NFL Draft: The 2019 All-Upside Defense

With the 2019 NFL Draft rapidly approaching, draft boards are set and the waiting game is well underway for most NFL teams.

Fortunately for us, there's still plenty more to talk about outside of the top 40-or-so prospects. 

During this draft cycle, FBGP Scouting graded more than 800 prospects (810 to be exact; 767 pre-combine, with the rest coming from the Pro Day circuit), and when you dive that deep into college scouting, you’re bound to uncover some prospects that still have a lot of growth potential left in their game. 

For whatever reason—it could be because of size, school, lack of opportunity, or whatever the case may be—there is something unique about these players, and their film, that tells you they haven’t peaked yet as a player, and have a higher ceiling than most.  

Having "upside" is the term most commonly used to describe these types of players. With that said, here are my choices for Football Gameplan Scouting’s 2019 All-Upside Defense.

Defensive Line

DE James Garcia-Williams (6-8, 255 pounds) |  UAB

Garcia-Williams has the look of an NFL-sized defensive end, and still has a ton of growth left in his game as well. 

As a junior at UAB, he played mostly on special teams and got spot duty along the defensive line. This past season, he blossomed into a solid piece up front for the Blazers, which led to their remarkable bowl season and one of the better defenses in the FBS. The 6-foot-8 defensive end set up shop in the opposing backfield as he totaled 15.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. 

Coming off of a junior season where he barely played significant minutes, to a senior season where he was this disruptive, is the type of trajectory you like to see in a prospect who is just scratching the surface in how good they can be at the professional level.

EDGE Nate Harvey (6-1, 220) | East Carolina

Another player who is just scratching the surface on their potential is Nate Harvey. The former walk-on running back turned defensive edge rusher was denied a fifth year of eligibility at ECU and had to enter the NFL Draft. 

In his only season as a starter, he finished the year as the nation’s leader in tackles for loss with 25.5. Harvey was also able to rack up 14.5 sacks. Keep in mind, this is extremely good production, first round-type production at that, without really knowing what you’re doing. 

Some NFL team will get a player who has quietly gone under-the-radar from a media perspective—partly because of how late he entered the process—but will be a surprise mid-round selection who could find himself playing a significant role as a situational pass rusher as a rookie.

DE Darryl Johnson (6-5 240) | North Carolina A&T

Johnson is a rare early entry into the draft from an FCS program, but he articulated his reasons why very well when I spoke with him at the NFL Combine. 

Johnson stated that he felt as though he reached his max potential from a development standpoint at A&T, and felt that he could continue to grow his game at the NFL level This makes complete sense from an access to better nutrition and strength and conditioning standpoint. 

From an on-field perspective, Johnson’s TFL and sack numbers have gotten better each and every season. Add a little bit more technique, a better strength and conditioning program, and better access to nutrition, along with his raw talent and athleticism, and the sky's the limit for the former HBCU star.

Linebackers

OLB Jerry Iweh (6-4 225) | Fairmont State

Many folks will quickly tell you that the NFL is a passing league. If that’s the case, then it’s very critical to have back seven defenders who can be effective on both ends of defense. If you’re playing at the second level, you better be able to cover. 

Iweh has some of the best coverage skills I’ve seen in this draft class. He’s a 6-foot-4, 225-pound outside linebacker that has the range of a safety and the length to shrink passing windows. On film, he shows a very good understanding of passing concepts and knows how to get himself in perfect position to make a play on the ball. Iweh also doesn’t miss many opportunities to take the ball away either, with 10 interceptions in his career. 

The upside he presents comes in terms of adding "good" weight, getting acclimated to the speed of the NFL game coming from a D2 program, and rounding out his game as a run defender.

OLB Anree Saint-Amour (6-3, 245) | Georgia Tech

Considered to be an undersized defensive end, Saint-Amour brings position upside as an outside linebacker at the next level. 

Whether that’s as a SAM backer or outside edge rusher in a 3-4 (which is essentially a weak-side defensive end), the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket has great closing speed to the ball carrier and showed above average ability in the read-and-react department this year as he racked up 12 TFLs and four sacks. 

Speaking with him during the lead-up to his Pro Day prep, he spoke about the myth of being undersized and how he’s still able to find success because of his technique and dog mentality.

Defensive Backs

CB Deion Harris (6-2, 185) | North Dakota

Harris’ story has been well-documented. Coming into the 2017 season, he was seen by many as an NFL Draft pick. But a preseason injury shelved that and forced him to miss the entire year. 

