While compiling research and watching tape of the draft prospects for my Mock Draft post, I came across a ton of players. Full disclosure I am a draft nerd and former college player, so I really enjoy watching prospects and creating my opinions on them before I look for analysis from other evaluators. This post looks to identify those players who are projected to be drafted outside the top 50. The "BOOM" players are those that I believe have the potential to be future above average starting players, "BUSTS" are those that will not pan out and "VALUE" are those players that will perform better than their projected draft range. I will break them into position groups with my reasoning behind each selection. As always, let me know in the comments where I hit or missed and if you have any players not mentioned that you think fit here.
** There is also an Offensive Edition to this series which can be found here.
Over the last decade this position has changed a great deal. The days of players fitting either an in the box SS role or the rangy center field FS are over with the evolution of the passing game and more diverse defensive alignments. Today's ideal safety is one that can be adept at pass coverage, while being a willing tackler who isn't afraid to fill at the line on run fits.
Boom: JT Woods, Baylor
In the defensive backfield for the Baylor Bears, teammate Jalen Pitre gets most of the pub, but Woods is sneaky good. Woods' best attribute is his explosion which is seen on his suddenness in change of direction, where he is quick to diagnose plays and has the burst to advance upfield to get involved in run support. His is a fluid athlete that has exceptional range to cover sideline to sideline. He would be best suited in a Cover 2 shell defense or as the deep rover in Cover 3 alignments, but if needed he can come down and play man from the slot. While he is adept at reading the QB and keeping his eyes in the backfield to quickly react to runs, he can also be lured by play action fakes and motions to vacate his area, opening up big plays behind him. While he has good size at 6'2 he is very lean at 190lbs and will need to add more bulk to take the pounding of an NFL season.
Bust: Demari Mathis, Pitt
While not necessarily a bad player, Mathis does not pop on tape. He is an average athlete and lacks top end speed to close when he is beaten over the top. Since he lacks ideal length you would want in a DB and has limited speed and athleticism, he can be a liability in man coverage. Here he tends to be overly aggressive to try to slow down his assignment rather than rely on his abilities. He is a willing tackler, but his lack of size would even limit grooming him to be a box safety, but he could become a decent ST player with his tenacity.
Value: Marquese Bell, Florida A&M
Bell was a standout for the Rattlers and was the best player on the field most times. While he lined up in multiple formations for the defense he was a standout in the run game, where he is a downhill thumper. Bell was equally effective at the line as he was in the deep third, and has the fluidity to play man from the slot covering bigger WR and TE. He can be overly aggressive in run support looking for big hits and can be susceptible to play action. While he can play over the top of the defense, his skillset translates better to a box safety that has slot man ability.
Since the NFL has transitioned more to a passing league, it is starting to play more sub packages featuring 3 and 4 CB in favor of a traditional base defense. With less DL and LB on the field it is becoming more important for CB to be proficient and willing tacklers. Gone are the diva days of Deion Sanders where CB were only relied on in coverage. The CB position today must also be adept at multiple coverages from press man to bump zone.
Boom: Marcus Jones, Houston
If Jones were 4 inches taller he would challenge for a first round selection IMO because of his incredible footwork. He is an extremely good athlete, with elite speed and fluidity. He is excellent in man coverage where he can diagnose routes to mirror receivers. While he is undersized he is a good and willing tackler. Jones has fantastic ball skills and can even add some juice to the return units. His lack of size is the biggest con to his game. His smaller build can lead him to be outmaneuvered in contested catch situations to bigger more physical WR and could open him up to injury in run support. He would be an immediate starting slot CB.
Bust: Martin Emerson, Mississippi State
Emerson's best feature is his length at 6'2, which is not necessarily the best trait to describe a CB. Miss State played heavy zone defense where everything was kept in front of him. He has good awareness in zone looking for crossers and free runners, but did not display elite burst to quickly engage. With mostly zone defense played, a lack of diverse coverages could be an issue at the next level. He has limited ball skills and did not stand out in limited man coverage reps. He is slow to jam his man which yields an easy release and his average athleticism limits his effectiveness on faster, more fluid receivers.
Value: Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston
Athletic freak is the best way to describe McCollum. He is 6'4, 190 and ran a 4.3 at the combine. These elite blend of size and speed were on full display when he secured 13 picks and 50+ PBU in only 56 games. He excels in press man where he wins initially with his size to overpower WR at the line and disrupt their release into the top of the route. While he is a fantastic athlete he is not as fluid as you would like in man. There are times when he takes a step forward in his jam and locking off his hip. This can give a hard time staying with smaller, quicker defenders. Off man coverage is the worst part of his game and limits his effectiveness out of the slot where his size and ability to jam is negated. Learning to use his feet at the top of the route more will help him become more proficient from this position. He is athletic enough to work in any coverage scheme, but would excel on the outside in press man and press zone where his size makes it difficult to hit receivers in areas behind him. He is an immediate matchup answer to bigger more physical WR in the red zone and goal line packages.
LB is a diverse grouping since there are multiple base formations that teams use relying on different skill sets from the position. For this group I did not include those players who are considered outside/rush LB, but mostly the MLB in either a 3-4 or 4-3 system. With the defense of the spread offense in college it was more difficult to find complete 3 down LB in the mold of a Luke Keuchly or Eric Kendricks. Today, teams rely more on matchup personnel in sub packages rather than a steady diet of base defense.
Boom: JoJo Doman, Nebraska