After looking at the Ole Miss Rebels‘ offensive prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft, now we’ll check out their defensive prospects. And yes, there’s a bit more talent on this side of the ball, though most of the top talent is still a few years away from getting drafted.
In the Rebels’ defensive backfield, cornerback/free safety Charles Sawyer leads the way. This guy has a ton of experience and production while switching back and forth between two different spots in the secondary (due to lack of depth and injuries). He’s reliable in coverage and can step up into the box to help stop the run. In projecting his professional career, free safety will probably be his best fit due to lack of elite timed speed, but he’s a heady and instinctive player who could be even better than Kendrick Lewis, a former Rebel starting at FS for the Kansas City Chiefs.
CB Senquez Golson is the most athletic prospect in the secondary, as evidenced by his play on the Rebels’ baseball team (drafted 8th round by the Boston Red Sox in ’11). He’s a special talent, and his stock could really soar now that he’s strictly devoting himself to one sport (football, obviously). FS Cody Prewitt, if he declares early, could also make some noise in the months leading up to the draft. He’s got great size (6-foot 2, 220-pounds) and can really bring the wood. The growing trend of bigger safeties favored by NFL teams bodes well in Prewitt’s favor, who’s entering his third year starting.
MLB Mike Marry and SLB Denzel Nkemdiche are two of the most recognized linebackers in the SEC. Marry is a monster at 6-foot 3, 260-pounds, and is aching to play strong ‘Mike’ in a 3-4. Nkemdiche is one of the best pure playmakers on defense in the SEC (which speaks volumes), but he’s very undersized (5-foot 11, 210-pounds). Nkemdiche, only a redshirt sophomore, will still have two years of eligibility after this year, and it’s likely he’ll stick around at least another year to play with younger brother Robert.
And then we come to the defensive line, which in all honesty, I believe might be one of the most talented in the country, even though it’s still relatively young. DE CJ Johnson is a blur off the edge, and he could be an outstanding pass rushing 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level. With a strong (and healthy) junior season, he could declare early.
DT Lavon Hooks was the number one JUCO prospect in the country last fall, and he’s expected to make an immediate impact stuffing the run and collapsing the pocket from the defensive interior this season. We’ve seen JUCO defensive tackles come in and explode out of the gate (Terrence Cody at Alabama, Nick Fairley at Auburn to name a few recently) and translate that into a high draft pick. Hooks could be the next one.
While Sawyer, Marry, Hooks and Johnson make up a nice collection of draft prospects, it’s the ineligible prospects who have the highest upside. Incoming freshman like the ‘little’ Nkemdiche brother and Tony Conner have the upside of early draft picks. Likewise with sophomores Issac Gross and Trae Elston.
It’ll be interesting to see if Golson, Prewitt, Hooks and Johnson stick around if they have big junior seasons, as expected.