A two-year starter at Ole Miss, Speaks filled the hole left by the departure of Robert Nkemdiche after the 2015 season and had a career season as a junior in 2017 with 7.0 sacks, lining up both outside and inside over the B-gap. He has tweener size and was shuffled across the defensive line over his collegiate career, never truly looking comfortable in one spot.
Although Speaks’ film displays positive flashes with his raw athleticism and size, they are too frequently sandwiched between several negative plays due to below average discipline. He has the press-strength to keep blockers from his frame and walk them backwards, but while the desire to shed blocks is there, the know-how and technique are lacking.
Speaks moved from middle linebacker to defensive line his senior season at Callaway and earned Class 5A Defensive Player of the Year honors with 118 tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks and four forced fumbles, leading the team to a school-record 14 wins and the Class 5A semifinals. He strongly considered scholarship offers from LSU, Florida State and Arkansas before deciding to stay in-state and sign with Ole Miss, joining high school teammate Rod Taylor.
After redshirting in 2014, Speaks worked his way into the defensive line rotation in 2015 (two starts) and posted 32 tackles and his first career sack. He started seven games as a sophomore and finished with 28 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack. Speaks had his best season as a junior with 67 tackles and 7.0 sacks (both ranked second-most on the team), adding 8.0 tackles for loss and one forced fumble. He elected to forego his final season of eligibility and enter the 2018 NFL Draft.
Revving acceleration when given a runway. Coordinated footwork and hips to make sharp 90-degree turns. Relentless hustle to continue working to the pocket. Wriggles through gaps. Carries 285 pounds well and sports long arms. Relies on his reach to initiate contact, run his feet and drive blockers. Alert and his high tackle numbers match his ability to routinely be around the ball. Eager, drive-through tackler with some nasty at the end of his hits. Versatile experience, lining up inside and outside over various gaps. Production and playing time steadily improved each of the last three seasons. – Dane Brugler 2/5/2018
High-cut and long-legged. Routinely pops upright and gives up his chest, allowing blockers to move him. Easily out-leveraged. Undeveloped hand use and stays attached to blocks too long. Struggles to stay balanced while engaged. Not a disciplined football player. Minimal rhyme or reason to his pass rush moves. Lower body stiffness due to his long legs shows in small areas. Head ducker with wasted movements mid-rush. Too many immature, bush league actions on his tape that won’t go unnoticed in the NFL (see ejection vs. 2017 Mississippi State). Practice habits have been questioned in the past. Off-field decision-making will be scrutinized after a DUI arrest (March 2016) – also suspended for the first half vs. UT-Martin (Sept. 2015) for a violation of team rules. – Dane Brugler 2/5/2018
IN OUR VIEW
The NFL team that drafts Speaks will do so for the flashes and not his body of work, hoping to groom him to be a productive rotation player in a four-man front.