Saturday, April 26, 2014

2014 NFL Draft: Defensive Ends

Ok, here we are. A certain prospect that everyone has been talking about gets evaluated.

This post is going to cover traditional defensive ends. Guys who played outside linebacker in college will be covered in a separate post covering linebackers, though the list I'm working from might have included some on the expectation that they might change positions in the NFL.

And once again remember that this list is ordered the way it is because that's how the list I'm working from is ordered. You'll have to read the individual evaluation of a player to find out what I think of them. So let's get started.

Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
6'6" physical freak. In a straight line at least.

Clowney set the world alight with his 40-yard dash time at the combine, as well as his vertical jump. He's got everyone raving because he appears to be an athletic phenomenon. That's partly true.

Coming off the snap and running in a straight line Clowney is fast. Even though he supposedly dropped several pounds before the combine to help his cause, he clearly played fast for South Carolina. It still amazes that at times some teams would leave him unblocked, because with his sort of speed he will get into the backfield and do you harm. If you leave him unblocked then you're out of your mind and you deserve everything that's coming to you.

As for the rest of the on field drills, people have been raving about how agile and smooth he is. Err... no. People have clearly allowed the kool aid to go to their head, because in anything other than a straight ahead rush Clowney looks slow and clumsy. When asked to drop back into pass coverage at South Carolina he looked completely out of his depth.

Any team that drafts him and then tries to convert him into a stand up linebacker deserves to go 0-16 for their efforts, because that would be ridiculous. You might as well draft Blake Bortles and try to turn him into a tight end, it'll have pretty much the same result; he could probably do it, but it's an utter waste.

Clowney is a hand in the ground defensive end. End of story. There are things I'm prepared to debate with people and everyone has their opinion, but this is not one of those occasions. He's an end and that's that. If you think otherwise then I would kindly suggest that you resume taking your medicine because without it your mental faculties are clearly impaired.

But how does Clowney measure up on tape? The big debate has been that in 2012 he was all over the place making sacks and tackling people for losses, then in 2013 he went very cold and chalked up just 3 sacks. Well, I've watched some games. A lot of games. In fact if you've wondered why this whole thing has been taking a while it's because I often fill in gaps by watching Clowney games.

In terms of watching and re-watching Clowney games I've probably watched at the very least two thousand snaps, maybe more. I'm honestly sick of the sight of Clowney by this point. In fact I've been looking forward to this post a lot because after this I don't have to watch him anymore.

Now I've heard a lot about bone spurs in his foot and how he didn't want to get injured in his junior year and frankly you can take all that and you can stick it somewhere where the sun doesn't shine. In 2013 he clearly played up to his full potential in bursts and had no problems sprinting when he felt like it. And in 2012 he demonstrated a lot of the same loafing traits that he was criticised for in 2013 (hot tip; don't mention loafing around coaches, not unless you want to have your ear chewed off for the next 40 minutes. Seriously, don't).

The concerns about his work rate were not a single season issue. It's clearly demonstrated the year before as well, as is the odd sort of isolation he has from team mates. Very seldom would they ever come over to celebrate with him, and most of the time when his team mates made a big play and began celebrating together he would just turn and walk off the field alone. I'm not sure what the deal was - maybe he's just quite introverted - but something was definitely up.

Getting back to the games, how did he actually play?

Well like I said earlier if you leave him unblocked then you deserve everything that's coming to you. You're nuts. He's too quick off the snap for that. But here is where we start to get into the territory of issues because aside from his quickness, which he often uses with a nice fake to the outside/duck to the inside move, he has very little of substance to offer.

I'm absolutely serious.

All I've heard for weeks now is about how coaches are going to take Clowney and do wonderful things with his "potential". As I said in a post the other day, you're dreaming if you think you're going to take a player like Clowney and work some kind of magic spell on him after all these years. He's spent three years with some very, very good coaches in South Carolina. If they couldn't teach him a full spectrum of pass rush moves or motivate him to work to his absolute limit in the gym and on the practice field, then you have little hope of suddenly turning things around now. That's just not how it works.

