Live Big or Die Ugly . . . The Sequel That Will Not Die!
2012 Big Ugly Series - DE34 Prospects Review
Submitted by Long Ball, DOF
April 6, 2012
"Long Ball" heads up Drafttek's scouting crew . His personal specialization are the "Big Uglies", Linemen on both the Offensive and Defensive side of the line of scrimmage.
Defensive Line Review (3-4 Defensive Ends)
Interior Defensive Line Review (Defensive Tackles)
Go to Right Offensive Tackle Review
Go to Left Offensive Tackle Review
Go to Interior Offensive Line Review
Let's continue our excursion on those "snarlin' darlins" on the DL, working our way to the exterior of the line play. As we learned in our history lesson from last week, 3-4 DE's were called DT in the old 5-2 alignment. The responsibilities of the DE in a 3-4 is to maintain gap control against the running game and provide some push, but at least tying up some OL bodies to allow a less-contested run to the QB by the OLB. A tall DT (or size similar to a strong-side DE in a 4-3 alignment) is preferable.
---- 3-4 Defensive Ends ----
The 2012 prospect who looks like he was cloned to play the position is North Carolina's Quinton Coples. Blessed with 6'6" of height, ample wing-span and a well-proportioned 284 lbs, Coples should make every DC's Christmas Wish List (whether they run a 3-4 or 4-3 alignment); however, the operative word here is "should", as questions abound concerning this prospect, despite his size, strength and 33 inch arms. Quinton recorded 17.5 sacks the past two seasons while seeing time at end and tackle, yet even after a strong performance at the Senior Bowl, arrived at the Scouting Combine dogged about his inconsistency and a perception that his motor doesn't run at 100 percent on every play. How did he respond? With a 4.78 forty (1.63 ten yard split, unbelievable!), 4.78 shuttle, 7.57 3-cone, 31.5" vertical, 9'01" broad jump and 25 bench reps: this gives him an explosion factor of 66.
In rushing the passer, Coples shows good burst off the snap, but his speed and flexibility to dip and use the rip move to get around the edge is not consistent with other 4-3 weak-side DE's. However, he is powerful and displays an excellent bull rush, using his long arms to keep offensive linemen away from his body. Quinton does not possess elite lateral agility or closing speed, but utilizes his length and stride to gain ground quickly. He uses his hands well and is strong enough to pull down the QB while engaged with a blocker. When used in conjunction with his bull-rush, Coples has an effective rip move, a good swim move and anticipates cut blocks well, getting his hands up to block passing lanes.
In run defense, even though Coples comes off the snap a bit high for my taste, he still displays the strength to stand up his opponent, mainly due to his hand placement and technique to stack and shed blocks. When he uses an inside swim move, he shoots gaps at an angle (gets skinny) and beats double-team blocks. His lateral agility, balance and length are sufficient that running backs cannot escape with his sound tackling technique. Quinton needs to maintain leverage (stay low), but other than that his technique is mostly sound.
After re-reading my analysis, it sounds like I've described either a strong-side 4-3 DE or a weak-side 3-4 DE . . . and there are plenty of teams that have a need at either position. So even though Coples has drawn favorable comparisons to Julius Peppers, we come back to questions about his motor and motivation . . . will he be a more consistent pro than he was collegian? The answer to that, my friends, is worth quite a bit more than the proverbial "$64,000 Question"!
We covered Michael Brockers, Fletcher Cox and Kendall Reyes during our discussion of 4-3 DT's, and noted at the time that all 3 would be outstanding DE's in a 3-4 alignment . . . so let's drop on down to our #5 prospect and see how Mr. Jared Crick (6'4", 279 lbs) is recovering from his injury. Yes folks, despite what the good people in the Nebraska athletic department would have you believe, Jared is not near the size (or near the ability) of J.J. Watt . . . but he's still a player. Old Long Ball does not see him as a pure pass rusher, but rather as a 3-4 end who plays with technique and wins most hand fights, but lacks the foot speed to be a real pass rush threat. Pro scouts seem to see the same thing, as he was invited to the Combine as a DE, where he ran a 4.99 forty (1.69 ten yard split), 4.40 shuttle, 7.47 3-cone, 31" vertical, 8'08" broad jump and 26 bench reps at his Pro Day: this gives him an explosion factor of 66.
Crick is not an elite pass rusher . . . his sacks come from relentless effort, not initial quickness or a bevy of pass-rush moves. Other than hand-fighting and a bull-rush, he does possess a swim move, but it's his pressure fighting through the block that gets him into the backfield after the QB. Jared does utilize his length well, jumping to bat down passes when his penetration is stopped.
In run defense, Crick is a technician who rarely misses assignments: he utilizes good hand placement on the blocker, extends his arms, moving the blocker down the line and sheds in pursuit. Jared sets a strong anchor with lean and leverage to hold the line, fights through double teams and doesn't over-extend. He has a good motor and exhibits hustle to chase down stretch plays . . . and his tackling technique is sound, as he breaks down well on elusive ball carriers.
