• Alabama inside linebacker Rolando McClain looks to me to be the most NFL-ready prospect of any underclassman in this year’s draft. Not only does the guy have the physical and athletic skill sets needed for the position, he’s also very instinctive, and there wasn’t much for him to gain by coming back for his senior year. At 6-4, 256 pounds, McClain possesses great overall size for the position, but it’s his range and closing speed in pursuit that make him so effective vs. the run game. Plus, he exhibits impressive body control and awareness in coverage, with the power and short-area quickness to create pressure right through the A-gaps when asked to blitz.
Simply put, this guy looks like an instant impact defender at the next level. That being said, how high can a guy like McClain go? Well, given the fact that middle linebacker isn’t a real premium position early on draft day, I don’t see him going within the top five picks. But the Browns at No. 7, the Broncos at 10/11 and the Giants at 15 all make a lot of sense.
• The Iowa Hawkeyes saw their second underclassman declare early for the NFL Draft this week when cornerback Amari Spievey opted to skip his senior season. Spievey is a tall 6-foot, 190-pound corner who displays a strong upper body and does a nice job using his size to get into the frames of opposing receivers and press off the line. However, the biggest concern when evaluating Spievey is his lack of straight-line speed down the field. He showcases good balance and overall coordination in and out of his breaks but doesn’t exhibit the type of second gear needed to make up for a false step and consistently run with NFL-caliber receivers. He’s a tough kid with a nose for the ball and could operate efficiently in a zone-dominant scheme at the next level, but he’s not a prospect I would consider a starting-caliber man-to-man corner in the NFL.
• One of the main reasons the Georgia Tech triple option offense has been so successful the past two seasons is the play of running back Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer is a 5-11, 235-pound workhorse who displays an impressive blend of vision, lateral agility and acceleration at the line of scrimmage. He’s thickly built through his lower half, and I think he’s only started to scratch the surface of his potential. Remember, Dwyer was consistently asked to lineup in a three-point stance from only four yards behind the line of scrimmage at Georgia Tech. Imagine what this guy will be able to do when he gets a running start from eight yards back with a fullback in front of him. Dwyer looks like an instant impact-type runner at the next level who has the ability to carry the load for an NFL offense.
• The Georgia Tech defense was also hit hard this week with the departures of defensive end Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett. Morgan has looked ready for the NFL game since he set on the field this season and has been unblockable when given an opportunity to go one-on-one in the pass game. His combination of explosion off the snap and power on contact is enough to make any college offensive lineman buckle. And even though he had a quiet Orange Bowl game, his ability to overpower both Iowa tackles, Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway, on separate occasions really stood out to me. Burnett, meanwhile, has been the Yellow Jackets’ eraser in the secondary the past two seasons and combines impressive size, range and overall ball skills for the position. He’s another very talented safety added to this year’s draft class who, because of all the depth at the position, might not be a first-round pick. But he certainly projects as a starting-caliber player.
• Speaking of impact-caliber safety prospects who have decided to forgo their senior seasons, LSU’s Chad Jones has also declared early. Jones is another king-sized defensive back at 6-3, 230 pounds and combines impressive ball skills, awareness and overall body control in coverage. He lacks ideal straight-line speed for the position and looks more like a mid/low 4.5 guy on tape, but he consistently gets good jumps on the ball and knows ball-hawk in the secondary.
With Jones now in the fold for the draft, the safety class is turning out to be one of the strongest groups to come along in years. However, the fact that safety isn’t a real marquee position early on draft day -- and with Taylor Mays (USC), Eric Berry (Tennessee), Earl Thomas (Texas), Morgan Burnett (Georgia Tech) Major Wright (Florida) and Jones all draft eligible -- it’s a good year for NFL teams to wait on the safety position. There are going to be some potential impact-caliber prospects falling to the second round.
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