Up until the 2013 season, the Michigan Wolverines defense under HC Brady Hoke was very stout (especially compared to the Rich Rodriguez years). Then last year the ‘D’ fell off the wagon again, going from 19.8 points allowed per game in ’12 to 26.8 in ’13. This year should be a much different matter, after some tweaking schematically and a plethora of starters returning. So who are the top 2015 NFL Draft prospects on defense for the Wolverines this fall?
The top DL prospect this fall is senior DE Frank Clark. The 6-foot 2, 277-pounder enjoyed a solid season in ’13, racking up 43 tackles, 12 TFL’s and 4.5 sacks, all good for second team All-Big Ten. Clark has an excellent first step and can get up field in a hurry, showing a relentless motor en route to pressuring the QB. He’s creative with his moves but can struggle to shed stronger blockers, and is solid vs the run, showing quick diagnostics in play recognition.
Another thing I like about him as far as translating to the next level is that he’s been gaining experience playing on his feet and rushing from OLB, because that’s where he’ll likely be forced to play at the next level. Still, I’d like to see DC Greg Mattison let him pin his ears back and rush more often this season, as opposed to dropping him back into short zone.
Senior MLB Jake Ryan is entering his fourth year starting and is looking to bounce back after missing most of ’13 recovering from an ACL injury. When fully healthy, he’s a playmaker with sideline to sideline ability. He’s a solid pass rusher who’s dangerous on stunts, has quick diagnostics reading the offense, has the speed to make plays from behind and is smart in coverage. He’s a versatile prospect who could fit in multiple schemes, and considering his work ethic, leadership skills and intangibles, I like his future as a pro.
Senior OLB Desmond Morgan is also entering his fourth year as a starter. Like Ryan, he’s a smart, instinctive playmaker who’s rarely caught out of position. He has a well rounded skill set enabling him to fit in multiple schemes and has decent speed in coverage. I don’t think he has quite the upside of Ryan, but I’ve been wrong before.
In the defensive backfield is CB’s Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor, two guys who both struggled at times last year while also showing glimpses of stardom. Taylor, a senior, led the team in tackles last year with 86, while also racking up 9 PBU’s and 4 INT’s. He’s not the biggest or fastest guy, but he’s strong against the run and has good awareness route-reading ability. He needs to show he can be more consistent in coverage this fall, not give up as many big plays, and prove he can play more press-man, something Mattison plans on using more often this fall.
Countess, a junior, has good upside and is a proven playmaker, leading the conference last year with 6 INT’s. He has good length and the skills to play press-man or off-man, but like Taylor, needs to be more consistent. He’ll make a huge play, then give up a huge play. He’s a gambler and that can be a good thing, but he needs to be a little more calculated with his risks.