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2013 NFL Draft scouting combine preview: Defense

Tyrann Mathieu -- aka "Honey Badger" -- could give his draft stock a huge boost with a strong showing at the combine. (Cal Sport Media via AP Images) Tyrann Mathieu -- aka "Honey Badger" -- could give his draft stock a huge boost with a strong showing at the combine. (Cal Sport Media/AP)

Defensive players could dominate when the NFL Draft begins on April 25. That is the reality created by extremely deep prospect classes at defensive tackle, end, outside linebacker and safety ... and by the lack of elite talent at cornerback, running back and wide receiver.

Part I of our NFL combine preview took a look at the offensive hopefuls. Part II hops to the other side of the ball, to examine which defenders have the most to gain or lose in the coming days ...

BURKE: NFL Draft Big Board

Who will shine

Kiko Alonso, LB, Oregon: Expect to start hearing more about Alonso in the coming weeks, as he's already starting to generate some buzz. He's clearly the second Oregon defender on draft boards, well behind Dion Jordan, but Alonso is a playmaker in his own right. A strong showing at the combine will force NFL teams to take a closer look.

• Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU: Ansah was a member of BYU's track team before he was a football player, and that background ought to show up in speed drills. The athletic Ansah already flashed what showed off his wares with a spectacular effort in the Senior Bowl -- which followed an up-and-down week of practice. He's an intriguing prospect who could solidify a first-round standing by performing well in Indianapolis.

Another defensive end to watch: South Carolina's Devin Taylor, who slipped under the radar all season as everyone focused on Jadeveon Clowney.

Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International: One of the draft's fast risers over the past couple of months, Cyprien is pushing guys like Kenny Vaccaro, Eric Reid and Matt Elam to be the first safety off the board in April. The 40-yard-dash could be huge for his cause -- if Cyprien can put up a time in the 4.5 range, there will be little holding NFL teams back.

Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU: Short of testing positive for drugs, there is little Mathieu can do to hurt his case at the combine. A solid performance on the field would help, but Mathieu's real chance to boost his stock will come during the interview process.

Has he matured at all since his falling out at LSU? If NFL teams deem that a yes, Mathieu could jump into the Day 2 conversation.

Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU: Mingo's size remains a concern -- at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, he's more of a physical fit at OLB, where he's never played. But, like Cordarrelle Patterson on the offensive side of the football, he should dominate most of the drills during combine week.

Mingo said just last week that he's put on 15 pounds of muscle since the college season ended, and that will be a welcome addition for NFL scouts. If he hasn't lost any of his speed, few players will have a better all-around combine.

Who Will Struggle

Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State; John Jenkins, DT, Georgia: This duo is similar in a lot of ways -- they're both big, talented interior linemen with questions about their conditioning and drive. Jenkins, for one, continues to try to slim down, from nearly 380 during his Georgia days to a targeted 340. Still, the weigh-in portion of the combine may not do either player any favors, and both will spend the entire week answering questions about those plays on which they dialed back their efforts.

Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State: Call this a hunch, but I don't expect Rhodes to blow anyone away with his 40 time. And cornerback is a spot where scouts really pay attention to that drill.

Rhodes is a very aggressive cornerback, who turned in a terrific career at Florida State. A 40 time up near 4.6, though, would be damaging.

Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois: Spence endured a disappointing 2012 and could use a big combine performance. The problems with that: He doesn't have great speed and he may measure even smaller than the 6-foot-1, 305 pounds he was listed at with Illinois. When you combine those two things, you end up with an undersized defensive tackle, who may not make many plays with his feet and has questions about his motor.

Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame: This figures to be a tough week for Te'o, mainly because he has to meet the media and will face rounds of similar questioning from NFL teams. The challenge is on for the Notre Dame star to keep it together -- and be honest -- with everyone.

But he also likely will not blow anyone away in on-field drills. Te'o is a guy who plays above his athletic abilities, which is something scouts will like on his game film (aside from the BCS title game) but which will hinder him during the combine testing.

Medical Report

• Cornelius "Tank" Carradine, DE, Florida State: You'll hear some people say that Carradine is the best pure pass rusher in this draft. And that may be true, but right now, the big concern is with his health -- Carradine tore an ACL in November, so he will not be back to full speed until at least summer. Unfortunately, that means we won't see Carradine running through drills in Indianapolis.

Jarvis Jones, DE/OLB, Georgia: Jones is listed here not because he's dealing with a nagging injury, but because how he checks out medically could decide how high he climbs in the draft. Jones has been diagnosed with spinal stenosis and was, at one point, told he should call it a career. Teams need to be sure he's a safe pick. (Update: Jones will not work out at the combine; instead, he'll go through drills during Georgia's Pro Day in March.)

Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon: Jordan will be somewhat limited, at least in weightlifting drills, by a nagging shoulder injury that will require post-combine surgery. It's not an injury that should hurt him too much in the draft process, even if it holds him back this week.

Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: The draft's top cornerback prospect will require surgery on a torn labrum after the combine, according to a report by ESPN's Adam Schefter. Milliner will do everything aside from the bench press at the combine, though he likely will not be 100 percent in time for rookie camps.

Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: One of a number of intriguing defensive tackle prospects, Short suffered an undisclosed injury sometime between the end of Senior Bowl week and now. He also will sit out Purdue's March 1 Pro Day, then work out for scouts on his own on March 26.

Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati: NFL Network analyst dropped Stewart into the spotlight on Monday, when he declared that a healthy Stewart would be a top-10 pick in this year's draft. That point is debatable, but the conundrum is that Stewart may never be totally out of the woods medically.

After suffering an injury against Fordham back in October, Stewart was diagnosed with an abnormality in his spine -- he had been born without the posterior arch of his C1 vertebrae. He missed the remainder of the season; he will participate at the combine, but his medical checks will decide his fate.

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