The third day of the NFL Scouting Combine consisted of defensive linemen and linebackers. In part one, I took a look at interior defensive linemen and some edge rushers. In part two, I will look at more edge players and the inside linebackers.
First up is UCLA defensive end, Owamagbe Odighizuwa. He put together a really impressive Combine to go along with his impressive tape. All things considered, I see him as a borderline first round pick. Odighizuwa is scheme versatile and able to play defensive end in a 3-4 or 4-3 front, or even stand up as a linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
With Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson both entering the final year of their contracts, Odighizuwa would be a plausible replacement in the end of the first round. At first, his impact will come in run defense, but the pass rush potential is there. He would need a year to develop, contributing to why the Broncos selecting him makes sense. However, there are major concerns with him, after missing the 2013 season, due to two hip injuries.
The next player isn’t the best fit, as he is a 4-3 defensive end, but he could fit solidly as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Utah defensive end Nate Orchard had a really good showing at the Combine. He showed some good technique during the position drills. While not great, he showed a solid foundation that the coaching staff can take over and work with. Orchard sits as a late first/early second round pick right now. With his skill-set, he is better suited for a 4-3 defensive end, so it is hard to see the Broncos making this selection, unless the coaches think they can coach him up as a rush linebacker.
Scout.com NFL Combine Coverage
Mississippi State defensive linemen Preston Smith is one of the more intriguing prospects in the draft. If you want versatility, Smith is the player for you. He can play every spot on a 4-3 defensive line, and has played every spot in a 3-4 front, and that includes the nose tackle position. Smith is a technically and fundamentally sound player, but he won’t wow athletically, which is exactly what he showed at the Combine. He currently carries a late second round grade, and if the Broncos are looking for a versatile player who can be a starter down the road, he would make an excellent choice.
There is another player in this draft that is very similar to Smith, though not as versatile. Trey Flowers from Arkansas had a really solid Combine. He ended up looking more athletic than what I gathered from tape, and showed sound technique. As for versatility, he can play in either front, but is limited to playing defensive end in both. He is also limited in what he can do on the field. He can make an impact as a run defender, but needs work on his pass rush ability. He has the tools, just needs to put them together. Carrying a mid/late third round grade, he would be an option in the third round as a possible replacement for Malik Jackson or Derek Wolfe a year from now.
If the Broncos want to add a pass rusher, Zach Wagenmann out of Montana in the late rounds is a very viable option. He has the athleticism and explosion to be successful as a situational 3-4 rush linebacker. He quietly had a great Combine, where he showed that athleticism, but he also showed he has the required technique. He currently carries a late sixth round grade, and would be a value pick for the Broncos. He would compete for a backup rush linebacker positon, and if he is unable to win it, they could try to get him on the practice squad for the year.
One of my personal favorite players in this draft class, Lorenzo Mauldin, out of Louisville, had one of the best showings of not only day three, but from the entire Combine. While he did not test off the charts athletically, he still answered a lot of questions during position workouts. On tape, Mauldin isn’t the most athletic player, but he wins his matches with technique and relentlessness. Mauldin also has the attitude teams want.
He had a rough childhood and because of that, he works his tail off, and has the desire to be great and won’t let anything stop him. I have an early third round grade on him. In the late second, the Broncos could go his direction. His best fit is as a rush linebacker, and would be a sponge playing with DeMarcus Ware and eventually take over for him.
Now onto the inside linebackers. This year is a really weak inside linebacker class. At the Combine, no one really stood out on a positive manner. Some had solid days, while others had really bad ones.
The top linebacker is Eric Kendricks out of UCLA. He is the only inside linebacker to have a grade in the first two rounds, and one of two with a grade in the first three rounds. Of the group, Kendricks looks like the most complete player, but has a lot of concerns in his game. Those concerns could not be answered at the Combine, however. He still had a solid day during position drills and moved well during the coverage drills.
The Broncos are more set at linebacker, in my opinion, than most others think. With a mid-second round grade, if Kendricks were there at the end of the second round, it would be a value pick for the Broncos. However, he isn’t best suited for a 3-4 front, but instead as a 4-3 will linebacker.
