Last week I listed the most slept on offensive rookies in this years class. If you haven't had a chance to check it out here's the link. This week I'm focusing on the defensive side of the ball.
Michael Mauti- Penn State
Minnesota Vikings 7th round (213th overall)
Top DT in the draft.. check
Top CB in the draft.. check
Top WR in the draft.. check
Top MLB in the draft.. check.. HUH?
No doubt about it the Vikings may have pulled off the draft of the decade this year and it certainly wouldn't shock anyone if first round picks DT Shariff Floyd, CB Xavier Rhodes and WR Cordarrelle Patterson ended up being the cream of the 2013 crop at their respective positions. Mauti on the other hand was a 7th round pick, and by NFL standards unless you're a kicker, that means you're viewed by the league as a very raw project, back of the roster depth, or a career special teamer. In this case however, if he can recover in time to beat out Erin Henderson who struggled to hold down nickel responsibilities last year and is better suited at WILL, the Vikings are getting a player that could wind up as the starting MLB come week 1 and if he can stay healthy, the defensive leader, for years to come. Mauti, who has been through more set backs in the last 4 years than most people go through in a lifetime, was the team leader and face of the Nittany Lions during the Sandusky scandal. He rallied the entire campus throughout the subsequent firing and passing of long time coach and family friend Joe Paterno, led the team to an 8-4 record despite many key players transferring in the wake of the events. There's also the 3 ACL tears he suffered during his career at Penn State, the third of which came with just one game left in a stellar senior campaign making it impossible for him to work out in front of scouts leading up to the draft. His teammates respected him so much that they wore his number 42 on their helmets during the final game of the season in tribute to their fallen leader. The fact that he was drafted at all after the injury says all you need to know about his potential as a player. In the locker room he is a student of the game, a great teammate and motivator; In the huddle he is a fierce, vocal leader and determined competitor; And on the field he is a "thumper" with a tremendous motor, a nose for the ball and a great understanding of the game. With the tutelage of legendary LB Mike Singletary, I wouldn't be surprised to see this MIKE make the pro bowl a few times himself during his tenure in Minnesota.
Honorable Mention: Arthur Brown
J.J. Wilcox- Georgia Southern
Dallas Cowboys 3rd round (80th overall)
Chances are you didn't know that JJ Wilcox scored 17 TDs between his Soph and Junior years combined. That would be pretty damn special had he been playing safety during those two seasons, however, Wilcox didn't transition to the defensive side of the ball until his senior season. That's right, a third round prospect from a small school that only has one year of experience at the position is possibly the most slept on player in the entire draft. Wilcox has the agility and hands of a slot receiver, the power and toughness of a feature RB, and the instincts and athleticism to be one of the best free safeties in the NFL. He showed steady improvement throughout last season and flashed his immense potential at the senior bowl. With very little depth at either safety spot, and incumbent SS Barry Church coming off of an achilles injury, the situation couldn't be better for Wilcox to show Jerry Jones what he's made of on the Jumbotron come game day. If JJ can improve his angles and reaction speed, two things that should come naturally as he gets experience at the position, he has the ability to be the Cowboys savior in the secondary and maybe, just maybe, help bring a ring to Romo and Co.
Honorable Mention: Bacarri Rambo
Jordan Poyer- Oregon State
Philadelphia Eagles 7th round (218th overall)
This is a hard one for me to figure out. Poyer was projected by many to land somewhere between rounds 2 and 4, yet he slid all the way to the 7th. I saw someone compare his fall to Vontaze Burfict, but Poyer doesn't really have any real character concerns and his combine numbers weren't awful outside of the 8 measly reps he threw up in the bench press, but that shouldn't mean much, he did improve his number to 11 at his pro day and besides he's a corner for christ sakes. On paper there's nothing not to like about him; Poyer is 6'0" 190lbs, a consensus all-american who was second in the nation with 7 interceptions, ran a 4.54 40 yard dash at the combine. His senior year in high school he was the state of Oregon's player of the year in baseball and football both on offense as a QB and on defense as a DB. To say he has great eye hand coordination, instincts and balance would be an under statement, yet he was the 27th CB taken in the draft. With the Eagles presumed starters both FA new comers, Bradley Fletcher, who couldn't even maintain a hold on the nickel corner duties for the Rams last year, and Cary Williams, who had a 91.6 QB rating on passes thrown his way while playing for the Ravens, and only the under sized and inexperienced Brandon Boykin standing in his way look for Jordan to begin the season as the #3 CB and eventually overtake Fletcher or Williams, whichever falters first, and stick as the Eagles top CB. If anyone knows how valuable of a player Poyer is it's Eagles new head coach Chip Kelly who watched him play against his Ducks in the Civil War game each season during his 4 years at Oregon.
Honorable Mention: Logan Ryan
Damontre Moore- Texas A & M
New York Giants 3rd round (81st overall)
Two players come to mind when I think of Moore's plummeted stock during pre-draft workouts, Terrell Suggs and Trent Cole. Both men ended up being pretty damn good NFL players, however one (Suggs) was still taken in the first round after a less than impressive combine showing while the other (Cole) wasn't drafted until the 5th round after his poor combine. Moore lands in the middle being selected in round 3, yet I can't help but wonder why so many teams ignored his impressive on field production. 26 1/2 sacks and 45 tackles for a loss over his 3 year career at A & M. All you have to do is watch this guy's game tape to see how special he is. Prior to the combine he was considered a top 5 pick. It seems it was all fate's doing as he slid down draft boards and into the arms of the Giants and what looks to be the perfect situation for him to thrive. With young super star DE Jason Pierre-Paul entrenched on the left side for the foreseeable future the stage is set for "DaMonster" to make a home for himself on the right and pair up for what would be one of the most feared pass rushing tandems in the league. Last years starter Justin Tuck is 30, in the last year of his contract and hasn't been anything more than mediocre the past 2 seasons, while under achieving Mathias Kiwanuka was disgruntled playing out of position last year and is also on the wrong side of 30. At the very least Moore will be a situational pass rusher or Joker in his first season, however all signs point to the G-Men letting Tuck hit free agency next spring opening up the door for Damontre to take over as the next great New York Giants pass rusher.
Honorable Mention: Alex Okafor
John Jenkins- Georgia
New Orleans Saints 3rd round (82nd overall)
At one time the 6' 4" Jenkins was at a playing weight of over 370lbs, he claims to be down around 335lbs now, but even at that weight he is a mountain of a man. John couldn't ask for a better fit as the Saints are transitioning to Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense and were in desperate need of a proper NFL NT. Most likely a 2 down player, at least while Broderick Bunkley is still on the roster, Jenkins has good hands and is deceptively athletic for his size, with a great ability to shed blockers and make arm tackles while engaged. His motor is also quite impressive considering the heft he has to tote around. If Jenkins can in fact keep his weight down as recently reported, he should find himself on the field during third downs eventually and could mold himself into one of the premier run stuffers in the league. The Saints ranked 31st against the run last year and are thrilled to have landed a top end talent like Jenkins to man the middle for years to come. Now if they could just fix that awful pass defense...
Honorable Mention: Brandon Williams