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Ten most underrated defensive prospects in 2016 NFL Draft

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I've been on record saying there are 18 elite players in the 2016 NFL Draft. That's not to say there aren't some very good prospects beyond 18, because there are.

I have my own personal list of the top 1,000 players in this draft. The players below represent the ones I consider to be the most underrated on defense (On Monday, I covered the most underrated offensive players in the draft). These are prospects that will get drafted lower than they should, but ones I believe will enjoy long, impactful careers in the NFL.

Most underrated defensive prospects

Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech: Butler (6-foot-3 5/8, 323 pounds, 5.33-second 40-yard dash) is an inside player who plays well vs. the run. He's tall, athletic and strong (26 bench lifts). His best position is nose tackle. He was a standout at the Reese's Senior Bowl, and could be one at the next level.

Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska: Collins (6-1 7/8, 311, 5.03) is very athletic with speed and strength (25 bench lifts). He has very good ability to get off blocks and make plays. He has long arms. If you want to get a starting nose tackle in the second round, this is your guy.

Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State: Jones (6-5 3/4, 310, 5.03) has all the ability in the world, but it doesn't always show up on every play. He's an outstanding athlete, strong (26 bench lifts), and has long arms (34 1/2). He's young (played just three years at MSU). He could be a very good NFL player but needs to work harder on every down.

2016 NFL DRAFT

Draft coverage:

Deion Jones, OLB, LSU: Jones (6-0 7/8, 222, 4.59) plays like Buccaneers LB Lavonte David. He's very athletic and quick. He needs to get stronger and I think he will. He'll start and play on all downs in the NFL. He's one of my favorite players in this draft.

Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn: The only negative on Jones (5-9 1/8, 186, 4.33) is his lack of height. He plays a lot like Senquez Golson, who was taken by the Steelers in the second round last year. He's strong (19 bench lifts) and very athletic (36-inch vertical jump). Jones has good coverage skills; he had six interceptions in 2014.

Keanu Neal, SS, Florida: Neal (6-0 1/2, 211, 4.62) is ultra-athletic and strong; he had a 38-inch vertical jump, an 11-foot broad jump and 17 bench lifts last month at the NFL Scouting Combine. He has coverage ability. A good pro-day workout on Tuesday could possibly get him into the bottom of the first round.

Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville: Rankins (6-1 1/8, 299, 5.03) is strong and very athletic (34.5-inch vertical jump). He has the speed and quickness needed for the position. Along with Butler, Rankins stood out at the Senior Bowl. I would expect him to be taken in the 25-40 range in the draft.

Hassan Ridgeway, DT, Texas: Ridgeway (6-3 3/8, 303, 5.02) has a lot of ability, but like Chris Jones, he doesn't always use it on every play. He's strong (24 bench lifts) and fast. He's very mature but needs better work habits. If he learns how to work, he'll be a very good NFL player.

Joe Schobert, OLB, Wisconsin: Schobert (6-1 3/8, 244, 4.76) makes plays all over the field. He's very athletic and strong. Besides playing on all four downs, he'll also be a very good special-teams player. He plays with the same intensity of the Cowboys' Sean Lee.

Jihad Ward, DE, Illinois: Ward (6-5 1/8, 297, 5.17) was a high school wide receiver and defensive back who started at a junior college before transferring to Illinois. He has an unbelievable backstory of perseverance. He played just two years with the Illini with only one spring practice. He's strong and a very good competitor. He'll improve with experience and NFL coaching.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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