I've heard people talk about "ah well, the money will be his motivation". Really? The second he signs that first deal he'll be set for the rest of his life just off the signing bonus. What makes you think he's suddenly going to turn around and become superman for the next four years? He might do, that's not impossible by any means. But you're essentially betting against his previous form. Do that enough times in the long run and you'll lose a hell of a lot more money than you win.

But let's talk specific games I hear you cry.

Alright, in 2012 against Vanderbilt he got shut down by Wesley Johnson, someone who is draft eligible this year and wasn't on my offensive tackles list, but probably should have been based on this. What's interesting is that Vanderbilt started the game by using their scheme to attack Clowney and yet as the game wore on they seem to have just realised that Johnson could handle him alone and stopped doing that.

At Kentucky he spent most of the game in the back pocket of an injured sophomore offensive tackle Darian Miller, who's not a highly rated prospect heading towards the 2015 draft. Shifting Clowney around to various spots was the most effective way to help him generate pressure until Miller's leg started to give way towards the end of the game. 

Against Georgia Clowney was mostly kept quiet, though again he displayed his raw talent in the odd burst. Versus LSU he practically disappeared opposite Josh Dworaczyk, a guard who was filling in at left tackle in an emergency due to injuries, and who is now out of the NFL already. He made a few plays, but most of those came when he was left unblocked. And frustratingly for his coaches he did show some bursts of high energy and that electrifying quickness off the snap... about twice. Then spent most of the rest of the game walking.

Versus Florida he managed to nab himself a sack when Florida tried to block him with a wide receiver (remember what I said earlier about teams getting everything they deserve?). Xavier Nixon, the tackle that kept Clowney in check for most of the game, went undrafted in 2013 and now plays as a back up left guard for the Colts.

In the bowl game against Clemson Clowney finally had his season capping moment, picking up 4.5 (!!!) of his 2012 season tally 13 sacks in this one game alone, a lot of it due to the fault of the sh*t-tacular quarterback Tajh Boyd. That's 8.5 sacks prior to this game in other words, including a two sack game against Alabama (the Conference USA Blazers that is, not the Crimson Tide) and 1.5 against Missouri, which leaves just five sacks across the other nine games that he played.

Moving to 2013 and again we get back to the bone spurs etc, but also now you begin to hear a lot about how teams were constantly double and triple teaming him to explain away the poor production. Well I'm sorry but those arguments are being massively over stated. He did face some doubling up, as many defensive players do at times, but nowhere near to the extent that some people are claiming.

I've also heard a lot about how because teams were focused on Clowney that made things easier for his team mates. Well if I'm Kelcy Quarles I'm saying "hang on a second here, the rest of us on this defense are pretty good ball players too!". And indeed Quarles is also in this draft. That defense was more than just a one man show, it was loaded with talent and I think people are doing a real disservice to the other players by not giving them credit for what they did.

All of that also belies the fact that Clowney spent a lot of time on the sideline recovering while his team mates were out there in the trenches play after play covering him until he was fit enough to come back on. There were a lot of times when South Carolina found themselves in situations where they would have liked to have had their primary defensive end on the field, especially at both ends of the field, but instead he was on the sideline sucking for air.

That's not exactly a glowing reference for a first round pick if you have to keep coming off the field to recover, especially when your defense is facing critical periods of play that can be potentially game changing. And before anyone gives me the whole "in the NFL they'll put him on a new diet and a new training regime" bull, forget it. South Carolina recently opened an $8.5 million training facility. Do you really believe that an organisation that spends $8.5 million on a training facility doesn't have coaches and nutritional specialists that are the equal of those in the NFL? (hint; they do).

And honestly he just didn't make that much of an impact. Sure, sometimes he came close. Sure, sometimes he did get into the backfield and got the odd tackle for a loss. Sure, sometimes he was doubled teamed. But what about the rest of the time? This is supposed to the first overall pick in the draft, the guy that is the best and most valuable college football player right?

