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This is a very strong small-college defensive class. As the case has been since the 2020 class, I believe the reasoning behind this is due to the extra season of eligibility due to COVID-19, the transfer portal, and just the good ole development of current players on the roster. 

All of the aforementioned factors have contributed to the depth of talent we are seeing at the FCS-NAIA levels of college football. I'm excited about this side of the ball with this draft class, and there are so many players who just missed the cut on being on this list, but will end up being very good pros. That's how strong of a small-college defensive class this is.

And with that, here is my small-college starting 11 on the defensive side of the ball for this week's 2023 NFL Draft.

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EDGE Caleb Murphy (Ferris State)

  • Height: 6-3
  • Weight: 254

Murphy is a super athletic defender who is capable of all things defensively. He's coming off of a stellar Shrine Bowl performance in which he showed the ability to not only rush the passer, but also hold his own in coverage. Murphy racked up 25.5 sacks in 2022 and is armed with a quick first step that makes him difficult to deal with up front. 

DT Darel Middleton (Bethel (TN))

  • Height: 6-6
  • Weight: 306

Middleton has a really good combination of size and athleticism. For a big guy, he can definitely move. Where his athleticism really stands out is in pursuit of the ball-carrier. He's able to shrink that space rather well. Coming off of a solid week at the Hula Bowl, he showed there wasn't any drop off in his skillset from his time in the SEC at Tennessee. I believe he has the versatility to be able to play multiple techniques up front.

DT D.J. Adediwura (Slippery Rock)

  • Height: 6-2
  • Weight: 270

Adediwura has good quickness off the ball and pursuit skills. He's a very fluid mover and could potentially see some time on the outside as a 5-Tech or even as an EDGE. He's got the type of versatility that allows him to read flow rather well, using his hands to buy himself time at the line of scrimmage before taking off with great pursuit angles to go and get the ball. 

EDGE Celestin Haba (Texas A&M-Commerce)

  • Height: 6-2
  • Weight: 258

Haba is an excellent point-of-attack defender who brings a variety of pass-rushing skills to the table. He's got a lot of tools in his toolbox in terms of moves, and he combines that with great get-off and functional quickness. He was the star at the Tropical Bowl scrimmage, showing active hands, the ability to run the hoop and also the acceleration out of the dip-under move to close on the QB.

LB Marte Mapu (Sacramento State)

  • Height: 6-2
  • Weight: 218

Mapu has excellent athletic ability and a unique set of tools/skills that he brings to a defense. He's played both strong safety and outside linebacker in his career. The athleticism shows up in how he weaves through the trash to make a play. He's a good open-field tackler who covers a lot of ground from the mid-second level to the backfield. He helps maximize coverage, as he can excel in both man and zone.

LB Michael Ayers (Ashland)

  • Height: 6-2
  • Weight: 224

Ayers had a fantastic week at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, showing he can match up and step up to the higher level of competition. He's a versatile athlete who can hold his own in the passing game versus backs, tight ends and bigger receivers. He's got the quicks to be an effective blitzer coming off the corner and in-between the tackle box. 

LB Aubrey Miller Jr. (Jackson State)

  • Height: 5-11
  • Weight: 229

I love the mentality in which he plays with. He's a linebacker who actually looks to inflict pain as he dictates the terms of engagement. He's an assertive blitzer and an explosive tackler with natural linebacker instincts. Miller does an excellent job with his run fits and also disengaging from blocks.

CB Anthony Adams (Portland State)

  • Height: 5-11
  • Weight: 185

Big fan of his versatility. I think he can virtually play anywhere in the secondary, which he essentially did for Portland State, sometimes within the same game. Adams has the athleticism to be able to fluidly turn and run with receivers. It doesn't matter if he's playing on the boundary side, field side or in the slot. He's a match-up piece through and through.

CB Ferlando Jordan (Southeastern Louisiana)

  • Height: 5-10
  • Weight: 187

Jordan has terrific ball skills for the position, showing an ability to attack the ball at its highest point and also capable of turning it over at an even higher clip. He can play off-coverage and press coverage rather well. He can also play any one of the three cornerback positions. 

S Xavier Bell (Portland State)

  • Height: 6-1
  • Weight: 196

Bell is an excellent combo player who has lined up virtually everywhere in the secondary, just like his teammate Anthony Adams. He's capable of playing either safety spot, and it wouldn't surprise me to see some teams view him as a cornerback as a pro. An above-average pressure player, Bell can blitz coming off the edge and also has the length to pressure the ball once it's in the air. 

DB Isaiah Bolden (Jackson State)

  • Height: 6-1
  • Weight: 196

Bolden is a tremendous athlete who can legitimately play any position necessary on the backend. He's a day one core special-teamer because of his ability as both a kickoff and punt returner. As a match-up piece, he's able to man up versus bigger wide receivers and tight ends or whatever the situation calls for, even inside as a slot defender.