With free agency winding down, and the 2016 NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to finish the process of getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar has assembled his own Big Board, with his top 50 players.
The SI 50 uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class, and why they’re slotted as such. The bottom three players in this year’s 50 can be found here, and the next wave includes a defensive end who seems to be forgotten, a right tackle who could be a franchise cornerstone and the best small-school defensive tackle in this draft class.
47. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
Height: 6' 4" Weight: 251 pounds
Bio: Calhoun chose to stay with the Spartans after the 2014 season in which he amassed 28 solo tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks, and won the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year award. Now, Calhoun needs to make himself stand out in one of the top classes for defensive linemen in draft history. But despite a 2015 season in which he put up career highs in TFL (15) and sacks (10.5), some insist that Calhoun is not the sum of his parts. I would argue that Calhoun’s game isn’t fully developed, and one has to look at the full picture. A basketball star as well as a tight end and defensive end in high school, Calhoun has everything you want in a modern pass-rusher. It’s just going to be up to his NFL team to put the pieces together.
Strengths: At a base level, Calhoun has an intriguing combination of functional strength and open-field agility, and he’s a well-proportioned athlete for the position. Possesses a decent bull-rush when he uses it, and runs around and past blockers fairly consistently. Uses some nice, interesting foot-fakes to get around blockers. Has the ability to drop into coverage in a fluid fashion—has an interception and five passes defensed in his collegiate career. Has a very basic inside counter move/swipe which is potentially devastating when he’s on point with it. Will re-set the blocker when crossing his face with his upper-body strength. Shows power when pushing inside on tackle, and will occasionally crash through protections with brute strength. Persistent rusher who will play through the snap and chase through the pocket. Gets a lot of sacks on effort as opposed to technique, which points to an estimable upside once an NFL coaching staff gets hold of him.
Weaknesses: When set up as a strong-side, run-stopping end, Calhoun spends far too much time engaging with blockers and not using his hands to separate—something I commonly see among collegiate ends. More of a wrestler than someone who will shock with his hands and look to disrupt immediately. Loses a ton of strength by coming off the ball too high, which leaves him open to getting enveloped by tackles and bigger tight ends who get their hands on his chest. Gets stood up more than he stands opposing blockers up. Doesn’t have a consistent bend to “dip-and-rip” around the tackle.
Conclusion: Perhaps the most frustrating part of my annual evaluation of college players is the alarmingly high percentage of defensive linemen who spend more time dancing around blockers and engaging them with simple hand-wrestling, as opposed to using pure hand and body technique to win the down. As much as he worked in a pro-style defense at Michigan State, Calhoun is a prominent example of this trend, which makes his tape less impressive than it could be, but also opens up all kinds of intriguing possibilities with a next-level defensive line coach. He was a bit of a one-trick pony in college, but based on raw physical tools, I think that Shilique Calhoun will reward the NFL team that takes him with a first few seasons that could rival that of any 4–3 end in this class. When we talk about high-ceiling players, this is a perfect example. At this point, he Vernon comparison is more tied to Vernon’s early NFL career and his time in college.
Pro Comparison: Olivier Vernon, Giants (third round, Dolphins, 2012, Miami)
46. Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M
Height: 6' 6" Weight: 324 pounds
Bio: Ifedi is the latest in a long line of recent tackle stars for the Aggies, a group that runs from Luke Joeckel to Jake Matthews to Cedric Ogbuehi. However, Ifedi is more built to be a right tackle or possibly guard—the three-year starter began as a guard in 2013, before moving to the right side for the next two seasons. At the combine, Ifedi said that he’s fine wherever his NFL team puts him, but opposing defenders at the next level might not be so happy about it. With a handful of coachable technique fixes, this particular Aggie could be the strongest of the bunch when it comes to his NFL future, or he might find himself ill-equipped for what’s required at the next level—similar to many young tackles these days.
Strengths: Pure mauler at right tackle, who maintains tremendous root-and-plant strength even out of a two-point stance. Long arms and a wide base—when he gets his hands in his opponent’s chest and his feet on the ground, he’s really hard to move. Very agile for his size on pulls, and impressive overall agility for a man his size. Nasty mentality as a run-blocker—when his technique is on, he’ll pinch inside and devour high-rated ends and tackles. Will use his momentum on the move to take defenders out of the play; Ifedi has a high number of cockroach blocks where he’ll just put guys on their backs. Nascent ability to react and respond to twists and game at the line. Some anti-spread teams will give a systemic black mark, but he’s a pure power guy who goes beyond the stereotypes of the modern finesse college tackle.
