Combine Dish: Defensive players who need to do well

Before the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off Wednesday, Russ Lande and his team of former NFL scouts name 11 defensive players who can solidify or improve their draft stocks with strong performances in Indianapolis. On Monday, Lande identified offensive players who need to succeed at the Combine.

Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida

Carlos Dunlap has the athleticism to be great, but does he have the desire?
Carlos Dunlap has the athleticism to be great, but does he have the desire?

Dunlap has freakish size, strength, athleticism and long arms, but he is not nearly as productive as someone with his talent should be. When he keeps his knees bent, uses good technique and plays with intensity and aggressiveness, he can be dominant. But too often, Dunlap gets upright at the snap, fails to attack the blocker and plays without passion. When that happens, he does not impact the play. To ensure that he’s a first-round pick, Dunlap needs to convince teams in interviews that he can play with intensity more frequently.

Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma

McCoy wants to create a real debate about whether he or Ndamukong Suh is the top defensive tackle in the draft. McCoy has flashed the rare explosiveness and athleticism few NFL defensive tackles possess, and many consider him a better all-around athlete than Suh, but he is not as productive or consistent as Suh on film. To overtake Suh, McCoy needs to work out well at the Combine. He also needs to convince teams that his inconsistent technique and aggressiveness were the result of what he was asked to do at Oklahoma rather than the product of poor effort.

Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee

Williams has been flying up draft boards. Considered a third-round prospect before the Senior Bowl, a strong showing in Mobile has made Williams a possible first-round pick. However, with several quality defensive tackles nipping at his heels – including D’Anthony Smith, Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins – Williams needs to show in his workout that he is a good enough athlete to be an impact DT in the NFL. Specifically, he needs to demonstrate that he has the explosiveness that does not appear on film. If Williams does not distinguish himself from the other DTs this week, then he could fall into the second round.

Rolando McClain, MLB, Alabama, and Brandon Spikes, MLB, Florida

Spikes and McClain are generally considered the top two inside linebacker prospects in this year’s draft, but evaluators have one concern about both: playing speed. We have seen on film, and have heard constantly from NFL scouts, that both players are good, not elite, athletes who play faster than their 40 times thanks to great instincts that get them going in the right direction quickly after the snap. However, in order to prove they’re worthy of being top-15 picks, both need to run and work out well enough to ease concerns about their lack of top-end speed. If either player runs the 40 in more than 4.9 seconds, he could end up being a second-round pick.

Rennie Curran, OLB, Georgia

Teams have doubts about Rennie Curran's size, but not his productivity at Georgia.
Teams have doubts about Rennie Curran’s size, but not his productivity at Georgia.

If a player’s draft value was based solely on his athleticism and production, then Curran would be a surefire first-round pick, because he is constantly flying around the field making impact plays. However, Curran’s lack of size is likely to keep him out of the first round, and he has to measure over 5-11 to remain even a second- or third-round pick. Additionally, as with any short linebacker, he needs to shine in his workout to prove he has the athleticism to be productive in the NFL.

Eric Norwood, OLB/ILB/DE, South Carolina

Norwood is the ultimate tweener in this year’s draft. He was a highly productive college defensive end despite looking much more like a linebacker. To avoid a decline in his draft stock, he must demonstrate to NFL teams that he has the athleticism and size wanted for players at one of those positions. In other words, he needs to define himself as either a defensive end or a linebacker. While many have criticized Norwood’s play at the Senior Bowl, we were impressed with the athleticism he showed in pass coverage, and we thought he showed good instincts and awareness playing away from the line of scrimmage for someone who spent most of his college career as a lineman. If NFL teams decide Norwood should be a linebacker, then he must demonstrate in interviews that he has the intelligence to make the transition to the new position.

Perrish Cox, CB, Oklahoma State

Many believe Cox could be a first-round pick because of his size, strength, athleticism, toughness and instincts. However, to be drafted that high, he needs to impress in interviews, allaying concerns about his character stemming from off-field issues. Cox needs to prove he was just an immature kid who made some mistakes, not someone who will constantly cause headaches for his NFL team.