Jared Crick is a solid, "lunch pail" player that every team needs; however, he is not an impact player.
Ol' Long Ball has a "pet cat" in this group (just because he's too well known to be a "dark horse") . . . Malik Jackson (6'5", 284 lbs) of Tennessee was listed at 267 lbs during the year (as a result, we had him graded at DE43), but when he showed up at the Combine, he weighed in at a solid 284. Well, while I was going back and re-grading his games as a potential DE34, he shows up at the Tennessee Pro Day with 6 more lbs of muscle added to his long frame and still displayed excellent athleticism during the DL drills run by the Saints' coaching staff. As for the rest of Malik's Combine measurables, he ran a 4.91 forty (1.69 ten yard split), 4.41 shuttle, 7.38 3-cone, 28" vertical, 8'09" broad jump and 25 bench reps: this gives him an explosion factor of 62.
Jackson transferred to Tennessee in the summer of 2010 (without having to sit out a year) after originally signing with USC out of high school. He played closer to 250 lbs while with the Trojans and had to bulk up just to see playing time at DE. The fact that he's steadily improved while adding weight and appears to have the frame to add even more mass sure adds to the definition of a "growing boy". After reviewing his game tape, I believe that with his height and relatively long arms (33 3/4") he's a natural candidate as a 3-4 defensive end. Malik is a highly-cut athlete with a versatile skill-set, and while he played both inside and outside in college, he just looks more natural at DE.
Now there are some technique issues that need to be addressed, and the most important is to stay lower and maintain leverage . . . Jackson is an upright defender and tends to rely on his upper body strength too much. One (or two) off-seasons in an NFL weight-training program will help him develop his lower body strength, which will allow him to maintain a lower position (and the leverage that comes with it) and increase his already ample explosion by transference of power from his lower body.
Jackson exhibits very good quickness and agility for his size and is a naturally explosive player with a quick move off the snap. He stays balanced through contact and keeps working to penetrate the pocket, playing with a good motor. Malik's strength in his arms and hands are evident from 2 standpoints: first off, he is a solid, secure tackler and second, he has also shown the ability to rip the ball out of the grasp of ball carriers with 4 career forced fumbles.
Kheeston Randall (6'5", 293 lbs) of Texas is a model citizen in the classroom and off the field, where he dedicates appreciable time and energy to community needs. But dress him in a uniform and put him on the football field and he becomes a fire-breathing monster as soon as the ball is snapped. He fires off the line like a jet, as reflected in his vertical jump of 34" at the Combine, where he was listed as a nose tackle (a definite misrepresentation of talent if I've ever seen it). Not that Kheeston could not play the position, but with his length he would be a natural at DE34 . . . the rest of his Combine results include a 5.00 40-yard dash, 28 reps on the bench, 34" vertical leap, 9'03" broad jump, 7.49 3-cone drill and 4.84 short shuttle (that's an explosion factor of 71 folks!)
Randall's strength while playing DT43 at Texas gave the DE's a chance to twist inside and linebackers a free lane to the passer on blitzes. Now project that to a DE34, and imagine the games the ILB and OLB could play in gap penetration. Kheeston plays with lean and leverage against the run, tough for one man (or even double-teams) to move . . . so there's no doubt he can control 2 gaps on a 3-man line. He gets lower than offensive lineman on short-yardage plays and is able to maintain his anchor due to the strength in his lower body. Randall exhibits good agility and ability to change directions for his size and uses his long arms well for leverage and tackling any runners who get within his reach. Although he did not record many sacks, he could be more of a factor if asked to penetrate gaps instead of just eating up blocks.
Randall's intangibles are those of a leader, both on the field and in the locker room. He was admired by his college coaches and teammates as one who can quietly lead by example or command attention with a sharp wit that is as quick as his first step. The team that drafts him will find that he will fit in quickly, both on the team and in the community.
Most of the time you see high school defensive linemen shifting over to the offensive side . . . it's not very often that a 3-star offensive tackle moves to the defensive line, but that's exactly what Derek Wolfe (6'5", 295 lbs) did after committing to Cincinnati. He saw playing time as a reserve defensive tackle in 2008 as a true freshman, recording 3 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 sack. Wolfe moved into the starting lineup in 2009 as a sophomore, finishing with 41 tackles, 8.0 TFL's, 5.0 sacks and 1 forced fumble. Derek started all 12 contests in 2010 as a junior, recording 48 tackles, 6.5 TFL's, 4.0 sacks and 1 pass breakup. However, his most productive season was 2011 as a senior, finishing with 70 tackles, a conference-best 21.5 TFL's, team-high 9.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery and 1 pass breakup, becoming the first Bearcat to earn Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Can he continue this "trend of improvement"? Wolfe is not what you call a quick-twitch athlete, but just hustles all the time . . . at the Combine, he recorded a 5.01 forty, 33 bench reps, 33.5" vertical, 9'00" broad jump, 4.44 shuttle, and 7.26 3-cone. His "underwear explosion factor" is 73, which ain't bad at all. Ya gotta love a guy who never quits and keeps fighting through the whistle with an over-achieving mentality, but his lack of lower-body strength and inability to take on double-teams may limit his pro potential. Derek is a solid mid-round player who is at his best when isolated in one-on-one situations.
