A primary reason for the Michigan State Spartans turnaround the past few years under HC Mark Dantonio has been the establishment of a truly dominant defense. All three levels of the defense have had their share of stars the last few years, and thanks to solid recruiting the trend shows no signs of slowing down. So who are the top pro prospects for the Spartans on defense in 2015? Remember, only players eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft will be considered.
Up front it’s hard not to get excited about junior All-American Shilique Calhoun at DE. The reigning Big Ten DLOY racked up 14 TFL’s and 7.5 sacks last fall to go along with 2 FF’s and an INT. Skill set-wise there’s an awful lot to like with Calhoun, as he looks like he can play either 43 DE or 34 OLB at a high level in the NFL.
Personally, I think his best fit is at 34 OLB where he can use his quickness and lateral agility to his benefit in space. Calhoun is a guy that excels in space. Too often can he be engulfed in huge, powerful OT’s with long arms and struggle shedding the block, especially in the ground game. The tape of him versus Michigan’s Taylor Lewan last year was very telling in this regard (granted, he had two sacks in that game but one came off a stunt and neither were against Lewan, taken 11th overall in the ’14 Draft). I really like Calhoun’s upside as an edge rusher and love his athleticism, but he does have some work to go in getting stronger and polishing his handwork to experience the same level of dominance at the next level.
At MLB is senior Taiwan Jones, who epitomizes what Dantonio wants in his ‘backers: big (6-foot 3, 252-pounds), fast (4.65 40) and instinctive playmakers. He’s quick in diagnosing plays and has impressive strength and block shedding ability. One thing that’ll be interesting to watch this fall is how Jones acclimates to playing inside ‘backer after playing the outside ‘star’ position the last few years. No one’s doubted his physical abilities and how it will translate to the NFL game, but now he’ll have a chance to boost his stock further by being the QB and leader of the defense for the first time.
In the back seven, the Spartans may have lost the best press-corner in the country from ’13 (Darqueze Dennard, 24th overall pick in ’14 Draft), but they still have two elite prospects in junior CB Trae Waynes and senior FS Kurtis Drummond. Waynes is similar to Dennard in his ability to play press-man at a high level, and his size (6-foot 1, 183-pounds and length aid his already impressive ball skills. I like his hips as well, as he can play off-man with a strong back peddle, but can open up and turn and run with faster receivers. There shouldn’t be a doubt he’s the top CB prospect in the Big Ten, and maybe second nationally only to Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
Drummond has been rock solid the past three years in Sparty’s secondary, tallying 161 tackles, 9 TFL’s, 8 INT’s, 3 FF’s and a sack. What makes him such a special player are his instincts and ability to read and jump routes while masking his coverage. He’s sound in run support, takes good angles, and wraps up well. I think he’s the most complete senior safety prospect on the ’15 board.
Also keep an eye on senior DE Marcus Rush, an impressive athlete off the edge with good bend and explosion, and junior OLB Ed Davis, who racked up 4 sacks in a limited role last year.