ITWR: NFL Draft All-Underrated defense led by M.J. Devonshire and Thor Griffith

Nov 19, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers defensive back M.J. Devonshire (12) reacts as he takes the field to warm up before the game against the Duke Blue Devils at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 19, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers defensive back M.J. Devonshire (12) reacts as he takes the field to warm up before the game against the Duke Blue Devils at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The college football season officially kicks off this weekend, and before the season starts it’s time to look at some underrated prospects on the defensive side of the ball. This list is led by M.J. Devonshire, who is my preseason Defensive Sleeper of the Year, and features four players from the Big 12. These players join the offensive All-Underrarted unit which was named last month to give NFL Draft fans plenty of players to keep a close eye on this season.

In addition to naming the All-Underrated defensive team, this week’s Inside the War Room looks at ten picks who have disappointed in training camp, previews the 2024 safety class, and much more.

Preseason All-Underrated Defense

Please note there are a couple of requirements for this list. A prospect must carry a day three or undrafted free agent grade (according to NFL Mock Draft Database). Also, I must be able to see them as a much better prospect than where they are currently rated.

DE: Donovan Ezeiruaku, Boston College

A player who is being completely overlooked is defensive end Donovan Ezeiruaku, who is not even listed as one of the top 15 defensive ends by Mock Draft Database. This is despite Ezeiruaku recording 8.5 sacks last year, and showing good explosion off the ball.

DT: Gabe Hall, Baylor
The highest-rated member of this team on my board yet still receives a day three grade by most draft experts is Baylor’s Gabe Hall. The main reason I have him rated so high is his measurables. He comes in at 6-foot-6 and 296 pounds and according to Bruce Feldman posts a 500-pound bench press, 565 squat, and timed in 19.9 MPH according to GPS tracking.

DT: Thor Griffith, Harvard
Another defensive tackle who made Bruce Feldman’s Freak List is Harvard Thor Griffith who came in as the 8th-best athlete. Some of his impressive testing numbers include bench pressing 225 pounds 45 times, and a 4.95 40-yard dash. Griffith has also dominated on the field making 12 tackles for loss and five sacks last year, while also grading out as Pro Football Focus’ top FCS interior defensive lineman.

DE: Andre Carter, Indiana
One of the most impactful transfers this year could be that of Andre Carter who moved on from Western Michigan to Indiana. Last season for the Broncos, Carter made 68 tackles and got to the quarterback seven times. As a pro prospect, he has ideal NFL size coming in at 6-foot-5 and 273 and shows surprising burst off the ball for someone his size.

OLB: Danny Stutsman, Oklahoma
NFL coaches are going to love what they see in Oklahoma linebacker Danny Stutsman. The number one thing that will impress him is his non-stop motor which helped him lead the Big 12 in tackles last year with 124 stops. They will also like his ability to get off blocks and overall football intelligence.

MLB: Jaylan Ford, Texas
The third player from the Big 12 to make this list is Texas linebacker Jaylan Ford. The biggest reason Ford is on this list is his ability to consistently find the ball whether it be making a big stop against the run, or picking off four passes last year.

OLB: Ty’Ron Hopper, Missouri
While Ty’Ron Hopper is one of the small outside linebackers in the 2024 NFL Draft, he also is one of the most athletic. He shows the speed to play sideline to sideline and holds up extremely well in coverage. At the very least look for Hopper to be a standout on special teams in the NFL.

CB: M.J. Devonshire, Pittsburgh
The most underrated defensive player in the 2024 NFL Draft going into the season is Pittsburgh cornerback M.J. Devonshire. The reason why he carries a third-round draft grade on my board is his ability to make plays. During the 2022 season, he picked off three passes and returned two of those for touchdowns. He also led the ACC with 9.7 punt return average. He displays the fluid hips, quickness, and physical style of football to become a starting corner in the NFL.

