Anthony Hitchens, OLB, Iowa, Sr. (6’1″, 233 lbs)
Possessing an athletic frame and an explosive first step, Hitchens was a force behind the line of scrimmage this year, notching 11 non-sack tackles for loss. Hitchens was a big part of Iowa’s success against the run this year, showing good balance and agility to redirect quickly in space. He is also a solid tackler and an effective blitzer, but he needs to show improvement as a pass defender.
He is athletic enough to show burst in transition, but he struggles with his instincts and awareness when asked to drop into coverage. There is value in a two-down linebacker with his athleticism, but not nearly as much as if he proves he can play in coverage as well.
Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU, Jr. (6’3″, 295 lbs)
Johnson is another large LSU defensive lineman with surprising initial quickness. His athleticism, power and well-proportioned frame combine to make him a desirable prospect. Much like former LSU lineman Kyle Williams, Johnson’s burst helps him slip through gaps quickly, while he also has the strength to shed blocks as a run defender.
Combined with his distinction as a high-effort player in pursuit, Johnson can make plays all over the field. He is still a bit raw, often playing too high and showing little pass-rush technique, but he is an impressive block of clay for a coach to mold.
Craig Loston, SS, LSU, Sr. (6’2″, 210 lbs)
While he is not as athletic as former teammate and 2013 first-round pick Eric Reid, Loston has a solid frame, good instincts and is a fearless hitter. While playing with Reid, Loston was often able to attack downhill, showing near-elite acceleration and explosion as an open-field hitter. His aggressive play can also get the better of him, however, as he often drops his head on tackles or does not break down adequately, relying on hitting rather than properly tackling.
Loston has good versatility, seeing time as both a rotational defender and special teams ace, which might convince a team to take a chance on him on Day 2 of the draft.
More Players to Watch
La’el Collins, LT, LSU, Jr. (6’5″, 315 lbs)
Collins is a powerful run blocking tackle who has been a starter at LSU since his freshman year and has experience playing both tackle and guard, thus adding to his overall versatility.
Lamin Barrow, OLB, LSU, Sr. (6’2″, 233 lbs)
Barrow is a tremendous athlete with long arms, broad shoulers and a tapered frame. He is a better athlete than football player, however, often failing to wrap up ballcarriers, preferring to grab hold of them and wrestle them to the ground rather than drive them with proper form.
Christian Kirksey, OLB, Iowa, Sr. (6’2″, 235 lbs)
A long, lean outside linebacker, Kirksey has flashed impressive athleticism. He has looked clueless on the field at times, however, and is extremely inconsistent. He has raw talent and big-time upside that might intrigue a team, but is nothing more than a late-round flier.
James Morris, ILB, Iowa, Sr. (6’2″, 240 lbs)
Instinctive, smart and consistent, Morris has been a solid middle linebacker for the Hawkeyes, He diagnoses plays early, gets good angles and is relentless in pursuit.
A fundamentally sound player with discipline, solid tackling technique and who does a good job reading opposing quarterbacks, Morris lacks the athleticism to cover sideline-to-sideline and can struggle to fend off blockers. He will probably intrigue scouts because of his intelligence, toughness and consistency, but he likely won’t earn a starting job unless he can improve his range from the middle.
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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Anthony Hitchens, Anthony Johnson, Bowl Games, Bowl Previews, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Christian Kirksey, Craig Loston, Game Previews, Iowa, James Morris, Jarvis Landry, Jeremy Hill, La'el Collins, Lamin Barrow, LSU, Odell Beckham Jr., Outback Bowl, Prospect Previews