On Sunday, Scout.com’s Chris Steuber presented his Pre-Draft Offensive Awards, and now he presents his Defensive Awards. There are four categories that a player can fall in at each position, and here is the breakdown:
The categories are:
Shot Caller - The best in class.
Fast Faller - The player who's falling down the draft board.
Prospective Baller - The sleeper of the class, a player who has something to prove or has the chance to emerge as a quality starter.
Crystal Baller – The player, three years from now, who becomes the most productive in each class.
Shot Caller: Chris Long, Virginia
The two best defensive ends in the draft are Chris Long and Vernon Gholston. Long is the more complete DE, while Gholston has the most potential. But, if you’re looking for a player who’s a sure superstar in the making and a great character guy on and off the field, Long surpasses most prospects in the draft and has a legacy no other prospect can compete against.
Miami DE Calais Campbell has a world of potential, but has failed to demonstrate it this off-season.
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Fast Faller: Calais Campbell, Miami
A player with a lot of promise who failed to live up to his breakout sophomore campaign (49 tackles, 20 for a loss and 10 sacks) this past season as a junior, Campbell has been a major disappointment this off-season with lethargic workouts, which included a 5.01 in the 40 at Miami’s Pro Day. This once potential top-10 selection has fallen out of favor with scouts and now finds himself possibly dropping out of the first round completely.
Prospective Baller: Jason Jones, Eastern Michigan
Jones impressed scouts tremendously at the Senior Bowl and demonstrated the ability to get in the backfield and disrupt the action. He’s an intriguing player who has a lot of talent and upside and will provide a team with versatility as a possible 3-4 OLB.
Crystal Baller: Lawrence Jackson, USC
Some believe that Jackson was the benefactor of a very talented USC defense, and that’s the reason why he was successful. But, if you look at Jackson’s sophomore and senior campaigns, you’ll see that he made a lot of plays on the outside and used his strength and technique to get in the backfield. Jackson is one of the best all-around DEs in the draft and will enjoy a lot of success at the next level.
Shot Caller: Sedrick Ellis, USC
Most analysts have Glenn Dorsey as the No. 1 DT; I project Sedrick Ellis to be the No. 1 DT. Ellis is a high motor, highly productive interior presence who gains instant leverage in the trenches. He had an outstanding senior season (58 tackles, 12 for a loss and 8.5 sacks) and an even better off-season where he proved to scouts that he is ready to emerge as a force to be reckoned with at the next level.
Fast Faller: Frank Okam, Texas
Okam is a huge, inside presence, but questions about his conditioning have hurt his draft status. He’s been known to wear down as the game progresses, and showing up at the Scouting Combine at a hefty 347 pounds didn’t help matters. Okam got his weight down to 335 pounds at Texas’ Pro Day, but didn’t show much explosion.
Prospective Baller: Lorenzo Williams, Missouri
Williams is a stout, underrated interior presence who had a productive career at Missouri. At Missouri's Pro Day, Williams looked solid physically and while running through drills. He added 12 pounds of muscle, shed 8 percent of his body fat and measured in at 6-foot-1, 305 pounds. He’s a hard working DT who may be a steal toward the end of the draft.
Crystal Baller: Red Bryant, Texas A&M
A big, physical DT, Bryant can play in a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense. He had a productive career at Texas A&M and gave scouts an up-close look at his athleticism this off-season. Bryant surprised many with his quickness, as he ran a 4.88 at his Pro Day and displayed great agility in positional drills. Look for Bryant to be a one of the top DTs in the league.
USC OLB Keith Rivers is the best in his class and proved it with a sparkling performance at USC’s Pro Day.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Shot Caller: Keith Rivers, USC
When you talk about character guys and great leaders, Rivers is among the best. He plays with a lot of poise and confidence and positions himself well to make plays. He doesn’t have great ball skills, but he’s extremely instinctive and flies around the ball. Rivers shined at USC’s Pro Day where he was timed at a 4.52 in the 40 and recorded a 42-inch vertical. He looked smooth in drills and solidified himself as the top linebacker in the draft.
Fast Faller: Ali Highsmith, LSU
Highsmith was a productive linebacker at LSU and made a lot of big plays, but he’s limited athletically and doesn’t possess great instincts. He’s undersized, doesn’t possess top speed and has to get off blocks better. He doesn’t project to be a starting linebacker at the next level, but could play a key role on special teams.
Prospective Baller: Wesley Woodyard, Kentucky
Woodyard is another undersized linebacker, but he’s versatile and has experience playing the safety position. It’s unlikely that Woodyard will move to safety at the NFL level, but it just shows his athleticism and instincts on defense. Woodyard has been a pleasant surprise this off-season and has showed scouts he’s one of the more promising linebacker prospects in the draft.