S: Evan Williams, Oregon
A player I am much higher on than other draftniks are is Oregon’s Evan Williams who carries a fourth-round grade on my board. When watching Williams, Fresno State film where he played the first four year of his career several things stood out. One of these is his aggressiveness against the run, consistently flying down to be a force in this area. Another is his intelligence, doing a great job of diagnosing plays. It is also worth noting that Williams excels in the classroom and could have gone to Princeton coming out of high school. Look for Williams to find a home in the NFL as a strong safety where he shows the traits to compete for a starting job.

S: Yam Banks, South Alabama
One of the most productive defensive backs in college football season last year was South Alabama safety Yam Banks. He was a force vs. both the run accounting for 50 tackles and six tackles for loss, and against the pass picking off six passes. These stats will definitely get scouts’ attention as will his 6-foot-1 208 208-pound size, and impressive agility for someone his size.

CB T.J. Tampa, Iowa State
Yet another Big 12 prospect to make this list is Iowa State cornerback T.J. Tampa. The thing that sticks out about Tampa’s play is how well he plays press coverage and he would be an ideal fit in a cover-two defense. The main reason he would excel in this scheme is a combination of his 6-foot-2 size and physical style of play.

Ten of the Worst 2023 NFL Draft Picks

This list is made up of players who underperformed in training camp and will either be buried on the depth chart or might not even make an active roster this year.

1. Cameron Latu, TE, San Fransico 49ers
In Inside the War Room’s NFL Draft review addition, I had the San Francisco 49ers having the worst 2023 NFL Draft. One of the reasons for this was that they reached for Alabama tight end Cameron Latu in the third round of the draft, who received a sixth-round grade from me. So far in his time, he has proved us right as he has struggled with drops, the speed of the game, and mental laps.

2. Braeden Daniels, OT, Washington Commanders
Another player who received a sixth-round draft grade from me, yet was drafted way too high was Utah offensive tackle Braeden Daniels who the Commanders took in the fourth round. He hasn’t shown much in training camp so far and will be lucky to start the season as the team’s fourth offensive tackle.

3. Wanya Morris, OT, Kansas City Chiefs
Offensive tackle Wanya Morris didn’t live up to expectations when he signed with Oklahoma as a five-star recruit, and so far he has not been what the Chiefs were hoping for when they selected him in the third round. This season it seems likely that Morris will be the Chief’s fourth offensive tackle and hopefully, in 2024 he can make some type of impact.

4. Jake Andrews, C, New England Patriots
Yet another player who received a sixth-round grade by Inside the War Room, who has not impressed is Jake Andrews. The Patriots took Andrews in the fourth round, but so far Andrews has only been seeing time late in preseason games. He is also behind two linemen the team drafted after him Sidy Sow and Atonio Mafi.

5. Jake Moody, K. San Fransico 49ers
The 49ers are showing why a team should never draft a kicker until the fifth round of the Draft with their selection of Moody. In his first preseason game, he went 0-for-2 on kicks and in his second game he missed an extra point. Things didn’t get better for Moody last week as he was injured in the game.

6. Dontayvion Wicks, WR, Green Bay Packers
Dontayvion Wicks was a fifth-round pick who was in danger of not making the team. He had a strong preseason opener catching three passes for 68 yards, but since then has not caught a pass.  Look for Wicks to be inactive most of this season, and to have little impact.

7. BJ Thompson, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs
Another fifth-round pick who was in danger of not making a team is BJ Thompson. Thompson has made little impact this preseason, and is showing why he carried an undrafted free agent grade by Inside the War Room.

8. Max Duggan, QB, Los Angeles Chargers
While it might be hard to see a seventh-round pick being a disappointment that is the case with Chargers quarterback Max Duggan. The main reason for this is he has looked like the worst quarterback drafted in the 2023 NFL Draft, and it seems almost certain he will not be on an active roster next year.

