At the 2018 NFL season midseason point, many defensive gems discovered at the NFL Regional Combine stage are having career years.
Through the RC and its platforms, 71 players are wearing NFL jerseys. 31 players round out the defense, however, 18 standouts are paving the way for other talents to have the liberty for a shot at gridiron glory.
Washington Redskins cornerback Quinton Dunbar is spearheading the attacks for the RC defensive studs. In six games this season, Dunbar has amassed 35 tackles, which ties his total from last year. Clearly, the converted wide receiver from the University of Florida is having a career-year as he is third on the team in tackles.
Dunbar is also having a career-year in interceptions with two passes picked off and eight passes defensed.
At one point this season, Dunbar was ranked as high as the seventh best cornerback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus with a 74 rating. Still, Dunbar refuses to settle, believing he has something to prove.
“I always step on that field like I’ve got something to prove,” said Dunbar. “Growing up, my whole life I’ve had something to prove coming up in the environment I was in. I always have that mindset in everything I do.”
Quietly one of the better teams in the league, the Los Angeles Chargers’ defense is solid. Now, with the addition of a healthy linebacker in Jatavis Brown, they may be an elite unit.
In Brown’s rookie season (2016), he led the Chargers in tackles. since then, Brown had his role reduced due to the depth of linebacker core, and yet, he continues to be productive. Last year, Brown finished with the second-most stops and currently, with 34, the RC pioneer is third on the squad.
Brown’s best game thus far came in Week Nine when he racked up 11 tackles as he was all over the Seattle Seahwaks. With injuries along the Chargers front line, they shouldn’t miss a beat knowing Brown will clean everything up.
The Indianapolis Colts are showing promise with a 3-5 record in an up and down AFC South division. To be a potential threat down the stretch, they will need cornerback Kenny Moore II to continue to play on a high level.
Moore is one of the Colts’ better defensive backs as he is always in tackle mode. Moore laid out Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy in Week Seven and blew up a couple other players. Moore is near his career-high in tackles with 33 thus far – last season he finished with 38 – and he has hauled in two interceptions, which is a single season career-high already.
“(Moore) A fighter, a competitor,” said Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, according to Indystar.com. “A guy who shows what our system is about. He’s exactly what we’re looking for in all our defensive backs, (actually) in all our defensive players.”
Teammate and RC brethren defensive back Chris Milton has eight tackles on the season.
Arizona Cardinals defensive end Benson Mayowa is getting to quarterbacks and ball carriers better than ever. Mayowa is firing off the ball opposite Chandler Jones and affecting play after play.
With 26 tackles through eight games, including three starts, Mayowa has more stops than any other season in his six year career. Assuming he’s productive for the rest of the season, Mayowa’s career year will command his highest salary ever.
Probably out of all the defensive RC standouts, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris is making the biggest statement. In eight games, Robertson-Harris has maximized his career totals in tackles (15) and sacks (2.5) for season. However, Robertson-Harris’ impact comes from how he wrecks havoc on nearly every play he is involved, which allows All-Pro Khalil Mack to freelance to be the playmaking defender he is.
In Week One, Robertson-Harris nearly ended the Green Bay Packers’ season when took down quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Robertson-Harris packed on muscle during the offseason without compromising his explosiveness.
“Did a lot of strength training,” said Robertson-Harris during preseason. “Trying to get stronger and make sure I can take on double-teams and things like that. Last year I was at 285. Now I’m 295, and I don’t want to be big and fat, so I wanted to make sure 295 is also coming with strength.”
Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill is a Super Bowl champion and started this season as a starter with a captain’s badge. With 18 tackles at the halfway point of the season, Grugier-Hill is looking at a career year. In Week Six against the New York Giants, the RC pioneer from the 2016 trials earned his first career interception.
As journeymen, linebackers Julian Stanford and Brandon Copeland have been waiting for a season such as this. Both players have been special team specialists for a number of years. This year on one-year deals, Stanford and Copeland are quickly proving that they are more than just complimentary players, but legit defensive assets.
Stanford racked up 12 tackles through seven contests and earned his first career sack and forced fumble in Week Nine against the Bears. Although it does not count, Stanford intercepted a two-point conversion attempt against the New England Patriots in Week Eight.
Copeland is flat out killing it for the New York Jets. Despite the team’s struggles, Copeland is giving his all. With career highs in tackles (21) and sacks (three), Copeland is making a case for a big pay day next offseason, but most importantly, stability in the league he loves.
“The one cool thing about my career, my roller coaster of a career, is I’ve learned through getting content and getting comfortable, that that’s the quickest way to get kicked out of the league and kicked out of your spot,” said Copeland, according to nj.com.
“A younger version of myself, I’d be a little bit too happy and too comfortable and too proud of my performance…Now I’m not even thinking about it,” he added. “I’m thinking about how to improve every single thing that I think that I could have done better.”
-Atlanta Falcons defensive back Kemal Ishmael has 11 tackles. Ishmael is playing more of a linebacker role this season as well.
-Miami Dolphins defensive end Jonathan Woodard recorded nine tackles and his first career sack, which came in Week Six against the Bears.
-Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Cody Davis has four tackles.
-Carolina Panthers defensive end Efe Obada, New Orleans Saints defensive back Chris Banjo, Los Angeles Rams rookie defensive tackle Justin Lawler and Cleveland Browns defensive Denzel Rice have three tackles each.
Obada is the first player from the NFL International Player Pathway program to command playing time, and in Week Three, he earned his first career sack and interception.
Rice nabbed his first career pick in Week Nine against the Kansas City Chiefs.
These pioneers are looking to finish stronger.