So what happened? There are other players in this draft class who have played great over the recent seasons and have drawn a lot of attention from the opposition as a result. There are good receivers who've found themselves doubled covered yet still found ways to get open. There are defensive tackles who found themselves double teamed yet still found ways to make plays.

I'm not buying it. I'm just not. Is Clowney an athletic marvel in some respects? Yes he is. It really is fun to watch a guy as big as him move at the speed that he does. It's incredible. Is he sometimes a disruptive force, a guy that teams have to sit down and think about carefully each week? Yes he his. Does he sometimes just do things on the football field that make you go "wow"? Yes, yes he does.

But none of that matters because other than those three or four snaps a game he does nothing. He walks around the field, he gets stood up by tight ends sometimes, he plays with his pads far too high. He has the potential, the physical gifts, that if he was to go all out on every down then he could be one of the best players to step onto an NFL football field in the last ten years. He really could.

Right now though the signs all point to him only ever delivering on a small chunk of that potential, or only delivering when he decides the time suits him. For me, that disqualifies you as a first round pick. Unquestionably.

Because we see this time and time again in the NFL. We see guys drafted not because of who they are but because of who their 40-yard dash time says they could be. And how often do such players work out? Not often.

Now by over looking Clowney you could be over looking an exceptional defensive player. If you're the Texans then you have to be salivating at the thought of what Clowney could do going 100% at defensive end opposite J.J. Watt. Your entire defense gets better just like that.

But the very best franchises, the ones that sustain success over many years do so in large part because they don't take chances on a guy like Clowney. They take the guy that is about as safe a pick as you can get in the draft and they do it year after year, and as such they hit a lot more often than they miss.

If Clowney pans out the way a lot of people think he will then that rookie contract will seem like a bargain two years from now. But if he pans out the way all the signs currently seem to be pointing then the team that drafts him will be kicking themselves for flushing all that money down the drain on yet another "potential" guy.

Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell, and a whole litany of other first rounders in the past were drafted in spite of their weaknesses purely because of where scouts thought the coaching staff could take them if they applied themselves. And in doing so they set their teams back several years because of a sunk investment financially and a wasted first round pick.

For me, I don't want to be that guy. I don't want to be that guy that drafts Clowney based on the good I've seen while ignoring the bad. If he turns out to be a great player am I going to kick myself and say "well, you saw flashes of how good he could be and you missed out"? Yeah, absolutely. But only against a back drop of being confident that taking players like Clowney - players with those huge question marks hanging over them - will more often than not be a poor decision.

I'd be more than happy to sit back and let someone else take that risk. Worst case scenario if I'm the Texans is that he falls to the Jaguars, becomes a great player, and I have to play him twice a year and once in the play-offs. I can live with that. Worst case scenario if I pick him? I pour almost $20 million over the life of his rookie contract down the drain, tying up a decent cap chunk for the next four years, and miss out on a much more reliable prospect who could have helped my team for those 4-5 years.

Based on what I've seen from the rest of the draft class so far (and a sneak peek ahead) I think that there are several players out there who offer a much greater probability of coming into the league and becoming star performers. I want one of those guys. If he's still there in the second then ok, let's go, let's take a roll of the dice on him. He's probably not going to be, but weirder things have happened. But not a first. Let someone else deal with his issues.

Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
Let's be clear from the start; not a first round pick. No way.

Tuitt exists in that weird limbo between not being fast enough to play defensive end and not heavy or strong enough to play defensive tackle. Which kind of leaves you wondering what he will do?

To be clear, an NFL defensive end requires speed to beat the tackle and get sacks, and strength to hold the edge and force running backs inside. In a pass happy NFL the first requirement is typically more important and Tuitt doesn't have anywhere near enough speed to qualify.

He does sometimes do a good job of getting in underneath an offensive linemen and standing him up, even if he doesn't always have the strength to push the guy back. He also uses his hands well on occasion, but then lacks the speed to do anything with any advantage he gains.

