Each season a new crop of college athletes take part in the NFL Draft Process, and every year what the overall strengths and depths of the class are will change as often as the needs of the teams doing the drafting.
This year is no exception.
Last time we looked over the offensive talent in the 2009 NFL Draft but we all know defense can make or break a championship team.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the overall talent in the NFL Defensive Draft class of 2009.
Position – Defensive End
High Side – Brian Orakpo, Everette Brown, Tyson Jackson
Low Side – Pierre Walters, Orion Martin
Overall Grade – A
Explanation – The Defensive line class – both Tackle and End – is very deep this year. I think the defensive end class is deeper than the tackles and I think you could see between eight and ten going on Day 1 – possibly more than any other position and that includes the ever coveted offensive tackle position. And to my mind, even the low side is chock full of talented guys who have a shot to make an impact. That said, keep two things in mind here. First, even the top guys can be converted to linebacker or tackle depending upon the defensive scheme. That versatility is a good thing but also makes it hard to count on the DE being taken as an actual DE. I love Orakpo like many others, and have been a big believer in Jackson for quite some time, calling him out as a distinct possibility as the Jets’ pick at 17. Now he’s even being talked up as a top 10 pick in many circles I respect. If those two go quickly, guys like Brown, Larry English (Florida State) and Lawrence Sidbury (Richmond) may move up. This is a deep, deep class too. Pierre Walters from Eastern Illinois is all over the team interest lists I did at Draftguys.com and he’s a very productive, smart and versatile guy who could go late and still contribute early. Rulon Davis from Cal is another guy who, with his hard work ethic, high motor and good tackling skills could hang around and contribute as he develops. There are plenty of players who have the talent to get on the field and stay there in this class.
Position – Defensive Tackle
High Side – B.J. Raji, Peria Jerry
Low Side – Ra’Shon Harris, Sammie Lee Hill
Overall Grade – B+
Explanation – An excellent overall class, with talent fitting for every round from first to seventh. Excellent ability front to back, plenty of depth. This class could have a tremendous impact for some time to come with the top end able to make plays from Day 1. Raji has been getting a lot of the press but don’t forget his Boston College compatriot, Ron Brace. While Raji is more of the complete package, Brace is quick off the snap, can shoot the gaps and penetrate to collapse the pocket and is outstanding versus the run. Peria Jerry is a name you have been hearing more the last few weeks but has been on my radar for some time, and he’s a good bet to go in round one behind Raji. Another guy I absolutely love and am pretty sure he will go around the turn at ½ is San Jose State’s Jarron Gilbert. He absolutely blew up his Pro Day and several teams are very interested, including the Jets, whose coach Rex Ryan was in attendance. While it’s a good class, it lags behind the Ends in part because it just isn’t quite as deep.
Position - Outside Linebacker
High Side - Aaron Curry, Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing
Low Side - Anthony Felder, Stephen Hodge
Overall Grade - A-
Explanation – Another incredibly deep class on the defensive side of the ball, Aaron Curry leads a strong group of OLBs which once again contains a large contingent of USC Trojans. The group had a good showing at the NFL Combine and shined brightly during their Pro Days and really has become one of the best positions in the Draft. Curry, likely a top three player, is an exceptional player who is the type of guy who can consistently deliver hits while not getting knicked up or missing games. The two USC guys are opposite sides of the same coin – Cushing, a hard working blue collar guy from Jersey, is the safe, consistent pick with lots of experience and probably is closer to a finished project. Matthews, the walk-on with the fantastic bloodlines who worked his way up through the special teams ranks is all upside and raw skill. But both could produce very good numbers in the right offense. Another USC linebacker not getting enough publicity is Kaluka Maiava. Maiava can play sideline to sideline, can play very physical but also drop into coverage effectively and like Matthews, has Special Teams experience. Even players in the back of the pack like Anthony Felder has the potential to contribute early and often. Most people are more familiar with Cal’s other linebacker, Zach Follett, so for many Felder resides in the shadows like Maiava did at USC. But while Felder is a bit smaller than they’d like he’s a very reliable tackler, great range and what’s more, is a very smart player who can learn the things he can’t do. If he can stay healthy, Felder is an example of a late round or street free agent guy who might still be very productive.
