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2016 NFL Draft: Scouting Combine biggest defensive winners and losers

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We take a look at the biggest winners and losers on the defensive side of the ball following the NFL Scouting Combine.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Scouting Combine has come and gone, meaning we're now one step closer to the 2016 NFL Draft.

The combine was the best opportunity that draft prospects will have to showcase their skills, personality and overall health to every NFL team in one setting. Various prospects did well at the Combine and boosted their stock, but some struggled more than others, enough so, that their draft stock likely took big hits. Who are these players and what went right, and wrong?

Defensive players who hurt their draft stock

LB Jaylon Smith

No single player may have suffered a worse hit to his draft stock than Jaylon Smith. The Notre Dame linebacker was once regarded as a top-five prospect and in contention for the No. 1 overall spot.

But a major knee injury suffered in his bowl game left Smith with a torn ACL, LCL and possibly nerve damage. The latter part was revealed during the combine, enough so that multiple teams failed Smith in his physical. This may be a similar scenario that South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore was in during 2013 draft, when a similar injury led to a first-round talent sliding to the late fourth round.

NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock said that no fewer than five NFL clubs have significant concerns about the exams Smith's knee underwent at the combine.

"A big part of this is the medical ... I've texted and talked to at least five different teams since (Saturday) night to ask them about Jaylon Smith. None of them will get specific, but the one common denominator is every team's told me it's bad, on the knee," Mayock said.

It’s getting harder to see Smith going in the first round, which is certainly where he would have been drafted without the injury. That's a shame for a guy who by all accounts is an awesome person and someone any team would want on their roster.

Smith will get an April medical recheck that will be huge for his draft stock and may help him stay inside the first round, but at this point it’s becoming more likely that the 2016 season will have to be a redshirt year.

DL Robert Nkemdiche

The No. 1 overall recruit in the 2013 college football recruiting cycle, Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche was viewed as a monster prospect that was bound to eventually hear his name called in the first round of the NFL draft, possibly even as a top-five pick.

Nkemdiche didn't quite lived up to his hype, but still did enough in the SEC that he was expected to go in the upper half of the first round this year.

That was until character concerns began arising after he was charged with marijuana possession as a result of his fall at a hotel before Ole Miss' bowl game. Since then, Nkemdiche's stock has slowly fell to the point he may not even be a first-round pick now.

Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson reports Nkemdiche is a prospect who could be in for a big draft-day fall based on how poorly he did at the Scouting Combine in interviews.

Perhaps more important, all shared a common concern: whether Nkemdiche can be trusted off the field, and whether he will distance himself from individuals who have negatively influenced him in the past.

"That's a guy that I could see having a little bit of a plummet," one evaluator said. "He's not in a weak class [at defensive tackle], and there is a lot of [off-field] stuff there to get through. … He may not end up being a first-round pick."

Bleacher Report's Jason Cole also reports that Nkemdiche was "unimpressive" during interviews with NFL teams during the week.

"He had a very unimpressive time during interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine," Cole said. "One assistant coach I talked to said, ‘Look, Ndkemdiche is a different dude. He's a very different kind of guy — the kind of guy that you want to be careful with and really just doesn't get what it takes to be a pro.'"

The good news for Ndkemdiche is the most recent mock drafts all have him going within the first 26 picks, so it's possible his attitude isn't enough to keep teams shying away from his potential.

Also interestingly, Ndkemdiche chose to bring his teammate, potential No. 1 draft pick Laremy Tunsil into his mess, telling the media at the Combine that Tunsil was with him during the hotel incident.

DE/LB Noah Spence

The resurgence of Noah Spence has been one of the better stories surrounding this draft class so far. The former Ohio State Buckeye appeared to be on a lost path as he failed two drug tests, the latter of which led to him being permanently banned from the Big Ten.

After that, Spence transferred to FCS college EKU and dominated that level before deciding to go pro after one year. He then lit up the Senior Bowl so much that many began projecting him as a top-15 pick in this year's draft. He had a chance to further ensure that while also making a case for the top 10 if he had a good showing at the Scouting Combine, which he failed to do.

Spence plays like an explosive and speedy pass-rusher who should have put up great times and jumps during the combine drills, but did poorly in the three-cone (7.21 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.35 seconds) and 40-yard dash (4.8 seconds).

In the NFL, Spence is going to win with his speed and burst off the line, which he didn't do a good job showing off at the combine. It must be noted though that Spence was reportedly dealing with tweaked a hamstring prior to the combine, but if he doesn't improve his number at his Pro Day, his hopes of going in the first round may diminish.


I would say all three of the above mentioned guys are not potential Bengals targets due to their stock dropping. All three were originally expected to be gone by the 24th pick, but now they all may be on the board when the Bengals are on the clock.

Defensive players who boosted their draft stock

CB Jonathan Jones

Auburn corner Jonathan Jones had a solid college career that should lead to him having his name called during the draft. Jones recorded seven interceptions, 24 pass breakups and 105 tackles over the past two season as a full-time starter while earning All-SEC honors in 2014.

But coming into the Scouting Combine, Jones was projected as a Day 3 pick and was by no means assured of being drafted this year. That changed when he ran a blazing 4.33 official 40-yard dash at the combine. His unofficial time was 4.28 seconds, which would've ranked among the best ever recorded at the combine (Cardinals RB Chris Johnson's time of 4.24 seconds is the current record).

Even with his speed, Jones was never used in the return game at Auburn, but said he'd field punts at practice. His speed alone will have NFL teams looking to utilize him on special teams, whether it's as a gunner or returner. He can do that for a few years in order to buy himself enough time to develop into an NFL corner capable of being the fourth or fifth corner on a team. All of this should help Jones get drafted this year.

LB Travis Feeney

Another fringe prospect who showed off at the combine was Washington linebacker Travis Feeney. Projected by some as a safety at the next level, the 6'3", 225-pound Feeney earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors this past season with 17.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

He's a force off the edge that could make some noise at the NFL level, but was projected as a late Day 3 pick going into the combine. He clocked in with the second-highest 40-yard dash (4.50 seconds), the highest vertical jump (40 inches), second-highest broad jump (10'10") and the third-highest 60-yard shuttle (11.71 seconds) of linebackers.

This performance should have solidified Feeney's chances of getting drafted, and he's starting to look like a possible Day 3 steal for whoever lands him.