2012 NFL Draft: Spotting defensive value

Alabama Crimson Tide tight end Brad Smelley is tackled by LSU Tigers safety Brandon Taylor during the first quarter of the NCAA BCS National Championship college football game in New Orleans, January 9, 2012. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

When it comes to the NFL draft, value can come in many different forms. Sometimes a player will be drafted two or three rounds past where he should have gone because of an injury, character concerns, or due to being a small school prospect.

The 2012 NFL Draft is still over two months away but I wanted to compile a list of players whom I believe will hold more value than where they could be selected come April. I used NFL Draft Scout.com to determine what round each prospect is projected to be selected, and then I used my own grades on each player to determine their potential value.

On Monday I took a look at the offensive positions and today I move on to the defensive side of the ball.

DEFENSIVE END: Cam Johnson, Virginia
I had a hard time finding a defensive end that I really thought would be a value in the middle rounds. That said, Johnson carries a late second or early third-round grade so if he falls into the middle of the third, he would be a value in my eyes. He wasn’t much of a sack artist at Virginia but he’ll get a look in both a 3-4 and 4-3 front because of his versatility. The physical tools are certainly there so if he lands with a team that allows him to learn for a year or two, Johnson could turn out to be a productive starter down the road. I like his ability to move laterally with ease and he does a nice job defending the run.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Alameda Ta’amu, Washington/Josh Chapman, Alabama
I couldn’t decide between Ta’amu and Chapman so I listed them both. Ta’amu carries a third-round grade but that’s low for a guy who could potentially anchor the middle of an NFL defense in either a 34 or 43 front. At 6-foot-3 and 337 pounds, he has tremendous size and is a presence in the interior of a defensive line. Chapman isn’t as big as Ta’amu at 6-foot-1 and 310 pounds, but Nick Saban has a knack for developing excellent interior defensive linemen. Like Ta’amu, Chapman has the ability to start at nose tackle in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 and is extremely tough to move off the ball. He has some medical concerns, which is why he has a fifth-round grade, but if he’s healthy he would be a steal if he fell that far.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: DeMario Davis, Arkansas State
Davis is one of my favorite values on either side of the ball. He’s very instinctive, is always around the ball, and is more explosive than people give him credit for. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, he also has the ability to start either inside or outside in a 4-3 scheme, which offers teams versatility. Seeing as how the NFL is a passing league now, Davis might be a great fit for a team looking to add another sideline-to-sideline ‘backer in nickel packages. He’s projected to go in the seventh round and may even be undrafted, which would be shocking given his talent.

INSIDE LINEBACKER: Mychal Kendricks, California
Kendricks will fall to the fourth or fifth round because he lacks size at 6-foot-0 and 240 pounds. But even with his lack of size he does a nice job of shedding blockers at the second level and finds the football well in traffic. He’s a true thumper in run defense and has a very high motor. Again, his lack of size will cause him to slip on draft day but teams can’t sleep on this guy. He also offers a defense versatility as a blitzing ‘backer.

CORNERBACKS: Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt
Considering how many teams play a cover two in the NFL, Hayward won’t have any trouble fitting into a scheme at the next level. He’s a ballhawk in every sense of the word and while he could have trouble in man coverage, he’s a perfect fit for a zone scheme because he’s smart and instinctive. He carries a fourth or fifth-round grade but he looks like one of the safer picks in this year’s cornerback class.

SAFETY: Brandon Taylor, LSU
This is not a great safety class but if Taylor falls into the middle rounds then he could be a great value. The LSU product is a solid tackler who is fluid in coverage. He battled issues with consistency in college but he could be a fine special teams player in his first couple of years before maturing into a starter down the road.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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