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Rating junior defenders

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With a flood of players sending in paperwork requesting the NFL Advisory Committee to evaluate their current draft grade, here is part two of our look at underclassmen, focusing on defense.

I have rated those who have confirmed or indicated they plan to ask for their grade. I have added a grade per position.

DEFENSIVE LINE (Grade B+)

• Ohio State DE/OLB Vernon Gholston has first-round talent. He has a great first step off the ball, makes good use of his hands and shows a burst of closing speed that is equal to that of the top pass rushers in the NFL. He had 13 sacks this season and had a marquee effort against touted Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long. Gholston was recruited as a linebacker, so at just under 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, many 3-4 teams see him as a standup DE or OLB. He could be among the top 10 picks should he declare.

• Miami DE Calais Campbell has a near perfect body type for the NFL with long arms and a big frame. He is not a finished product and has trouble shedding blocks. He tends to look at his man rather than the ball, so he can be slow to react at times. He could use another season of development.

• Florida DE Derrick Harvey had 6.5 sacks on the season and 18.5 over his three-year career. He is a well-built athlete with the chance to be evaluated as either 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB.

• Florida State redshirt sophomore DE Everette Brown could become one of this year's fastest risers if he declares. He had 6.5 sacks this season. At 6-4, 255 pounds he has been timed in the high 4.5s to 4.6 in the 40.

• Clemson DE Phillip Merling has filled out to nearly 6-5, 275 pounds. He attacks the line of scrimmage, but also shows better balance, quickness and agility than most players his size. He is capable of dropping back into zone coverage off the snap, gets into position against the run and has a sturdy build to play either DE spot. Has said he is leaning toward returning to college. He could be a top-20 choice if he declares.

• Miami DE Eric Moncur is an undersized but aggressive up-field pass rusher. He works on his game in the film room and does the little things to help him play much bigger and faster than his size (6-2, 255 pounds). He would have to impress in workouts to see his grade improve.

• LSU DLs Marlon Favorite and Tyson Jackson are weighing their draft options. Favorite is a big interior defender who shows good feet and quickness. He can create issues for teams that don't double-team him. He runs in the 4.9 range at 305 pounds. Jackson is a top-tier defensive end who can play either side. His 6-5, 290-pound frame allows him to take on blockers, but he also shows a burst and quickness that helps him collapse the pocket.

• Florida State DT Letroy Guion has the ability to play both 4-3 tackle or end in a 4-3 or 3-4. He has good quickness and uses his hands well to shed blockers. Could do a better job of finding the ball off the snap at times. Could receive a late-first round grade should he request one.

• Colorado DT George Hypolite suffered a torn hamstring against Nebraska. He is unlikely to play in the Buffaloes' bowl game and will likely return for his senior year. He is 6-1, 290 pounds and runs in the 4.9 range.

LINEBACKER (Grade B+)

• Ohio State's James Laurinaitis has proven he can be a durable, productive leader at either inside or strong-side linebacker. He has good enough cover skills to remain on the field at all times, but is more of a straight-line speed guy. Is a vocal team leader.

• USC's Rey Maualuga is capable of playing inside or strong-side at the next level thanks to his smarts, aggression and great natural instincts.

• Oklahoma's Curtis Lofton decided to see how high of a grade he could get after leading the Sooners with 142 tackles. His decision will come down to whether or not he receives a first-round grade.

• Maryland's Erin Henderson is the younger brother of the Minnesota Vikings' E.J. Henderson. Erin has battled with a knee injury. He recorded 122 tackles as a junior, but I see the 6-2, 245-pounder being more of a secondary level defender at the NFL level which would equal more of a late second- to third-round grade.

• Tennessee's Jerrod Mayo is a beast of an inside linebacker with the instincts, size and range to make plays. Mayo is a sideline-to-sideline defender who runs very well and shows the pass coverage skills to be an every-down inside linebacker.

• Florida State's Geno Hayes is a very fast, fluid athlete who can make plays in pursuit. Hayes needs to show maturity.

• Ohio State's Marcus Freeman will run in the 4.6 range at 6-2, 242 pounds. He shows explosiveness running to the ball or when asked to drop back into pass coverage.

DEFENSIVE BACK (Grade B-)

• Ohio State CB Malcolm Jenkins will not turn 20 until Dec. 20. He has above-average size (6-1, 208) and has shown the hands to create turnovers, but does not always play with enough aggressiveness. Will allow catches in front of him and gets a little too tall in his backpedal, losing steps when he plants and comes up to attack. He is a fluid athlete, but would be wise to stay in school.

• Wisconsin CB Jack Ikegwuonu shows ample ball skills and makes more tackles than the average cover cornerback. Another year of experience/maturity could lead him to being the top defensive back in the 2009 draft.

• Virginia Tech CB Brandon Flowers is a very physical defender who does not mind contact, can make plays while the ball is in the air and also brings the experience of playing in big games. He has the size/speed to earn a first-day grade.

• Kansas CB Aqib Talib is a terrific two-way defender who led the Big 12 with 17 pass breakups. He had four interceptions and 61 tackles. He also scored four touchdowns on eight receptions at wide receiver. He has the best size (6-2, 205 pounds) of the junior defenders. Scouts believe he may not be a burner in terms of his 40-times and is more of a drag-down tackler.

• Penn State CB Justin King has the size, speed and cover skills to be a shut-down defender in the NFL level. He is weighing his options.

• Virginia Tech CB Macho Harris is a converted running back who can make tackles in the open field and has shown improvement in all areas.

• San Jose State CB Christopher Owens does not have the same size as his senior teammate Dwight Lowery, but makes up for it with quickness and ball skills. The 5-10, 170-pounder led the team with six interceptions and has 12 career picks.

• Boise State CB Orlando Scandrick is a speedy defender who has improved his covers skills, showing improved technique. He is just under 6-0, 190 pounds and has mid-4.4 range speed.

• West Liberty State CB Darren Banks has recorded double-digit interceptions in each of the past two seasons. He is also a dangerous punt returner who possesses 4.4-range speed to go along with a near 40-inch vertical.

• Miami S Kenny Phillips plans to declare for the draft. He finished with 95 tackles and created five turnovers this season. At 6-2, 211 pounds he has ideal size for the NFL and the ability to play either safety spot. He expects to run in the 4.45-4.50 range.

• N.C. State S DaJuan Morgan has strong balls skills, range and open-field tackling. He is just over 6-1, 205 pounds, has 4.45-range speed and hits with authority. He led the Wolfpack with 97 tackles. He is an aggressive, versatile defender who could earn a first-round grade if he returns for his senior season.

• Oklahoma DB Reggie Smith can play anywhere in the secondary and return punts, but was injured in the Big 12 championship game. He has a rare combination of size, speed and ball skills, so a healthy return to the field in 2008 could make him one of the top-rated defenders for 2009.

• Clemson S Michael Hamlin is always around the ball and has 4.5 range speed. He has good ball skills, but is a little stiff if asked to play too much man coverage. He has shown the ability to create turnovers and plays with a lot of emotion/intensity. Suffered a broken foot.

• UAB S Will Dunbar played the majority of this season with an injured left knee. Still, he averaged more than 12 tackles per game. He shows good instincts and breaks on the ball hard while also taking the proper angle to the ball carrier. He would be wise to return to school and work on his cover skills.

SPECIAL TEAMS (Grade C)

• Kansas Wesleyan K/PTroy Van Blarcom is a USC transfer who left the Trojans following academic problems. He had served two years as USC's kickoff specialist and long field goal kicker. At 6-3, 210 pounds he has good natural leg strength.

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