9. Isaiah Foskey, DE, New Orleans Saints
A top-50 pick who has had an average preseason is Isaiah Foskey. This isn’t a tremendous surprise though since Foskey was viewed as a developmental project when taken with the 40th overall pick.

10. Mazi Smith, DT, Dallas Cowboys
The only first-round pick to make this list is former Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith, who the Cowboys took with the 26th overall pick. The reason why Smith is on this list is his inconsistent plays, which at times have allowed his opponent to get the best of him.

2024 NFL Draft Safety Class Preview

Top Player: Andrew Mukuba, Clemson
What makes Andrew Mukuba the top safety in the 2024 NFL Draft is his cover skills. He has experience playing both safety and cornerback at Clemson and shows the overall skill set to be a high-quality free safety in the NFL. Some of his top traits include the speed to play sideline to sideline, and also the fluid hips to easily get in and out of his breaks. If he can improve his ball production this year, and be more of a force vs. the run he could end up going in the first round next April.

Overrated: Rod Moore, Michigan
To start off no safety in this class is vastly overrated, but if any prospect is being viewed a little too high it is Michigan’s Rod Moore. While he shows impressive awareness and was the only safety to earn an 80-plus grade in both coverage and as a run defender he isn’t the first-round prospect some people view him as. The reason he likely won’t hear his name called that early is that he has only average size, and is not an elite athlete.

Top Small School Player: Khalil Baker, North Carolina Central
The highest-rated small safety in this year’s class is North Carolina Centrals Khalil Baker. Last season, was a breakout year for Baker as he was named an All-American after making only 16 tackles in 2021. When looking at how his game translates to the next level he is a fierce hitter despite coming in at only 185 pounds. He also possesses NFL speed and has the playmaking skills NFL coaches will appreciate.

Biggest Risk: Jalen Catalon, Texas
One of the most fierce hitters in the 2024 NFL Draft is Texas safety Jalen Catalon. Unfortunately, though these big hits have also led to his share of injuries including season-ending injuries last year, in 2021, and in 2018 when he was a senior in high school. If he can’t stay healthy this season it is hard to see a team using a draft pick on him, despite having NFL traits.

Breakout Player: Patrick McMorris, California
A player who is hoping to increase his draft stock by transferring this offseason is former San Diego State safety Patrick McMorris, who will be playing for California this fall. If McMorris can produce like he did in the Mountain West Conference he should get serious interest on day three of the 2024 NFL Draft. During his time with the Aztec’s, he was twice named to the All-MWC team and was named the 2022 preseason Mountain West Co-Defensive Player of the Year.

NFL Draft Safety Overall Rankings
Please note in parentheses is the draft grade I give them

1. Andrew Mukuba, Clemson (second round)
2. Kamren Kinchens, Miami (second round)
3. Tyler Nubin, Minnesota (second round)
4. Calen Bullock, USC (second round)
5. Javon Bullard, Georgia (second round)
6. Cole Bishop, Utah (third round)
7. Rod Moore, Michigan (third round)
8. Lathan Ransom, Ohio State (fourth round)
9. Malachi Moore, Alabama (fourth round)
10. James Williams, Miami (fourth round)
11. Evan Williams, Oregon (fourth round)
12. Beau Brade, Maryland (fifth round)
13. Jalyn Phillips, Clemson (fifth round)
14. Bud Clark, TCU (fifth round)
15. Billy Bowman Jr., Oklahoma (sixth round)
16. Yam Banks, South Alabama (sixth round)
17. Tykee Smith, Georgia (sixth round)
18. Jalen Catalon, Texas (seventh round)
19. Jay Stanley, Southern Miss (seventh round)
20. Kobe Savage, Kansas State (seventh round)
21. Patrick McMorris, California (seventh round)
22. Kenny Logan Jr., Kansas (seventh round)
23. Khalil Baker, North Carolina Central (seventh round)

NFL Draft Scouting Notes

— The star of week zero of college football was Notre Dame quarterback Sam Heartman. Against Navy, he completed 18 of 23 passes for 251 yards and four touchdowns. His four touchdown passes on the night tied for the most by a Notre Dame quarterback in his debut. The most impressive trait he showed in this game is an understanding of the Irish offense, consistently going through his read and always knowing where his receivers were even when plays broke down. While I have an undrafted free agent grade on him if he can produce like he did on Saturday against better competition he surely will rise up the draft board.

