2015 NFL Draft: Kentucky and Utah Have Menacing Defensive Ends

By Jason McIntyre

Each Friday, we’ll preview some college football players to watch ahead of the 2015 NFL draft. Some teams we’ve covered this season: Clemson/Georgia, Wisconsin/LSU; Oregon/Michigan State, USC/Stanford; UCLA/Texas, Arizona State/Colorado, Tennessee/Oklahoma; Florida/Alabama, Clemson/Florida State; Arkansas/Texas A&M, Oregon State/USC, Missouri/South Carolina, Mississippi State, TCU, Oklahoma, Nebraska & Michigan St, Baylor, Missouri & Washington State and last weekend, Notre Dame and Washington.

USC at Utah, 10 pm, Fox Sports 1

UTAH: Dres Anderson, Senior, WR: The son of former Rams receiver Flipper Anderson had a nice 2013, and is putting up so-so numbers this year. He’s considered a late-round pick. Doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, but damn, he displayed great hands and concentration on this TD catch against UCLA. At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, he played defensive back in high school and was a late convert to receiver. That’s a similar story to his dad, who turned into a WR at UCLA and turned out OK.

UTAH: Nate Orchard, Senior, DE: Few players have helped their NFL stock in the last couple weeks as the 6-foot-4, 255-pound pass-rushing menace. Orchard had two sacks against Oregon State last week, and four against Brett Hundley two weeks ago. He’s had a mind-blowing eight (!) tackles for loss total in those two games. For a guy who had just three sacks and 8.5 TFL last season … yeah, he’s on fire. Speedy edge rushers are highly valued in the NFL, and Orchard is playing his way into the first round right now. He’s a fascinating story, having gained 60 pounds since arriving on campus (he played wide receiver in high school). Also, he’s married and has a young daughter and his family background is interesting. You can be sure the Jets know about him: they drafted his teammate last year, Trevor Reilly, in the 7th round.

Mississippi State at Kentucky, 3:30 pm, CBS

KENTUCKY: Za’Darius Smith, Redshirt Senior, DE: When you think of Kentucky, you don’t think of NFL players. There have been a few draft picks in recent years to find success – Danny Trevathan in Denver and Randall Cobb in Green Bay; and going back to 2008, Stevie Johnson, who now plays for the 49ers – but Smith is going to get drafted, and people are even more excited about Dupree. Smith can play in the 4-3 or 3-4, and at 6-foot-6, 260, I can see him playing a pivotal role as a backup defensive lineman who plays lots of snaps a game to keep the starters fresh. The Seattle Seahawks used that strategy last year. In a league where getting to the quarterback is of utmost importance because of the rules helping wide receivers, defensive line depth is crucial.

KENTUCKY: Alvin Dupree, Redshirt Senior, DE: Of all the Wildcats in the NFL right now, Randall Cobb going in the 2nd round was the highest draft pick. Dupree, a menacing defensive end with great speed on a sturdy frame (6-foot-4, 270 pounds) could match Cobb – or even sneak into the 1st round. His game against Vanderbilt last year really opened some eyes (1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss). In what will probably be the biggest Kentucky game of the season, keep an eye on Dupree chasing around the Heisman leader, Dax Prescott.