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2018 NFL Combine: Winners and losers on defense - Shaquem Griffin steals the show

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The final two days of the 2018 Combine saw some incredible performances, but one overshadowed them all.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Auburn v Central Florida Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

With the offensive players leaving Indianapolis to prepare for their respective pro days, the attention of the NFL turned to the defensive side of the ball on Sunday and Monday.

The New York Giants have potential needs in both the front 7 as they transition to a defense based on a 3-4 front, and in the secondary as they deal with an aging Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Eli Apple situation, and Ross Cockrell’s impending free agency.

Most of the media conversation is on the offensive side of the ball, but the Giants could have an interest on the defensive side of the ball — certainly in the linebackers. There were several who could have caught their eye.

Winners

Defensive Tackles

Nathan Shepherd (Fort Hayes State) - Shepherd is was largely an unknown coming in to Saturday’s workout, but the Canadian left people scrambling for tape. He was big, powerful, and athletic. He is raw but just looks like a modern NFL lineman with good length and little excess bodyweight. He looks like a natural fit as a 5-technique in a 1-gap 3-4 front.

Taven Bryan (Florida) - Bryan is not yet the sum of his parts, but he is a talented athlete, and Saturday’s workout played to his strengths. He didn’t quite run as fast as expected, but looked explosively powerful and impressively agile (his 7.12s 3-cone drill was second only to DE Sam Hubbard on the defensive line).

Da’Ron Payne (Alabama) - Payne was one of the highest rated defensive linemen in the draft coming in to Saturday, and did well enough to still be a “winner”. Unlike many previous Alabama defensive tackles, Payne not only showed off overwhelming power, but also an impressive quick-twitch athleticism and agility.

Defensive Ends

Harold Landry (Boston College) - Landry came in to the 2017 season as one of the most hyped pass rushers in the country, easily rivaling Bradley Chubb. He was hampered all year by nagging injuries and couldn’t reproduce his stellar production from 2016, but Landry reminded everyone what made him feared with a great workout. He was not only one of the most athletic edge rushers in the building but also looked good in all the defensive line and linebacker drills.

Josh Sweat (Florida State) - Sweat was overlooked by the national media this year, but he still flashed on tape, and forced people back to his tape with a very impressive workout. He finished as a top performer in the 40 yard dash, vertical jump, and broad jump. Perhaps more importantly, he received a clean bill of health for the knee which he dislocated (tearing the ACL) in high school.

Linebackers

Shaquem Griffin (UCF) - Griffin became THE face of the NFL Combine on Sunday with a workout that overshadowed even Saquon Barkley’s. He took over Twitter with his 20 reps on the bench press, then built on that by resetting the record for the 40 yard dash for linebackers (4.38 seconds, official). Griffin followed that up with a stellar on-field workout that showed off his ability to rush the passer as well as play in space — including some of the best “interceptions” of the linebacker group.

Lorenzo Carter (Georgia) - Carter played everything from defensive end to slot corner at Georgia. Wearing all those hats kept him from standing out as much as he could have, but Saturday the 6-foot-5, 250 pound linebacker showed just how he was able to wear so many. He is could be a very high-upside find on the second day of the draft.

Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State) - A “one year wonder” at Boise State, Vander Esch has to overcome skeptics regarding his limited track record. But what can no longer be in doubt is s the 253 pound linebacker’s athleticism. His 40 time was overshadowed by the likes of Griffin, Carter, Tremaine Edmunds, and Roquon Smith, but he was quick in agility drills and showed off an easy fluidity in on-field events.

Defensive Backs

Denzel Ward (CB, Ohio State) - Ward was in contention for the title of top corner in the draft, and might have separated himself with his display of elite athleticism. He was unable to compete in the on-field drills thanks to an ankle tweak, but he has a season full of great tape of him in coverage.

Jaire Alexander (CB, Louisville) - Alexander was on the periphery of the conversation when it came to the top corners in the draft. He had an excellent workout on the field and in the measurable drills. Louisville didn’t have a great season, but he forced scouts back to his tape.

Mike Hughes (CB, UCF) - Huges didn’t run particularly well (4.53s 40 yard dash), but he was smooth and fluid in on-field drills and showed good ball skills as well. His coaches rave about his passion and physicality, and he should make a good slot corner at the next level.

Donte Jackson (CB, LSU) - Everyone knew Jackson had speed, and it wasn’t much of a surprise when he ran a 4.32 40 yard dash despite a calf cramp. His on-field drills showed the calf issue, but his hips were loose and fluid, and he moved well in space. He has a slight frame, but his athletic ability and 17 passes defensed over the last two seasons are going to give teams something to think about.

Terrell Edmunds (S, Virginia Tech) - Terrell’s younger brother, 19 year old, 6’5”, 250 inch linebacker made a splash on Sunday, and it was Terrell’s turn on Monday. Both of the Edmunds brothers are phenomenal athletes and are definitely on the NFL’s radar.

Troy Apke (S, Penn State) - Penn State had a pair of amazing workouts on the first two days with RB Saquon Barkley and TE Mike Gesicki. Apke made his own mark with a blazing 4.35s 40 yard dash and a 41” vertical jump. His raw athleticism is going to force teams back to the tape, this time to watch Penn State’s defense.

Losers

Maurice Hurst (Michigan) - Hurst was expected to have a great workout at the combine, but never saw the field after being flagged with a heart condition. He will undergo further tests once back in Michigan, and hopefully all is well and he can resume his football journey where he left off.

Kentavius Street (DL, NC State) - Street has a reputation as an athletic freak, but only had the opportunity to run the 40 yard dash once (4.88s) after tweaking a hamstring on that run. Street suffers a bit from being a part of a thoroughly talented NC State defensive line and the Combine was an opportunity to distinguish himself.

Joshua Jackson (CB, Iowa) - Jackson has tremendous ball skills, but his workout could best be described as “solid, but not spectacular.” Jackson was clearly out-shined by players like Alexander or OSU’s Denzel Ward, which could hurt him in the eyes of the NFL.