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Young: Breaking down NFL prospects for Illini defenders Hardy Nickerson and Chunky Clements

Illini Inquirer football analyst Micheal Young breaks down the NFL prospects of former Illini defenders Hardy Nickerson and Chunky Clements, who both will participate in this week's NFL Combine

Unlike some recent years, Illinois football will be well represented at this Week's NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Since  Dawuane Smoot and Carroll Phillips participated in the Senior Bowl, it was pretty clear that both would receive a trip to Indianapolis.        However, Hardy Nickerson and Chunky Clements were not sure-fire locks, even though they received post season honors to participate in the East-West Shrine game.

At the Shrine Game, Nickerson solidified his chances with a strong week of practice and game performance. Clements could not compete due to injury, but still intrigued NFL scouts enough the past two seasons to earn an invite to Indy.

Here's a deeper dive into Nickerson and Clements as NFL prospects.

Jeremy Werner

Hardy Nickerson, Jr. 


Nickerson displays a high level of football intelligence. He is rarely caught out of position because of his ability to quickly diagnose both run and pass. His competitive toughness is high, and he has the leadership to align, correct, and adjust the defense. Nickerson shows solid range vs outside runs by taking the proper pursuit angle, using inside-out leverage to attack running backs. He shows awareness in zone coverage taking away second level routes, defend the seam in cover-2 and finish tackles in space. Nickerson can match up with TEs/RBs in man coverage and demonstrates good ball skills with the hands to intercept passes.  


Nickerson must develop more upper-body strength. It will increase his chances to win at the point of attack versus offensive linemen. Power running schemes caused him to be ineffective when engaged with interior linemen en route to the ball carrier. Once Nickerson improves his power to disengage from offensive linemen, this will allow him to make more plays against gap runs.

Best NFL fit

Nickerson can help any 4-3 team with the flexibility to function at all three LB positions. He will contribute right away on special teams and his knowledge plus anticipation will enable him to make a smooth transition to the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles are looking to revamp their second level and Nickerson would be an ideal fit.

Jeremy Werner

Chunky Clements 

Clements has really good size and athleticism to penetrate in one-gap fronts. Against the run, he displays solid up-field burst and strength, which enables him to re-leverage the line of scrimmage against interior offensive linemen. His lower body strength keeps him stout vs double teams. He can work down the line of scrimmage with lateral agility in pursuit of running backs.  


He demonstrates the physicality to push the pocket in pass rush situations. However, Clement's hands becomes inactive, allowing the offensive linemen to stop the rush.  His hands are heavy enough to deliver the initial shock, but lacks a pass rush plan to counter. Clements was highly inconsistent throughout his career and must bring his best effort at all times to make it at the next level.

Best NFL fit

Clements has the versatility to align in both tackle spots in a 4-3 front. His initial quickness down hill allows him to be effective vs the run and pass.  The Miami Dolphins would be a good fit for Clements to develop. He can learn from one of the world's most well-rounded defensive tackles, Ndamukong Suh.

Micheal Young is the football analyst for Young was a four-year starter for Illinois football and a team captain. The St. Louis native also played for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals from 2001-04. He serves as a color analyst for several broadcast outlets and co-hosts an Illini podcast with former UI teammate Carey Davis on

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