Chris Cook, CB/S, Virginia

Evaluators can’t seem to agree about Cook. Some see him as a top cornerback prospect. Others see him as a solid cornerback prospect who does not fit at safety. Still others feel he has the talent to convert to safety and be a star. To move up from his likely third-round spot, Cook must prove he has the top-end foot quickness and all-around athleticism not only to play corner, but also to play safety and sometimes cover slot receivers. Additionally, Cook must prove in interviews that he can handle the mental transition to safety. Don’t be surprised if there’s a lot of buzz about Cook immediately after the Combine, because he has significantly helped his own stock recently.

Taylor Mays, S, USC

Mays needs an excellent week in Indy to reestablish himself as a definite first-round pick after a disappointing week at the Senior Bowl. No one questions Mays’ instincts, toughness, competitiveness and run-support skills. However, he struggled greatly in man-to-man coverage in Mobile, and he needs to show in workouts that he has the hips and all-around athleticism to handle deep pass coverage in the NFL. No one expects Mays to be a star in pass coverage; he just needs to demonstrate he can be solid in order to ease teams’ concerns about his ability to be a good starting safety. Additionally, Mays needs to do well in interviews to overcome concerns that he was aloof during the Senior Bowl.

Eric Berry, S, Tennessee

No one doubts Berry has the athleticism and talent to be an impact player in the NFL, but teams are trying to figure out why he did not always produce as much as he could have. He needs to explain why his tackling was so bad and convince teams it was the result of mistakes rather than a hesitance to hit bigger ball-carriers. Additionally, if Berry wants to be considered a safety-first prospect, he needs to prove he has the toughness and willingness to tackle to overcome concerns about his lack of ideal size.

Former NFL scout Russ Lande evaluates college players for Sporting News’ Pro Football War Room and GM Jr. Scouting LLC.

Before the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off Wednesday, Russ Lande and his team of former NFL scouts name 11 defensive players who can solidify or improve their draft stocks with strong performances in Indianapolis. On Monday, Lande identified offensive players who need to succeed at the Combine.

Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida

Carlos Dunlap has the athleticism to be great, but does he have the desire?
Carlos Dunlap has the athleticism to be great, but does he have the desire?

Dunlap has freakish size, strength, athleticism and long arms, but he is not nearly as productive as someone with his talent should be. When he keeps his knees bent, uses good technique and plays with intensity and aggressiveness, he can be dominant. But too often, Dunlap gets upright at the snap, fails to attack the blocker and plays without passion. When that happens, he does not impact the play. To ensure that he’s a first-round pick, Dunlap needs to convince teams in interviews that he can play with intensity more frequently.

Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma

McCoy wants to create a real debate about whether he or Ndamukong Suh is the top defensive tackle in the draft. McCoy has flashed the rare explosiveness and athleticism few NFL defensive tackles possess, and many consider him a better all-around athlete than Suh, but he is not as productive or consistent as Suh on film. To overtake Suh, McCoy needs to work out well at the Combine. He also needs to convince teams that his inconsistent technique and aggressiveness were the result of what he was asked to do at Oklahoma rather than the product of poor effort.

Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee

Williams has been flying up draft boards. Considered a third-round prospect before the Senior Bowl, a strong showing in Mobile has made Williams a possible first-round pick. However, with several quality defensive tackles nipping at his heels – including D’Anthony Smith, Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins – Williams needs to show in his workout that he is a good enough athlete to be an impact DT in the NFL. Specifically, he needs to demonstrate that he has the explosiveness that does not appear on film. If Williams does not distinguish himself from the other DTs this week, then he could fall into the second round.

