NFL Draft All-Underclassmen Team (Defense)

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft passed a few days ago, and the NFL has released the list of players who declared. In all, 96 players were “granted special eligibility for the 2016 NFL Draft,” which is two short of the record of 98, set in 2014. To be eligible for the NFL Draft, a player must be at least three years removed from high school. In terms of college eligibility, the players must be at least a junior or a redshirt sophomore. Another 11 players “fulfilled their degree requirements with college football eligibility remaining.” What this means is the player earned their degree, but still had another year of eligibility. Basically, they are redshirt juniors with a college degree. This is part two of a two-part series that will look at the best underclassmen in the 2016 NFL Draft. You can find part one, offensive players, here. Special teams players (kicker and punter) were split between the offensive and defensive articles. Edge Defender: Joey Bosa, Ohio State Considered one of the front-runners to be selected No. 1 overall since the completion of the 2015 draft, Bosa's best fit would be as a 4-3 defensive end, but he could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. After recording 13.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss as a sophomore, his statistics fell to five sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 2015, as offenses focused their attention on him. Just because he didn't record many sacks this year doesn't mean he wasn't producing pressure. Per CFB Film Room, he recorded 24 quarterback hits (which led their charting by seven) and another 24 hurries. Edge Defender: Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky If Spence wasn't ruled permanently ineligible by the Big Ten Conference for multiple positive drug tests, him and Bosa would have wrecked havoc together the past two years (they played together as freshmen). The former five-star recruit spent the 2015 season with Eastern Kentucky, where he dominated the lower competition for 11.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss. Teams will have to do their homework on Spence, but his speed off the edge is sure to entice teams, especially ones that run a 3-4 defense. He is the most talented 3-4 outside linebacker in the draft. Defensive Tackle: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss Like Spence, Nkemdiche comes with immense talent, but off-the-field issues. Nkemdiche has great athletic ability for an interior defensive lineman. He can dominate offensive linemen, but was inconsistent in his time at Ole Miss, only recording seven sacks and 19 tackles for loss in three seasons. If a team can even out his performance, they will produce one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL. How early he gets drafted will depend on how comfortable teams are with him off the field. Defensive Tackle: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama Defensive tackle was the hardest position to choose, as defensive line is probably the deepest position in the draft, and multiple underclassmen will go in the first round. Robinson gets the nod after anchoring the Alabama defense in two seasons as a starter. The Crimson Tide won the National Championship this year with the strongest front seven in college football. Robinson's statistics, 46 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, won't blow you away, but what makes him special are the things that don't show up on the stat line. Linebacker: Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame Before suffering a major knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl, Smith seemed like a lock for the top 10. Now, his draft status is unknown, though I wouldn't be surprised to see him stay in the first round––he is just too talented. In three seasons in South Bend, he filled the stat sheet, recording 292 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and one interception. He is at his best when in pass coverage, but don't underestimate his ability to stop the run. Where Smith gets drafted will depend a lot on the results of his medial exam. Linebacker: Myles Jack, UCLA Jack is the definition of the new bread of linebackers, as he will be one of the most athletic players on any field he steps on. At UCLA, he wasn't used in a typical linebacker role, as he was asked to cover slot receivers a lot. Unfortunately, his junior season was cut short by a meniscus tear. It was recently announced that he is expected to be healthy for the NFL Combine. Jack should be one of the stars at the Underwear Olympics and lock in his spot as a top 15 selection. Linebacker: Darron Lee, Ohio State Along with the defensive line, linebackers have the potential to dominate the headlines early in the draft. Smith, Jack, Lee, Reggie Ragland and Su'a Cravens all will be selected early. Lee is still new to the linebacker position, having switched before the 2014 season. With 147 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and three interceptions, he was instrumental to Ohio State's success. The Buckeyes' strongside linebacker can do a bit of everything, and this gives him a chance to go in the first round. Cornerback: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida Since Hargreaves joined the Gators as a five-star recruit, he has been known as a shutdown cornerback. Listed at 5-foot-11, he doesn't have the size that some top cornerbacks have. He makes up for this with great fundamentals and technique. In his three seasons in Gainesville he intercepted 10 passes. Hargreaves is in the running to be the first cornerback off the board in April. One thing to follow will be how tall he is at the Combine. If he comes in under his listed height, and there are rumors he will, he could fall down draft boards a bit. Cornerback: Mackensie Alexander, Clemson If Hargreaves isn't the first cornerback off the board, then it will likely be Alexander (depending on how teams view Jalen Ramsey, but more on him later). Alexander owns one of the most impressive statistics in all of college football. In his past 23 games, he has allowed a total of zero touchdowns. In his career, he has only allowed two. Prior to the National Championship Game, which he didn't finish due to a hamstring injury, he was allowing only 32.7 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed, per CFB Film Room. A negative with Alexander is he failed to record an interception in his collegiate career. Safety: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State Depending on what team Ramsey is drafted by, he will play either safety or cornerback. In 2014, he lined up at safety for the Seminoles, but moved to cornerback in 2015. Personally, I prefer him at safety, where he makes plays all over the field (9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2014). Simply put, he is a playmaker. His tape against Miami in 2014 is one of the most impressive performances from a player in this draft class. Impressively, he started all 41 games in his career. Off the football field, he is an All-American and ACC Champion in Track and Field. Safety: Vonn Bell, Ohio State It was a tough choice between Bell and teammate Tyvis Powell for the final safety spot. Bell is a two-year starter who earned a start in the Orange Bowl as a freshman. Ever since that game, he has been making impact plays for the Buckeyes. He intercepted nine passes in his career, including six in 2014, the year Ohio State won the title. If all goes well for Bell in the draft process, he will go on Day Two. Punter: Eric Enderson, Delaware Already owning his degree, Enderson decided to forgo his final year of eligibly. A FCS All-American in 2014, he averaged 43.6 yards per punt in his career. Each year his average declined, going from 45 to 44.9 to 41.1 yards per punt. Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter@Matt_Pearce13

Upcoming Games