Similar to the offense, the defense is loaded with small school talent, especially at linebacker and defensive end. While it’s not an overly top heavy group, there is lots of depth at linebacker and cornerback to follow with this squad all week.
Two small school defensive ends who could work their way into the top 4 rounds, the pass rusher who Luke Joeckel said is the best he faced this year, two high ceiling ACC cornerbacks, and a safety that’s more naturally athletic than Taylor Mays was out of USC.
OUR SHRINE GAME HEADQUARTERS: HERE
1. David Bass, DE, Missouri Western State
Despite being from a Division II school, Bass is certainly built the part of an NFL defensive end, and has the ideal body type coming out of school for a potential 3-4 rusher, or even a developmental 4-3 guy. Producing at fantastic amounts since making noise as a sophomore, Bass will have the all-important interview where he’ll face NFL offensive tackles, especially going against Armstead and RJ Dill.
2. Mike Catapano, DE, Princeton
-A physical edge rusher, Catapano thrives as an inside leverage power rusher. He has great inside arm driving ability, and utilizes hand placement, strength, and activity to collapse the pocket on the outside. Also, he shows the ability to bend and control the edge (though not a speed rusher), and has the body control to adjust and get skinny on the interior, with flashes of being able to stunt and work inside as well. A complete strong side rusher, he should thrive against many of the tackles here.
3. Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina
-Unfortunately for Taylor, the first word that comes to mind when evaluating the impressively built Taylor is “stiff”. His size, length, and straight-line closing speed flashes the upside of being an impact, edge setting rusher. But he plays too upright, can be contained by more polished offensive tackles who play with good hands and pad level, and struggles to bend inside and out. He has loads of upside and it’d be a surprise if he wasn’t drafted, but I’m hoping to see some strides made in his technique and bend.
4. Scott Vallone, DT, Rutgers
-The aggressive, slightly undersized nose tackle for Rutgers was an unheralded reason for the defense’s success this year, especially against the pass. He doesn’t have great athleticism and lacks the elite speed/quickness to get sacks at the next level. But his willingness, reach and maximizing of extension, quick and subtle swim moves, and refusal to stay blocked, he should win the “effort” award this week on the defensive line.
5. AJ Francis, DT/DE, Maryland
-With the length, size, and strength that will translate to the NFL, Francis has the best chance to make a huge jump in NFL team’s minds this week after not being utilized all that week at Maryland this year. The smart, active likely 5-technique at the next level, he has the ability to anchor and use his long arms to clog passing lanes. He can play too loose with his arms in the run game, and can struggle to stay low and separate in the run game.
6. Joe Vellano, DT, Maryland
7. Izaan Cross, DE, Georgia Tech
8. Anthony McCloud, DT, Florida State
1. Sio Moore, UConn
-One of the more excited-to-see players this week in my eyes, Moore is a do-it-all situational guy that could develop into a special player if he really works on his technique. An explosive athlete as a rusher, he drives his legs with fantastic power, and is fluid to redirect, disengage, and attack the quarterback quickly. He has great vision as a blitzer as well. In coverage, he uses his hands well to pick-up receivers/tight ends, and cuts laterally in his steps to get to his zone. However, as a true linebacker, he struggles with his read steps, takes poor angles at times on the outside, and doesn’t show the development of the nuances of the position to be a complete starter. With all the upside, the character and development aspect of his game needs to come through this week.
2. Gerald Hodges, Penn State
-Likely an NFL weakside linebacker, Hodges does a great job of tracking the ball across the field with good footwork to not get caught in traffic, and has some explosive pop when changing fields to attack the runner in pursuit. He’s a little indecisive in his read steps in coverage, but can track the ball and the quarterback’s eyes well. Not overly built well yet, he doesn’t explode through blocks or fill gaps in the run game, and doesn’t have elite hitting ability as a tackler.