— Another quarterback who had an impressive debut with his new team is Jackson State quarterback Jason Brown. Brown finished the night by completing 79 percent of his passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns. He also showed some impressive NFL traits including good athletic ability for a 230-pound quarterback, and the arm strength to easily throw the deep ball. If Brown is to get a shot in an NFL camp though he is going to have to prove he can compete against NFL talent which he didn’t do last year at Virginia Tech, or the year before that at South Carolina.

— Alabama’s Malachi Moore needs a big year this season after having back-to-back disappointing seasons. As a freshman at Alabama Moore was named to the SEC All-Freshman team and started 11 games for the Tide. However, since then he has seen limited playing time and has battled injuries each of the past two seasons. Going into this season he is projected to start and will need to live up to the potential he showed as a freshman to be anything more than a day three pick.

— This season will see a new role for Miami safety James Williams. In this new scheme, he will play more outside linebacker against heavy personnel, and will also play more in the box as a safety at other times. This will likely be his best position in the NFL due to his 6-foot-5 and 223-pound size, which makes him likely too big to play safety in the NFL. He also lacks the fluid hips you want to see out of an NFL defensive back. However, if he can excel in this role he could be a starter at outside linebacker at the next level.

— It will be interesting to see how Colts rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson does when teams game plan for him. While he showed impressive athletic ability against the Eagles and displayed the raw potential to develop into a high-quality quarterback, things may change when he is facing a first-team defense that is instructed to keep him in the pocket and play with a lot more desire than they do in a preseason game. In order to keep defenses honest when games start to matter Richardson is going to prove he can be a consistent passer which he didn’t do this preseason.

— While Anthony Richardson needs to prove he can beat you as a passer that is not the case with number one overall pick Bryce Young. In his game against the Lions, he showed a great understanding of the team’s offense which is very impressive for a rookie quarterback in the preseason. He also threw the ball with good anticipation and touch, which allowed his receivers to make nice catches in traffic. However, this also raises the concern of does Young have enough playmakers he can throw the ball to, and consistently gain separation. From watching the Panthers this preseason it doesn’t look like that is the case, which will likely hurt his production.

— For all the latest NFL Draft news make sure to check out The Notebook.

Quotes of the Week

"” He is 270 pounds. He is the biggest, most physical one (DE) we’ve had here since I’ve been here. Very, very disruptive.”Indiana Head Coach Tom Allen on defensive end Andre Carter"

"“You got to remember, he’s still a first-year player. I think when you look at his overall camp, I think he’s had a good to solid camp. This week will be another opportunity for him. He’s like all the rookies, he needs to play, he needs time on task, and I would definitely put him in that category.”Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy on defensive tackle Mazi Smith"

"“I’ve seen the same thing that I saw at Alabama. Instinctive guy that can come down and hit people — very smart.”Will Anderson on his former Alabama and current Houston teammate Henry To’oTo’o"

"“If you look at those key wins we had last year, one thing was pretty consistent: Bud was making some big plays in those games.”TCU head coach Sonny Dykes on safety Bud Clark"

Next. 2024 NFL Mock Draft Journal: Cardinals, Falcons tank for USC QB Caleb Williams. dark

"“He’s an absolute phenom at safety. He’s everything you look for, so athletic, great in coverage, great blitzer and tackler. He’s the whole package. He’s got size at 6-2, 225 pounds. So you’re seeing one of the best safeties in the Pac-12 and in the country.” Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham on safety Cole Bishop"