Jon Dove’s Defensive Prospect Man Crushes
Every year, a handful of under the radar prospects catch my eye and become my draft man crushes. This draft season, I’m especially intrigued by the remarkable defensive talents who receive little pub.
I’d be willing to pound the table for these guys. While they aren’t highly regarded by everyone in the draft community, I believe they will have excellent NFL careers.
Robert Nelson — Cornerback — Arizona State
Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use a second-round pick on Nelson. The Sun Devil defensive back is a smooth athlete who can really stick with his target. He reminds me of a less heralded version of TCU’s Jason Verrett, as both players do a great job limiting separation by the wideout.
Nelson also is a versatile defender, excelling in both man and zone coverage. In man, he uses his quickness and long arms to stick with his assigned man. Nelson’s short area burst, balance and ability to read the quarterback are just a few of the traits that make him a strong zone corner.
I categorize Nelson as a four-down player because he also brings value on special teams. Arizona State used him as a punt returner and gunner in punt coverage.
Below is a clip showing Nelson quickly react to play action and use his ball skills to pull down an interception.
Jonathan Dowling — Safety — Western Kentucky
While this safety class is a talented group, more than a few prospects are too highly projected. The only top-end prospect on my list is Louisville’s Calvin Pryor, and the rest — including Ha Ha Clinton-Dix — aren’t first rounders in my eyes.
However, Western Kentucky’s Jonathan Dowling is a solid mid-round prospect with the potential to develop into an impact player. He’s a long and lean player who plays like his pants are on fire. Dowling jumps off the screen because he’s always flying to the football and making plays.
I love how he trusts his reads and doesn’t hesitate to break on the football. Whoever adds Dowling to the mix will be getting a well-rounded and aggressive player.
The video below is an example of Dowling reading the quarterback and undercutting the route.
Preston Brown — Linebacker — Louisville
Upon first impression, Brown looks like a big-bodied linebacker who’ll make his money supporting the run. However, he’s a much more versatile and well-rounded player, blessed with the short-area burst and quickness to make plays in all aspects of the game.
Against the run, Brown routinely uses proper angles and trusts his reads. This allows him to make the most of his explosiveness by attacking the line of scrimmage. He can often be found making plays behind the line of scrimmage, as well as near the sidelines.
His ability to hold up in coverage is a question mark, but Louisville was able to conceal this issue by taking advantage of Brown’s knack for generating pressure on the quarterback. Brown’s awareness allows him to routinely time the snap and rush the passer. He even shows the ability to threaten the edge, flatten out and close like an edge rusher.
This clip is an example of Brown’s snap awareness and ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
B.J. Lowery — Cornerback — Iowa
I tend to gravitate towards cornerback prospects who are good movers and excel at limiting separation. That’s why Lowery finds his way onto this list. He’s a long and athletic corner who doesn’t give receivers much room to operate, making him a great fit for a team running a man coverage-oriented system.
The thing that really stood out to me was how Lowery routinely took away shorter passes like slants, quick outs and stops. This has as much to do about his fluidity as it does his feel for the position. That awareness also plays a role in Lowery’s ability to hold up in zone coverage.
Lowery is committed to keeping his pads down and remaining balanced when asked to drop into a zone. He then reads the quarterback and route developing around him in order to break on the ball.
Overall, this is a very underrated prospect who has a chance to develop into a starter at the next level.
The clip below is a great example of Lowery’s feel for the position and skill at taking away high percentage shorter routes. Keep in mind that he’s going up against Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis, who’s known for his crisp route-running.
Khyri Thornton — Defensive Tackle — Southern Mississippi
Khyri Thornton possesses both the size of a run-stuffer and surprising quickness, a combination that enables him to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Indeed, it’s that quickness that, in time, will make Thornton much more than a two-down player and allow him to bave a major impact.
Thornton’s short-area burst isn’t the only thing that jumps off the screen, as he also displays good lateral quickness. While he isn’t a major pass-rushing threat at this point, he has enough quickness to shoot the gap and disrupt the running game.
With his thick lower half and strong upper body, Thornton’s quite capable of anchoring at the point of attack. That quickness only gives him another dimension as he can make plays away from his frame.
It’s also important to note that Thornton plays with a great motor, something that’s a major bonus for a 300+ pound defensive lineman.
The clip below shows Thornton’s high motor and surprising quickness.
In my next piece, I’ll take a look at some of my man crushes on the other side of the ball. In the meantime, be sure to tweet me your thoughts on these underrated defenders at @Jon_Dove42.