Rolando McClain, MLB, Alabama, and Brandon Spikes, MLB, Florida

Spikes and McClain are generally considered the top two inside linebacker prospects in this year’s draft, but evaluators have one concern about both: playing speed. We have seen on film, and have heard constantly from NFL scouts, that both players are good, not elite, athletes who play faster than their 40 times thanks to great instincts that get them going in the right direction quickly after the snap. However, in order to prove they’re worthy of being top-15 picks, both need to run and work out well enough to ease concerns about their lack of top-end speed. If either player runs the 40 in more than 4.9 seconds, he could end up being a second-round pick.

Rennie Curran, OLB, Georgia

Teams have doubts about Rennie Curran's size, but not his productivity at Georgia.
Teams have doubts about Rennie Curran’s size, but not his productivity at Georgia.

If a player’s draft value was based solely on his athleticism and production, then Curran would be a surefire first-round pick, because he is constantly flying around the field making impact plays. However, Curran’s lack of size is likely to keep him out of the first round, and he has to measure over 5-11 to remain even a second- or third-round pick. Additionally, as with any short linebacker, he needs to shine in his workout to prove he has the athleticism to be productive in the NFL.

Eric Norwood, OLB/ILB/DE, South Carolina

Norwood is the ultimate tweener in this year’s draft. He was a highly productive college defensive end despite looking much more like a linebacker. To avoid a decline in his draft stock, he must demonstrate to NFL teams that he has the athleticism and size wanted for players at one of those positions. In other words, he needs to define himself as either a defensive end or a linebacker. While many have criticized Norwood’s play at the Senior Bowl, we were impressed with the athleticism he showed in pass coverage, and we thought he showed good instincts and awareness playing away from the line of scrimmage for someone who spent most of his college career as a lineman. If NFL teams decide Norwood should be a linebacker, then he must demonstrate in interviews that he has the intelligence to make the transition to the new position.

Perrish Cox, CB, Oklahoma State

Many believe Cox could be a first-round pick because of his size, strength, athleticism, toughness and instincts. However, to be drafted that high, he needs to impress in interviews, allaying concerns about his character stemming from off-field issues. Cox needs to prove he was just an immature kid who made some mistakes, not someone who will constantly cause headaches for his NFL team.

Chris Cook, CB/S, Virginia

Evaluators can’t seem to agree about Cook. Some see him as a top cornerback prospect. Others see him as a solid cornerback prospect who does not fit at safety. Still others feel he has the talent to convert to safety and be a star. To move up from his likely third-round spot, Cook must prove he has the top-end foot quickness and all-around athleticism not only to play corner, but also to play safety and sometimes cover slot receivers. Additionally, Cook must prove in interviews that he can handle the mental transition to safety. Don’t be surprised if there’s a lot of buzz about Cook immediately after the Combine, because he has significantly helped his own stock recently.

Taylor Mays, S, USC

Mays needs an excellent week in Indy to reestablish himself as a definite first-round pick after a disappointing week at the Senior Bowl. No one questions Mays’ instincts, toughness, competitiveness and run-support skills. However, he struggled greatly in man-to-man coverage in Mobile, and he needs to show in workouts that he has the hips and all-around athleticism to handle deep pass coverage in the NFL. No one expects Mays to be a star in pass coverage; he just needs to demonstrate he can be solid in order to ease teams’ concerns about his ability to be a good starting safety. Additionally, Mays needs to do well in interviews to overcome concerns that he was aloof during the Senior Bowl.

Eric Berry, S, Tennessee

No one doubts Berry has the athleticism and talent to be an impact player in the NFL, but teams are trying to figure out why he did not always produce as much as he could have. He needs to explain why his tackling was so bad and convince teams it was the result of mistakes rather than a hesitance to hit bigger ball-carriers. Additionally, if Berry wants to be considered a safety-first prospect, he needs to prove he has the toughness and willingness to tackle to overcome concerns about his lack of ideal size.

Former NFL scout Russ Lande evaluates college players for Sporting News’ Pro Football War Room and GM Jr. Scouting LLC.

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