Scout’s notebook: defensive review

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Observations and analysis from the 10th week of the college football season, including thoughts about some of the nation’s top defensive prospects.

Big-10 defensive tackles shine

Cameron Heyward: Ohio State (6-6, 287)

Heyward was simply a man among boys this weekend vs. Penn State, completely controlling the line of scrimmage and making his presence felt from an array of spots on the Ohio State defensive line. He not only showcased an ability to consistently blow up blockers at the point of attack at defensive end in the run game, he also was effective lined up at defensive tackle on obvious passing downs. The more I watch Heyward, the more convinced I am that he has the ability to line up just about anywhere on an NFL defensive line. He showcases an impressive first step off the ball and does a great job keeping his base down and generating a powerful initial jolt on contact. On top of that, he’s a gifted athlete who showcases good body control and has the length to consistently shed blocks. He finished vs. Penn State with 11 total tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks, and looks capable of becoming an impact NFL lineman in just about any scheme.

Christian Ballard: Iowa (6-5, 285)

Ballard came to Iowa as a defensive end and was even listed as the team’s starter at the position following spring practice. However, to help replace former Hawkeye DTs Mitch King and Matt Kroul, Ballard was kicked inside and hasn’t looked back since. Ballard possesses one of the most impressive first steps of any defensive lineman in the Big 10 and has the initial burst to consistently shoot gaps inside, keep his pad level down and fight through the double team. He finished this past Saturday vs. Northwestern with seven tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack and looks like an ideal one-gap penetrating-type lineman at the next level who could eventually compete for a starting job.

Jared Odrick: Penn State (6-5, 296)

Odrick didn’t have the same type of statistical day that either Ballard or Heyward had, but ask the Ohio State interior offensive linemen how tough it was trying to move Odrick off the ball Saturday. Odrick’s a natural bender who exhibits an impressive first step and does a great job getting under the pad level of opposing blockers and gaining initial leverage on contact. He’s very stout at the point of attack and is consistently able to quickly find the football and make his way toward the action. For a guy who’s only 296 pounds, he does an impressive job controlling blockers at the point and either knifing his way toward the ball carrier or stuffing run lanes inside. Like Heyward, Odrick offers teams an awful lot of versatility at the next level. I can see him generating interest from both 4-3 and 3-4 teams on draft day.

SEC defensive ends struggling vs. run

Rahim Alem: LSU (6-3, 262)

I’m not sure exactly what to make of Tigers defensive Rahim Alem at the next level. He possesses a good initial burst off the ball and has some natural closing speed when rushing the passer. However, he isn’t a dynamic pass rusher and struggles to disengage from blocks and remain balanced when trying to change directions. To make matters worse, he doesn’t play the run game well at all and is easily washed out on contact and struggles to consistently find the football. He was a non-factor this past weekend vs. Alabama, finishing with one solo tackle, and was consistently simply overwhelmed by the physical Crimson Tide offensive line. He does have some talent and natural athletic ability as a pass rusher, but in no way does he project as a starter at the next level.

Lorenzo Washington: Alabama (6-4, 290)

Entering the year, Washington was one guy I thought could possibly make his way up draft boards and draw some interest as a intriguing five-technique DE prospect. However, Washington really struggled to hold his own this weekend in the run game and was consistently sealed away from the football at the point of attack. Sure, Washington did line up consistently against LSU’s right tackle Joseph Barksdale, who’s a very capable run blocker in his own right and looks like a potential starting offensive tackle at the next level. Barksdale made it all look very easy, eliminating Washington from plays as Washington finished the game with only one tackle. He’ll still likely generate some interest because of his size and the lack of overall talent at the position, but for a guy who needs to be effective in the run game to make an NFL roster, this tape will not help.

Significant linebacker depth and talent for the Gators

Ryan Stamper: Florida (6-2, 235)

With starting middle linebacker Brandon Spikes suspended this past week vs. Vanderbilt, Stamper kicked inside at MLB and played like a man on a mission. He finished the game with six tackles and one interception and looked instinctive all night reading his run/pass keys quickly and making plays on all levels of the field. Stamper is one of the more underrated prospects on the Gators defense and actually leads the team in total tackles with 54. He’s a better athlete than given credit for, cleanly changes directions in space and has a nose for the ball. Stamper may not draw as much fanfare on draft day as some of his other teammates, but he has the skill set and drive to end up making an NFL roster.

Dustin Doe: Florida (6-0, 239)

Speaking of underrated Gator prospects, Florida’s spot starting linebacker Dustin Doe has made as many plays as any linebacker on the Gators defense in recent weeks, as he led the team in tackles this past week vs. Vanderbilt with 11. He’s an undersized kid but is really strapped together and exhibits an impressive blend of initial burst and closing speed in pursuit. Doe looks like a guy who could start at just about any other school in the SEC but gives the Gators a ton of depth and another gifted athlete who can make plays in space. He’s a bit scheme limited at the next level, but he plays with natural leverage, can run sideline to sideline and looks like an ideal weak-side Cover 2 linebacker, who at worst could end up becoming a core special teams player at the next level.

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