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2016 PFF Draft Guide: Defensive Prospects and Saints Needs

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The NFL player evaluation site Pro Football Focus has prepared grades and analysis for this years draft prospects. Let's have a peek at some of the top players as they may pertain to the Saints needs come draft day.

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Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The draft is still a painfully slow, approximate fortnight from today (15 days, 3 hours, 52 minutes, 31 seconds, to be precise). Mock drafts are innumerable, analysts are doing all their "potential trade" pieces (which are super fun to read, yet practically impossible to predict), and the customary beck-pedaling on who goes where (Goff-Wentz-Goff) is right on time.

And there's the whole Laremy Tunsil or Jalen Ramsey(?!) narrative that's pretty fresh and, though intriguing, only serves to compound my restlessness. So, in keeping with the spirit of mock draft season, I thought I'd play my part here at CSC, if only to sate my angst.

I quite like Pro Football Focus' standardized approach to scouting and grading players, and this year they released their 2016 PFF Draft Guide which has broken down all NCAA FBS games over the past two years, including analysis and performance metrics for the 2016 draft class.

I'll share some insights as they pertain to, at least from my view, players who may fit the Saints top defensive needs in this class: Defensive end, defensive tackle, and linebacker (in that order).

Players are presented by order of their ranking - starting with best player available to the Saints and moving down. Of note, I didn't provide insights on guys like Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner, or Myles Jack as, pending trade up, there's no way in hell those guys fall to #12. Summaries have been written and summarized by me, with analysis from PFF.

Defensive Ends

Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson (6'3 269)

Played exclusively as a left tackle rush end who is best suited for a 4-3, but might also fit as an OLB in a 3-4 alignment

  • Strengths: Lawson uses a combination of hand swipes, a pocket squishing bull rush, or a "devastating" spin move to get  to the passer, which resulted in 13 sacks, 12 QB hits, and 25 hurries last season - an effort which he basically duplicated from the year prior. He doesn't stall out should his first move fail, and usually through force whips his man at the LOS.
  • Weaknesses: Not the first player off the snap, and his stats may be inflated by the play of several other talented players on the Clemson defensive line.
  • Projected round: 1; Player comparison: James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers

Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia (6'6 244)

3-4 OLB. Strong-side linebacker, possibly inside linebacker

  • Strengths: Elite first step and speed, often causing tackles to misstep, with a vicious inside counter and spin move. Great in pursuit and often tracks down plays from the backside. Has good frame to put on more mass at the next level. 30 QB hurries in 2015.
  • Weaknesses: Majority of production came against the lowest-graded tackles in the SEC, and could definitely do with more mass. Highly athletic yet unrefined pass rusher. 11 missed tackles in 2015.
  • Projected round: 1; Player comparison: Bruce Irvin, Oakland Raiders

Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State (6'4 251)

4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB

  • Strengths: Has a quick first step and can effectively use a counter as part of his outside rush to get around (inside or outside) his man and into the backfield. PFF's 5th most productive pass rusher in 2014 (25th in 2015). Possesses above average speed and agility for his size. 11 sacks, 17 QB hits and 50 hurries in 2015.
  • Weaknesses: 5th worst  among edge rushers for missed tackles (13) and ranked 138th at the position for run stop % - he's a liability in the run game and he may only be a situational guy when he first joins the league. Led all edge rushers in penalties with 11 last season. Looked great against right tackles, average against left tackles.
  • Projected round: 1; Player comparison: Brian Robinson, Minnesota Vikings

Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky (6'2 251)

Scheme versatile: Best suited as a 3-4 OLB, but could play 4-3 DE

  • Strengths: Quick to get off the line and capable/comfortable getting to either side of his tackle on either side of the line. Possesses the quickness and agility to potentially be disruptive in the run game. Was one of the best edge rushers throughout Senior Week.
  • Weaknesses: Too often sells out for the pass and has only been mediocre in the run game. Sometimes gets smothered by blockers at the point of attack and may not be sufficiently powerful to leverage a bull rush at the next level. Has some unscrupulous off field issues and did not have a great combine.
  • Projected round: 2

Defensive Tackles

Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville (6'1, 299)

2-gap or 1-gap

  • Strengths: Rated PFF's most versatile interior defender, Rankins routinely punks linemen silly with elite short-area quickness. Uses his height effectively leveraging and driving through his man. One of the few interior defenders in his class with pass rushing capacity.  7 sacks, 8 QB hits, 29 hurries, and 39 stops.
  • Weaknesses: Disappears as a pass rusher for stretches and production was basically nonexistent over last six games of 2015. Height may affect his ability as a 2-gapper in the NFL.
  • Projected round: 1 (top 10); Player comparison: Jurrell Casey, Tennessee Titans

Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State (6'6 310)

3-4 DE or 4-3 DT

  • Strengths: Rated PFF's best pure interior pass rusher, Jones is a supremely strong and capable pocket pusher. Due to his size and arm length (34.5") can leverage blockers effectively with one or both arms. Has the size and ability to line up anywhere along the line. Though he only had 3 sacks, Jones had 12 QB hits and 34 hurries.
  • Weaknesses: Effort and consistency. Disappeared against Northwestern and sometimes appears to be unmotivated. Mediocre get off and often defends in a straight line with little demonstrated change of direction capacity.
  • Projected round: 1; Player comparison: Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets

Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama (6'3 307)

Nose tackle or DE in a 3-4 or DT in 4-3

  • Strengths: PFF's #2 in run stop percentage, Reed is technically refined and true to the point of attack. He handles double teams well, tracks the ball as a two-gapper, and can play head up on his man. Had five batted passes,17 QB hurries, and 35 stops in 2015.
  • Weaknesses: 67th in pass rush productivity and may only be a 2-down run-stuffer, similar to most of the other interior defenders in this class.
  • Projected round: 1; Player comparison: Bennie Logan, Philadelphia Eagles

Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor (6'1 311)

3-4 NT or 4-3 DT

  • Strengths: Classic pocket pusher with the ability to wreck the LOS; a large proportion of his productivity came from his bull rush. Above average two year pass rush grade with a demonstrated ability to attack gaps, but also with room for improvement. 22 hurries and 30 stops in 2015.
  • Weaknesses: Not  great with hands and relied heavily on brute strength at the college level which allows blockers to get into his pads at times - could prove problematic in the NFL. Lacking an inside move as a pass rusher. Sometimes drops his head and is redirected off of the point of attack.
  • Projected round: 1; Player comparison: Dontari Poe, Kansas City Chiefs

Linebackers

Jaylon Smith, ILB, Notre Dame (6'2 223)

Will with potential to develop into a Mike or Sam LB

  • Strengths: Can play man against backs, TEs, and even slot receivers. Equally productive pass rusher and coverage linebacker with above average athleticism and explosiveness. Elite speed, untouchable on wide runs and capable of chasing down RBs from behind. Had 49 stops and allowed an opposing QB rating of 74.6.
  • Weaknesses: Passive run defender with 9 missed tackles in 2015 and 18 MTs in 2014. Can be slow to read cues in the run game therefore affecting reaction time. Sustained bad knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl, putting entire 2016 availability in jeopardy.
  • Projected round: 1; Player comparison: DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions

Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama (6'1 247)

Versatile. Can play anywhere in a 4-3 or inside in a 3-4

  • Strengths: Solid, patient run defender (52 stops in 2015); identifies and avoids crack blocks. Thumper who limits yardage to via good angles and crushes anyone who dare cross over the middle. Is a great read defender who adds an extra dimension as a pass rusher on passing downs.
  • Weaknesses: Marginal against blockers in the run game. Missed 28 tackles over last 2 years. Can be effectively schemed against in the run game. May not be an every down linebacker, at least not initially.
  • Projected round: 1

Scooby Wright III, ILB, Arizona (6'0 239)

Inside LB in a 3-4 or a 4-3

  • Strengths: Instinctive linebacker with a nose for the ball. Great lateral quickness with the ability to get across blocks well and with good coordination. 84 stops and 27 hurries in 2014.
  • Weaknesses: Limited athlete who is incapable in coverage. Gets worked by blockers in the second level. Doesn't have the thump of a linebacker his size; physically tenuous.
  • Projected round: 2; Player comparison: Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati Bengals

Su'a Cravens, ILB, USC (6'1 226)

4-3 OLB or in-box safety

  • Strengths: Instinctive, 3 season starter who can effectively rush the passer (11 sacks and 30 pressures on the QB over the past two seasons). Uses athleticism and instinct to infiltrate the backfield and blow up runs. Good coverage defender on short area routes. Thumper with merely 3 penalties over 2 years. Forced 63.4 QB rating in 2015.
  • Weaknesses: No one is really sure where to use him. His role and production at the next level is entirely dependent on how he will be used. He's a tad small to play linebacker but somewhat slow in coverage. Teams will need to reconcile this before spending a 2nd on him.
  • Projected round: 2; Player comparison: Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers

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That's it for now, CSCers. Are there any other players for which you would like to see a PFF synopsis? If so, please sound off below! I'll be following with guards and wide receivers shortly.