Crystal Baller: Cliff Avril, Purdue
A player who compares very well to Indianapolis Colts great Dwight Freeney, Avril has experience playing DE and OLB. Avril is such a great athlete, sports a 4.51, 40-time and is extremely quick off the edge. He has the potential to be one of the league’s premier pass rushers immediately.
Shot Caller: Dan Connor, Penn State
Connor is another great linebacker prospect from Penn State and possesses great qualities on the football field. He can play inside and outside and gives a team options depending on the defense they run. He’s extremely instinctive and has a nose for the ball. Connor was impressive all week at the Senior Bowl and showed playmaking ability on the field. He’s a very good athlete and will be a steady performer at the next level.
Fast Faller: Vince Hall, Virginia Tech
One of the most disappointing prospects thus far has been Vince Hall. He had an outstanding career at Virginia Tech, but was hampered by injuries this past season and wasn’t able to workout this off-season in front of scouts at the Scouting Combine and Virginia Tech's Pro Day. Hall recently participated in VT's second Pro Day and ran a 4.70, 40 and participated in positional drills.
Prospective Baller: Ben Moffitt, South Florida
Moffitt is a mature, reliable prospect who’s instinctive and hard working. He’s a great leader on and off the field and although he’s not a fluid athlete, he’s deceptively quick and displays good ball skills. Moffitt’s ability to sniff out the action and make plays will translate into NFL success.
Crystal Baller: Philip Wheeler, Georgia Tech
Wheeler is an outstanding athlete with great ball skills and athleticism. He plays with a great degree of suddenness and makes a lot of plays in the backfield. He covers a large area and is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker. Wheeler is explosive and will have a big impact at the next level.
Shot Caller: Aqib Talib, Kansas
There are four top CB prospects available in the draft: Talib, Leodis McKelvin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Mike Jenkins. But the player who’s shown the most playmaking ability over his career has been Talib. Talib’s versatility to lineup at CB, WR and be a return specialist will provide a team with a dynamic weapon they can use all over the field.
Fast Faller: DeJuan Tribble, Boston College
A small playmaking cover corner at the collegiate level, Tribble doesn’t translate well to the NFL. He gambles too much and is prone to giving up big plays. He ran a disappointing 4.65 in the 40-yard dash and will most likely be a nickel or dime corner at the next level.
Prospective Baller: Terrence Wheatley, Colorado
Wheatley is another small corner, but has tremendous quickness and dynamic ball skills. He’s fluid transitioning in coverage and displays great awareness locating the ball. He’s an impressive athlete who ran a 4.37 in the 40 at the Scouting Combine and registered a 38-inch vertical at his Pro Day.
Crystal Baller: Antoine Cason, Arizona
Cason is one of the true good guys in the draft and is a great leader. He has plenty of experience and played against top competition at the collegiate level. He has great ball skills and awareness and is an excellent zone defender. He has good size, speed and quickness and will be an immediate starter at the NFL level.
Shot Caller: Kenny Phillips, Miami
This year’s safety class is one of the weakest in recent memory, and there isn’t an elite prospect available, but Miami’s Kenny Phillips will be the lone first rounder. He’s a great athlete with good size and speed, but isn’t a finished product. He comes from a program that’s produced some great safeties, and he has a chance to continue that tradition.
Fast Faller: Jonathan Hefney, Tennessee
You can’t deny Hefney’s athleticism, but he’s a tweener who’s too small to play safety and not quick enough to play corner. He’s a valuable special teams player and that will add some value, but without a definitive position, Hefney will likely be a mid-round selection.
Prospective Baller: Tyrell Johnson, Arkansas State
A physical safety who possesses great tackling ability, Johnson is an enticing prospect with tremendous upside. He’s a bit of a tweener and can play free safety and strong safety and offers great versatility in the secondary. He’s a great athlete and ran a 4.45 in the 40 at the Scouting Combine and registered a 39-inch vertical and a 10-foot, 4-inch broad jump. Johnson is a promising player who will receive attention on Day One.
Crystal Baller: Josh Barrett, Arizona State
After a junior campaign where he registered 82 tackles and three interceptions, Barrett failed to get on the field consistently this past season due to multiple injuries. But, Barrett showed up at the Scouting Combine healthy and ready to show scouts he fully recovered. He ran a 4.35 in the 40 and performed well in positional drills. Barrett’s physical attributes and play compare favorably to the late, great Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor.
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A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.