This season, Harris was able to bounce back in the right way, displaying the same skills that made him an All-American back in 2017. His value is in his ability to play virtually anywhere in the secondary. He can be a solid option at either corner spot, while also being able to serve as a slot defender or as a safety. 

Speaking of safety, he’s capable of playing free or strong. So, wherever an NFL coach decides to utilize his skills long-term, he has upside.

SS Sean Jones (6-1, 210) | Texas Southern

Sean Jones definitely shows up on film. He’s one of the more impactful tacklers in the class. While at Texas Southern, he went back and forth between linebacker and strong safety. 

He’s fluid enough to remain at safety, but also tough enough to serve as a "money backer" at the next level. Again, as with Harris, his upside comes with him being able to solely focus on one position and grow within that role. 

This past season, Jones led Texas Southern in tackles with 98, 58 on solo stops and four TFLs.

CB Derreck Thomas (6-3, 196) | Baylor

Thomas started his career at Temple as a wide receiver before switching over to cornerback in 2016. He was a graduate transfer to Baylor, where he played cornerback for the second consecutive season and showed marked improvement. 

From an athleticism standpoint, he checks those boxes and even checks the boxes from a ball skills perspective, because of his background as a receiver. 

It’s obvious that a prospect like Thomas, who is still such a neophyte at the position, will continue to make huge strides in the nuance department as he gets more acclimated with the position as a pro.

CB Dakari Monroe (5-11, 187) | San Jose State

A star slot corner for the Spartans, as Monroe got more playing time the last two seasons, he thrived; actually getting better each season. In the last two years at San Jose State, Monroe led the team in interceptions with seven (three as a junior, four as a senior). He was primarily a slot corner, often showing ability as a blitzer off the edge.

I think he has potential as a field corner on the outside because of his fluidity. That’s where he provides the upside as he moves on to the NFL. Monroe would also be a star special teamer from day one.

Spring Comes Early At William & Mary As Tribe Returns To The Gridiron

Mike London Is Back With The Tribe

Barely moments after the last piece of confetti fell in Frisco, signaling the end of the 2019 college football season, William & Mary opened its spring practice season in Williamsburg, kicking off the 2020 campaign. 

Elon's Matt Foster Selected As CAA Football Scholar-Athlete Of The Year

RICHMOND, Va. (February 11, 2020) – Elon senior tight end Matt Foster was selected as the 2019 CAA Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year by a vote of the conference’s athletics directors.

CAA Signing Day In Review: 'Nova, JMU Cap Impressive Hauls

The implementation of an early signing period in December has altered the dynamics of National Signing Day in February somewhat. Still, the first Wednesday of the month marks an important milestone in the development of any college football program. 

D'Eriq King To Arkansas? A Knee-Jerk Observation

A beautiful thing happened as LSU’s coronation tour neared its grand conclusion on Monday night: Breaking news, as D’Eriq King Tweeted, “Just kidding, I’m definitely leaving Houston — probably always was.”

Mecole Hardman Sparked A Chiefs Comeback, But First He Called His Shot

With Kansas City trailing Houston 24-0 in the second quarter of Sunday's AFC Divisional round playoff game, Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman returned a kick from his own end zone all the way back to the Texan 42-yard line, injecting life into his team and into a rabid crowd at Arrowhead Stadium.

James Madison Fell Short, But The Dukes Aren't Going Anywhere

FRISCO, Texas — Were James Madison and North Dakota State to play 100 times, it’s easy to predict that they would split the series 50-50. 

The Stage Is Set For An FCS Championship For The Ages

FRISCO, Texas -- Although James Madison and North Dakota State ended the 2018 season on much different notes, their paths to meeting in the 2019 season’s title game were similar. And the gap between them now feels immeasurable.  

The Only Thing Bigger Than Ron'Dell Carter's Personality Is His Game

FRISCO, Texas -- Draw up a blueprint for the ideal football star: What qualities spring to mind? 

Power Five Transfers Have Fueled JMU's Run To Frisco

FRISCO, Texas -- They came from the ACC, the American, the Big Ten to be here in Texas, by way of Harrisonburg. 

3 Things To Watch As James Madison Aims To Dethrone North Dakota State

Pair two teams as similar — and as excellent — as James Madison and North Dakota State, and just a single facet can completely change the game.