10 defensive players to watch at the NFL Scouting Combine
Welcome to the NFL Scouting Combine.
Over the next week, personnel from all 32 teams will meet in Indianapolis to watch draft prospects participate in various testing drills to showcase some of their physical skills.
For the Minnesota Vikings, it’s an opportunity for general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, head coach Kevin O’Connell and other staff members to get closer to prospects that might help them build their new defense.
It’s the first NFL Draft-related event where the Vikings know their defensive scheme. Defensive coordinator Brian Flores was hired after the Senior Bowl, meaning the Vikings still had some uncertainty regarding their outlook.
That’s since changed, meaning we can forecast what the Vikings might look for out of certain players. We know Adofo-Mensah valued explosive athletes from Power 5 programs last season, and that likely won’t change, but we also know that players will likely need to be able to play in Flores’ aggressive defense.
With that clear, here are ten prospects to watch during the NFL Scouting Combine.
Iowa EDGE Lukas Van Ness
Lukas Van Ness would have to play as a defensive end in Brian Flores’ defense, but there’s a path for the former Hawkeye to be an impactful player for the Vikings. At 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, Van Ness has the strength and explosiveness to find a unique fit in a blitz-heavy defense.
With the Miami Dolphins, Emmanuel Ogbah carved a role as a defensive end who kicked inside, and that’s a similar fit for Van Ness. Van Ness is not a perfect prospect — his inexperience and pass-rush skillset will limit his chances to be a starter early on — but there’s a physical skillset to build upon.
LSU EDGE B.J. Ojulari
erome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Pass rushers with BJ Ojulari’s athleticism don’t grow on trees. At the NFL Combine, Ojulari will likely be one of the fastest edge rushers, particularly in the 10-yard splits. That athleticism gives Ojulari real upside as a pass rusher.
His best fit for the Vikings will be as an outside linebacker, allowing him to attack the quarterback as a stand-up edge rusher. This alignment will help him gain leverage on offensive linemen and maximize his athletic profile. If the Vikings were interested, they’d likely have to pick him in the first round.
Auburn EDGE Derick Hall
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Testing will be critical for Derick Hall’s draft stock. Given Hall’s lack of bend as a pass rusher, he’ll need to test well athletically to help where he struggles. Despite his stiff body at times, Hall is one tough cookie who makes his presence felt throughout the game. That alone will make teams fall in love with him.
Hall will need to get more consistent as a run defender to become a three-down player, but there’s still plenty to like. Particularly, Hall has the ceiling to be an effective pass rusher in odd fronts, which Brian Flores uses.
Texas LB DeMarvion Overshown
Ut Baylor Football 02373
The Vikings need more athleticism out of their linebackers. Outside of Brian Asamoah, the Vikings lacked game-changing speed from their linebackers. In a defense that puts a lot of responsibility on the position, athleticism should be a priority.
Outside of his athletic profile, DeMarvion Overshown is a violent player. The former Longhorn isn’t afraid of making contact with a player, especially with his tackling. Overshown has some limitations as a run defender, but he’s the perfect point-and-shoot linebacker in the NFL.
Washington State LB Daiyan Henley
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
If you want athletic at linebacker, you got it. A former wide receiver, Daiyan Henley is one of the most athletic linebackers in the NFL Draft. That speed shows up on film when Henley is chasing players from sideline to sideline to make plays. Henley also offers upside as a pass rusher, where he can use his athleticism to get to the quarterback.
Henley’s best fit in the NFL will be with a defensive coordinator that can maximize his versatility, and that’s where Flores comes in. Flores turned Andrew Van Ginkel into a versatile player for his defense, and Van Ginkel doesn’t offer the same physical tools as Henley.
Clemson LB Trenton Simpson
Clemson Tigers Football Vs North Carolina Tar Heels Acc Championship Charlotte Nc
Simpson is the Vikings’ best option for a first-round linebacker. At Clemson, Simpson’s role in the defense might have changed, but his impact was still felt. In his final season, Simpson was named third-team All-ACC and was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, given to the best linebacker in the country.
Finding a permanent role in the NFL will be difficult, but Flores has found ways to maximize hybrid players. He probably won’t be a stack linebacker, but as an outside linebacker who’s asked to do different things, Simpson is a unique player. Worst case scenario, Simpson’s athleticism and passing down value will allow him to carve out a role in the NFL, even if it’s just on third downs.
Louisiana Tech CB Myles Brooks
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah favored lengthy cornerbacks last season, which will likely continue with Flores as the defensive coordinator. Long cornerbacks often succeed in press-man defenses because they can disrupt the receiver’s release and delay the offense. In Miami, Xavien Howard and Byron Jones were good examples of how effective they can be.
Take one look at Myles Brooks, and you’ll see his length in full effect. At 6-foot-2, Brooks has all the size requirements to contribute in man coverage. He doesn’t have a lot of long speed, but Brooks will likely have a solid 10-yard split, showing some explosiveness in a phone booth.
Maryland CB Deonte Banks
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
If the Vikings want Deonte Banks, they likely won’t be able to wait. With the Vikings selecting late in the first round, it’s unlikely that Banks makes it to the end of the second round. If they like him, though, there’s reason to take Banks in the first round.
Like Brooks, Banks is a lengthy cornerback who lacks long speed but has plenty of explosiveness. Despite facing some of the best wide receivers in the country, Banks found ways to make plays and impact the game, showcasing his ability in man coverage. Health is a concern, but there’s a lot to like about Banks’ film.
Alabama SAF Brian Branch
Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Branch can make himself a lot of money in Indianapolis. He’s likely a first-round pick, but good testing could move Branch up the board.
On film, Branch showcases the versatility teams have begun to desire from safeties. He can play nickel cornerback, box safety, and even deep safety. That versatility, combined with good athleticism and ball skills, will make teams excited. If he confirms that athleticism with testing, Branch will soar up draft boards.
Florida S Trey Dean III
Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun
At 6-foot-3, Trey Dean has some unreal size for the safety position. That size becomes even more intriguing for NFL teams when considering that Dean is a former cornerback who made the switch in college. Dean’s experience as a cornerback shows in pass coverage, where Dean shines in man coverage.
Dean doesn’t have the speed to play as a deep safety consistently, but he shouldn’t have to. His best fit in the NFL is as a strong safety, where he can be used as an extra box defender when necessary.