Skip to main content

Defensive players to watch at the NFL Combine

In 2018, the Texans defense showed flashes of being one of the best in the league, as it was in 2015 and 2016. Unfortunately, there were also times when this unit's deficiencies reared their ugly head and cost the Texans in some crucial situations. Consequently, there's still plenty of questions on this side of the ball leading up to the NFL Combine. The Texans have four full-time defensive starters, and as many as nine, that are unrestricted free agents, so there's little question the Texans will have some new blood on that side of the ball. What happens with the business of football at the beginning of March could determine how the priorities on that side of the ball shape up at the end of April. As such, I've highlighted one player at each defensive position that I'm going to keep an eye on this week in Indianapolis.

Interior Defensive Lineman - Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame

Tillery is one of the most interesting players in this defensive line class. He's a student of life, for lack of a better term, as he's interested in traveling and seeing the world. He's also had a couple of regrettable moments on and off the field that could be chalked up to youthful immaturity. He's smart as a tack and his intelligence and curiosity are intriguing to say the least. As such, his interviews are going to be wide-ranging and could turn some teams way down and for others the volume may shoot through the roof. On the field, though, he's agile, quick and powerful and he strikes me as a guy that could test very well. Ultimately, I don't think the Texans will look at a defensive lineman early in this draft, but, depending on what happens with the three Texans interior free agents (Covington, Dunn and Blackson), there may be more of a need for an interior game changer. As such, Tillery is a menace that can play on all three downs.

IDL/Edge - Kingsley Keke, Texas A&M

First of all, Keke grew up a Texans fan and is from my hood in Richmond, Texas, so that's a nice start. Furthermore, Keke played nearly every single position for the Aggies, up and down the defensive line. He's probably a 5-technique in a base unit and a 3-technique as a pass rusher. He had a solid Senior Bowl and I'm curious as to what he'll show from a testing perspective. He measured 286 lb. but he's been heavier (and lighter) during his collegiate career. Somewhere around 285-290 lb. is about right. If he tests well, then it wouldn't be surprised if he starts getting Day 2 looks.

Stack Linebacker - Bobby Okereke, Stanford

Honestly, of all the positions where the Texans seem set, it's inside/stack linebacker. Benardrick McKinney re-upped last year and Zach Cunningham and Dylan Cole are on rookie deals and those three are going to be the heartbeat for this defense for a while. Furthermore, Peter Kalambayi and Brennan Scarlett both dabbled inside last year as well. So, from a priority standpoint, it's further down the list than any other position. That said, the Texans have had a ton of success with Stanford defenders lately and Okereke might be a Day 3 selection that gets their attention. He's a quick study and reads plays extremely well, so strong testing in Indianapolis will help boost his stock.

Cornerback - Deandre Baker, Georgia

Listen, there won't be another position that I pay attention to more from a testing standpoint than this one. The Texans must find cornerbacks with size, speed and length and you know the Brian Gaine mantra "longer, stronger, faster." So, I could've put any name at this spot, but I picked Baker because I'm curious as to what his true speed is. I don't think he's in the Denzel Ward (Browns) and Donte Jackson (Panthers) class, both in the 4.32 club, but Baker's length and play strength, combined with a strong 40, will make him a desired prospect and a true option at No. 23 in the first round. Baker has been mocked to the Texans as he's one of the top cornerbacks in this draft, but his speed will determine whether he's a true fit for this squad.

Safety - Nasir Adderley, Delaware

I texted a scout I know whether he felt Adderley could play cornerback in the league and the scout thought that he could. Worst case, he thought, Adderley could play nickel and that's when I was really intrigued. There's no telling how the free agent situation pans out with the Texans safeties and that could make a true middle of the field safety a higher priority. But, if Adderley can effectively step into the nickel position, that would be a major win. He's not as big as Justin Reid but he'll strike and he can tackle well. However, again, if he can move down into a nickel position at nearly 6-0, 195 and match and mirror in coverage, that would help this defense in a major way in 2019 and beyond. He should test well and that will raise his stock after a solid week at the Senior Bowl.

Check out the best shots of DE J.J. Watt from the 2018 season.