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May 5, 2009
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap missed almost all of spring practice with an abdomen issue but if Rob Rang from NFLdraftscout.com is correct, Dunlap will be the one hurting opponents next season. And it could propel him toward the top of Round 1 in next year's NFL Draft.
"Pass rushers always have an opportunity to fly up the board and with his size and speed, you're talking about a guy who could be a top 10 kind of guy," Rang said.
Freak is a word often overused to describe football players but it's applicable in Dunlap's case. He's 6 feet 6, 290 pounds, fast off the edge, powerful and has all the tools to be one of the nation's best defensive ends next season.
In his sophomore year, Dunlap finished with 39 tackles and a team-high 9.5 sacks. Rang expects even more production from him next season and has Dunlap pegged as one of the most intriguing players to watch because of his potential.
"He's going to have to do it again but everybody expects him to do it now so the pressure is different," Rang said. "He had a pretty dominant season at times last year and that's considering (offensive linemen) Michael Oher and Andre Smith, he was going against some elite-level talent there and was still able to do that. I'm curious to see what he does. He's one of the more intriguing guys at least at that position and that's a high-value position."
Opponents will be concerned with Dunlap but they can't forget the other side either where Jermaine Cunningham is also expected to have a big season. Last year, he had 52 tackles and six sacks. If teams focus on doubling Dunlap, Cunningham could have 1-on-1 blocking and put together another monster season.
"He could explode this year because a lot of people are going to be focusing on the other kid," Rang said.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes returned for his senior season and some draft analysts were surprised by the move because they considered him one of the best players at his position.
Since he decided to return to Florida, Rang said he hopes to see Spikes become more consistent, get better in coverage and even get a little quicker. Rang said because Florida's defense has been so stellar, Spikes has been able to get away with some things that won't fly in the NFL.
"He can be hyper-aggressive just because that pass rush is going to get to the quarterback and that's why he can make the plays," Rang said.
"If there is a question about him, it's watching him in space. He's not a really fast guy. I question his hips a little bit, if he can turn and run in coverage. He's a two-down linebacker in the NFL. He's a heck of an inside plugger that you'll get a lot of production on first and second down but on third down you're going to have to sub him out.
"We watched Rey Maualuga from USC. He's basically a two-down linebacker that slipped out of the first round. He had character concerns and he had other things too but it was primarily because he's just not that great of an athlete. The same kind of concerns could be that way with Spikes."
Numbers were not a problem for Spikes, who led the Gators with 93 tackles. He also had four interceptions and two sacks and was a menace all over the field. Athleticism doesn't seem to be in question as much as whether Spikes can turn and run in coverage in the NFL. That's something Rang said he will watch closely next season, adding he believes Spikes can put it all together.
"The biggest thing for him is he has to try to improve his pass drops, making plays in coverage," Rang said. "He makes enough plays and at times he is the heart and soul of the defense. I just want to see more consistency out of him. I expect to see that next year."
There is also speculation tight end Aaron Hernandez and cornerback Joe Haden, both juniors next season, could consider a jump to the NFL if they have good seasons but Rang had not watched enough film on either player to comment about their pro potential yet.