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On defense, Shane Ray and Markus Golden are Mizzou's most likely draftees

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Note: I'm not a professional talent evaluator, but much like every one else on the internet, I can pretend with the best of them

Will Markus Golden and Shane Ray be joined in the NFL by anyone else from Mizzou's 2014 team?
Will Markus Golden and Shane Ray be joined in the NFL by anyone else from Mizzou's 2014 team?
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Le'ts take a look at the NFL Draft eligible players on Mizzou's the defensive side of the ball at the end of the 2014 regular season. Even including a spectacular or disastrous performance in the Citrus Bowl vs Minnesota, several of these players are going to get drafted next April or as UDFA's later in May. I should make it clear that any predictions below are which round a player would go if they were drafted, not necessarily a prediction that they will go in that round.

Any discussion about a player's draft potential, for better or worse, typically begins with the player's measurables.

Above graphic via reddit user Zeiros, originally posted on r/dataisbeautiful

Another, more recent chart (seen above) was created by Tomer Cohen on his blog here

Secondary

SS - Braylon Webb

(6'0, 200, Sr.) (69 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 4 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR)

I've raved elsewhere about my fondness for Braylon Webb due to his size, closing speed and ability in both the coverage and in run support, all buoyed by quiet leadership. Webb comes in right in the sweet spot for safeties in terms of size and has played the role of deep cover, coming up to make tackles in the flats, and toward the end of this season he was asked to blitz and apply pressure with some success. All that being said I'm afraid I don't see enough here to make an NFL scout use a pick on him unless very late in the draft due to a lack of significant plays as evidenced by only 7 career interceptions, zero career sacks and zero career forced fumbles. He's a solid college player but unlikely to make enough of an impact at the next level to justify a draft pick.

My Pick: 7th round to UDFA
Bill C's Pick: same

SS - Duron Singleton

(6'1, 210, Sr.) (48 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FR)

Duron Singleton was supposed to come in and provide toughness and physicality in a Mizzou secondary desperately lacking and with his size and with a nasty scar he looked the part. His 4 sacks and 5 TFLs, 1 FR for 1 TD and 1 INT during 2014 would suggest he's a player best suited close to the line of scrimmage as a strong safety, but it would be hard to justify a draft pick when he proved so vulnerable in pass coverage. Singleton tended to bite on run and route fakes easily, forcing him to make up ground in coverage where he didn't demonstrate sufficient speed to recover, notably on two touchdowns allowed against Vanderbilt. Singleton doesn't possess the size to move to linebacker nor the speed or instincts to play corner, leaving his NFL draft prospects sadly limited.

My Pick: UDFA

Bill C's Pick: same

A quick thought on Mizzou's safeties:

1) I've been patiently waiting for Mizzou, Dave Steckel and Alex Grinch to find a player to provide the kind of tri-force athlete who can be a vocal leader on the field that motivates his team mates, a physical freak who can make game changing plays, and have the football IQ to diagnose and shut down plays. For the most part I think we've gotten by with groups of players who can combine to fill this role, but only with William Moore can I recall an individual in the secondary who had all three facets.

2) I am of the opinion that Mizzou misplayed their safeties during the 2014 regular season, I thought Duron Singleton lined up at strong safety instead of Braylon Webb, with Webb shifted over to free safety and Ian Simon playing the nickel-safety position in the 4-2-5 would have best suited each of these player's talents best. I never was able to watch Mizzou practices and only saw what how they performed on the field during games so the corollary always follows that the coaches know better than I, but I stand by my assertion.

If I could have made one tweak at all on defense, this would have been it.

Linebackers

With apologies to Darvin Ruise, I don't see anyone on this team who has a shot.

Defensive Line

DT - Matt Hoch

(6'5, 295, Sr.) (32 tackles, 9 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 QB hurries)

Matt Hoch, the converted tight end, demonstrated an aptitude for shedding blocks and applying pressure in key situations as a rotational player along a stout defensive line. Hoch's measurables, particularly his height, lined up well for the position, but I always got the impression he was playing above his weight class despite being listed at nearly 300 lbs. Hoch strikes me as player who could have played DE in a 4-3 if there weren't a glut of more talented guys already there or a need inside.

