low and will struggle when stood up, but he’s relentless from whistle to whistle on the field. As the old adage goes, “you can’t coach work ethic,” and Sokoli is about as blue collar as they came. He can make an immediate impact on special teams and could push for playing time right out of the gate.

Projected Round: PFA

Video of Sokoli: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bh1RQ4Sauyw

Tyeler Davison, DT, Fresno State

Davison plays with a mean-streak and aggressiveness that will remind a lot of people of Ndamukong Suh at times, reacting violently when he has a chance at the quarterback. At 6’1″ and 315 pounds, Davison is capable of clogging on the middle and taking on multiple blockers. While he projects best as a 1-technique in a 4-3 defense, he is capable of playing the 0-technique in a 3-4 as a “pure nose tackle” in today’s NFL, where 3-4 hybrid defensive systems rarely have the NT responsible for both “A” gaps anymore. Exceptions to that rule are monsters like Vince Wilfork and Haloti Ngata. Davison needs to work on varying his pass rush moves, as he is occasionally hung up early in the play, but with some much to work with, a team could get a steal here in the middle rounds.

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Projected Round: 3rd-4th

Video of Davison: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xq5C1nUCM8M

Kyle Emanuel, LB, North Dakota State

Emanuel played with his hand in the dirt throughout the duration of his career at NDSU, but he will need to learn to stand up in a linebacker role in the NFL due to his lack of size and first-step off the snap. With good athleticism and intelligence, Emanuel has a nose for the ball and was highly productive in college, finishing with 35.5 sacks and six fumbles in his four seasons. Whether he would settle into the WILL LB position in a 4-3 or rush the passer primarily from an OLB position in a 3-4 scheme, Emanuel has the football IQ to make an impact sooner than later in the NFL.

Projected Round: 5th-6th 

Video of Emanuel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycmVP-vwr8g

Is Tony Washington the next Dion Jordan at the NFL level?

Tony Washington, LB, Oregon

Taking over for Dion Jordan in 2013, Washington excelled as a play-maker for the Oregon Ducks, racking up 14.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles and four interceptions. In that same breath to the negative, Washington is nearly a carbon-copy of Jordan, an outstanding athlete, but his technique and skills will require a lot of work before he is capable of learning an NFL position on a defense. The definition of a raw athlete, Washington has great measurables, and for a patient coaching staff, he could become a situational rushing specialist with some fine tuning.

Projected Round: 6th

Video of Washington: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDC4LEndxaM

Zack Hodges, LB, Harvard

Hodges is an intriguing prospect. Extremely smart, as one would suspect from his Harvard education, but he is also just as intelligent on the field. Quickly diagnosing the play, Hodges has above-average speed and is extremely aggressive in pursuit of the play, often times even to a fault. When scouts throw around the term “high motor,” this is the type of prospect they are talking about. Hodges will quickly become a coach’s favorite pupil, and his attention to detail in the classroom will make it tough to keep him off the field. A natural leader, most are projecting Hodges to OLB in a 3-4, but as the Carolina Panthers did with Luke Kuechly, Hodges has the potential to be the heart of the defense at the ILB or Mike position.

Projected Round: 4th-5th

Video of Hodges: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6KdwEKRVeY

Taiwan Jones, LB, MSU

After spending three seasons on the Weak side, Jones moved to the Mike position his final season. With Jones in the middle, there was very little drop-off for the Spartan defense from 2013, despite losing a key contributor. A downhill thumper, Jones would do very well inside in a 3-4 defense, opposite of a coverage backer and being free to diagnose and engage against the run at will. With great physicality, Jones could be a natural fit in hard-nosed divisions like the AFC North or NFC West, and with a little development, he should be picking up in the NFL right where he left off at Michigan State.

