IDP prospects: Suh leads loaded class

Our final stop on the pre-combine rankings journey is on the

defensive side of the ball, and I’m giddy about it.

This draft class is absoluely l-o-a-d-e-d on defense. It took

me some time to whittle my list down to the top 10 overall. If your

favorite team is drafting in the top 10, you have a very legit shot

at walking away with an elite prospect at almost any defensive

position. And remember, I’m ranking these according to potential

fantasy production next season. This isn’t necessarily my big board

for overall player rankings.

Let’s do it.

1. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska, 6-4, 300 lbs

2009 stats: 82 tackles, 12 sacks

NFL comparison: Albert Haynesworth

Projected draft position: Top two overall

Feb. 3 analysis: Suh isn’t quite as heavy as

Haynesworth, but he’s certainly capable of making as much of an

impact, and he’s much quicker and more athletic. His numbers are

even more impressive when you realize that it’s not typically a

DT’s job to make that many tackles, but Suh didn’t make them at the

expense of what he was supposed to be doing. He is rarely caught

out of position and always seems to be involved in stopping the

play.

There are some mock drafts which project Suh will be chosen

first overall by the Rams, and I could see it happening.

Considering how atrocious their quarterbacking has been for the

past few seasons, the fact that St. Louis would even consider a

player at another position is a testament to how dominant of a

player Suh can potentially become. Those of you who watched his

12-tackle performance in the Big 12 championship game against Texas

caught a glimpse of what may come.

If Suh falls past the Rams, there’s no way he’ll get past

Detroit at No. 2. I still maintain that the Rams should choose

their QB of the future, but I also understand how it would be

awfully tempting for them to try to pick Suh and slot him next to

Chris Long. Those would be two young and solid

building blocks around whom this team could reconstruct this

abysmal defense.

2. Eric Berry, S, Tennessee, 5-11, 203 lbs

2009 stats: 83 tackles, 2 INT

NFL comparison: Ed Reed

Projected draft position: Top seven overall

Feb. 3 analysis: Berry is the kind of playmaker

whose presence can change an entire secondary. He’s a ball hawk in

the truest sense of the definition, he showed up in big games for

the Vols, he isn’t afraid to get physical, and he excels when asked

to support the run defense.

Berry didn’t make as many interceptions this season as he did

in his previous two at Tennessee, but when he makes them, he is

always looking to move forward and maximize the potential gain on

return yardage. Case in point, he had 265 return yards on seven

interceptions in 2008. Read those numbers over and over again and

let it sink in. He may get drafted as high as No. 3 overall.

3. Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma, 6-4, 297 lbs

2009 stats: 32 tackles, 6 sacks

NFL comparison: Darnell Dockett

Projected draft position: Top three overall

Feb. 3 analysis: McCoy will be an outstanding

consolation prize for whichever team needs a defensive tackle and

misses out on Suh. And as you can imagine, most of the teams

picking early in the draft can use plenty of help in the trenches.

Too bad for them that McCoy probably won’t last beyond the third

overall pick.

McCoy isn’t as overpowering as Suh, but he is still a

destructive force on the line. He finds his way into the backfield

to either disrupt plays or push the ball carrier towards teammates

who are waiting to make the play.

4. Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama, 6-4, 255 lbs

2009 stats: 105 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 INT

NFL comparison: Ray Lewis

Projected draft position: Top 10 overall

Feb. 3 analysis: If you’ve ever wondered what it

feels like to get run over by a truck, ask McClain to tackle you.

This guy is a prototypical inside linebacker if there ever was one.

He lays the wood when he hits, he is physical and aggressive,

explosive and destructive, and on top of it all, he is a real

student of the game. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban mentioned in a

recent article that he thinks McClain knows not only his

assignment, but knows where everyone on the defense is supposed to

be for each play of the game. That speaks volumes.

McClain would actually stand next to Saban during Alabama

practices and watch over the defensive unit as if he was one of the

coaches. He may very well turn into one of those some day, but for

now, it won’t take him long to become a true defensive leader for

whichever NFL team picks him up.