Hoch is my ideal defensive tackle to use for passing downs, he's strong enough and tall enough to engage with lineman while keeping an eye out for screens and being able to disengage to knock down passes or pursue ball carriers, but he was somewhat limited against strong running games and he suffered a series of injuries throughout his career which made him susceptible to being beaten out by the talent behind him. Fortunately he played at Mizzou where the coaching staff saw the value of using situational rotations that emphasized his skill set.

My Pick: 6th round to UDFA
Bill C's Pick: same

DT - Lucas Vincent

(6'2, 300, Sr.) (38 tackles, 8 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 FR, 1 QB hurry)

Lucas "Super Saiyan" Vincent was indubitably a physical and vocal presence along Mizzou's defensive line for the 2014 season. While healthy, Vincent played in every game of his Mizzou career, only missing some time during the disastrous 2012 injury bugged campaign. An imposing physical presence, he looked like a space-eating NT and could on occasion require double teams, but he rarely commanded them as one would expect of a true NT. Part of the reason Vincent was limited in his role was because his height and wingspan meant, especially in the SEC, he was going against lineman who were of at least comparable dimensions, which meant he had to rely on stunts and his fellow defensive lineman to be played straight up.

There were several notable games, especially toward the end of 2014 where Vincent displayed an increased motivation and therefore increased performance on the field, racking up several key sacks and TFLs against Tennessee, Arkansas and even Alabama in the SEC Championship game. Vincent can surprise you with his quickness and is not easily redirected if he can shed a block and crash a hole or toward the quarterback, and in the SECCG he showed that even without phenom Shane Ray at his side he could best even the talented Alabama guards and tackles.That being said, he never displayed a consistent high motor with his size, which, along with his lack of strength to knock offensive lineman back, limits his draft prospects.

A literal "strong" showing at his Pro Day and the NFL combine will go a long way toward determining if an NFL team drafts Lucas Vincent.

My Pick: 5th round to UDFA
Bill C's Pick: same (you've turned cynical, Fullback)

DT - Harold Brantley

(6'3, 280, Rs So.) (50 tackles, 7 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 PBU, 7 QB hurries, 1 blocked field goal)

I want to preface my take on Harold Brantley with a quick recap of NFL Draft eligibility because I've had several conversations with people who seem unclear on the rules. A player must be three years removed from high school to declare for the NFL draft, a natural junior or a redshirt sophomore, therefore, is eligible.

Harold Brantley is a redshirt sophomore who has been blowing up opposing lineman since the end of 2013. Brantley has been at the core of the balance of Mizzou's defensive line, applying pressure from the defensive tackle or nose guard position. His combination of size and quickness gives him the edge against most interior lineman and he could line up as a rush end in a 3-4 defense. Third on Mizzou in sacks, and seventh in tackles, he pushed incumbents for starting time and provided incredible depth to an already talented defensive line. All that being said, he's not an NFL player yet and concerns about him declaring early are unfounded. The number of sophomores who declared for the NFL in 2014 was nine, two of which were defensive lineman and the only one who was drafted was defensive end Aaron Lynch from USF who went in the 5th round to the San Francisco 49ers.

Brantley's size, 6'3" and 280 lbs puts him at the very outskirts of NFL prototypes for defensive tackles, but he's comfortably in the green for defensive ends. I am of the opinion that Harold Brantley, even with his skill on the inside, needs to fill the void Markus Golden leaves at the LDE position in order to capitalize on his prodigious talent and maximize his potential, but that's for another article.

My Pick: Not likely to turn pro, undrafted if he declared at this time
Bill C's Pick: Ditto, though there's a chance he would destroy his pro day and move up the list

DE - Markus Golden

(6'3, 260, Sr.) (68.0 tackles, 16 TFL, 9 sacks, 2 FF, 3 FR, 2 PBU, 9 QB hurries, 1 TD)

A healthy Markus Golden is the monster offensive coordinators use to frighten lineman at bedtime. Markus Golden is the savage beast kids tell stories about over night time camp fires. Markus Golden fought Arnold Schwarzenegger in the jungle and won.

