The Ole Miss Rebels have only had one defensive player drafted since 2010, when DT Jerrell Powe was taken in the sixth round of the 2011 Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. Well, that should change this year as there’s a number of prospects eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft on the defensive side of the ball. We already looked at the prospects on offense (here), and now we’ll break down some of the top defensive prospects.
Once again, only prospects eligible for the 2015 draft, so future first rounders like DT Robert Nkemdiche and S Tony Conner won’t be discussed.
Starting up front, junior DE C.J. Johnson leads the defensive line prospects. Johnson is incredibly athletic and has an explosive first step, but has certainly battled his share of injuries, including ankle surgery last year that caused him to miss the Rebels final nine games. A former 5-star MLB coming out of high school, Johnson is too undersized at 6-foot 2, 237-pounds to play up front at the next level, and might not have the length to play OLB in a 34 front. Still, with his athleticism, speed and lateral quickness, he’s too good of a ball player not to find a spot on the field. Personally, I see him moving back to LB in the NFL, and I think he has the skill set to play either inside or out for an odd front.
Senior DT Lavon Hooks took a little while to get acclimated to life in the SEC trenches, but really started coming on strong late in the season. The former no. 1 JUCO DL has good size at 6-foot 3, 318-pounds, and strength, but needs to be more consistent playing with better leverage. The skill set for an NFL career is there, but he needs to play like he did at the tail end of last year to boost his stock.
A dark horse is junior DT Woodrow Hamilton, who’s really been flying under the radar of pundits and draftniks. Hamilton has the size and skill set to play nose at the next level, and shows promise of being both a two-gapper and a penetrating one-tech. With the depth along the Rebels defensive line and playing next to a rockstar like Nkemdiche, Hamilton should have plenty of opportunities to shine in ’14.
Two fourth-year linebackers who have shown tantalizing glimpses of NFL-level athleticism and playmaking abilities are Serderius Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche. Both are undersized and both will be forced to move to SS at the next level, but they are proven big-play guys who’ve come through time and time again. Nkemdiche has the longest road to go of the two, as his off-the-field incidents never seemingly go away. Granted, its’ never anything too serious, but he won’t get to the ‘The League’ by constantly facing suspension.
Bryant enjoyed a tremendous season in ’13, leading the team in tackles and tackles for a loss (and was a half sack away from tying for team high in that category as well). He’s a sideline to sideline player with tremendous diagnostic skills and anticipation, and plays with an infectious fire. He does have the nasty tendency to drop his head when going in for the kill shot, which he’ll need to remedy.
In the secondary we have seniors Cody Prewitt (S) and Senquez Golson (CB). Prewitt was a 1st team All-American last season, leading the SEC in INTs with six, and will be counted on for similar production in ’14. I think Prewitt will have to move to SS at the next level due to coverage inconsistencies but is a true playmaker with a nose for the ball and is stout versus the run. Golson has always been loaded with talent (remember, he was a eighth round MLB draft pick coming out of HS) and still has a ways to go developmentally, but has made steady progress getting better each year. A big senior season will go a long way for his draft stock.