Day Three Dream Team: Defense
By Simon Carroll
You build a team through the draft, or so the old adage tells us. And those that buy into this mantra will be the first to tell you that unearthing value in the mid to late rounds is the way to win championships. From Tom Brady to Richard Sherman, Jahri Evans to Adalius Thomas – day three of the draft is littered throughout history with star players who have helped their teams to Super Bowls.
With that in mind, I’ve attempted to build a ‘dream team’ for the upcoming NFL Draft of prospects who are likely to come off the board in rounds 4-7. Part two of this article focuses on defense:
EDGE: Robert Beal, Georgia
A guy who struggled to break through the depth chart to a starting role on this star-studded Georgia defense, Robert Beal doesn’t have much in the way of production to lean on when analysing his NFL credentials. But watch the tape, and you see some flashes of traits that are quite intriguing…
Beal’s length immediately jumps off the screen. His arms are simply too long for defenders to get their hands on his pads and manipulate him. He’s long and linear and looks like a designated pass rusher, but plays with incredible strength and is actually adept at setting the edge and shedding to the ball carrier. His blazing 4.48 forty time at the NFL Combine suggests he can be a factor getting after the quarterback too.
IDL: Cameron Young, Mississippi State
This wouldn’t be my annual Day 3 Dream Team article if I didn’t include an undersized nose tackle from Starkville. Cameron Young is stout, long, and filthy strong for his frame – he defies the measurables to lock out linemen and keep his own pads clean. His ability to stack and shed to the football gives me great confidence he can two gap at the next level.
Young is experienced and productive, with 100 tackles on is resume from the last two seasons alone. Not many guys this late in the draft come as polished or as battle-proven. I think he’s got a real shot at starting reps in a four man front.
IDL: Jalen Redmond, Oklahoma
You get your nose tackle in place, and you pair him with a quick, urgent three tech with a nose for the football. Jalen Redmond fits the bill; great burst off the line, fierce hands that know how to work to the edges of pads, and elite backfield vision – once he’s broken in, he knows how to get to the ball quickly.
Redmond is no slouch against the run, but allowing him to pin his ears back and penetrate the pocket is how you get the most out of him. 31 TFL’s and 14 sacks in his career? Finding that kind of interior pass rush in the later rounds of the draft is rare.
EDGE: Thomas Incoom, Central Michigan
Thomas Incoom has had to fight for his share of the limelight. Plying his trade initially at Valdosta State (where he balled out), Incoom transferred to CMU ahead of the 2021 season. After a year of finding his feet and moving about the line, the speedy sack artist finally showed what he could do at the FBS level, recording an incredible 19 TFL’s and 11.5 sacks in 2022 alone.
Incoom may be small but he is SHREDDED. That torso has excellent weight distribution and he’s maximised the power it can provide his game. His length is also an asset allowing him to attack the pocket as a bul rusher, round the arc, or countering inside. His speed is just too much to handle. As a run defender, he’s stout, funnels the play inside, and hits hard. This kid is legit.
SLB: Shaka Heyward, Duke
Think of Thomas Incoom who we’ve just discussed, and shrink him down a bit to linebacker size, and you have Shaka Heyward. Ripped, powerful and long, Heyward demonstrates the speed and strength that NFL scouts covet. He’s a brutal hitter who puts everything behind his pads when entering contact – and those long arms allow him to wrap up ball carriers way outside of his frame.
An underappreciated attribute is just how instinctive Heyward was when watching his Duke tape; he reads the backfield well, stays clean of blocks, and flows to the football. He’s ALWAYS around the play – and has 337 tackles in his Blue Devil career to prove it.
MLB: Carlton Martial, Troy
If Carlton Martial was over 6ft, he’d be a day two pick. Instead, somebody is going to get a steal, because a three inch deficit has not affected this production machine in the slightest…
578 tackles. That’s right – 578 (FIVE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-EIGHT). Just give Carlton Martial some pads and a helmet and let him hit a ball carrier. A stalking middle linebacker who hides behind the big dudes up front, Martial is a quick processor, fluid to flow to the football, and always makes the play. He’s what scouts describe as a ‘football player’, a silly phrase but one that carries some serious cachet. He can even drop into coverage and has six picks on his CV.
WLB: Anfernee Orji, Vanderbilt
Oh yes. For the weakside linebacker spot I wanted speed, energy, and upside. And Anfernee Orji ticks all the boxes.
Orji looks like he’s been fired out of a cannon, such is his burst off the snap. I’ve never seen someone hunt down the football from the backside as quickly as this kid. His agility jumps off the tape -he gets under arms and dances away from down blocks to stay active and get to the action. I like how balanced he is against angled blocks too, showing he can work against zone schemes.
He’s very raw, which excites me more than anything else, because I can only imagine the versatility he brings as a blitzer or DPR once he’s honed his technique and play diagnosis. Orji is a project, but with some god-given traits that will allow him to be productive from day one.
CB: Darrell Luter, South Alabama
Good size, elite length, and plays with physicality – Darrell Luter has the measurables and play style that fits the mould of a modern day NFL corner. One of those guys who is up in your business all day, Luter plays press well, delaying route entry, before flipping his hips and sticking to his receiver like glue throughout the route.
Luter isn’t only fluid, he has some serious playmaking skills too. 18 pass breakups and 5 picks in three years for the Jaguars shows the danger he has with the ball in the air. If he played for a Power 5 school, there’s no way he makes it to the Saturday on draft weekend.
FS: Jay Ward, LSU
Jay Ward is so talented it’s ludicrous he’s fallen to day 3. Versatile and tough, Ward has played every conceivable position in the LSU secondary – and played them all with distinction. I’ve never seen such a fearless hitter – Ward may be slightly undersized, but he enters contact against bigger opponents with no doubt in his mind he’s going to win.
Ward’s greatest moments on tape come with the ball in the air. He peeks the QB well, tracks the ball astutely and uses his length and tenacity to disrupt at the catch point. It’s like he sees things before they happen – and has some serious ball skills too, with six interceptions to his name. I like Ward as a future starting free safety, but he can be used closer to the line and in a nickel corner/safety role too.
SS: Jason Taylor, Oklahoma State
Big and tough. That’s what you’re getting if you draft Jason Taylor. The OSU standout was a hard-hitting bully on the back end for the Cowboys, assuming a starting role in 2021 before taking a giant leap last year. As a run stuffing box safety you couldn’t ask for more – he’s physical and aggressive but not at the expense of risking the play. He’s fundamentally sound as a tackler and racked up 99 last season alone.
If that wasn’t enough to be worthy of a late round pick, Taylor diversified his game as a Senior. He was utilised in more shallow zone coverages and finished the season with six picks. Instinctive, quick to process and with good burst to the ball, Taylor has all the hallmarks of a starting NFL defensive back.
CB: Nic Jones, Ball State
I’ve interviewed a fair few draft prospects in my time, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across one as self-confident as Nic Jones. From the moment he put a set of pads on he was convinced he was destined for the NFL – and when you watch his tape, it’s hard to disagree…
Jones is a real dog in the secondary. Blessed with good length and the instincts to make plays, he is a proficient outside corner in press, off-man or zone coverage. A hallmark of his game is watching him come down from his zone and undercutting routes, but he’s just as capable mixing it up at the line of scrimmage. Willing in run support and a dedicated special team player, Jones will be a valued contributor to an NFL roster for some time.
previously the founder of nfl draft uk, simon has been covering college football and the nfl draft since 2009. based in manchester, simon is also co-creator & weekly guest of the collapsing pocket podcast.