Markus Golden is the prototypical OLB/DE hybrid player who can rush the quarterback or stone wall a blocking offensive lineman, shed the block and make a tackle for a loss if teams try to use only one blocker on him. Golden is also an example of the theory that the best athletes play defense, as he transitioned from running back to linebacker to defensive end. He has a sudden burst coming off the snap that can stand up lineman or beat them to the edge. He missed one game his senior season and came back to play hurt promptly after, while still providing leadership on the field and in the locker room. He's strong and knows how to use his strength effectively. My only knock against Golden is he doesn't have elite speed and athletic quarterbacks can elude him if they see him coming, part of that is his foot speed, but he compensates for that by having excellent vision and instincts and reacting to plays as fast as they can develop. He's also skilled with the use of his hands and is dogged in pursuit, chasing down plays from anywhere on the field, a trait Mizzou fans last saw with first round pick Sheldon Richardson.

It's been an absolute pleasure to watch Markus Golden, this last year especially as he took the reigns of a Mizzou team that lost a ton of leadership and talent and dragged it back to an SEC Championship game. Golden is a finished product who is ready to contribute at the NFL level as soon as he devours the defensive playbook. Some teams might grade him down simply because he has limited upside in terms of growth, which is the only reason I can see him falling to the second round.

A quick aside: One of the pleasures of having Markus Golden on Mizzou has been interacting with his mother on twitter. I've never personally witnessed the sheer positivity and love that she demonstrates for her son as she follows his college career.

My Pick: Late 1st to 2nd round
Bill C's Pick: 2nd to 3rd round

DE - Shane Ray

(6'3, 245, Jr.) (61 tackles, 20.5 TFL, 14 sacks, 2 FF, 1 PBU, 5 QB hurries)

I worry about Shane Ray's NFL draft stock and I'll tell you why.

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

Mizzou defensive end leads team and SEC in sacks, wins SEC defensive player of the year among other honors, but is a bit undersized - one might even call him a "tweener" and played on a team with a stout defensive line while he recorded a bunch of his sacks against mediocre teams.

Granted, Shane Ray and Michael Sam have some key differences, but I'm going to be paying close attention to how draftniks and scouts evaluate Shane Ray as the NFL draft draws closer.

I can already hear the pundits scrutinizing Shane Ray's performance and the negative leveraging some scouts will be using to try and cause Ray to drop to improve their chance of landing him at a lower value pick. As I look around the internet right now, the majority of websites have Ray as a top 10 or top 15 draft pick with a number of them saying he'll go to primarily 4-3 defensive teams. There's already some talk that he'll need to move transition to an OLB role in order to start in the NFL, despite ample evidence that comparable athletes have made careers out of their size/speed combinations.

I've seen enough from Shane Ray to feel confident asserting he's strong enough against the run to dismiss notions he's purely a pass rushing specialist, and I think his nationally ranking 3rd tackles for a loss backs that up, but his 14 sacks, yes - 14, tie him at 3rd nationally as well. Ray has his eyes on the backfield but the ability to keep hand fighting and avoid getting locked in with lineman and his long arms given him the ability to go up against larger lineman. He can win a footrace with almost any quarterback and has shown that once he gets a hand on the quarterback, he's not letting go.

Shane Ray has a quiet nastiness about him, something we've seen more of in the past few games. There was a targeting penalty against Alabama, a borderline late hit during the Arkansas game, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the Texas A&M game, a personal foul during the Indiana game, and a roughing the passer penalty against UCF. Additionally, the past two years he's been called for off-sides penalties on several occassions while trying to push the limits. All these things will be examined as a team deliberates investing a 1st round pick into Shane Ray.

My Pick: 1st round
Bill C's Pick: yep, and Ray's natural athleticism dwarfs Michael Sam's, I think

Those are my thoughts on Mizzou's NFL caliber players on the defensive side of the ball. As the NFL draft draws closer, I'll revisit these thoughts and musings, but until then, let me know why you think I'm wrong.