Arizona Cardinals undrafted rookies: Scouting the back end of the defense

Matthew Holst

Hunting down analysis on the Cardinals class of undrafted rookies with a preview of how they are likely to fit with the team in 2013. The new guys face an uphill battle in the secondary and at inside linebacker, but it's not as packed as the wide receiver group.

The Cardinals really only have one job available for a corner, and it's on the practice squad. The undrafted rookies are the only players eligible on the team, so unless they look at other team's cuts to fill the spot, one of these guys should make it through the pre-season. Inside linebacker is the same. Unless the team unexpectedly parts ways with someone like Reggie Walker, the rookie free agents will be competing with Colin Parker for a spot on the practice squad. Safety is a different story. There are a lot of question marks after the first couple players on the depth chart, and the team brought in a handful of candidates that should be able to compete for a job, from the rookies to a couple young free agents in Jonathon Amaya and Curtis Taylor.

Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma
5'11" 212 lbs.
vs. Oklahoma St; vs. Texas; highlights

The gem of the Cardinals rookie free agent class, Jefferson was viewed by many as a mid-round prospect. His slide out of the draft may have been related to a rumor regarding poor work ethic. He's an aggressive player, recognizes the play early and is quick to attack the line of scrimmage. His recognition skills cover up concerns about his speed, which is adequate but not good enough for him to recover when beaten. Not a candidate to match up with receivers in man coverage. I love his motor. He's all over the field, involved in almost every play in both games I watched. If he was a better tackler he'd have put up ten a week. Because of his limitations he won't be a single-high safety, but he's not stuck playing exclusively in the box, either.

Projection: Bubble
Excellent instincts give him a real chance to make the team but he desperately needs to clean up his tackling technique before he sees much time in the defense. He could benefit from time on the practice squad.

Josh Hill, S/CB, California
5'10" 203 lbs.
Entire game vs. UCLA

Hill sounds like the real deal and is an early favorite to compete with Tony Jefferson and make the team. The Cardinals list him as a CB but he played everywhere in the Cal secondary. All the reports I've read project him as a safety at the next level due to inconsistent man coverage skills and average straight-line speed. Despite that, he closes quickly to the ball and takes good angles both in coverage and against the run. A sound tackler, he'll have an early advantage covering kicks on special teams, and has the instincts to hold up well in zone coverage.

Projection: Bubble
With his tackling ability, Hill should make a good special teams player early in his career and sounds like a good fit to help stop option offenses. Does the team see him as a safety, corner, or hybrid defender?

Javon Harris, S, Oklahoma
5'11" 206 lbs.
vs. Iowa St; highlights

It's tough to get a read on Harris' game. He spent most of his time roaming deep in the secondary, playing over-the-top so that Tony Jefferson was free to attack the line of scrimmage. Harris was productive in that role, racking up 86 tackles and six interceptions as a senior, but he's probably not enough of an athlete to handle that responsibility in the NFL.

Projection: Grim
With average size and range, Harris is probably "just a guy" but could surprise and challenge for a spot based on his production.

Prentiss Waggner, CB, Tennessee
6'2" 189 lbs.
"Country" Spotlight

A rare sight in the Cardinals secondary at 6'2," Waggner is a ball-hawk with nine career interceptions who brings size and length to the field. Tennessee fans called him "Pick 6 Waggner" and like his instincts and versatility in the secondary, but believe his most natural position is at safety partially due to a lack of athleticism. Therein lies the problem. He's not fast enough to keep up with receivers downfield and he lacks the technique and aggressiveness to support the run well, meaning he has no real position in the NFL.

Projection: Grim
Ball skills are one thing, but Waggner won't make it in the NFL as a cornerback with 4.75 speed and he's not physical enough to play safety. If he looks good in camp he may get a chance to develop for a while on the practice squad.

Ronnie Yell, CB, San Jose State
5'10" 188 lbs.
Highlights

There isn't much information out there on Yell. A converted high school quarterback, he quickly emerged as a starting corner for SJSU as a freshman and spent time as a return man on special teams. Have to worry about his timed speeds, but from his highlight reel he appears to be able to close on the ball well enough. With only two career interceptions, I doubt he projects as much more than a dime corner.

Projection: Grim
Yell's experience as a four-year starter may give him an advantage but he doesn't appear to have very much upside.

Kenny Demens, LB Michigan
6'1" 242 lbs.
vs Ohio State

Dropping your body fat percentage by eating better is one way to prepare yourself for the NFL. Another is to train yourself to be the quarterback of the defense, making sure the coverage is right and getting your teammates on the same page. Demens has been doing both, but will it be enough? NFL.com likes him as a three-down linebacker but worries about his range and change of direction when it comes to covering NFL receivers. He showed decent instincts in the Ohio State game, generally keeping himself in position and getting to the hole to take on blockers. Seems like a poor man's Kevin Minter.

Projection: Bubble
A player like Demens has a place in the league as a back-up/special teamer. With so many veterans ahead of him, that place probably won't be Arizona, but his well-rounded skill-set may help him emerge as a cheaper version of Reggie Walker.

Korey Jones, LB, Wyoming
6'2" 233 lbs.
Entire game vs. Texas

Jones played a few games at defensive end for Wyoming but showed more development after switching to 4-3 linebacker, learning to read keys and swarm to the ball. He's one of the best athletes on the team at ILB and it doesn't take long to see that he moves well on the field. A sideline-to-sideline defender, there were times against Texas where he ran himself out of the play with his speed and he needed to do a better job picking up receivers when he was asked to cover.

Projection: Practice squad
A nice upside prospect, Jones could be worth a developmental spot but athletic ability alone won't earn him a job. If he can make a few plays on special teams and do what the coaches need him to do on defense, he could stick.

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