Wolfe has a solid frame with adequate length and stays low, utilizing leverage to force his way into the backfield. He's a competitive devil and puts out continual effort to break down the pocket. The term "reckless abandon" is overused, but I'm going to let Derek have it for this analysis; however, he's smart with good awareness, keeping his head on a swivel with a good feel to quickly locate and react to the play. Tough, physical, hard worker and doesn't let up in practice . . . yet durability is not a concern, as he started the final 38 games of his collegiate career. Versatile player who lined up anywhere along the defensive line, including moving to NT on third downs.
Although Derek was a team leader and got his teammates in the weight room, he needs to work on his lower-body, as he struggled to anchor at the point of attack. He gets a little high at the point of attack and needs to maintain a low pad level to disengage from blockers. Wolfe forgets his technique from time-to-time, particularly with hand placement . . . but I will brag on him for firming his body up, losing some of that "Long Ball Belly". Overall, I believe his attributes will lead him to the DE position on a 3-4 alignment.
When I first started grading Matt Conrath (6'7", 290 lbs) of Virginia, I pictured him as a power forward on the basketball team . . . now he has put on more than 20 pounds of muscle during his playing career with the Cavaliers. He has been a quality starter on the Cavaliers' defensive line for the past 4 years, penetrating and producing the following stats: 35 tackles, 7 TFLs, 3.0 sacks and 4 passes defensed in 2008, 46/6/3/3 respectively in 2009, 36/5.5/2.5/1 in 2010 and 66/12/3/3 during a strong senior campaign in 2011. Matt has been successful in college as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 that asked him to penetrate; however, he's a "little light in the britches" to remain at tackle in the NFL. His length lends itself to a 3-4 DE, as he proved in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Auburn demonstrating edge rush ability against the Tigers' Brandon Moseley. At the Virginia Pro Day (3/15/12), Conrath ran a 5.18 forty (1.71 ten yard split), only had 17 bench reps, 28.5" vertical, 9'03" broad jump, 4.60 shuttle, and 7.29 3-cone drill.
Conrath is highly athletic for his size, has good quickness off snap on most plays and maintains leverage and fluidity for double and spin moves. His long arms and hand placement enable him to disengage from blockers, bat down passes and shows a proclivity for blocking field goals. Now a strength can be a weakness, as his length makes his center of gravity too high even with sufficient knee bend . . . it keeps Matt from setting a good anchor inside, thus the reason I see him as a DE. At that position, he will be able to play taller and incorporate additional moves to his arsenal.
Even though he led Michigan in tackles for loss (12.5) and sacks last year (5.5), Ryan Van Bergen (6'6", 283 lbs) did not receive an invitation to the NFL Combine. He has played both DT and DE in college as the Wolverines changed schemes and coaches as often as Long Ball changes his boxers. Nevertheless, Van Bergen was always moving at warp-speed and that intensity was evident during Michigan's Pro Day in Ann Arbor. Ryan (checking in at a svelte 291) recorded a 4.96 40-yard dash (1.76 ten yard split), 31 bench reps, 30" vertical, 9'04" broad jump, 4.43 shuttle, and 7.69 3-cone drill: this gave him an explosion factor of 70 and lateral agility of 0.53.
Whew! Am I "Long-Ball-Winded" or what??? We just have to move on because as I told you, even with as many DE34's as we've discussed, this is not a strong or deep class. Since I mentioned Akiem Hicks out of Regina during the DT43 section, let me pick out another dark horse for you to keep an eye on . . . Taylor Thompson (6'6", 280 lbs) of SMU, believe it or not, is still growing into his body. If a team that selects him either in the 7th round or as an UDFA has the luxury to invest some time in him, say Practice Squad year one and 2 off-seasons of weight training, might just have a solid player in his 2nd or 3rd year. Are my dark horses any good? Just ask San Diego:
Before we do, one dark-horse to keep in mind at DE34: Charlie Bryant from Memphis. At 6'7" and 320 lbs, this cat had better be able to do more than block field goals - he is a horse and if he falls outside the 6th round, some team may have a diamond in the rough!
Well, even though that old grump A.J. Smith would never admit it, Ol' Long Ball has it on good authority that he reads my "Big Uglies" series every year. The Chargers signed Charlie as an UDFA, he appeared in all 4 pre-season games before being cut and re-signed to their PS. He is still on their roster and the coaching staff is toying with the idea of trying him at offensive tackle, which speaks well for his footwork as well as his diversity of talents.
OK, in our next segment we will discuss prospects who would play DE in a 4-3 alignment and talk about which ones of them might also be able to play OLB in a 3-4.