I could see a team that drafts Tuitt using him as a 3-4 defensive end on the strong side, someone who will mostly be playing head to to head with an offensive tackle and trying to bull rush them on most plays. He could serve as a serviceable rotation player in that kind of system.

And that kind of hints at where I rate him. Honestly, just for me personally, he falls way down the order. There are a ton of better players than Tuitt that I've seen already. To be a first round pick he should really have some wow factor to him. Running over an under sized and weak offensive tackle for two sacks against USC is not good enough.

Without having a big board set up to place him I can't say for certain but in the mental order that I have in my head he would probably fall to the mid to late rounds. Maybe I'm wrong, but I just don't see what everyone is raving about. He's ok, but he's not great.

Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State
I hate watching Boise State players. That blue field just drives me nuts.

Well, apart from beating up on a Nevada right tackle who wasn't much use and picking up two sacks against the mighty Wyoming, Lawrence really didn't do a lot. He's quite small framed, more like an outside linebacker. He has a bit of speed but nothing special. In fact that's him all over; does some stuff, but nothing special.

In his bowl game - which is when NFL caliber players should really rise to the top - he sunk without a trace. He was completely shut out of the game by Ohio State. His influence was literally zero. Again, like with Tuitt, I just can't see what everyone else seems to see. To me he looks pretty average. He could be a rotational outside linebacker in a 3-4, mainly coming in for passing downs, but he's not worth an early round pick.

Maybe fifth round onwards, see if you can't put some bulk on his frame. He has reasonable instincts for finding runners and sometimes gets good hand position on tackles, so maybe with a bit more weight he'll become more useful, but that's a long term project. Underwhelming.

Kony Ealy, Missouri
Played as a 4-3 defensive end but if he's going to survive in the NFL then he needs to be picked up by a 3-4 team that will use him as a pass rushing outside linebacker.

The reason for that is because Ealy is so weak against the run it's not even funny. He gets bullied by everyone, including tight ends. He cannot be a three down guy in the NFL really, not unless someone can devise a scheme to cover behind him. 

In Ealy's defense he does have a great pass rush move when he does a "dip and ride" similar to what you see DeMarcus Ware doing in the NFL (basically getting under the tackle and putting your shoulder into him, then leaning on him as you run around the outside). The trouble is he rarely uses it and most of his sacks actually come when he's unblocked.

That element of his game will attract a lot of attention, it's just a question of where teams see him fitting into their scheme. For me personally I can't see how you can use a first round pick on him. He's a liability in the running game and it's going to take time to reprogram him to use that dip and ride move consistently. If I'm a 3-4 coach I might consider using a second, maybe a third. Should be a good football player in the end, but he is a bit risky.

Dee Ford, Auburn
Ford might be the best pass rusher in this draft that I've seen. He might even be the best player in this draft.

For some reason he seems to be projected as a second round pick by most. I can't see that happening. I cannot believe that 32 different NFL teams will sit down and watch this guy play and that all of them will decide he's not a first round pick. One of them has to bite.

Personally I think he's easily worthy of a top ten pick, maybe even the first pick. He's quick, he's strong, he plays with really good technique, he seems pretty smart on the field and he just keeps running until the whistle blows. He's everything you look for in a defensive end. He can even stand up and play outside linebacker if you want. He's everything that Clowney isn't.

He had 10.5 sacks on the year against some of the best opposition that college football had to offer. If you count all the times where he drew holding penalties from offensive linemen, or should have drawn penalties, then that tally would go flying up to quite a ridiculous number. He faced double teams just like Clowney did, except he still found a way to produce.

For me it's a no brainer. If you want an end or an outside backer then you take Dee first, ten times out of ten. If you pick based on best player available then you probably end up taking Dee Ford anyway. Exceptional talent, who plays up to his best on every snap.

