This year at Mile High Report, the NFL Draft coverage won't just occur after the season has ended. For those who enjoy college football as I much as I do, I will be providing preliminary draft coverage with an article each week covering some of the top draft eligible name in college football for the forthcoming NFL Draft. The list will fluctuate weekly, based on the performance of the best players across the nation each week, but take into account several factors such as how and why each particular player fits the Broncos, as long as a projection as to where they could go next April.
If you have any suggestions on how to improve these weekly articles or what you'd like me to focus on or report to you, don't hesitate to sound off in the comments and make your voice heard. Additionally, feel free to share your thoughts about players you are enamored with or believe would make great future picks for our beloved franchise. If you have any questions or want to talk about the NFL Draft, feel free to hit me up on Twitter (@topherhart) as well!
Thanks for reading and enjoy!
Hart's CFB Prospect of the Week: Robert Nkemdiche, DL - Ole Miss
Nkemdiche is a versatile defensive lineman who has seen starts at both defensive and and tackle for the Rebels. He is entering his third season in college football and is widely regarded as one of the best prospects in the nation along the defensive line and a likely first-round selection.
As a sophomore, he started every game at defensive tackle and accumulated 35 tackles, two sacks and four tackles for loss. While his production doesn't pop out off the stat sheets as "off the charts", he greatly contributed to the Rebels number one overall defense in points per game and his play merits double-teams that allow others alongside and behind him to make plays. It is important to realize that when you are commanding constant double, if not triple teams, the likelihood of posting incredible statistics is slim at best.
In his first game of the 2015 season, he registered three tackles against the University of Tennesee-Martin Skyhawks in only a handful of snaps. He also blocked a kick and got into the mix offensively with a 31 yard touchdown grab on a play-action pass out of the backfield. The Rebels went on to route the Skyhawks by a final score of 76-3, which is a primary reason why most of Ole Miss' top players failed to see action in the second half of the game. There was no reason to risk injury to any of them after being up 41-0 at halftime.
Nkemdiche is definitely an option for the Broncos for several reasons. First, his versatility. With the ability to line up inside at defensive tackle or outside at defensive end, he provides enormous positional value. Second, the Broncos are relatively thin on the defensive line and with Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson and Antonio Smith scheduled to be free agents at seasons end, the Broncos will undoubtedly be in the mix to draft a defensive lineman for the future, as it is highly unlikely that they will be able or want to retain all three players.
Very few players boast the combination of size, speed and athleticism that Knemdiche has. He has an elite first step off the snap, immense strength at the point of attack and is a stout defender in the run game. Most of all, he plays smart, fundamental football and his capacity to handle the mental rigors of the NFL should make him a hot commodity whose impact will be immediate in the pros.
Prospects to Watch:
Kris Frost, LB - Auburn (Senior)
Frost is an under the radar performer whose versatility, athleticism and instincts flash out on film. He does all the little things right and is on pace to have his best year yet as a senior with the Tigers. An intriguing prospect, Frost spent most of the time last year on a rotation at inside linebacker, but will compete primarily on the weakside as a senior. His ability to fit mulitple schemes and play several positions will make him a popular options for many NFL teams.
The Broncos boast one of the best linebacker corps in all of football, but Danny Trevathan (UFA) and Brandon Marshall (RFA) will be free agents at the end of this season. Marshall, along with Todd Davis (ERFA) will likely be retained on cheap, team friendly tenders, however it would be to the Broncos advantage for defensive longevity to consider a prospect at the position who offers the versatility and play-making ability Frost does.
- Reggie Ragland, LB - Alabama (Senior)
Ragland is an instinctual linebacker who plays downhill at an intense level. Sheds blocks well and plays hard every snap. Pass defense is average at best, and lacks the range and elite athleticism to be a three down defender in the NFL. Replaced C.J. Mosley last season for the Crimson Tide and while not quite the prospect he was, Ragland is certainly nobody to sleep on. Has second round potential for a team in need of help at linebacker.
Jaylon Smith, LB - Notre Dame (Junior)
Smith may not only be one of the best linebackers eligible for the 2016 NFL Draft, but one of the best defenders period. After showing enormous upside as a true freshman, Smith exploded onto the college football scene with 112 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble as a sophomore. An elite prospect who has an impeccable football IQ along with elite measurables and play speed. A sure-fire blue chip prospect who will likely be a Top 15 selection next April, Smith possesses Pro-Bowl and All-Pro potential for any team that drafts him.
- Pharoh Cooper, WR - South Carolina (Junior)
Few players in college football have the game breaking ability Cooper possesses with the ball in his hands. He was an All-SEC performer for the Gamecocks as a sophomore at receiver and has the ability to play in the backfield and also provides return capability. The Broncos have a lot of weapons on offense, but they don't have anyone with the unique skill set Cooper possesses. If he replicates his sophomore year production, expect him to make a splash and declare early for the NFL Draft.
- Taylor Decker, OT - Ohio State (Senior)
Decker is the undisputed leader of the Buckeyes offensive line and is one of the top senior tackles available in the 2016 NFL Draft. He pllays with dedication and a mean streak and has the size and ability to be a premier left tackle at the NFL level. Very fundamentally sound and plays with great technique which will help his ability to start immediately at one of the NFL's hardest positions. Decker is an excellent fit for the zone blocking scheme and would be worthy of consideration for the Broncos in the first-round given the cloud of uncertainty that surrounds Ryan Clady's future in Denver.
CFB's Week 1 Studly Duo:
- Malik Zaire, QB - Notre Dame (Junior)
Zaire isn't the household name like college quarterbacks Christian Hackenberg or Connor Cook are, but if he continues to play like did against Texas (19 for 22, 86.4% completion rate, with 313 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs) he will continue to climb up draft boards. Zaire helped lead the Fighting Irish to a win the Music City Bowl, upsetting No. 22 ranked LSU last December in his first start. The future looks bright for the undersized, young signal caller who has the ability to start at the next level.
- Derrick Henry, RB - Alabama (Junior)
The Crimson Tide have sent a handful of names to the NFL ranks the past few years (T.J. Yeldon, Eddie Lacy, Trent Richardson) and Henry is another player who could declare early and sprint towards the NFL after his junior season. He ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns on only 13 carries for a whopping 11.3 yards per carry in Alabama's season opener against Wisconsin, showing he has what it takes to play at a high level against top competition. In 26 career college games, Henry has racked up over 1,500 yards on the ground, 20 touchdowns and average almost six yards per carry. He is a sure-fire first round selection for a team in need of a workhorse back for the future.