Projected Round: 4th

Video of Jones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iILFMCjYP-o

Troy Hill, CB, Oregon

Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, Hill ran with the wrong crowd from an early age. With so much talent on the field, Hill left for California in his teen years to better his life and stay out of trouble, but trouble still had a way of finding him. With character issues, it’s always best to learn the player on a case by case basis, and Hill doesn’t necessarily fit the profile that usually goes along with the dreaded NFL draft “red flag.” With an NFL contract and financial stability, scouts do not expect him to fall through the cracks, and he should be able to keep his nose clean. On the field, Hill has the potential to step into nickel and dime situations and contribute from Day 1, and his ceiling as a CB2 is not out of the question. Good upside with Hill, and he could end up being a starter down the line.

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Projected Round: 5th 

Video of Hill: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jld_x9ul_vI

Craig Mager, CB, Texas State

A physical, press corner, Mager has violent hands that he utilizes to knock his opponent off their routes early in the play. With 4.4 speed and exceptional maturity for his age, Mager is expected to come off the board in the Top 150 picks, and he will make an impact on his roster immediately. The ceiling for Mager might be relegated to CB2 status, but his floor is a core special teamer that will not be shy about returning kicks or gunning on kickoffs. Capable of pedaling, Mager was not asked to do it often at Texas State, but teams will be impressed with his abilities in training camp.

Projected Round: 4th-5th

Video of Mager: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOzQYaqE6aE

Anthony harris
Anthony Harris could make a high-dollar safety expendable early in his career.

Anthony Harris, S, Virginia

An injury cost Harris his opportunity to participate in the 2015 Senior Bowl, but his loss is another man’s gain in terms of draft value. With a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, Harris could have vaulted himself into third round consideration, but instead he will likely come off the board in the fifth round by a celebratory War Room. At 6’0″ and 183 pounds, Harris has all the size and intangibles a defensive backs coach could ask for, with natural instincts that cannot be coached into a player. Harris has an eye for ball, leading the nation in 2013 with eight interceptions. A film rat with work ethic that is unrivaled by his peers in the fifth round, he also has a basketball background that seems to intrigue so many NFL GM’s these days.

Projected Round: 4th-5th

Video of Harris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQv8xFdqmNA

Cody Prewitt, S, Mississippi

If you queue up Prewitt’s highlight reel, you’ll think you’re seeing the second coming of Troy Polamalu, but the instincts just don’t seem to be there. Prewitt has incredible talent, vicious hits and the ability to drop a runner in their tracks. His coverage needs some work, there is no denying that, but when he properly diagnoses a play, you don’t want to be anywhere near him holding the football. A work in progress, Prewitt is expected to go off the board in the fifth round, and he has all the downhill thumping a team would need out of the position and more. He’ll take some time to develop, but if the coaches can rein in his overaggressive tendencies, he could be a nightmare for opposing wide receivers.

Projected Round: 5th-6th

Video of Prewitt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AF7H6L1LV6k

Kurtis Drummond, S, MSU

Drummond is the model of inconsistency when you put on the tape. In one play he looks like a Pro Bowl free safety, and in the next, he looks exactly where he will probably be drafted—the sixth round. At 6’0″ and 208 pounds, Drummond flies around the field like a human missile, taking aggressive angles in pursuit of the ball-carrier. His biggest knock is his ability to wrap-up and drive through the tackle. He often collides with his shoulder, looking for the big hit, but that won’t work as often in the NFL, and he will likely be burned from it. Drummond has starter potential, but he will need an attentive coaching staff to work him through his struggles.

Projected Round: 6th

Video of Drummond: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abOEWKvPxUg

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Sam has been actively involved in the writing community since 2008. After debuting on Bleacher Report, he has gone on to have his work referenced on sites such as NFL.com, ESPN, CBS Sports, Cleveland.com, Yahoo Sports, and many others. Sam became featured on Dawg Scooper, the Internet’s leading independent source for Cleveland Browns news, in 2010. With his departure, he took up the position of Director of Copy Editing with an upstart football company, National Football Authority. In NFA’s run of just over one year, the site generated millions of reads and featured interview’s with many of the NFL’s hottest stars. In the past, his work has generated thousands of reads.

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