Kareem Martin, North Carolina
If he didn't take so many plays off, just kind of wandering around as the run goes the other way or giving up on the pass rush just because he got blocked early, then we would probably be talking about Martin as a first round guy.

When he decides to get his butt in gear he has decent speed and some good technique, with a knack for finding the quarterback. I'm tempted to say he might be better served by a 3-4 team that drafts him to play as an outside rushing backer, because he seemed to get a better rush when he started standing up.

Part of the problem with his play was that NC often used him as a 3-4 defensive end (so one of three down linemen), which means he had to two gap against the run (cover both sides of an offensive linemen). This slowed him down because he didn't have the freedom to just go and get after the quarterback. If he had that freedom throughout the whole game, or at least most of it, then I think he would probably have notched even better sack numbers.

Because of the lazy tendencies, and because I'm speculating about "potential" in another system, I think he's probably a second round pick for me. Intriguing, but enough moments when you go "ugh, c'mon dude run" to push him down the order. If he could pull his finger out of his ass then he'd be making a lot more money come May 8th-10th.

Marcus Smith, Louisville
Smith racked up the sacks in 2013, but let's just hold up a second before we get all excited.

One of the reasons why I have a big problem with the way people try to use statistics to analyse modern football (trying to recreate the myth of 'Moneyball' in baseball) is because most of the statistics that are tracked in football can be quite misleading (among a host of other problems).

Sacks is a perfect example of this. Many of the sacks that I saw Smith score were just purely down to the fact that he was left unblocked. That's fine and I'm not trying to take away those accomplishments from him (you still have to have the speed to get the QB before he gets rid of the ball), but that's not a very reliable predictor of future performance.

Smith is... he's ok. Like Lousiville QB Teddy Bridgewater he's neither here nor there, not bad, not brilliant. Kind of middle of the road. Boring. He has a turn of quickness off the snap and he's not bad technique wise, but nor is he really super quick or super skilled.

I think for me he's probably a 3rd to 5th round guy, that kind of middle of the draft type player. He's played defensive end and a bit of outside linebacker so he can do both, and I think he can be a long term contributor in the NFL. He won't be the greatest player on your team, but nor will he be the worst. He'll probably get you a few sacks along the way too.

Scott Crichton, Oregon State
Not bad at all. Played as a proper 4-3 defensive end for pretty much the entire time. Has decent speed, good technique and gets into the backfield on a reasonably regular basis. Hard working, very seldom do you see him walking and that's usually only once a tackle has been made and it's clear he's not going to make much of a difference.

I think he's a decent prospect. Probably just about worth a second round pick, definitely worth a third or lower. Playing opposite a number one pass rusher he should be able to make his presence count, though he might even be able to take on a number one role in the future. Decent long term productivity on the horizon.

Ed Stinson, Alabama

So slow to get off on the snap, a lumbering defensive end who spent as much time on the bench as he did on the field, probably more due to poor production than anything to do with fitness. He makes no plays, he just spends the entire time getting blocked. And by blocked, I mean manhandled like he was a cornerback. Complete waste of a pick.

Jeoffrey Pagan, Alabama
I know saying bad things about Alabama players is considered sacrilegious by some (see what I did there? Pagan? I'm here all week...), but Alabama have their faults too.

Pagan might be one of them. The problem is that Pagan played a lot of defensive tackle, despite notionally being a defensive end. This means he spent a lot of time inside getting stuffed and doubled teamed, and not really getting the opportunity to show what he can do. The times he did play outside were intriguing to me.

Take the game against Texas A&M. On one play he lines up outside opposite Jake Matthews, who most people believe will be a top ten pick this year. Pagan then beat Matthews like a drum and just about got a piece of Manziel in the open field before he was able to escape and put the ball up for grabs.

I noticed a couple of other times when Pagan was moved outside he did really well, often getting around the tackle with a combination of power and decent hand use. So I wonder; what would Pagan be like as a pure outside pass rusher? Hmmm says I.