5. Joe Haden, CB, Florida, 5-11, 190 lbs

2009 stats: 57 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 INT

NFL comparison: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Projected draft position: Top 10 overall

Feb. 3 analysis: Haden might be a tad undersized

and could stand to add a little bulk, but he fits the mold of a

shutdown cornerback to a tee. He can glue himself to a wide

receiver in coverage and keep it tight for as long as the play

requires. He has excellent speed and doesn’t get beat on the deep

ball. He rarely misses open field tackles and doesn’t get fooled by

one-on-one juke moves. And he’s athletic enough to turn his body to

acrobatically knock a ball away from a receiver when the situation

calls for it.

6. Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech, 6-4, 275 lbs

2009 stats: 52 tackles, 12 sacks

NFL comparison: Trent Cole

Projected draft position: Top 15 overall

Feb. 3 analysis: Morgan isn’t the kind of guy who

is going to blow up play after play, but he has the kind of

consistent playmaking ability NFL coaches like. In other words,

once Morgan is drafted, his new coach will be able to focus on

upgrading other areas on the team for the next few seasons. Morgan

is a rock who can be built around.

Morgan improved his tackles and sacks in each of his three

years at Georgia Tech, and he even forced a couple of fumbles in

2009. He recorded at least three tackles in all but four games this

past season.

7. Taylor Mays, S, USC, 6-3, 235 lbs

2009 stats: 88 tackles, 1 INT

NFL comparison: Darren Sharper

Projected draft position: First round

Feb. 3 analysis: Imagine if you could take a

linebacker, give him extra speed and move him to safety. That’s

what Mays is, as if his attributes were built on a video game

console.

Mays is fast, but not enough to keep up with the NFL’s

fastest wideouts. That’s not a concern since he won’t be in single

coverage schemes all that often. Well, that … and Mays might make

a receiver think twice about going into his coverage zone after he

lays a linebacker-like hit on one. He can be caught out of position

and even overpursue a play on occasion, but Mays is a very solid

safety who can anchor a secondary. If he can post a good 40-time at

the combine, his name might start appearing in the top 10 of mock

drafts.

8. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, S. Florida, 6-6, 265 lbs

2009 stats: 42 tackles, 6 sacks

NFL comparison: Mathias Kiwanuka

Projected draft position: Second round

Feb. 3 analysis: Pierre-Paul is a monster in the

making. He only spent one year at South Florida since he was doing

the JUCO thing for a couple years before that, so he is still a

work in progress. That becomes even clearer when you look at his

game long – Pierre-Paul was either a major factor or non-factor in

USF’s games this past season. But on pure measurements alone, he

has the size and the strength to hold his own against just about

any offensive lineman. He has the potential to turn into a

Mario Williams-type of presence, and if he does,

some team could get themselves an absolute steal.

9. Earl Thomas, S, Texas, 5-10, 197 lbs

2009 stats: 63 tackles, 8 INT

NFL comparison: Brian Dawkins

Projected draft position: Second round

Feb. 3 analysis: Thomas only played two seasons at

Texas, but he’s still eligible to throw his name into the draft

ring. As a matter of fact, his production actually went down as a

sophomore. Nonetheless, he posted some rather impressive numbers in

both seasons and may be moved between safety and cornerback at the

next level, which will give him the opportunity to make more plays.

He’s still a little raw and inexperienced, and by the time he makes

it to the NFL, coaches won’t have time to go back and teach

fundamental techniques. That’s why he will probably fall out of the

first round despite the fact that he’s a naturally talented

playmaker.

10. Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida, 6-6, 290 lbs

2009 stats: 34 tackles, 9 sacks

NFL comparison: Mario Williams

Projected draft position: First round

Feb. 3 analysis: Like Williams, Dunlap has an

explosive first step and uses his athleticism to shed blocks and

get to the opposing quarterback. He is relentless when chasing down

ball carriers and keeps the motor running until the play has been

whistled dead.

The problem was Dunlap registered only two sacks in Florida’s

last five regular season games and seven total tackles in the final

four games. He didn’t play a great deal as a freshman in 2007, so

he really only had two years of full-time experience at Florida.

Dunlap may be another project, but he certainly has the tools to

excel at the next level if he can bring his entire game together.

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