The other linebacker with a grade in the first three rounds is Benardrick McKinney out of Mississippi State. McKinney under-performed at the Combine and confirmed that he isn’t a cover linebacker, and that limits what you can do with him on the field. That either makes him just a two-down run defending linebacker, where teams can sub him off the field, or have him blitz on passing downs. Either way, it becomes predictable what McKinney will do. As a mid-third round prospect, McKinney can be a choice for the Broncos in the late third. Odds are, however, that he will be off the board before the Broncos get to their pick.
Next up is the fan favorite, Denzel Perryman. Perryman had a horrible Combine. His drills were lacking technique and were just clumsy. He also confirmed that he is just a two-down run stopping linebacker. His coverage drills matched with what you see on tape--slow, clumsy and out of place. Before the Combine, I had a mid-fourth round grade on Perryman, but dropped him to a late-fourth round grade. On tape, Perryman is a lot of flash, but the mistakes and concerns are numerous. If he is there at the end of the third round, the Broncos very well could pull the trigger. That is, if they don’t re-sign Nate Irving, as Perryman would fill that role.
Minnesota linebacker Damien Wilson quietly had a very solid Combine outing. He did not wow in athletic standards, but displayed a good, sound technique foundation that can be worked on with coaches. He isn’t exactly a project, but isn’t a day one starter. He carries a late round ground and can contribute immediately on special teams and as part of a rotation. He is one of the few inside linebackers of the draft that has four-down linebacker potential. If he is there in the sixth round when the Broncos pick, he would be a smart pickup and would add to the Broncos depth at inside linebacker and help special teams.
Easily the best inside linebacker performance came from Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony. He tested out well, especially on the athleticism drills. In the position drills, Anthony showed his raw technique, but still has a high ceiling. The killer with Anthony is the inconsistency on tape. Play-to-play, you can’t be sure what Anthony you are going to get. He currently carries an early fourth round grade, and likely won’t last until the end of the fourth round. So, if the Broncos want him, they will have to take him on the back end of the third, if not earlier. Anthony is rising, but shouldn’t rise very high, due to tape.
Edmond Robinson out of Newberry is a long, lean athlete with a frame that can add more weight and muscle, which is needed. He showcased his athleticism at the Combine, but showed raw technique. He is one of those high upside, low floor players that teams are willing to take in the later rounds. Robinson moves well in space, and has the potential to be a three-down inside linebacker, but that will take time before he is ready to get a shot at the NFL level. As a late round prospect, he is well worth the risk for the Broncos. He can contribute on special teams immediately, all while being coached up to play on defense.
Another versatile linebacker the Broncos should look at in the middle rounds is Jake Ryan out of Michigan. He is scheme and role versatile, meaning he can play in any front, at any linebacker position and do whatever is asked of him. He displayed that versatility during the Combine drills. There are concerns in every aspect of his game, but he is a solid all-around player on tape. As the saying goes, he is a jack-of-all=trades but a master of none.
There are some injury concerns with Ryan, who suffered a torn ACL that caused him to miss the 2013 season. As a mid-round prospect, Ryan makes sense for the Broncos with their switch to a 3-4 front. While Ryan does look capable of playing any linebacker position in any front, he looks best suited as an inside linebacker in a 3-4. He might be a jack-of-all-trades type player, except for man coverage. Being part of a rotation would use Ryan to his maximum skill-set and he can even provide some pass rush ability from inside or outside linebacker.
The last guy from day three, Davis Tull, an edge player from Tennessee-Chattanooga, won’t make a living off the edge in the NFL. Tull has a skill-set that places him on the inside of the linebacker corps. He moves well in space, has good vision and reads the play really well. At the Combine, he did not run the 40-yard dash, but in the drills he did participate in, he looked good. At his pro day, he reportedly ran a 4.6 40. His tape is really good, and shows he can have some sort of impact on a team in the NFL. Right away, it may only be on special teams, but he can eventually be part of a rotation at multiple linebacker positions. As a fourth or fifth round pick, Tull is well worth the risk for the Broncos.