Now he falls for that reason, because we're back to speculation again. Projecting what somebody might do based on what you didn't see them do a lot of in college. For my taste he probably gets as low as the fifth round because the stuff that he did do for Alabama was mostly unimpressive.

But I'd be willing to take a shot on him at that point and see what he's like as a pure edge rusher. At worst he does nothing and costs you very little contract wise, probably becoming a depth player at least until you find someone better. At best though he flashed some good potential, a few brief glimpses of what might be one day. I'd be willing to give him a look for that reason.

Chris Smith, Arkansas
Another sneaky little prospect that has fallen down the order it would seem.

Smith is the tale of two defensive ends. One defensive end is 6'1" and only weighs about 260 something pounds, and as such gets bullied around in the running game quite a lot. The other defensive end is 6'1", weighs 260 something and has 34" arms which means he's pretty quick on the pass rush and has the length and pass rush moves to get to the quarterback even against some pretty good offensive tackles.

Alright so he over uses the spin move a little, sometimes when it's completely inappropriate, but other than that his pass rushing is pretty good. The run game bit is the bit that really kills a lot of his potential. He just gets so easily manhandled that it will be difficult to see how he's going to reliably hang in there on first downs.

Probably will find his best position in the NFL is a 3-4 outside linebacker and might be restricted as to which downs he plays on, but has enough talent as a pass rusher to find (and keep) work somewhere. Maybe a third round or after pick for me. He just doesn't have that all around quality to justify a second.

James Gayle, Virginia Tech
Has his moments. Trouble is that those moments are too far spread apart I think. He's a better run stopper than some I've seen so far, just the pass rush that starts to go off the tracks.

The trouble is he doesn't really have any pass rush moves or enough strength to routinely bull rush offensive tackles, so he either ends up getting a head start on the outside rush and beats the tackles for speed or (what happens most of the time) he just gets stuck on a block.

Mid to late round talent if I'm picking, probably more on the late end. Just doesn't do enough, despite playing on a defense that generally is pretty good at getting after the quarterback. You have to wonder why everyone else in the front seven gets it and he doesn't.

Cassius Marsh, UCLA
I'm going to say something at the end of Marsh's review which might best be described as "sticking your neck out and risking getting it chopped off".

Now when I watch players I'm always keeping my eye out for people that seem like they're making a big impact on the field. You know the sort of people I mean, the players that constantly catch the eye. And Marsh first caught my eye a few weeks ago while I was taking a sneak look ahead at Anthony Barr.

There are four things that I noticed above all else about Marsh when I watched him play;

1) He gets double teamed a lot, yet still manages to make plays,
2) He gets held a lot, but still manages to make plays,
3) He sometimes gets held and double teamed on the same play,
4) When he plays, especially next to Barr, that entire front seven gets better,

That's an impact player. That's the sort of kid I'm looking for if I'm a GM or a Head Coach. He plays with great intensity on every down and keeps working hard till the whistle. Except for one play when two offensive linemen sat on him, which to be fair he couldn't do much about.

Marsh played mostly as a defensive end in UCLA's 3-4 scheme which meant he spent a lot of time inside. From here he was often able to generate great leverage under the pads of blockers, showed a variety of pass rush moves, and played really well against the run.

Part of the reason Marsh does so well is how quickly he gets out of his stance at the snap. In modern scout speak he'd be described as "sudden", or in old school scout speak "explosive". Either way what he is is damn quick off the line and into the oppositions backfield.

But that isn't even the best part.

The best part is when UCLA go to more of a four man front, even if it's really just a 3-4 shuffled about to achieve the effect of a four man front, and they put Marsh outside as a more classic 4-3 defensive end. Then the fun begins.

He still plays the run just as well, but now his speed and pass rushing skills take over and he starts becoming significantly more disruptive. I'm actually surprised that UCLA refused to use him more in this position, preferring to have him inside. I think if he'd played somewhere else as a pure 4-3 defensive end his sack tally would have been much, much higher.

