NFL Prospect Focus: Michigan State Defense

Michigan State's Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi should be on a lot of schools short list for a head coaching job. Going into the season, the Spartans had three players on defense that were considered quality prospects by NFL scouts. Before the year is over, there may be a few more. The three players are Mike linebacker Max Bullough, outside linebacker Denicos Allen, and corner Darqueze Dennard. Bullough and Dennard should be premium picks while Allen is a late round to free agent type.

Max Bullough – Linebacker

Bullough is a fourth-year senior and a three-year starter at middle linebacker. He has all the tools to be a top linebacker in the NFL. His size is ideal at about 6’3 – 245. He has speed (estimated 4.62), strength, and athleticism. He is very instinctive and consistently around the ball. He can play the run, defend the pass, and rush the passer. He has strength at the point, uses his hands to shed quickly, and a physical tackler. He plays a very aggressive game. He has the range and takes the angles to make plays outside. He is not used to rush the passer that often, but when he does blitz, he comes hard and is effective. He does a great job with delays. In pass coverage, he shows he can play zone or man. In zone, he takes good drops and is aware. He has the athleticism and quickness to play man coverage against a back or tight end. Once the ball is in the air, he shows good ball reactions and has good hands.

Bullough can play Mike Linebacker in a 4-3 or be an inside linebacker in a 3-4, He has the traits to play either scheme very well. With his instincts, aggressiveness, and leadership skills, he will take over a defense in short order. He should be a very good first round pick. A player to compare him with is Carolina’s Luke Kuechly.

Darqueze Dennard – Cornerback

In today’s college game, you seldom see defenses play an aggressive press man coverage like Michigan State does. More often than not, teams play zone and off. State has the corners to play press, and they do an excellent job with it. Their best corner is, of course, Dennard. He usually lines up on the short side of the field and can shut his opponent down.

He has ideal size at 5’11 – 196 with long arms and good speed. I would estimate he will run in the 4.45 – 4.50 range. He has quick feet, stays low in his pedal, and a smooth turn. He plays a physical game and is very effective with his jam. He can redirect a receiver with his jam, but he also has the suddenness to mirror his man through moves. In zone and off, he doesn’t give his opponent much room and is very quickly in transition. His ball skills are very good.

While many corners have cover skills, few will support the run as well as Dennard. He reacts quickly to the run and is aggressive taking on blocks and tackling. He doesn’t wait for the run to come to him. He attacks the play. Dennard is one of the better press cover corners in college football. Because corner is a stop watch driven position (speed), where Dennard gets drafted will depend on his he runs at the combine. If he runs a sub 4.5, he will be a first round pick and play very early in his career.

Denicos Allen – Linebacker

Allen is a 5th year senior and a 3rd year starter at linebacker. He is an active productive player in their defense, He usually lines up as the Will linebacker in their 4-3 scheme. Allen is quick reacting and makes plays but he lacks size. He’s listed as being 5’11 – 219. He has a thick build and looks heavier, but I doubt he is more than 225. He has good athletic ability but just average speed. I would estimate his speed as being in the 4.75 – 4.80 range.

With his instincts and reactions he makes plays. He shows strength at the point and can get rid of blocks. He has good lateral agility to get to outside plays and he clears his feet well. While he takes good angles to the ball in pursuit he doesn’t have the speed to consistently catch plays. He is best as a between the tackles linebacker. In pass coverage, he shows a good drop, getting depth and keeping receivers in front of him. He can transition without wasted steps, but he not real sudden with his transition. He lacks the speed and overall quicks to cover man-to-man.

Allen is a good college player who has limitations. His size and speed will limit him as an NFL player. I don’t see the quickness and speed to be a 4-3 linebacker, and he is not really big enough to play in a 3-4. Still he is a tough aggressive kid who will be hard to cut. He should make his mark on special teams. He has a chance to be drafted but may end up being a priority free agent.

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