Position - Inside Linebacker
High Side – Rey Maualuga, James Laurinaitis
Low Side – Worrell Williams, Antonio Appleby
Overall Grade - C+/B-
Explanation – If there is a weak spot on the defensive side of the draft, it’s the inside linebackers. The top end is very good, but overall the position is thin and riddled with injuries including top prospect Maualuga. Still, Maualuga and Laurinaitis should both go on day one, with El Rey going in all likelihood no later that 16 to the Chargers and Laurinaitis probably hanging around the turn. Watch for rising prospect Frantz Joseph, who has heat after his spectacular performance at his Pro Day. He plays with a nasty streak and is a very football smart guy, though like so many Inside backers, he can be too aggressive. He still has upside to spare. Gerald McGrath is another guy who could go late and be very productive. McGrath, from Southern Miss, is incredibly athletic and while he lacks the bulk, his frame will allow him to add to it and make that up. Still, they are projects and this is a class that is riddled with them, a little too much for my taste.
Position - Cornerback
High Side - Malcolm Jenkins, Vontae Davis, Alphonso Smith
Low Side – Ryan Mouton, Cary Harris
Overall Grade - B-
Explanation – Another pretty good class for the defensive side of the ball, this group will consistently throughout the weekend. More than one team may focus on other needs first though, so it could be just Jenkins and perhaps Davis who go by the end of round one. There is a firm middle of the road, guys who could go second through fifth that I think will hold some very good value. A great example of the spectrum are guys like the pair from San Jose State, Coye Francies and Christopher Owens who have quite a bit of upside and have attracted attention from many teams. Both are a bit raw but have tremendous upside. Francies is a very physical, can change directions well and has very good instincts. Owens isn’t big and strong, but is very instinctive and really aggressive despite his lack of size. And there are tons of guys with potential like this across the position.
Position – Safety
High Side - Louis Delmas, William Moore
Low Side - Lendy Holmes, Troy Nolan
Overall Grade - B-
Explanation – There are plenty of safeties (both strong and free) to go throughout the weekend. The top end is good but not great while the lower end isn’t bad but isn’t great either. Plenty will go and plenty will play for many years but I don’t think you’ll see this as a great class for years to come, but that’s not a knock as many of the guys will be productive. Louis Delmas (Western Michigan) is a great example of a safety – tough, physical with great instincts who will play hard against both the pass and the run. Moore, from Missouri, is also a big, tough hitter not afraid of getting messy against the run game as well as pass. As you move to the middle of the pack, you get guys like Chris Clemons from Clemson (not tough or a big hitter but good closing speed and in coverage) or LSU’s Curtis Taylor (great athleticism, good instincts, special teams player but not great against the run and too aggressive). Players like these have the upside to survive in the NFL but have large gaps in their game in my opinion. A team can take them and work with them on Special Teams or rotating in as time goes on and the risk is not as expensive as an earlier pick but neither is the ceiling or floor.
Position – Punter
High Side - Jacob Richardson
Low Side - Justin Brantley
Overall Grade - C
Explanation – While a good punter can make or break a team in the battle for field position, they are not usually in high demand during a draft. This class is fine, as far as any group goes, but they are more likely to find themselves signed after the fact than drafted.
Position - Kicker
High Side - David Buehler
Low Side - Sam Swank
Overall Grade - C+
Explanation – Every once in a great while a kicker comes along who goes early but this group likely does not have a fellow like that. The most intriguing prospect this year seems to be Buehler as teams love his strength and accuracy but are unsure how he will hold up in pressure – something he didn’t feel much at USC. Like the punters, a decent group but not outstanding.