As we get closer to draft night next week, our draft team will be doing a series of positional rankings that will highlight the top 10 players in this year’s draft, by position. Today, we continue with a look at our top 10 defensive end prospects. Be sure to check our previous installments of our top 10 defensive tackle prospects, and top 10 outside linebacker prospects, and make sure to check back, as we will continue our rankings series right through the start of round one in just under a month from now.
1.) Ezekiel Ansah, BYU, 6’5″ 271 lbs – Ansah is undoubtedly one of the most physically gifted players in this year’s class. At 6’5″ 271 lbs, he displayed tremendous athleticism at the combine running a 4.63 40 yard dash, along with a 4.26 20 yard shuttle run. Beyond that, Ansah plays the position with a very physical approach, one that proves he has the ability to use a quick hand strike, maintain very good leverage, and utilize his long arms to create separation from an opposing blocker. While Ansah is still a relatively raw prospect, having just started playing the sport in 2010, his technique and recognition skills are further along than what you’d expect of a player with his inexperience, which speaks volumes to his willingness to be coached and improve. There will be a learning curve for Ansah as he translates to the next level, and the team that selects him must be patient in their approach, but if developed correctly, he could end up being in that elite group of NFL defensive ends.2.) Bjoern Werner, Florida State, 6’3″ 266 lbs – Werner is a player who seems to be sliding down some boards lately, and I’m not entirely sure why. Going back to 2011 and looking at his tape from 2012, his versatility seems to be very underrated. While some look to pure athleticism to gauge a player’s versatility at the next level, Werner’s film throughout the course of the 2011 and 2012 seasons are what need to be used to understand how dynamic he can be. Having played primarily a 6 technique in 2011, which aligns him more on the inside shoulder of the tight end, as opposed to the outside shade, then going to a 9 technique in 2012, with some 5 tech and OLB looks mixed in, he was all over the field over the past 2 seasons as a Seminole.
His greatest strength seems to be his motor. Werner is the type of player that you know what kind of effort you are going to get from play to play and can feel very good about it. He also displays an excellent blend of speed, burst, agility, and escape moves – a total combination that few prospects have coming out of the college ranks. He handles double teams very well, often times splitting them, or spinning out of them, has a very good ability to dip his shoulder on the edge and bend the circle in his pass rush, and does an excellent job of mixing in finesse and strength moves. He is effective at setting the edge, can penetrate on inside stunts, and just seems to have a very good feel for his role in the scheme.
While he may be somewhat limited, athletically, in comparison to the other prospects, it shouldn’t be viewed as a weakness considering how truly athletic some of his counterparts are. I think his best fit is as a 4-3 DE, but for what he was able to do when lined up as an OLB at Florida State, he can be the type of guy that defensive coordinators can get very creative with. A hard nosed player who seems to have a great ability to lead and inspire his teammates.
3.) Cornellius Carradine, Florida State, 6’4″ 276 lbs – Carradine is a player who took some time to work into the starting lineup at Florida State, having transferred from Junior College, arriving with Werner and Brandon Jenkins already established as top players on the Seminoles’ defense. However, as he saw his playing time increase, we got to see the type of player that Carradine truly is. Like Werner, he has an excellent motor and first step off the snap of the ball. He does an excellent job of closing the gap quickly between himself and the opposing offensive lineman.But what I like best about Carradine are the instincts he shows. He seems to be able to anticipate what the opposing blocker is going to do long before that player actually does it. He always has a second move ready to work in, if his first move is countered, and with his ability to read the blocker, he comes out on top of the battle more often than not. He has lightning quick hands, a great initial strike, a tremendous rip move – arguably the best in this class – and a deadly inside move, which he executes creatively with a variety of head fakes and spins.
There are some medical concerns with Carradine, who suffered an ACL tear last season, but if he were healthy coming into this draft, he has the type of talent to be a top 10 selection. The fact that he is still a possible first round pick, even after coming off of that type of injury, speaks volumes to the type of player that he is. If he can make a full recovery, he will be one of the best players to come out of this class.
4.) Sam Montgomery, LSU, 6’3″ 262 lbs – Montgomery has been a bit overshadowed in this class, particularly due to playing second fiddle to Barkevious Mingo in LSU’s front 7 last year. However, he has the tools to be a very good defensive end in a 4-3 scheme at the next level. He is a very physical player, seems to have the exact mean streak you look for in a defensive lineman, is quick off the ball, and does an excellent job of “sticking and shedding” the blocker, meaning he strikes quickly and escapes the block, freeing himself to make the play once he gets the correct read.
His instincts and recognition skills seem to be well above the average player, and having come from LSU, this is no surprise. He can attack the edge, has good bend, and runs the circle very well. The issues are in his overall work ethic. He has been noted to an under performer in the offseason – he made the list of players the LSU strength and conditioning coach declined to speak about to NFL Scouts – and he admittedly took plays and games off at LSU. However, the talent is certainly there. The key for his success will be the right environment. He needs a coaching staff and supporting cast that will push him to maximize his abilities. If a team feels confident that they can do this, he can go as early as the second half of round one. Otherwise, he is likely a second round pick.5.) Margus Hunt, SMU, 6’8″ 277 lbs – Hunt is an absolute physical specimen. Despite his immense size, he was able to run a 4.60 40 yard dash at the combine, and coupled with the strength he displayed (38 reps on the bench), he has scouts and coaches drooling over the thought of what he could become at the next level. Hunt is very explosive off the ball, covers a tremendous amount of space with his first step, and uses his long reach extremely well to create separation between himself and the opposing offensive lineman. He is excellent on stunts, whether slanting inside, or looping to the edge when lined up on the interior, and certainly plays with an edge, as well.
