Thursday was the final day that the media could view a semi-meaningful practice. The players were back to shells and helmets mostly ran plays at half speed. In yesterday’s article I ranked the offensive skill position players and the impressions they made. Because there is not a lot more to gleam from walk-through practices, I will spend this article reviewing and ranking these defensive players by their positions.
Linebackers/defensive ends (mostly outside rushers, unless indicated)
1) Kyle Van Noy, BYU
This linebacker is the best defensive player here, just beating out the undersized DT Aaron Donald. He flies to the ball with good vision and instinct. Van Noy tackles with force, wraps his arms, and takes the ball carrier down hard. He sheds blockers out of his way quickly while rushing the quarterback or playing the run. The linebacker is a leader and is better suited to play an outside linebacker spot, but can play inside backer as well. Van Noy is in my top five rookie fantasy linebackers.
I was not as familiar with this explosive play maker before the week started. Ford came to compete as he looked explosive on every play, flying around the ball, and kept his motor running non-stop. He has a quick first step, dips his shoulder underneath the offensive lineman, and darts to the signal caller. Ford could be huge in big play IDP scoring leagues as he loves to cause havoc.
He had a solid week, so solid I forgot to write about him and his consistency. Sure he is undersized at 5′ 11″ 243 lbs., but so was Miami’s Zach Thomas. Borland flows well to the ball, almost moving as fast side to side as he does forward. The backer steps up and takes on his blocker, quickly sheds them with a forearm shiver, and makes the tackle. His vision is one of his best attributes as well as his competitiveness. He improved his stock this week and showed that his size should not be a concern. Borland should be a solid LB2 in tackle heavy leagues.
He looked like a monster in the weigh-ins all jacked up, but he backed it up in practice. The rusher gets low and is always around the ball. Attaochu did a good job disengaging from blockers with quick hands and keeps his feet. He would be a good LB3-4 in big play IDP leagues.
The motor never stopped with him. Smith flows to the ball quickly as he is light on his feet and throws bodies out of his way. The defender reacts quickly to read the play and moves through the mass of humanity on the line of scrimmage almost effortlessly. I like him as an outside rusher, but he may fit as a Leo in a 4-3 scheme as well.
He is pretty big for an outside linebacker at 6′ 6″ 271 lbs., so he might be playing a bit more as a three-point stance rusher at defensive end. Clarke can anchor his spot on the line while getting a good initial burst across the line of scrimmage. The defender uses a variety of techniques to disengage from blockers to either sack the quarterback or bring down the ball carrier. After the big names are gone, remember Clarke.
Tripp was another pleasant surprise for me this week, my buddy Joe Everett elbowed me to make sure I got a good look at him. The undersized backer is explosive and athletic. He can rush the passer on the outside edge as well as cover a back on a passing route. Draft him late and watch him explode about half way into the 2014 season.
The hybrid player had a lot of success in college rushing the passer from both two and three-point stances. In the interviews he gave, Murphy thought he could play both defensive end and outside linebacker, but at his size he will be forced to play outside backer only. He explodes off the line of scrimmage, but sometimes is a bit out of control. Murphy also needs to get better at dropping back into coverage. He is a developmental pick for me at this point.Defensive tackles
1) Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
I first noticed Donald as he manhandled my Bowling Green Falcons in Pittsburgh’s bowl game. He is stout even though he weighs a little less (288 lbs.) and is a bit shorter (6′) than most defensive tackles. Donald has plenty of power and wiggle that he generates through his big backside. In drills, he swam or spun his way out of many double teams while maintaining balance. Even though Donald might not be on the field for every play, you will get 100% effort as his motor does not stop. He is an engaging player who was a leader in Mobile. He is a must draft in DT required leagues.
Jones is the supersized version of Donald, not as quick, but just as explosive. He burst off the line into the blockers, either holding his position or knocking them back. Jones has good hustle, moves his feet quickly, and looks more like a defensive end than a defensive tackle. If you need a backup DT, draft him, you will not be sorry.
He is big, strong, and powerful holding up the point of attack well. I think he may be a bit oversized for the position at 6′ 6″ 318 lbs. as he cannot get low enough in the trenches. Hageman occupies blockers, but has issues disengaging from them. He has a high motor and will wear down offensives line in time. The defensive tackle might be a better real NFL player than a fantasy one.
Sutton had a good first day and then slowly went down hill after that. He needs to get stronger at the point of attack and use his weight better as his footwork looked sloppy in practice. Hopefully he can improve on this as he has the size and trunk to be an effective run stopper in the NFL.
This defensive back can play both corner back and safety. He is a mauler when it comes to pass coverage. Jean-Baptiste reacts well to the ball in the air, has good vision, and the instincts to sense where the play is going. He might start the league as a corner, but I can see converting him to a safety within his first three years. Jean-Baptiste would be a good target in any league starting defensive backs as he should get plenty of targets week one according to the rookie corner back rule.
He was a fan favorite here. Ward has good ball skills, moves well in all directions, and put himself in positions to make plays. The safety is more than athletic enough to cover backs and tight ends. He had a nice pass breakup in Thursday’s practice. I’m not sure he will be a starter from day one in the NFL, but he should be a solid special teams player who could evolve into a starting NFL and fantasy safety.
Davis flashed day one and then backed off a bit as the week went on. He is a physical athlete that likes to disrupt receivers with an attempt at bump and run coverage. The corner plays best when he keeps the play in front of him as he is a solid tackler and can be helpful in the return game as well.