The Old Guard – Southern California
Marquise Lee is going to get the majority of the attention from the media for the Trojans, but he isn’t the name Bengals fans should get familiar with; Dion Bailey is. Last year Bailey played WILL for Head Coach Lane Kiffin, but his instinctive, physical style of play is likely going to get him pushed back into the coveted strong safety role for USC. Bailey and FSU’s Williams are actually very comparable in skillset and should rival each other all year as to who will be the first strong safety off the board in May.
Another name worth remembering is Morgan Breslin. As an OLB/DE hybrid, he looks like what Dontay Moch was supposed to be, and if Moch fully washes out this year, Breslin would be an interesting way to resurrect some of those untested defensive sets. In mid-rounds, cornerback Nickell Roby is an interesting player to consider as are offensive tackles Kevin Graf and Aundrey Walker. Both are improving players but would only be options if the offensive line completely fell apart for Cincinnati.
Lastly, don’t forget running back Silas Redd. After a controversial departure from Penn State amid the scandal last year, Redd came to USC to grind out his college career, but after declining to declare for last year’s Draft, Redd suffered a torn meniscus this spring. While he appears ready for the season, Redd could end up being a surprise darling for scouts or a sleeper pick if his production doesn’t warrant attention.
Lone Stars – Texas
It’s going to be a really interesting season for the cornerback duo of Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs. Many thought that he would be in the NFL by now, but after the Longhorn’s defeat by a Geno Smith / Tavon Austin three-touchdown showcase at his expense, Byndom decided that another year with Texas was would be best for his Draft stock. Meanwhile, Diggs is an up-and-coming phenomenon who was the Big XII freshman of the year in 2011 and is the brother of Quentin Jammer, the longtime San Diego Changer. Both of these players will hunt each other’s stats all year long, which may have them looked at as inferior prospects for purely a numbers standpoint. Indeed, some have them rated as low as sixth rounders. It’s hard to understand why; both have NFL ready skillsets.
Another returning player is defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. Alex Okafor’s bookend stayed for a final year with Texas and in all likelihood will wreak havoc for most of the season, pushing him right into the Bengals crosshairs in the late first round. Also a wild card is Jordan Hicks. The inside/outside linebacker can do it all and has the leadership skills to go with it. He didn’t play last season because of an injury, and notably, losing Hicks was what many considered to be the largest contributing factor to the overall defensive let-down last season for the Longhorns.
As a final note, wide out Mike Davis should show up to play as the lone offensive talent despite the defensive fire power of this Texas team. If Cincinnati’s receiver corps ends the season needing an unlikely shot in the arm, he might be it.