And here's the part where I stick my neck out and risk having it lopped off at some point in the future; I think Marsh should be a first round pick.

I would. I'd be happy taking Marsh in the first round. If I was making a "big board" (there's still time, providing I get a move on with these analyses) then I would have a number of players ahead of Marsh, but he'd still be up there in the first 32.

I think if a 3-4 team gets him and plays him inside then he can still perform to a high level, but they wont unlock his full potential. If a 4-3 team gets him and puts him on the outside as a true defensive end, then watch out. I'm rooting for him if nothing else.

Taylor Hart, Oregon
I'd love to know who taught Taylor Hart to use the stance he does, because it's just weird. He kind of sits backwards in almost a squat, with one hand raised up like he's waiting to karate chop someones foot as they run in front of him. The fact that it compromises his get off on the snap appears to have gone over his and his coaches head.

Anyway, Taylor Hart. Erm, did very little if we're honest. He seemed to have more success standing up as an outside backer, but honestly he just didn't contribute much. He's quite quick for his size and he seems to have developed a technique when he stands up of running full speed at the offensive linemen and then just trying to bludgeon them with his shoulder. Which very seldom actually works.

He just doesn't really do anything of note. He doesn't pass rush well, he does stop the run well. He's just kind of there and every now and again will be in a position to make a tackle. I really can't imagine it's worth using a pick on him. Perhaps as an undrafted free agent if you ran a 3-4 then you might look at him as a stand up, outside rusher for the long run, possibly taking a few pounds off him to try and speed him up (he's currently listed as 281 pounds, though he doesn't look it).

Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Meh. Boring. Didn't really do anything note worthy. Spent most of the time pounding away at the offensive tackles ineffectually. Me personally I would pass on Jeffcoat.

Kassim Edebali, Boston College
Not a spectacular player, but like Jeoffrey Pagan from Alabama there is a nugget of interest here. 

Edebali isn't the strongest player against the run and Boston's obsession with trying to bring him inside on pass stunts with the adjacent tackle looping outside means that they often nullified one of their better defensive linemen through their own scheme.

But Edebali has a saving grace that might tempt someone to bite in the lower rounds. As a pure 4-3 defensive end he has a good turn of quickness and technique to rush around tackles and pressure the quarterback. His lack of run stopping ability limits his value and the number of snaps he could be used on in the NFL, but that pass rushing ability (in a pass first league) means that I'd be tempted to part with a late round pick and then experiment with him.

Michael Sam, Missouri
Normally when players appear this low on a list there is a least some merit behind the "why" that they're this low, some deficiency. I watched Michael Sam and I couldn't figure it out. So I went to Google expecting to see a mass of DUI or other offenses that has pushed him this low. It had to be something serious.

What I found is that Sam is the first openly gay draft prospect. That - in my opinion - is a damning indictment of the current state of the NFL and those that cover it.

You're seriously telling me that a player of Sam's quality is being predicted by most as a mid to late round prospect just because he's gay? Get the f**k out of here. It's ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. Sam played as a traditional 4-3 defensive end and quite frankly is probably the best pass rushing prospect I've seen (better than Dee Ford). 

You're really telling me that we can over look Clowney's lack of production in his senior year, combined with all the criticism about his work ethic, and still tout him as a first overall pick, but Sam is a fourth or fifth rounder just because he's gay? It's crazy. In fact it's beyond crazy, it's utterly, utterly insane. 

Sam is a first round talent. Unquestionably. He racked up the sacks even against good teams and was also able to hold his own against the run. In a pass first league he has to be a first rounder. The only reason you might wait is because of how lowly rated he is by everyone else, which means he'll probably be sitting there still in the second round, but he's absolutely worth a first round pick.

I cannot believe that 32 teams between them can't see that. Who ever picks him will be laughing all the way to the bank. Great pick.

Just as a side note, I think Missouri will produce another pair of quality draft picks off that defensive line in the coming years in the shape of Markus Golden (a senior this year) and Shane Ray (a junior this year). Defensive line coach Craig Kugligowski has done a great job.

