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By Craig Haley, FCS Exec. Director - Archive - Email
FCS NFL Draft defensive prospects
Coastal Carolina cornerback Josh Norman is especially strong in defending the run.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - This is the year of the defensive back for NFL hopefuls coming out of the Football Championship Subdivision.

At every turn, there is a cornerback or safety blanketing the coverage.

Cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson of Montana, Josh Norman of Coastal Carolina, Ryan Steed of Furman and Asa Jackson of Cal Poly have been at the top of the class for some time, but other candidates have filled in to provide excellent depth.

At the NFL Combine, 12 FCS defensive prospects earned invitations and only one - Montana inside linebacker Caleb McSurdy - does not play in the secondary.

Following are capsules of the top FCS defensive draft possibilities for April 26-28:

1. Trumaine Johnson, CB, Montana, 6-2, 204

Projected round: Third

The lowdown: Clearly the FCS' top defensive prospect, Johnson is physically imposing for a cornerback, possessing excellent size, length and athleticism. He is an instinctive player who closes well on the ball. He is physical at the point of contact (using his long arms) and a playmaker in coverage (he had 15 career interceptions at Montana). Quarterbacks often threw away from his coverage in college. He does not have exceptional speed (an official 4.61- second time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine) and can be beaten by quick receivers. He could be switched to safety considering the ever-growing size of NFL tight ends. An in-season arrest and plea on a disorderly conduct charge will not hold him back.

2. Josh Norman, CB, Coastal Carolina, 6-0, 200

Projected round: Fourth/Fifth

The lowdown: Norman is not as tall as he was listed in college, but he comes up big with his tools (including long arms) and ball skills. He is especially strong in defending the run, but can turn and run with receivers. He set the Big South Conference record with eight interceptions in his sophomore year and finished his career with another conference mark of 35 pass breakups. There are concerns about his level of college competition translating to the NFL.

3. Ryan Steed, CB, Furman, 5-10, 195

Projected round: Fourth/Fifth

The lowdown: A lack of foot speed has caused Steed's stock to drop since the NFL Combine, where he clocked 4.68 in the 40. But he is a playmaker who has always been highly regarded. He is fluid and athletic in man-to-man coverage, and his ability to stay with receivers after an initial jam at the line of scrimmage is one of his top attributes. He needs to be more assertive in getting to the ball in run and zone coverage.

2012 NFL Draft
 Dates: April 26-28
 Location: Radio City Music Hall in New York
 Breakdown: First round on Thursday, April 26; second and third rounds on Friday, April 27; and Rounds 4-7 on Saturday, April 28
4. Justin Bethel, FS/CB, Presbyterian, 6-0, 200

Projected round: Fifth

The lowdown: Not considered a draftable player after his junior season, Bethel had an explosive senior year and kept the momentum going with good measurables at the NFL Combine. He could be either a free safety or a cornerback, his position in college, because he is equally effective against the pass and the run. His 76 3/4-inch wingspan makes him a prolific player on special teams, as he blocked nine kicks in his college career.

5. Christian Thompson, FS, South Carolina State, 6-0, 211

Projected round: Fifth/Sixth

The lowdown: An intriguing prospect, scouts believe the former Auburn player can make the transition from the MEAC because of his athleticism and ability to cover bigger tight ends. He needs to be more consistent, but he usually was around the ball in college. He flashed 4.5-second time in the 40 at the NFL Combine and has the type of raw talent that can readily be harnessed at the next level.

6. Asa Jackson, CB, Cal Poly, 5-10, 191

Projected round: Fifth/Sixth

The lowdown: A four-year starter, Jackson has been shutting down receivers for quite some time. First and foremost, he has blazing speed - he clocked 4.49 second in the 40 at the NFL Combine after going below that at a junior pro day last spring. Jackson also has a terrific understanding of the game, which aids him in man-to-man coverage. He has a tendency to give up plays to a receiver unnecessarily. His excellent punt return skills add to his resume.

7. Micah Pellerin, CB, Hampton, 6-0, 194

Projected round: Sixth

The lowdown: Subpar results in the NFL Combine drills hurt Pellerin, who didn't face top-level FCS competition in the MEAC. But he's a former FBS signee (Southern Mississippi) who had an excellent career at Hampton. He has good size to match against taller receivers and is technical in his pass coverage. He must get more physical in run coverage and likely needs time to adjust to the NFL's much higher level of play.

8. Jerron McMillian, SS, Maine, 5-11, 203

Projected round: Sixth/Seventh

The lowdown: McMillian's stock as a prospect has risen in the last year. He has an all-out style and is adept at stopping the run. He is a sure tackler who puts his body into it. McMillian is not as strong in transitioning from run to pass coverage, but is effective on the safety blitz (he had 3 1/2 sacks as a senior).

9. Janzen Jackson, CB, McNeese State, 5-11, 188

Projected round: Seventh/Priority free agent

The lowdown: Jackson is a junior-eligible entry. He was a two-year starter at Tennessee before getting dismissed there, but he didn't stand out in his one season at McNeese State. His quick step did not transfer to the 40 at the NFL Combine (a 4.64 time). But he changes directions well and stays tight in coverage. He's not as strong as a tackler in run coverage. A pure athlete, his NFL draft value tends to be widespread.

10. Corey White, SS, Samford, 5-11, 206

Projected round: Seventh/Priority free agent

The lowdown: After turning in some excellent results at the NFL Combine, White may have assured himself of getting drafted. He played cornerback at Samford, but has the kind of size that projects to a safety. He is a consistent tackler who excels in coming forward to make the play. He must improve in pass coverage, although his history as a corner suggests athleticism as a safety. Initially, he would be a special teams contributor on the next level.

TOP NFL DEFENSIVE PROSPECTS BY FCS CONFERENCE

Big Sky: Trumaine Johnson, CB, Montana, 6-2, 204

Big South: Josh Norman, CB, Coastal Carolina, 6-0, 200

CAA Football: Jerron McMillian, SS, Maine, 5-11, 203

Great West: Asa Jackson, CB, Cal Poly, 5-10, 191

Independents: Michael Ebbitt, DE, Texas State, 6-3, 276

Ivy League: Josue Ortiz, DE, Harvard, 6-4, 255

MEAC: Christian Thompson, FS, South Carolina State, 6-0, 211

Missouri Valley: L.J. Fort, OLB, Northern Iowa, 6-0, 232

Northeast Conference: Jose Gumbs, SS, Monmouth, 5-10, 208

Ohio Valley Conference: John Jones, OLB, Tennessee State, 6-2, 210

Patriot League: Josh Eden, DE, Bucknell, 6-4, 265

Pioneer Football League: Devon Langhorst, OLB, Dayton, 6-3, 225

Southern Conference: Ryan Steed, CB, Furman, 5-10, 195

Southland Conference: Janzen Jackson, CB, McNeese State, 5-11 1/2, 190

SWAC: Adrian Hamilton, OLB/DE, Prairie View A&M, 6-2, 246