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5 Most Intriguing Defensive Draft Prospects from Conference USA

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5 Most Intriguing Defensive Draft Prospects from Conference USA

Conference USA NFL Draft
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With all the conference realignment in recent years, Conference USA has seen its share of turnover. Despite the revolving door and former FCS teams entering the conference, C-USA still managed a winning record in bowl games last year. Here are five players on the defensive side of the ball worth watching.

5. James Rouse (DE/DT-Marshall)

James Rouse Marshall
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5. James Rouse (DE/DT-Marshall)

James Rouse Marshall
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James Rouse was granted a sixth year of eligibility after injury-plagued sophomore and junior seasons. Rouse made the most out of his return last year, compiling 39 tackles and six sacks. Despite playing defensive tackle at only 270 pounds, Rouse frequently found his way into the backfield. If he can continue to stay healthy and disrupt opponents behind the line of scrimmage, Rouse may earn an NFL opportunity as a defensive end.

4. D'Joun Smith (CB-Florida Atlantic)

D'Joun Smith Florida Atlantic
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4. D'Joun Smith (CB-Florida Atlantic)

D'Joun Smith Florida Atlantic
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A big reason why FAU ranked second in pass defense in 2013 was the play of D'Joun Smith; who ranked second nationally in passes defended (20) and third with seven interceptions. He enters his senior year as one of the top corners in the nation. Smith possesses great speed and has proven his ability to play in both man and zone coverage. Size is a concern and he'll face tough competition early in Kenny Bell of Nebraska and Amari Cooper of Alabama.

3. Cam Thomas (CB-Western Kentucky)

Cam Thomas Western Kentucky
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3. Cam Thomas (CB-Western Kentucky)

Cam Thomas Western Kentucky
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Cam Thomas is the only starter returning for a Hilltoppers' secondary that ranked 10th in the nation in pass defense. He led the Sun Belt Conference with 15 passes defended and five interceptions last year. With so little experience in the secondary, Thomas may not see many passes come his way. He has ideal size for a corner and could emerge as a star at the Senior Bowl. A Day 2 selection is not out of the question for Thomas.

2. Kevin Byard (SS-Middle Tennessee)

Kevin Byard Middle Tennessee
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2. Kevin Byard (SS-Middle Tennessee)

Kevin Byard Middle Tennessee
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Only a junior, Kevin Byard is already the NCAA active leader in interception return yards. He's picked off nine passes in two years, returning four for touchdowns. Byard isn't just a ball hawk either. Last season he totaled 106 tackles. Level of competition generally doesn't hurt strong safeties as three were selected in the first five rounds of the 2014 draft from conferences outside the power five. Byard is likely a fourth- or fifth-round pick.

1. Christian Covington (DT-Rice)

Christian Covington Rice
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1. Christian Covington (DT-Rice)

Christian Covington Rice
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If there's one C-USA player drafted in Round 1, it will be Christian Covington. He's only a junior, yet he has already generated NFL buzz. In the 2013 opener against Texas A&M, Covington beat OT Jake Matthews before clobbering Johnny Manziel. Covington made several highlight-reel plays last year, but also disappeared at times. If he plays with a high motor all year, Covington may end up in the late first round as a 4-3 DT or 3-4 DE.