Ik Enemkpali, Louisiana Tech
Try saying that name three times in a row when you're drunk.

Enemkpali is not bad, but not all that good either if that makes sense? For me he's in that 6th-7th round sort of region, a guy who can play as a true 4-3 end but doesn't really do anything to a high level. He mostly holds his own in the running game but is a little lackluster in the passing game. He does work hard though and seems to give every snap his maximum effort, so credit to him for that. Might be able to earn a fourth or fifth roster spot at the defensive end position.

Josh Mauro, Stanford
Played more in the sort of 3-4 defensive end role for Stanford than as an outside rusher. Not bad, pretty strong and able to hold his position against most blockers. Not really a great pass rusher, though he has his moments. Could probably last in the league as a 3-4 end who plays well without ever being exceptional. Worth a 4th round pick I reckon.

Ben Gardner, Stanford
Another one of these "hmm, I've seen something" type players.

Statistically speaking Gardner did very little for Stanford. But when you look very closely at the games what you see is that Gardner gets held quite a bit, and because he was often an inside rusher most of the time it went completely unnoticed by the officials. 

So I wonder, what would happen if he played as a 4-3 end, given that he does have a decent burst of quickness off the snap and is reasonably strong? Clearly again we're back into the world of speculation so you're not going to use a high pick to find out, but down around the 6th or 7th, depending on what your board looked like at that point, you might be tempted. Certainly if he was available in the free agency period afterwards then you would give him a shot in camp.

George Uko, USC
For some reason he's listed as a defensive end despite being more of a 3 technique tackle. And again I'm a bit bemused as to what he's doing this far down the list? Presumably it's because he posted poor numbers at the combine because there doesn't seem to be any black marks against his character and because he actually strikes me as a bloody good football player.

When playing inside he was able to fend off double teams and hold the center of the line against the run. He was very quick initially off the snap and often used his hands well to beat blockers. The times that he was allowed to play outside on a half man he nearly always got great leverage and penetration. 

Honestly I think Uko could do quite well regardless of which position he ends up at. Would I use a second round pick on him? Hmm, not sure. There is probably better players still left on the board at that point. A third? Yeah, I think I would.

Kaleb Ramsey, Boston College
One of the reasons this whole process takes so long is because without the aid of NFL video assistants or access to pre-cut tapes sent by colleges or agents, then it requires you to sit and watch every snap on the relevant side of the ball to find your man which means you often end up watching each snap twice, at least until you get the feel for spotting them (Cassius Marsh for example will let his free arm sway when he's in his three point stance).

Kaleb Ramsey makes it easy. You press play and you just wait. The first big dude to get into the backfield, pushing an offensive lineman backwards as he goes, nine times out of ten that's Kaleb Ramsey.

He's another player who didn't play much at defensive end (in a 4-3 defense), so not really sure why he's on this list. He's really not quick enough to play as a 4-3 end. As a defensive tackle however, or as an end in a 3-4, he could be just what you're looking for. He's very disruptive up the middle, a strong dude who either gets his pads under people and stands them up or cuts between the linemen and rides his way into the backfield.

Again his stats aren't brilliant, but the footage doesn't lie. He makes an impact and forces people to play around him. He's the sort of player who makes other people better. From the 3rd round downwards I think he's good value.

Garrison Smith, Georgia
Last but not least. 

But only just not least. Another player who should really have been on the tackles list, not the ends list. He's not the worst player covered on this page, but he's certainly vying for the title. He just didn't do a lot really. Spent a lot of time getting blocked out of the play and not really contributing much. I wouldn't lose any sleep over missing out on Smith.


And that ladies and gentlemen, is your 2014 defensive ends. Next up is defensive tackles and with less than two weeks to go I'm going to have to pull out something special to get everyone covered. It might be that for the defensive backs I have to cover just the top ten perhaps in order to squeeze them all in. We'll see.

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