Under-The-Radar Small-School Prospects - Defense

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Tony Pauline

Draft Analyst Writer

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll move to the defensive side of the ball to break down some of the top small-school prospects people are barely talking about. And like the 2019 NFL Draft as a whole, the players on this side of the ball have a decided advantage.

Rickey Neal/Edge/Northern Iowa: Neal is a player I’ve admired on film the past two years, and he was mentioned as a Week 12 Riser. He’s a terrific pass rusher who accumulated 29.5 tackles for loss as well as 17.5 sacks the past two seasons. An explosive athlete who shows terrific speed off the edge as well as in pursuit, Neal turned in a solid pro day by timing 4.75 seconds in the 40 and 7.29 seconds in the three-cone. Primarily lining up at defensive end in college, his 6-foot-1, 235-pound frame will likely stand over tackle at the next level. Neal is getting a lot of interest from the Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders.

Johnny Robinson/DT/Charleston Southern: If you’re looking for a three-technique tackle from the small-school ranks, Robinson is your man. He’s an explosive lineman who shoots the gaps to make plays in the backfield, chases the action laterally and runs down ball carriers in pursuit. He turned in some eye-popping marks at his pro day, including a 40 time of 5.08 seconds with a 1.68 second ten-yard split, a vertical jump of 35 inches and 28 reps on the bench press. Robinson is high on the list for the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Bucs and Los Angeles Chargers.

Kaden Elliss/OLB/Idaho: Elliss has turned in a lot of “wow” moments over the past year and a half. The son of former NFL All-Pro Luther Elliss has combined for 130 tackles, 31 tackles for loss and 13 sacks the past two years. During his extra time on the field, he’s lined up at tight end for the Vandals. Elliss participated in two pro days, one at Idaho and one at Utah, and turned heads at both. His marks from the workouts included 4.65 seconds in the 40 with a 1.63 ten-yard split, 34.5 inches in the vertical jump and 10 feet in the broad jump. His shuttle times were off the charts and included 4.13 seconds in the short shuttle, 11.14 seconds in the 60-yard shuttle and 6.63 seconds in the three-cone. Those marks ranked with some of the better combine performances by the defensive backs. Elliss has had nine official predraft visits including the Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins. His schedule has been so busy there was no room to fit the New York Jets, who wanted to bring Elliss in for a visit. His on-field production, off-field visits around the league and pro-day marks mean one thing: look for Elliss to get drafted on Day 3.

Stephen Denmark/CB/Valdosta State: Denmark is another who lit up his pro day. Measuring 6024 and 220 pounds, he timed 4.46 seconds in the 40, posted a vertical jump of 43.5 inches and a broad jump of 10-foot-10. At Valdosta State last year, he intercepted three passes and totaled 55 tackles. He made official visits to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns and worked out privately for the New Orleans Saints.