The third day of the NFL Scouting Combine saw the linebackers and defensive linemen take the field to run their drills. As a whole, the defensive line group looked really good. That was fitting, considering that this is a deep player pool at the position in this year’s NFL draft.
The group of outside linebackers is also a strong class and they looked the part at the Combine. On the other side, the interior linebacker group looked horrible in their on-field drills, but they are also considered a very weak draft class.
One particular area that is the deepest of the three are the edge rushers. These are defensive end/outside linebackers who will make most of their money getting after the quarterback. It is a very strong group, from top to bottom. So strong that some of the fourth and fifth round guys would be early round picks in other drafts.
The defensive linemen in the interior is a really good, deep group, but not as strong or deep as the group of edge rushers. The first round talent is a really good, but they could fly off the board early and often. More on that later.
As for the interior linebackers, there is maybe one three-down player in the whole group. Most of them are two-down run stoppers, which is helpful, but every team wants to find three-down players. With the speed of the game getting faster, substitutions are becoming harder to make. Teams want to feel comfortable if they get caught with certain players on the field, no matter what down.
Now, onto the players and their Combine showings.
First up are the edge rushers. Shane Ray is one of the top edge players, but did not work out at the Combine. Randy Gregory, one of the other top edge players, showed up to the Combine underweight and did not have a great showing, but nor was it bad. Unless there is something off-the-field or something unknown in their medical histories, both will be long gone by the time Denver picks at No. 28.
Scout.com NFL Combine Coverage
Before the Combine, there were two players whose grades varied, depending on who you asked. Both of them cemented first round status with how great of a showing they had at the Combine. Alvin Dupree and Vic Beasley both had great days on the athleticism tests and position drills. Dupree will likely be the last one off the board of the four mentioned so far, but all will likely be gone before No. 28 when the Broncos pick.
There were a few mid-late round edge guys who stood out. One of them being Kyle Emanuel out of North Dakota State. He had a great day at the Combine and showed excellently during the position drills. The great thing about Emanuel was, before he did each drill, he was in the back practicing with one of the coaches on the field. He is someone the Broncos need to look at later in the draft. He can contribute right away on special teams, but in the NFL, he might be better suited as an inside linebacker than an edge player.
There were a few defensive ends out there that looked to be good fits in a 3-4 front. Anthony Chickillo had an up and down showing at the Combine, but mainly because he was asked to do linebacker drills. Chickillo is a hand-in-the-dirt player, like he was at Miami. His tape showed that he has the potential to play defensive end in either 4-3 or 3-4 front. The Combine confirmed my thoughts on such. As a mid-late round prospect, Chickillo would add depth to the end position, which is lacking with the Broncos switch to a 3-4 front. Right now, Denver sits with Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson as the only 3-4 defensive ends on the roster.
Florida State defensive linemen Mario Edwards Jr. had a mediocre day. On film, Edwards is surrounded with questionable effort, and following the Combine, those questions remained. He carries a first round grade based on talent, but the lack of effort is concerning. If he was able to answer the concerns about effort in the interview room, he will probably be gone before the Broncos pick at No. 28. If he didn’t answer those questions, he could plummet into the late second or even third round.
Going to nose tackle, one option for Wade Phillips' scheme is Clemson defensive linemen Grady Jarrett. His tape is solid and he put together a really good showing at the Combine. He showed up 16 pounds heavier than he played during the season, and it showed in his burst.
On tape, his burst off the snap is great, but it looked like he lost a step with the extra weight, especially on his first go around on the 40-yard dash. His 10-yard split was 1.84, but the second go around was a great 1.69. Some compare him to Earl Mitchell. I have him compared to Jay Ratliff.
Both of those players played nose tackle under Wade Phillips--Mitchell in Houston and Ratliff in Dallas. Jarrett has the burst and the strength to handle the responsibilities that fall upon a Phillips one-gap nose tackle. He currently carries a late second-early third round grade, which falls in line with where the Broncos pick in the second round.
Another potential nose tackle the Broncos can look at is Joey Mbu out of Houston. Right now, Mbu carries a late round grade. There are concerns with Mbu about his talent level, but he gives it his all every time he is out on the field, and that showed at the Combine. For every drill Mbu did, you could see him going full throttle, and you don’t always see that. He may never develop into a starter, but he can be a solid backup for years in Phillips' one-gap scheme. As a late round pick, Mbu is well worth the risk because he does have a high ceiling.
There are a few interior guys at the top of the draft that the Broncos can look at, if they are there at No. 28--Eddie Goldman, Jordan Phillips, Malcolm Brown, and Arik Armstead. Goldman, out of Florida State, didn’t participate at the Combine, due to injury. Phillips had a solid day on the field, but where he can help his draft stock is in the medical exams. He had some back issues in college and that was under the microscope for teams at the Combine.
Brown had a great day on the field and answered all the concerns that where there from his tape. As for Armstead, he showed that he is gifted athletically, and he answered some of the technique concerns. Brown will likely be gone by No. 28, and Armstead may be gone too, with how he is rising. Phillips’ fortunes depend on the medical exams, which may cause him to fall out of the first round. Goldman also may fall, due to injury. None but Armstead are good scheme fits, but if the Broncos want to go bigger at nose tackle, all of them make sense.
A stud at the Senior Bowl, Carl Davis didn’t have the best day at the Combine. After the Senior Bowl, he was on the rise, but is falling back down draft boards. He has solid tape, but there are concerns. At the Combine, none of the concerns were answered and more arose, especially on the technique aspects of the position. Davis may be an option for the Broncos in the second round, maybe even the third, if he continues to fall.
Day three of the Combine had so many prospects worth noting that I will have to split them into two articles. In part two, I will talk about some more players on the edge and cover the interior linebackers.