3. Lerentee McCray, Florida
-After playing on a truly special defense this year at Florida, McCray may have gotten lost in the shuffle of the loads of talent the defense had, especially on the defensive front. But with great explosion off the snap, sudden hands and fluid hips to drop and drive upfield, McCray has lots of NFL talent himself. Playing linebacker this week will be a new challenge for the pass rusher that Luke Joeckel claimed was the best he faced this year, but with McCray’s high motor and explosive closing speed, he may thrive in run support, while pass coverage will be a learning experience.
4. Robert McCabe, Georgetown
-A bit thinly built for a linebacker, McCabe actually moves and looks the part of a safety playing on the inside, a potential transition he may need to consider initially if the ILB doesn’t work out. He does have great body control laterally, positions his body for gap control/blocker engagement as well as any linebacker in this class, and outside of playing wider to control gaps, he’s as polished as they come at linebacker. His vision, decision making, instincts, and quickness for range as a linebacker could make some team really fall for him, and I’d be surprised (if he plays well this week) if he fell out of the draft as long as he tests fairly well at the NFL combine.
5. Matt Evans, New Hampshire
6. Sam Barrington, South Florida
7. Nick Moody, Florida State
1. Rod Sweating, Georgia Tech
-A savvy cornerback, Sweating has done a great job utilizeing his smooth transitions and reactions in coverage to really impress over the course of the past two years. Possessing good fluidity and length as a cornerback, Sweating makes the most of his talents and works hard to stay tight on his receivers and adjust on the fly well.
2. Brandon McGee, Miami (FL)
-Highly athletic player with elite speed, elite quickness/agility, and impressive hip fluidity, the once highly sought after high school recruit should be among the best players here talent-wise. But his lack of physicality and consistent effort in college (and getting by on talent alone) was frustrating to see. His ability to cover the slot could have the most value, but he likely has the highest upside of any cornerback at the Shrine Game, at least on the East roster.
3. Xavier Brewer, Clemson
-Part of a recent run on Clemson defensive back, Brewer doesn’t stand out as a receiver in any way really, but it’s that consistency and ability to likely function in press or off-coverage situations and sound tackling that could give him a long NFL career. I’m looking to see most importantly on how he handles bigger/longer receivers (like Marcus Davis) and if he can time his jumps and the high point situations well.
4. Melvin White, Louisiana-Lafayette
-The lengthy 6’3 White uses his arms well in coverage, and may encourage teams to see a bit of Richard Sherman/Brandon Browner in him. He certainly is still very raw, both in his drops in coverage as well as his tackling ability, and will be a 2-3 year project if he is drafted. But his length and upside could make teams feel he’s worth the risk, especially if he can flash this week.
5. Josh Johnson, Purdue
6. Branden Smith, Georgia
7. Kayvon Webster, South Florida
8. Trey Wilson, Vanderbilt
1. Cooper Taylor, Richmond
-A special athlete at 6’4, 230 (not official), Taylor could develop into a potential Top 100 pick if he flashes the way some expect this week. While he does sink and change directions a bit high for me, and doesn’t always wrap up as well as you’d like, his length, body control, and pick-up coverage ability (thanks to his size) should intrigue a lot of NFL teams this week.
2. Rashard Hall, Clemson
-A better than expected talent when I reviewed his film, Hall does a great job of reading the quarterback’s eyes and exploding upfield to make a play. He picks up his man well from centerfield, and extends away from his body well in coverage. He’s not overaggressive in centerfield (a good thing), and has good, not great, coverage dropping ability, but it’s his ability to transition across fields and pick up in coverage that should impress this week.
3. Kejuan Riley, Alabama State
-One of the best senior safeties in the country regardless of level of football, Riley is already firmly on the national scene scouting wise. He flows upfield very quickly and shows great form tackling in space. He’s asked to do a lot in the Alabama State defense, from seam coverage to Cover 2 sets to blitzing, and he seems comfortable in every role. His role as consistently a deep coverage safety doesn’t help his impact on the game or draft stock, but his consistency, versatility, and fluidity as an athlete certainly makes him a draftable safety prospect.
4. Josh Evans, Florida
5. Brandan Bishop, NC State
6. Earl Wolff, NC State
Kicker: Caleb Sturgis, Florida
Punter: Dylan Breeding, Arkansas