Similar to how the offensive side of the ball on the West Roster seemed rather “loaded” with solid FBS talent, so holds true for the defense. The defense features just 4 non-FBS prospects, including two of them being kickers.
As far as talent is concerned, the West has a few feature defensive tackles, linebackers, and a few intriguing defensive backs. Not the stronger of the two rosters on defense in my eyes, this crew still may have two or three Top 3 rounders by draft day.
Top Defensive End: Justin Francis, Rutgers
Really improved this season with a lot of potential NFL talent on that defensive line the past two seasons, Francis took over games at times this season. Built fairly lean and could bulk up, he has the potential to be a 5-technique in the NFL because of his quickness off the snap, keeps body angled well and is fairly fluid down the line. He could really impress and become a safe draft pick.
Defensive End to Watch Out For: Tyrone Crawford, Boise State
Playing on the same defensive line as future NFL picks Billy Winn and Shae McClellin, both better prospects, Crawford had himself an impressive season despite their talent. He doesn’t have the same attention around him, but he could be a true 4-3 defensive end. I think he’s likely a rotational guy at the NFL level, and a big week without Boise State talent around him will surely help.
Top Defensive Tackle: Dominqiue Hamilton, Missouri
Among the draft’s best nose tackle prospects, Hamilton didn’t get a ton of love this year playing on a mediocre Missouri team. Still, he holds the point of attack well, can engage and hold his position in the middle, and has shown seperation and rushing ability in the passing game. I fully expect Hamilton to dominate this game and emerge as a legit Day 2, top three round selection.
Defensive Tackle to Watch Out For: Vaughn Meatoga, Hawaii
Meatoga was a guy who I hadn’t seen all that much off initially during the season, but after I looked into him in this Shrine Game prep, I walked away throughly impressed and excited. Built lean and long, he drives with his hands well and stays strong at the point of attack, even through double teams. He has some suddeness to initial rush and uses his length to rush both inside or out. He, like Hamilton, could emerge as a legit Day 2 prospect, and could fit as both a 3 and 5 technique in the NFL.
Other Defensive Linemen: Kentrell Lockett (Mississippi), Arnaud Nadon (Laval), Kaniela Tuipulotu (Hawaii), DaJohn Harris (USC)
Top Outside Linebacker: Josh Kaddu, Oregon
A well-built edge rusher, Kaddu has played with his hand in the dirt as well as a standup linebacker just a few yards off the line. I think ideally he’s in a downhill 3-4 defense that can utilize his bull rush and size, but showing some versatility in coverage and as a complete linebacker will increase his draft stock.
Top Inside Linebacker: Tank Carder, TCU
One of the best coverage linebackers I’ve seen out of the college ranks in a while, he’s developed in his drops and vision in zone, and will likely be already coveted by teams there. But he needs to show more force, aggression as a tackler in the run game, a more completeness to his game. He’s a safe mid rounder now, but an impressive, physical showing could make him a potential Top 3 rounder.
Linebacker to Watch Out For: Brandon Marshall, Nevada
Overlooked (including by myself) after playing with the more impressive James Michael-Johnson, Marshall actually lead his team in tackles and seemed more aggressive and consistent to the ball than JMJ. Marshall doesn’t have the body or athletic ability of Michael-Johnson, which is why he’s the lesser prospect, but as a football-player, he seems to be ready to contribute to an NFL team early.
Other Linebackers: Jerry Franklin (Arkansas), Steven Johnson (Kansas), Ronnie Thorton (Southern Miss) Defensive Backs
Top Cornerback: Keith Tandy, West Virginia
A fairly average cornerback class for the West Roster, Tandy is the best of the bunch easily. He comes up well in run support, can dip in zone or handle quicker receivers in deep coverage, and finishes tackles. He lacks great hips and would probably be best suited in a zone scheme or having safety help over the top, but he can really boost his stock looking as complete as he should with such a mediocre class.
Cornerback to Watch Out For: Chris Greenwood, Albion
Another Division II prospect at the event (Shawn Loiseau is the only other non-kicker), Greenwood has been a sneaky favorite for teams at the small school level, though I haven’t been impressed/seen enough of him to really know if he’s worthwhile of both the NFL Combine and a draft selection. He’ll get his chance during the week, and at 6’1, 180 (estimated), he should look the part.
Top Safety: Aaron Henry, Wisconsin
One of just three safeties listed, Henry has been a consistent concern for opposing quarterbacks, he’s an instictive safety who dips well into coverage but fills hard up the field and isn’t out of place often. He’s much more complete and dynamic than the other safeties at the game, and should prove that in practice, though he’ll need a big showing to be a Top 4 rounder.
Safety to Watch Out For: Austen Cassidy, Nebraska
More of a conservative strong safety, Cassidy was an obvious leader on a defense that featured young talent outside of he and Alfonzo Denard at cornerback. I expect that leadership characteristic to emerge this week, but I’ll be looking in his transitions to deep coverage, fluidity and change of direction in space, and his ability to get through traffic in a hurry.
Other Defensive Backs: Brandon Hardin (Oregon State), Rodney McLeod (Virgina), Trevin Wade (Arizona), Blake Giddeon (Texas)
THE Kicker: Greg Zuerlein, Missouri Western State
An all-american kicker at Nebraska-Omaha just last year, he needed to transfer due to the team dropping their football program. He got many potential suitors from the FBS ranks, including Nebraska, Clemson, and Oklahoma State, but ended up at Missouri Western State because he already had been in school for 5 years and lost his NCAA appeal (NCAA rule). He had a fantastic season this year and should be the better kicker of the two at the event.
THE Punters: Bryan Anger, California AND Matt Prewitt, Kentucy Christian
Anger is the 2nd best punter statisically in the country compared to all seniors at the FBS level, averaging around 44 punts per game on a team who’s offense struggled mightily. As for Prewitt, he’s at a much smaller institution, but does have a 69 yard and a 74 yard punt to his credit in his career, and he’ll put that leg to the test in practices.