Douglas: Evaluating Iowa State’s NFL Draft prospects on defense

Linebacker Marcel Spears Jr. tackles a Baylor Bear during their game against Baylor on Nov. 10, 2018, at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones finished the first half 17-0 against the Bears.

Zane Douglas

The 2020 NFL Draft is almost upon us, but the possibility of Iowa State seeing any of its former athletes get selected isn’t certain.

Matt went over the offense and the special teams, so time for me to look at the last aspect of the team left uncovered: the defense.

Iowa State’s defense was solid last season, but much of the production came from players that had years of eligibility left. No one left Iowa State for the draft early, so there aren’t a ton of options for Iowa State’s former defensive players in the draft.

Marcel Spears Jr.

Marcel Spears Jr. was the last remaining member of the team that was recruited by Paul Rhoads. The redshirt senior is an athletic linebacker and safety hybrid that was used as good run support and pass coverage in crossing routes.

Spears Jr. plays like a downfield linebacker, but his size and quickness could allow NFL teams to do some fun things with him to make him more useful. As it stands now, Spears Jr. can be useful as someone who pursues well and can cover running backs, flat routes and crossing routes.

If an NFL team sees him as a possible project, Spears Jr. could earn some playing time in his career. His draft stock is where those dreams might get squashed.

Spears Jr. is not a highly touted prospect and isn’t even on most extensive draft rankings. Because of his versatility and experience, it’s hard to believe that a team wouldn’t give him a shot as an undrafted free agent, but his name likely won’t be called until after the draft is over.

Ray Lima

One of the better stories on Iowa State’s football team is the story of its nose tackle and one of many defensive leaders, Ray Lima.

Lima’s rise to the forefront of Iowa State’s defense was not paralleled with the rise to notoriety as Head Coach Matt Campbell has lauded because what he brings to the defense doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.

If you look at just the stat sheet, Lima isn’t all that impressive for a nose tackle, but for a team that sends three-man rushes regularly, it’s easy to see why Lima’s sack numbers fall short.

Lima’s value comes mostly from his ability to stuff the run and clog up the middle of the field — a job he’s performed well at.

Because of the lack of recognition for the interior lineman, there might not be a ton of mention during the three days of the draft, but Lima has been mentioned more than Spears Jr. in pre-draft rankings and has an outside shot at earning a flyer selection in the very late rounds.

In all likelihood, Lima will earn the same undrafted free agent type signing that Spears Jr. likely will, and the two will get their chances to earn a spot as depth pieces. With both guys, experience and leadership is something they’ve excelled at, and that can go a long way in making depth chart decisions for an NFL team.

Braxton Lewis

The last player in Iowa State’s defensive arsenal that has a shot at a professional career is Braxton Lewis.

As a defensive back in Defensive Coordinator Jon Heacock’s 3-3-5 system, Lewis played as the third safety and played in 25 of Iowa State’s 26 games in his final two seasons.

Lewis was not as effective for Iowa State as Lima and Spears Jr. were, so it’s not likely that the four-year safety will be considered on draft day, but as an undrafted free agent, he could get some looks.

Iowa State’s defensive prospects are not as highly ranked as some offensive pieces or even a certain long snapper on special teams, but there are some chances for some of the defensive players to extend their careers.