Who Is The Best Defensive Prospect In Conference USA?
By Bill Lund
Conference USA will forever be the league that is poached by the power five conferences to help in solidifying their own stature among the elite. When former Conference USA teams like Tulsa, Houston, UCF, East Carolina, Memphis, SMU and Tulane jumped ship to the AAC, the conference was left reeling. The addition of FAU, FIU, Louisiana Tech, UT-San Antonio and Old Dominion has helped plug the holes of recent departures, but despite the change in faces, their remain good NFL talent among its current members.
In 2013 with former members still in the fold, Conference USA had a banner draft year with 13 total selections and 6 taken in the first two rounds (one 1st round pick). New conference members FAU and FIU have produced two of the top players at their positions in the NFL. Alfred Morris (FAU), the 2013 Pro Bowl Running back for the Washington Redskins, and T.Y. Hilton (FIU), who had a break out 82 catch 1083 yard season for the Colts, are two examples of the talented under the radar gems that can be found in the schools of Conference USA.
Two of the best talents in C-USA are DT Christian Covington of Rice, and CB D’Joun Smith of Florida Atlantic. Each player possesses the tools needed to make an NFL roster. Given the success of their predecessors, both players will have a chance to make their mark in the NFL for the long term.
Christian Covington, Rice, DT
Covington is one man Johnny Manziel couldn’t slip away from. Christian Covington led the Owls in tackles for loss with 11.5 and had four sacks (including Manziel) as a sophomore on his way to receiving First Team All-CUSA honors. The interior tackle was a disruptive force at times for Rice’s defense. With a quick first step Covington gets up field penetrating backfields. He has good lateral movement and natural flexibility in his hips to dip and leverage offensive linemen. He is at his best on stunts and movements. He does get caught up with offensive lineman when he peeks, stopping his feet and losing leverage and momentum. Covington also needs to play better against double teams getting into the seam rather than playing both players getting knocked off the ball. He shows good hands, when on the go, but at times he stops his feet in search of the ball and loses ground at the point of attack. Covington has ability and shows decent effort, but lacks a motor that would warrant being considered at 1st or 2nd day pick.
D'Joun Smith, Florida Atlantic, CB
Was named Florida Atlantic's MVP by his team for the 2013 season. Smith was ultra-productive for the Owls defense ranking 1st in the conference and 2nd nationally in passes defended and was 3rd in the country in interceptions (7). Smith also tallied two forced fumbles and a touchdown on the season. The 5’11’’ and 190 pound Corner has good measurables to keep scouts interested. Smith shows good speed and movement ability in space showing he can play either man or zone. He possesses great ball skills and ability to close while the ball is in flight to break up passes. He is a good open field tackler with 35 tackles on the season, 25 of which were solo stops. Playing Nebraska and Alabama to start the season, Smith will have a chance to show his skills on the big stage. Teams will be looking to stay away from Smith in 2014 making it more difficult to produce the numbers from 2013, but if he makes the most of plays that do come his way, scouts will be watching.
Conference USA will always have good talent that for the most part will be under the radar until prospects get that opportunity in an NFL camp. Covington’s skill set is as good as the players taken in the second round of the 2014 draft, and he is only going into his third season. Though slated for the 2016 draft, Covington will be eligible come next spring and if he can make significant strides to become at least a day two pick, he may be better served to get seasoning until 2016. Smith shows he can make plays at a position that will always be in high demand for NFL defensive coordinators. Smith shows good numbers in his measurables and his tape is equally as impressive. If he shows he can match up with power conference foes during the first two weeks of 2014, Smith can certainly improve his stock going into 2015. Provided he makes the most of potential limited opportunities as teams steer plays away from him, and tests well during his pro day, Smith could be a day two pick come spring.