2015 NFL DRAFT

Clemson looks to continue tradition of high-round D-linemen

by | NFLDraftScout.com
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Clemson's Brandon Thompson may be selected towards the bottom of the draft's first round. (Getty Images)  
Clemson's Brandon Thompson may be selected towards the bottom of the draft's first round. (Getty Images)  

In each of the past five drafts, Clemson has had at least one defensive lineman selected, including four players in the first two rounds, and the streak won't end this year, despite pretty uneven results so far by the former Tigers' stars.

End Andre Branch and tackle Brandon Thompson both are highly regarded prospects, each of whom scored some points at the combine, and they can be perceived as players on the rise.

Part of what makes both attractive is their shared versatility, a quality NFL scouts clearly have not overlooked.

"The way the game is played now, with people jumping in and out of [multiple] fronts, it's a big plus for them," said one NFC area scout whose territory includes the ACC.

Branch, who had 17 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in 2011, is a hybrid-type edge defender, who might be able to play end in a 4-3 or some 3-4 outside rush linebacker. Timed at 4.70, Branch looks to have great upfield burst, and his 77 tackles last season indicate he is also active versus the run.

He could go off the board in the first round.

Maybe more surprising is Thompson, a player who some teams said might still squeeze into the very bottom of the first round.

The second round is more realistic, but Thompson seems to be growing on people. The key for the 314-pound Thompson, who had an excellent week at the Senior Bowl but did not run in Indianapolis, is that a few clubs, like New England, feel he can play the pure "five-technique" end spot in a 3-4, and perhaps slide inside to tackle to log some 4-3 snaps.

Thompson had only 4.5 sacks in his college career, but scouts contend there is some pass-rush potential there, and that Thompson isn't just a nose tackle-type player.

More notes

 Most scouts at the combine felt that North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins handled interrogation about his past indiscretions better than did Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict. And not only in the media interview sessions, but in the sit-downs with individual teams. Jenkins, who was dismissed by Florida after two marijuana-related incidents, and who has four children aged 3 and under by three different women, is said to have addressed his past problems more head-on. The feeling was that Burfict, a high-round talent whose demeanor could cost him in the draft, was the more defensive of the two.

 Last week, we documented the regimen of Miami (Ohio) guard Brandon Brooks, arguably the mostly highly regarded prospect -- almost certainly the best offensive line candidate -- not invited to the Indianapolis combine.

At his pro day on campus Thursday, Brooks may have cemented his status, and perhaps worked his way to as high as the third round, with a very solid audition for NFL scouts.

At 6-feet-5 and 346 pounds, Brooks ran a sub-5.0 time (scouts to whom The Sports Xchange spoke pegged it in the 4.98 range) and performed 36 reps in the bench press.

"A lot of people told me they couldn't believe I wasn't in Indy," Brooks said, "but who's fault was it [that] I wasn't there? Maybe it's all worked out for the best, though. Like I said before, it just made the chip that much bigger for me. Maybe I worked that much harder."

Brooks, who spent two months at the renowned API facility in Phoenix to prep for his pro day, will have an individual workout for scouts on March 8, and perform line-specific drills then.

 There was only one runner chosen in the first round of the 2011 draft, former Alabama star Mark Ingram by New Orleans. His onetime Crimson Tide teammate, Trent Richardson, could be the lone back in the first round in two months.

Richardson, though, is seen as a top 10 selection. But while Richardson is pretty much everyone's pick as the No. 1 back, and seemingly a lock to be chosen in the top 10, as usual there remains considerable debate about who the second back off the board will be, and how high he will be tabbed.

One somewhat surprising result of the combine, beyond the fact there are some speedy prospects, is that the running back spot as a group might include more overall durability and toughness than previously believed. Even in a league where time sharing has become so prevalent, those attributes are coveted.

A few scouts noted after the combine that nearly all of the highly rated backs possess some injury history, but have logged 200 carries or more in a college season.

Even a prospect with some definite warts, like Chris Polk of Washington, averaged 276.5 rushing attempts in his final two seasons. Lamar Miller of Miami, the speediest back at the combine (4.40), had a 227-carry season.

Virginia Tech underclass prospect David Wilson, another very fast runner, has a 290-attempt season on his resume. Doug Martin from Boise State had a 263-carry season.

Even the undersized LaMichael James, a player some compare to Darren Sproles and viewed more as a complementary back because of his size, averaged 257.0 carries over three seasons at Oregon.

As one general manager noted, Richardson probably will be the lone back in the first round, certainly in the top 20, but there "will be enough runners to go around."

 The combine results at wide receiver were somewhat mixed. While Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill dazzled scouts and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd might have moved himself into the No. 2 hole behind Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State, some players expected to run fast turned in pedestrian times. One guy who helped himself, though, in terms of size (6-0 1/8, 198), speed (4.36), receiving ability, and health status, was Stanford's Chris Owusu. Forced to miss time each of the past two seasons because of concussions, Owusu checked out well with the medical people in Indy, although some teams still want to perform further due diligence on him, and was solid in all aspects. He won't go in the first round, but looks like a second-rounder who could contribute early.

 Unlike last year, when there was a healthy pool of 3-4 "five technique" prospects in the draft -- guys like J.J. Watt and several players who ended up with 4-3 teams but who could have manned the position -- there is a lack of such candidates for 2012. Some of the best "five technique" prospects look to be guys, like the aforementioned Thompson of Clemson, who played tackle in college and could move outside. One such player sometimes mentioned is Michigan's Mike Martin, but most scouts seem to feel that, while he isn't the 340-something pounder preferred by some 3-4 clubs, his best spot remains as a nose tackle prospect.

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