Cream of the Crop
Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
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The Gamecock pursues the play with vigor and has fluid lateral agility in pursuit, showing urgency throughout the chase, resulting in 26 tackles behind the line of scrimmage during his last 27 games.
For a potential move to linebacker, Ingram is explosive closing on the ball in the short area and has the foot speed to make plays outside the box. He hits, wraps and drives through the ball-carrier with good technique, doing a good job of adjusting in space. He shows the leg drive to change direction in an instant. He also displays impressive hip snap turning and takes good angles while keeping his hands active to defeat the block.
"I've been working at linebacker and defensive end the whole time I've been training," said Ingram, who called playing linebacker "second nature to me." Ingram met with 3-4 and 4-3 base teams at the Scouting Combine, and said his biggest assets are simply his athletic ability and relentless desire to be around the ball. "It really doesn't matter where I play, as long as I'm on the football field."
By the numbers, Ingram started just 15 of 51 games, posting only 109 tackles, but 36 of his hits (solos/assists) came behind the line of scrimmage, with 21.5 sacks. He averaged 18.0 yards in limited chances asa a kickoff returner and scored once on a 68-yard rushing attempt.
Compares to: Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul — Much like Piere-Paul, Ingram's ability to play in a two- or three-point stance, stand up to handle strong-side or inside linebacker duties, along with his skills on special teams, makes him, well, "special" in the eyes of NFL teams. He looks like a perfect fit to provide fresh blood to a struggling pass rush down in Jacksonville, but if the Jaguars pass at No. 7, I doubt if he will be on board past Carolina's pick at No. 9. Look for Seattle to make serious overtures to the Rams or Jacksonville in attempts to move up and steal this Gamecock.
Best of the Rest
Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
If I was a fan, I'd search out a scalper to get a front-view seat to see this kid in action, as I see the junior as the second coming of Hall of Famer Richard Dent. Any fans sitting near the opposition's coaches' box on Illini game-day can attest to what has become a common occurrence this season — papers flying in the air, possibly a laptop being hurled at the wall and loud screams that might make you wonder if someone let a banshee loose in the room.
The consensus from professional scouts is that the junior lineman might be the best pass rusher in the college game and have pegged him as one of the elite prospects for the draft.
Based on the recent success that the Houston Texans have with Connor Barwin (Cincinnati) and the San Francisco 49ers are enjoying with Aldon Smith (Missouri), both one-year starters at defensive end for their universities, those same scouts are predicting that the Illini product is far superior to that tandem.
By the numbers, Mercilus started 15 of 37 games, recording 81 tackles with 18.0 sacks, 28.0 stops for losses and 29 quarterback pressures, adding 11 forced fumbles with two fumble recoveries and 11 touchdown-saving hits. He ranks tied for eighth in NCAA FBS history with his 11 forced fumbles, and his nine forced fumbles in 2011 broke the school season record of five.
Compares to: former Bear Richard Dent — Mercilus is like watching a 2-year-old thoroughbred : He might look gangly at times, but you can see that pedigree shining through when he does what he does best — wreak havoc in the backfield. I'm not sold on the idea of making him a linebacker, though, as I feel that will be too much for a youngster with just one year of starting experience to absorb at this stage of his game. Place him up front on the weak-side and just let him attack the pocket on a regular basis. The Jets and Tennessee are hoping he's around in the mid-first-round area.
Bruce Irvin, West Virginia
Charles LeClaire/US Presswire
I'm not looking for choir boys for my team, if I was a GM, but reviewing Irvin's off-field history has to get me to pull back my reigns when it comes to jumping on this character's bandwagon. Yes, he is a natural pass rusher, but do I invest money in a guy that not only can self-destruct off the field, but one that would even make North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins hesitant to hang out and party with the guy?
Irvin has good agility and explosion into the backfield, but brings nothing to the table as a tackler and run-stuffer. I seriously doubt if he's smart enough to quickly digest plays and get into position vs. the pass. To me, he's a one-trick pony who will get devoured by NFL blockers if forced to play with his hand down.
Compares to: Seahawks' Chris Clemons — Used strictly in pass rushing situations, Irvin will have success. Ask him to take on the mental adjustment needed to play linebacker and I doubt if he can make the move. A few days after the Bears worked him out in late March, good ole Irvin celebrated by being arrested for destruction of property after he was charged with breaking a sign at a sandwich shop. Great way to add to your resume for general managers ,Bruce!
Shea McClellin, Boise State
McClellin is a tremendous athlete and emerging playmaker. One of the most underrated defensive ends in the collegiate ranks, McClellin is more than likely to shift to outside linebacker at the pro level, thanks to his superb athleticism, nonstop motor, lateral agility and closing speed. He often lined up in a standing position and is a highly instinctive performer whose ability to play in a variety of roles is due to his ability to easily acclimate to any assignment given to him by the staff.
With his blue-collar work ethic, aggression taking on blockers and ability to string plays out wide, McClellin has had considerable success chasing down ball-carriers, evident by his 33.0 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in his three years as a starter. While he lacks the bulk to combat bigger offensive lineman, he has quick and strong hands to gain advantage and slip past blockers when coming off the edge.
In his last two seasons, the Broncos' success on defense could be traced to McClellin's abilities to stunt, shooting the inside gaps or take a quick loop turning the corner. When asked to cover tight ends and backs in the short area, he is efficient using his hands to jam and reroute the receiver, along with very good timing and elevation to battle for the thrown ball at its high point.
Of his 130 career tackles (64 solos), he has recorded 20.5 sacks, sixth-best in school history, and used his long reach and impact wrap-up skills to force five fumbles, two of which he recovered. In pass coverage, all four of his interceptions led to Boise State scoring drives. Unlike most starters, he enjoys his opportunities to play with the special team coverage units, blocking one kick while delivering 14 tackles with those squads.
Compares to: former Patriot Mike Vrabel — More like a poor man's Clay Matthews, McClellin is the perfect blue-collar/blue-chip prospect that the Patriots covet. While most draft boards have him in the second round, remember "Coach Bill" likes hard workers and would not hesitate to use the draft's 31st pick to get his team another Vrabel.
Jake Bequette, Arkansas
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Jake's father, Jay (1980-82), excelled as a center for the university, going on to earn All-Southwestern Conference honors during his senior season. Two years later, Jay's younger brother, Chris, joined the Arkansas program as an offensive tackle (1984-87), as he garnered Delbert Schwartz Outstanding Athletic Achievement Award honors in 1986, followed by being the 1987 recipient of the Jim Wellons Dedication Award.
Bequette's power and raw strength has seen him dominate vs. offensive tackles that far outweigh the emerging pass rusher. Those same scouts see the same intensity level in his play to draw comparisons to the Minnesota Vikings' Jared Allen, as Bequette performs with the same take-no-prisoners approach.
His cat-like moves and impressive speed (4.57 in the 40-yard dash) have other experts likening his talent to that of the Rams' Chris Long, as both are known to let their actions on the football field to speak volumes for their ability.
By the numbers, Bequette ranks ninth among NCAA active players with 32.5 tackles for losses, sixth with 23.5 sacks (third-best in school history) and third in lost yardage via sacks (165). He also generated 35 quarterback pressures and caused eight fumbles.
Compares to: former Steeler Aaron Smith — Bequette is a Rock'em Sock'em Robot on the football field. He has great closing speed vs. plays in front of him and enough lateral agility and balance to handle tight ends and receivers in short area passing situations. He's gotten lots of mid-round attention from Green Bay, Pittsburgh and the Rams, all looking for his team-first work ethic to improve their pass rushing game.
Dave-Te Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.