Defensive MVP: Toby Ndukwe
He’s coming off a torn ACL, but don’t let that take away from his potential as a run defender and pass rusher. He has speed off the edge, quick hands that he uses to shed blockers, good power for a 220-pound end and great closing speed when he’s rushing the passer. When George Ranch won the 2015 Texas Class 5A Division I state title, Ndukwe – then a junior – was named defensive MVP. The injury means there’s a good chance he likely won’t contribute too much in 2017, but that gives him time to add to his 6-foot-3 frame. Ndukwe is going to be a weak-side defensive end and stand-up rusher. With a year off to rehab his knee and regain pre-injury form, he’s going to be tough to keep out of opponent’s backfields because of his speed, motor and hands. If he can keep developing as a pass-rusher and add moves to his arsenal, he’ll be hard for SMU to keep off the field for long. He told PonyStampede he expects to resume football activities in August.
Runner-up: Harrison Loveless
Loveless was one of the earlier members of SMU’s 2017 class and one that could end up playing a couple different spots along the defensive line. He played nose tackle, 3-technique tackle and end in both even and odd-man fronts. Though he’s probably not going to be a speed rusher in college, he plays with good leverage on the edge against the run and could handle being a strong side defensive end. He’s powerful and strong enough to play interior line, but could get a little bigger. SMU will love his aggressiveness, high motor and versatility.
Sleeper Player: Delano Robinson
Robinson may not have top-tier speed or fluidity, but he’s always around the ball against the pass and is a willing tackler against the run. He plays bigger than his listed 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame. As a safety, he showed he could turn and run with most receivers when he needed to. He’s probably best as a zone defender right now, which is mostly what he played in high school. Now that he will transition to the star linebacker spot, he will also need to work on his man coverage skills. He showed some ball skills as a safety. With some improved fluidity, he can be a good space player for SMU.
Project player: Jordan Gipson
Gipson was essentially an unknown to everyone other than the SMU coaching staff when he committed to the Mustangs in May. SMU was his only offer and he keeps a really low profile, but he came up on an unofficial in May and the staff took his commitment. They managed to keep him a secret until signing day. He needs to be quicker off the line and stronger at the point of attack to shed blockers, but he can knife through gaps to get in the backfield and he makes a lot of plays in backside pursuit, showing off a good motor. He’s another versatile type that could end up as a strong side end or interior lineman. He’s pretty raw technique-wise and needs to get stronger, but SMU could find itself with a useful and versatile player longer-term if he can improve in those areas his first couple years on campus.