Weaknesses: Ifedi has a ton of technique issues that will likely keep him out of the first round, despite his stature and athleticism. Doesn’t have a developed kick-step to mirror edge-rushers; he’s more inclined to sink back and use his size to keep defenders at bay. Will lunge at times when playing outside the phone booth, which has some believing he’d be a better guard. Tends to guess and whiff at the second level, since he doesn’t have consistent accuracy with blocking targets in space. He’s best winning one-on-one matchups. Tends to lose structure against rushers who can flare out to either side. More practiced NFL edge-rushers may eat him up with pure quickness and technique for a while. Not a second-move reactor; was occasionally beaten by rushers who were just quicker out of the gate. Will lose his clutch on defenders as he pushes them downfield.
Conclusion: Ifedi’s NFL team will have to correct these technique issues, but let’s be clear: I think he has far better overall technique than Miami’s Ereck Flowers, a big tackle the Giants took with the ninth overall pick last year, and while he may be a good right tackle in the right system in time, I don’t think he’s an automatic NFL guard. Like La’el Collins—his pro comparison—Ifedi can be uncontrolled and struggles with second-level blocking at times, but has a nice array of workable attributes.
Pro Comparison: La’el Collins, Cowboys (Undrafted, 2015, LSU)
45. Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State
Height: 6' 1" Weight: 309 pounds
Bio: If you’re going to make a dent in this defensive tackle class from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, it better be clear that you’re something special. Hargrave, who put up 16 sacks as a junior in 2014—including an FCS-record-tying six against Bethune-Cookman—and 13.5 sacks in 2015, fits the bill. Hargrave had amassed a total of 10 sacks in his first two collegiate seasons, but really exploded two years ago into one of the more remarkable small-school defenders in the nation. Some will doubt his ability to transition through to the NFL, but there are enough success stories at the position from those types of schools to transcend that prejudice. Hargrave is regarded as a legitimate NFL prospect, and rightly so.
Strengths: Hargrave is very fast and explosive for his size, as seen by combine performance—his 4.93 40 time—fifth among all defensive tackles, and his 10-yard split of 1.69 tied for second behind Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche. Absolutely explodes out of his stance and can at times beat the blockers he’s faced based on pure speed alone. Natural gap-splitter who times his moves through creases expertly and understands how to “get skinny” in a hurry. Athletic enough to skip a whole gap and still blow past his blocker. Has a decent palette of rim, swim and over moves to accentuate his athleticism, and his hand moves are certainly more consistent than what you generally see from a smaller-school player. Consistent disruptor from the one-, three-, and five-tech positions. Has the physique and upper-body strength to bull guards back—when he gets his hands under a center’s pads, for example, that center is going to go the wrong way in a big hurry. Didn’t run a lot of twists, stunts and other games at the line, but certainly has the skill set to excel at these.
Weaknesses: Of course, everything said about Hargrave’s ridiculous effectiveness against enemy blockers is tempered by the fact that he did all this against the Arkansas Pine-Bluffs, Bethune-Cookmans and Coastal Carolinas of the world. No offense to those fine schools, and Hargrave’s Shrine Game week showed a lot, but he’ll be debited a lot due to strength of schedule. Everything you see on tape must be viewed through that lens, but Hargrave has enough on the ball when you isolate his skills to make him a tremendously intriguing prospect from the mid-second round on down.
Conclusion: John Randle, Geno Atkins, Timmy Jernigan, Aaron Donald, Grady Jarrett. These shorter, squattier defensive tackles were all undervalued and slipped through the cracks because they didn’t fit a convenient personnel slot are legion in recent NFL history. Hargrave has additional small-school stigma, but he also has the potential to be that type of player—he’ll need to be in a 4–3 base front to find success, but in the right system, and once he’s been coached up to meet the next level, he’s got enough tape showing him as a possible bright spot for his NFL line.
Pro Comparison: Timmy Jernigan, Ravens (second round, 2014, Florida State)