Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE
This is the day of the NFL Combine that everybody in Who Dat Nation has been waiting for. The time for defensive lineman and linebackers to show what they have in the annual "Underwear Olympics."
Ever since Sean Payton came back from his suspension and started cleaning house, wiped the slate clean and proclaimed a new era of defense, Saints fans have been waiting for this day to check out the new prospects. Not since the days of the "Dome Patrol" has Who Dat Nation had the opportunity to watch a 3-4 defense wearing the Black & Gold.
Now, this isn't the "end all, be all" part of the draft process, but this does help scouts gauge explosion and athleticism with players. When lesser known players start to show out in Indianapolis, it forces coaches to get back in the film room and learn some tendencies that might have escaped them before.
That is what makes the NFL Combine useful, and most of those players that emerge during this week are usually hiding in plain sight at big universities. They get overlooked because of higher rated players next to them on their own team.
With the scheme change looming, there might not be a lot of openings in the front seven of the Saints defense, but there are plenty of depth issues that need to be addressed, whether it be here or in free agency.
There were three ILB's that really stood out to me that would look great in New Orleans in the middle and on special teams. Those guys were Jonathan Stewart from Texas A&M, Brandon Hepburn out of Florida A&M and Etienne Sabino from Ohio St. All three of these guys showed athleticism that was not thought of from them before the Combine.
I am going to pat myself on the back a little bit here and remind folks that I had Stewart in my ILB sleepers article a few days ago, and he did not disappoint. Some questioned his speed due to his large frame, but a couple runs in the low 4.6's at ILB will catch anyone's eye. Stewart and Hepburn are heavy hitters on the inside, but their speed will be a true asset to a special teams coach early on while they learn the ropes.
Hepburn has slowly gotten better every season at Florida A&M and in 2012, started to show off his ability to rush the passer from the ILB position. He was clocked in around Stewart's times as well, maybe a tick faster.
Sabino is the kid that surprised me out of the ILBs today because of his startling quickness and fluid hips for a man his size, but it's not just physical attributes that pop off the page with this guy. It's his drive to better himself. He took a healthy redshirt year at Ohio St. to hone in on his craft and get better. Injuries are a concern, recently, though, but he is a well-built linebacker who can shed blocks. If nothing else, he would make a great backup/special teamer.
At the rush OLB position, there were a few guys that stood out to me besides the obvious ones in Barkevious Mingo and Dion Jordan. Those guys were Cornelius Washington of Georgia and Trevardo Williams of UConn and Jamie Collins.
Washington gets lost in the fray amongst all of those great Georgia defenders, but he could wind up being one of the best ones of the bunch. Yup, you heard that right. Book it. Washington is one of those rare "jack-of-all-trades" player that can actually excel at a few of those trades and not be average in all. He was played just about everywhere at UGA. He could flex inside, if need be, or can rush the passer. His speed and athleticism was on full display in Indy, and he would make a great fall-back option in the 3-4 round if the Saints can't get a rusher in the first.
WIlliams is a guy who is strictly a pass rusher that has the agility and ability to be solid in coverage, but it just isn't all there yet. His pass rushing skills could be second-to-none if developed correctly. His motor and speed will help him out of just about any bad situation he ends up in.
Last OLB, but certainly not least, is the physical specimen from Southern Miss, Jamie Collins. This Golden Eagle has grown on me since the start of the draft process, but, boy, did he shoot up draft boards today. He had a 4.64 in the 40, 11' 7" broad jump and a 41.5" vertical jump. The only thing he didn't excel in was the bench press. Didn't crack 20 there (19). The guys is a playmaker and always around the ball. 39.5 tackles for loss and three touchdown returns highlight his playmaking ability.
Here's a look at the official combine results for all participating linebackers.
|Name||School||40||Official 40||Bench reps||Vertical||Broad|
|Sam Barrington||South Florida||4.75||4.91||22||32'5"||9'9"|
|Arthur Brown||Kansas State||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||9'8"|
|Jamie Collins||Southern Miss||4.59||4.64||19||41.5"||11'7"|
|Brandon Hepburn||Florida A&M||4.59||4.68||21||32"||10'4"|
|Gerald Hodges||Penn State||4.72||4.78||22||DNP||9'11"|
|DeVonte Holloman||South Carolina||4.7||4.76||15||33"||9'5"|
|A.J. Klein||Iowa State||4.68||4.66||20||DNP||DNP|
|Jake Knott||Iowa State||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP|
|Brandon Magee||Arizona State||4.66||4.74||DNP||DNP||9'6"|
|Michael Mauti||Penn State||DNP||DNP||28||DNP||DNP|
|Nick Moody||Florida State||4.69||4.71||17||DNP||9'10"|
|Sean Porter||Texas A&M||4.78||4.75||22||35"||9'11"|
|Kevin Reddick||North Carolina||4.66||4.72||23||DNP||9'5"|
|Etienne Sabino||Ohio State||4.69||4.75||24||DNP||9'6"|
|Jonathan Stewart||Texas A&M||4.62||4.68||19||31"||9'10"|
|Bruce Taylor||Virginia Tech||4.94||5.01||19||30'5"||9'7"|
|Manti Te'o||Notre Dame||4.8||4.82||DNP||33"||9'5"|
Along the defensive line, the guy that I was watching very closely was Brandon Williams, but I have talked so much about him that his good day should be of no surprise to anyone. The guys that I am really glad had a good day were Chris Jones of Bowling Green, T.J. Barnes out of Georgia Tech and Arby Jones from Georgia.
Chris Jones is an intriguing prospect to me. He doesn't have prototypical attributes for a 3-4 DE, but his motor and work ethic will help him succeed over most (Can you notice the trend of hard workers in these groups?). His pass rushing ability is his real asset. He had 33 tackles-for-loss and 21 sacks the past couple years and has shown ability to live in the opponents backfield. His 30 bench reps at the Combine should show that he doesn't lack for strength either.
Arby Jones is in that same mold as the other Jones. Very similar attributes to each other. Like Washington, Jones was asked just about everything he was capable of at Georgia. He is another guy that goes unnoticed in the mass that is UGA draft prospects, but don't sleep on this guy. Could be a solid rotational guy and has great strength at the point of attack. That strength could make him a versatile backup to nose tackle.
The last guy that really caught my eye today is the biggest guy in this article. Barnes is 6' 6" 369 lbs. and is a load to move. He is down on draft boards because of inconsistencies in his game. The talent is there for this player, but he disappears to often and doesn't have the lower-body strength you would like in a nose tackle. All of that can be worked out with better strength and conditioning and positional coaches. He is still a mammoth of a man and would be very hard to move if he kept his center-of-gravity a little lower so that he doesn't get knocked off the line like a guy his size shouldn't.
These are all players who would be great in the Saints system. The biggest thing with all of them is their character and work ethic. That's what this team usually aims for in drafts. Very rarely do they take a chance on guys with red flags.
It'll be interesting to see how this part of New Orleans' draft process plays out as we get closer to late April.