The college season kicks off this weekend, and with it another year of NFL scouting begins in earnest. The top prospects from the defensive side of the ball have a decidedly Southern California flavor with a large hint of Ohio State Buckeye. Teams targeting pass rushers, linebackers or defensive backs have a lot to smile about as there will be plenty to choose from next April. (For offensive prospects, click here.)
George Selvie/DE/South Florida (Underclassmen): Selvie is a pass rushing force who makes plays behind the line of scrimmage with regularity. His playing style remind many of Simeon Rice and like the former All Pro, Selvie is an early first-round pick.
Ricky Sapp/DE/Clemson (U): Clemson's next great defensive lineman is a versatile athlete who makes plays out of a three-point stance yet can also stand up over tackle. Sapp's got first-round potential if he opts for the NFL after this season.
Tyson Jackson/DE/LSU: Jackson comes off a disappointing junior campaign and hopes to rebound as a senior. He's one of the better two-gap ends in the nation and a difference maker at the top of his game.
Greg Middleton/DE/Indiana (U): Middleton combines athleticism with intensity on the field. He makes plays as a pass rusher and run defender while offering a good amount of upside.
Doug Worthington/DE/Ohio State (U): Worthington is a developing prospect that shows flashes of ability. He has the skills to play in a variety of defenses and will be an early draft choice once he rounds out his game.
Fili Moala/DT/USC: The Trojans have recently produced quality defensive tackles Mike Patterson and Sedrick Ellis, and Moala is next in line. He struggled last year as a junior, but as a sophomore he showed Darrell Russell-type of ability.
Terrance Taylor/DT/Michigan: Michigan's fireplug in the middle of the line, Taylor enters the year as one of the nation's best nose tackle prospects.
Greg Hardy/DE/Mississippi: Hardy did double duty at Ole Miss playing on both the football and basketball teams. He's a tremendous athlete slowly rounding into a dominant football player.
Michael Johnson/DE/Georgia Tech:Johnson was one of the few seniors in the nation to receive an early first round grade from the league's scouting services. He's a tremendous pass rusher that can be impossible to stop but Johnson also takes plays off and seems uninterested at times, which is a major concern.
Rey Maualuga/ILB/USC: Maualuga is a dominant linebacker who justifiably draws comparisons to former Trojan star Junior Seau. He is a dominant run defender who intimidates opponents with his aggressive play. Maualuga is headed into the draft's top five selections next year.
James Laurinaitis/ILB/Ohio State: He is another forceful defender with an appetite for physical contact. Laurinaitits does not grade out as high as former Buckeye A.J. Hawk, yet still fits into the first half of round one.
Darry Beckwith/LB/LSU: Beckwith is an intelligent defender with the ability to be used at several linebacker spots. He consistently puts himself in a position to defend the run or stop the pass.
Brandon Spikes/ILB/Florida (U): Channing Crowder, Andra Davis and now Spikes; all fierce, run-defending linebackers from the Gator program. Spikes shows slightly more athleticism compared to his predecessors and as a result will be drafted earlier.
Brian Cushing/OLB/USC: The Trojans other star linebacker spends a lot of time lining up in a three-point stance. Cushing moves towards next April as the best 3-4 outside linebacker.
Marcus Freeman/OLB/Ohio State: Freeman does not receive the notoriety Laurinaitis does yet is considered by many a more complete football player. He's a three-down defender presently underrated by many in the scouting community.
Dannell Ellerbe/OLB/Georgia: Georgia's leading tackler last season, Ellerbe is an undersized yet explosive linebacker who best fits a one-gap system. He's another three-down defender with starting potential in the NFL.
Aaron Curry/OLB/Wake Forest: Curry is one of the better athletes in the linebacker class and forces the action everywhere on the field. His mental intangibles fall short of the physical skills but Curry still fits in as a top 75 choice.
Darryl Sharpton/ILB/Miami-Fl (U): The Hurricanes have a legacy of putting quality linebackers into the NFL and Sharpton is next in line. He's a physical defender who lays it on the line on every snap.
Tyrone McKenzie/OLB/South Florida: McKenzie is ranked as a second-round choice by league scouting services but is an undersized prospect who'll have difficulty transitioning to the next level.
William Moore/S/Missouri: Moore is one of the most complete defensive backs in the nation. He's an intimidating run defender who packs a wallop at the point of attack. Moore also shuts down receivers when placed in man-coverage situations. He could move into the draft's top eight selections.
Malcolm Jenkins/CB/Ohio State: Jenkins gave serious thought to entering last April's draft where many thought he would've been the first cornerback chosen. Jenkins now returns to Ohio State as the nation's top cover man. He's a nice combination of size and skill and projects as a top 10 choice.
Taylor Mays/S/USC (U): USC has a long history of putting quality safeties into the draft and Mays will continue that trend. He's big and physical yet also plays smart football, rarely making mental errors.
Mike Mickens/CB/Cincinnati: The Bearcats starting cornerback four years running, Mickens has been a mainstay in the Cincinnati secondary since his freshman year. His cover skills are top notch yet Mickens lacks a physical nature to his game, which will raise red flags.
Brandon Ghee/CB/Wake Forest (U): Brother to former Wake Forest safety Patrick Ghee, the younger sibling is a dominant cornerback with outstanding size and speed. Ghee's only played one year of college football after sitting on the sidelines for two seasons, and is a first rounder in the making.
Victor Harris/CB/Virginia Tech: Harris possesses top ball skills, instincts and fundamentals. He's an opportunistic corner who some grade as a first rounder.
Courtney Greene/S/Rutgers: Greene is another safety that stands out in pass coverage and has the ability to play over the slot receiver. He's got a great deal of upside and will move up draft boards if he completes his game this season.
Vic Hall/CB/Virginia: Hall gets lost in the shuffle on a talented Cavalier defense yet is a terrific young prospect. He offers good ball skills and combines them with a physical brand of football.
Myron Rolle/S/Florida State (U): Rolle, considered by many as one of the better safeties in the country, struggled through a poor sophomore campaign. He's must get his game back on track and live up to the expectations NFL scouts have placed on him.