The Indiana Hoosiers defense has been anything other than good in recent years, despite great success offensively under HC Kevin Wilson. Still, the defense looks like it should be better in 2014, given 9 starters returning and a new 34-heavy scheme that they’re actually well suited for personnel-wise. We already looked at the top Hoosier prospects on offense for the 2015 NFL Draft, so who are the top prospects on ‘D’?
Up front is enormous NT Ralph Green, a redshirt sophomore who was a freshman All-American last year. Green looks like a good fit as a two-gap nose in the new odd front considering not only his size (6-foot 5, 320-pounds), but run stuffing ability. He has good feet and moves well down the line of scrimmage and gets good extension with his long arms. He’s still raw as a pass rusher, and needs to be more consistent splitting double-teams, but that should come as he gets more seasoning and continues his development. In terms of pro fits, I don’t necessarily see him as a 34 nose, instead I think his highest upside is at 5-tech in an odd front where his great length and ability to get off the ball could be best utilized.
Junior OLB Nick Mangieri is another prospect who should benefit from the new scheme. Mangieri is a good athlete with size (6-foot 5, 260-pounds) and a natural ability for making plays (3 sacks, 7 TFL’s, 1 FF, 5 PD and an INT in ’13). He’s a smart player with good diagnostic skills who can get up field. He’s got the skills to be a solid pass rusher, but is still learning how to use his hands and shed blocks. He can be solid against the run but needs to get stronger so he doesn’t get engulfed by bigger OT’s with longer arms.
Senior MLB David Cooper is a heady player who makes up for limited athleticism with good reads and an ability to put himself in the right position to make plays. He’s strong against the run and covers well despite not having elite speed, and simply gets the job done in the middle (85 tackles, 6 TFL’s and 2.5 sacks). I think his best fit at the next level will be a strong side ‘backer in an even front, where his ability to play the run but also pressure the QB can be taken advantage of. Playing inside an odd front could be possible, especially on 3rd downs or obvious passing situations.
Senior CB Tim Bennett was arguably the most productive CB in the entire Big Ten last year, finishing with 73 tackles, 3.5 TFL’s and a national best 20 passes defended. He doesn’t have great size (5-foot 9, 185-pounds) or speed (4.5 40), but could be an intriguing fit as a nickel back at the next level, where his ability to blitz and play the run well would offset his limitations playing man. He’s a physical player who’s experience at safety as helped his transition to CB.