One poor tendency I noticed out of Hunt is his habit of tangling himself up with an opposing blocker. Often times when facing another physical offensive lineman, he seemed to want to prove that he could man handle him, rather than focusing on his assignment within the scheme of the defense. He also played against a slight lower level of college football opponents, and did not seem to make an impact at the Senior Bowl, which would have been an opportunity for him to put that question mark to bed.
His age could be another concern. He will be 26 by the start of next season, and having played just 4 years of football after moving to the United States from Estonia, will his learning curve at the next level be quick enough to get quality years from him as he enters his physical prime? These are questions that organizations will look at and will ultimately determine how high Hunt will be drafted.
6.) Alex Okafor, Texas, 6’4″ 264 lbs – Okafor was a player scouts were really looking forward to seeing play at the Senior Bowl after an impressive week of practice. However, after sustaining an early injury – either during warmups or within the first few snaps of the game – Okafor was inactive for the contest. He may be a bit of a tweener – is he going to play defensive end in a 4-3 or outside linebacker in a 3-4? Personally, I feel his best fit is as a defensive end, which is why he is listed with this group.
Okafor’s strength lies in how quickly he is able to get to the quarterback. Of all the pass rushing prospects in this year’s class, he displays top notch point A to point B timing. He has a great burst, and runs the edge very well, but does lack some variety in his hand work. He is tough against the run, and if he can gain some consistency in leverage and ability to move laterally down the line of scrimmage, I think he will be fine in this area. I’d like to see him grow his arsenal of pass rush moves, and if he can, his ability to get off the ball and get in the backfield will be magnified at the next level. Coaching will be crucial for this area of development.
7.) Damontre Moore, Texas A&M, 6’4″ 250 lbs – Moore was incredibly productive at Texas A&M last season, recording 85 tackles and 12.5 sacks, but has seen his stock dramatically plummet after a very disappointing combine and Pro-Day.
What Moore does well is move laterally down the line of scrimmage to make plays. A lot of times on tape, he just showed the ability to recognize flow away, react to it, and get himself where he needed to be. He has long arms, and uses them well to create separation as his initial move, but really lacks a secondary move to combine it with. His burst off of the line of scrimmage is average at best, and his dedication to making himself better is in question after posting just 12 reps at the Combine, and 19 at his Pro-Day. While this should certainly not be the sole purpose for evaluation, it raises some red flags about his work ethic, and shows up on tape in his struggle to get off engaged blockers and to fight through double teams. I think there is certainly talent to work with in Moore, but it is going to take a conscious effort from his next coaching staff, and most importantly, himself. If he can commit to it, he can be a good player.
8.) Datone Jones, UCLA, 6’4″ 283 lbs – Jones has been rising up some draft boards lately, primarily due to an impressive combine workout and a display of versatility between the interior of the defensive line and as an edge player at UCLA. However, while he has the ability to penetrate from the inside and get off blocks, he really seems to lack the explosiveness to be a 4-3 defensive end at the next level. He does not seem to close the gap very well at all and his leverage is somewhat inconsistent, so it is tough to gauge where he can be successful. Ideally, he’d be placed as a 3-4 DE, where he could utilize his versatility and play a 5, 3, or 1 technique, but his overall explosiveness needs to translate from his workouts to the field.
9.) Michael Buchanan, Illinois, 6’5″ 255 lbs – Buchanan is another player who could be viewed as a tweener. He has the length to fill out as a 4-3 defensive end, but possesses the athleticism to stand up on the edge as a 3-4 outside linebacker. His get off is very good, and he utilizes his long frame with an effective combination of swim moves, rips, and to create separation. He shows very good burst, and is tenacious in his style of play. He needs to improve against taking on head on blocks and double teams, but on the whole, he plays the run effectively. He has shown some ability as a drop end in coverage, but I believe his future lies with his hand on the ground.
10.) William Gholston, Michigan State, 6’6″ 281 lbs – Another physical specimen with immense size, Gholston is a player who does a lot of things well, but nothing truly extraordinary. His strength and speed are decent, but at 281 lbs, you’d like to see him be able to bench press 225 lbs more than 21 times. Normally, this wouldn’t be a concern for a player of his length, but he doesn’t get the separation from an opposing blocker like a player like Hunt, or some of the other prospects mentioned above.
Gholston relies a lot on physicality, but uses more of his shoulders when engaging with the opposing offensive lineman than his hands. His agility seems average, but not great, as does his initial burst off of the line of scrimmage. He does have a mean streak, and shows flashes of great ability and technique at times, but just isn’t consistent with it. His size can be something to work with at the next level, but it will likely take him some time to realize his potential. Best fit looks to be as a 3-4 defensive end.