Baylon Spector, James Skalski lead NFL Draft All-Underrated Defense

Clemson linebacker James Skalski (47), a "super senior" in his sixth year with the Tigers, plays his final home game Saturday.Ncaa Football Georgia At Clemson
Clemson linebacker James Skalski (47), a "super senior" in his sixth year with the Tigers, plays his final home game Saturday.Ncaa Football Georgia At Clemson /

Last week I unveiled my All-Underrated offense for the 2022 NFL Draft and this week I make my choices for the most underappreciated defenders. This group is led by a pair of Clemson linebackers in Baylon Spector and James Skalski and features three small school defenders. While most of these defenders won’t hear their name called until the third day of the 2022 NFL Draft look for several of these players to make an impact next season.

Defensive End: Zach VanValkenburg, Iowa
While Iowa’s Zach VanValkenburg might not be the most impressive athlete and only puts up average testing numbers he is a player who should find a spot in the NFL. The reason VanValkenburg will find a spot as a backup at the next level is his non-stop motor, physical style of play and ability to use his power to get to the passer.

Defensive Tackle: Matthew Butler, Tennesse
A player who had a breakout season this year is Matthew Butler of Tennessee. This year he led Tennesee defensive linemen with 47 tackles and also accounted for 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. In addition to his strong season for the Vols, he also had a good week at the East-West Shrine Game and impressed scouts with his performance at the NFL Combine.

Defensive Tackle: Dion Novil, North Texas
A player who is flying under the radar is North Texas defensive tackle Dion Novil. However, opposing offensive coordinators have definitely paid attention to Novil when game-planning for the Mean Green. The reason they have had to pay special attention to him is his ability to make plays in the backfield. Over the past three seasons, he has accounted for 30 tackles for loss including registering nine tackles for loss and four sacks this past season.

Defensive End: Isaiah Chambers, McNeese State
Like Zach VanValkenburg, McNeese State’s Isaiah Chambers is another defensive end who did not get invited to the NFL Combine and will likely go undrafted in the 2022 NFL Draft. Also, like VanValkenburg, Chambers should find his way onto an NFL roster next year. What stands out with Chambers is the ability to get to the passer registering 18 sacks over the past two seasons. He also has the size the NFL is looking for coming in at 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds.

Outside Linebacker: Baylon Spector, Clemson
Despite being on the smaller side Clemson’s Baylon Spector is a player who should make an impact next season. Spector is a player who plays sideline to sideline and is one of the quicker linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft. He also is a sure tackler who plays with sound technique overall. At the bare minimum look for him to be a good cover man on special teams next season.

Middle Linebacker: James Skalski, Clemson
James Skalski is the type of football player old school coaches love. He has been one of the leaders of one of the better defenses in college football the past couple of seasons, and plays with the intensity you would expect out of a middle linebacker. Last season Skalski led Clemson in tackles with 100 and showed he is one of the better run stuffers in college football all season long. While his lack of ideal height and the fact he is somewhat of a stiff athlete will likely cause him to go late in the NFL Draft, it would be a big mistake to bet against him.

Outside Linebacker: Christopher Allen, Alabama
While Christopher Allen might be an injury risk having missed most of this season with a foot injury when he is on the field he has been outstanding. In 2020, he was named second-team All-SEC after registering 41 tackles and 13 tackles for loss. If he can stay healthy he should be able to become a starter in the NFL, which is outstanding value for someone projected to go in the seventh round of the NFL Draft.

Cornerback: Cam Taylor-Britt, Nebraska
In terms of ball skills, not many players have made more plays over the past two seasons than Cam Taylor-Britt of Nebraska. Taylor-Britt is an aggressive player that is not afraid to take a chance to make the play. In addition to his ball skills, Taylor-Britt is a versatile player who can play either corner or safety at the next level.

Safety: Smoke Monday, Auburn
Smoke Monday is a hard-hitting safety that should compete for playing time as a strong safety. He excels in run defense and is not afraid to come up and lay the big hit. While he does have some concerns about his ability to hold up in coverage he does make plays happen once he gets his hands on the ball having returned three picks for touchdowns.

Safety: Markquese Bell, Florida A&M
Markquese Bell is a player who has a high upside and with the right coaching could develop into a potential starter in the NFL. Some of the numbers that will intrigue scouts with Bell is his 4.41 40-yard dash time and his 6-foot-2 size.

Cornerback: Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston State
Teams that love big fast corners are going to love what they find in Zyon McCollum of Sam Houston State. McCollum who came in at 6-foot-2 and ran the 40-yard dash 4.33 seconds at the NFL Combine is one of the more impressive athletes in this year’s draft. His size and physical style of play should make him an ideal fit for franchises that loves to play press coverage.