2013 NFL Draft Prospect Focus: Scouting Michigan State DE William Gholston

Danny FlynnSenior Analyst IMay 14, 2012

Michigan State DE William Gholston will be one of college football's most devastating pass-rushers in 2012
Michigan State DE William Gholston will be one of college football's most devastating pass-rushers in 2012Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

After ranking sixth in the nation in total defense last season, allowing just 277 yards per game, it appears as if the Michigan State defense will once again be one of the most dominant and stout units in college football in 2012.

The Spartans are loaded with an abundance of defensive playmakers this year, including standouts such as LB Denicos Allen, CB Johnny Adams, DE Marcus Rush, DT Anthony Rashad White, LB Max Bullough and S Isaiah Lewis. However, it appears that the premier player on the supremely stacked defense will be DE William Gholston.

Gholston is one of the most physically intimidating players in college football, and what truly makes the frightening junior defensive end so special is that he possesses remarkable athleticism and quickness for his immense size.

Gholston is the cousin of former Ohio State DE Vernon Gholston, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, and he obviously shares the same type of freakish athletic ability in his DNA. The good news is, William seems to have the type of desire and toughness that Vernon never showed during his short and unsuccessful stint with the New York Jets.

Last season, Gholston played with a relentless attitude and a non-stop motor, and he showed off his tremendous explosiveness and burst off the edge, racking up five sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and 70 total takedowns in 2011.

The Detroit native arrived in East Lansing as a highly touted 5-star recruit out of Southeastern High School, and it certainly hasn’t taken long for him to put his rare physical gifts to good use at the college level.

After his eye-opening sophomore campaign, Gholston will now enter the upcoming 2012 season as one of the must-watch underclassmen defensive end prospects for the 2013 NFL draft.

The 2013 pass-rusher class could be one of the deepest and most talented groups in over a decade. Top-tier defensive end prospects such as LSU’s Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, Texas’ Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, Florida State’s Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner, South Carolina’s Devin Taylor and Oregon’s Dion Jordan could all potentially be fighting for first-round positioning next April. Gholston’s name definitely belongs in the conversation with all of them.

Scouts will obviously love Gholston’s big, sturdy frame, as he seems to fit the mold of the basketball forward shaped pass-rushers that we’re starting to see more and more of in the NFL these days.

The Michigan State end’s size is only part of what’s so intriguing about him, though.

Gholston has the football instincts and the variety of different defeating moves that he’ll need to succeed at the next level. The powerful pass-rusher possesses the athleticism, agility and first-step quickness to blow right by blockers off the snap, and he also has the strength and leverage to be an overpowering and overwhelming bull-rusher.

In my view, Gholston is a hybrid version of Cincinnati Bengals DE Michael Johnson and Arizona Cardinals DE Calais Campbell. Both Johnson and Campbell are tall, athletic ends who fill two different roles, just as I think Gholston could do in the NFL.

Like Gholston, Johnson, who was taken with the 70th pick in the 2009 draft coming out of Georgia Tech, and Campbell, who was taken with the 50th pick in the 2008 draft coming out of Miami, were two tremendous physical specimens when they were in college. However, they eventually became two different types of ends in the pros, with Johnson ultimately ending up as an outside edge-rusher in Cincinnati’s 4-3 scheme and Campbell ending up as a 5-technique end in Arizona’s 3-4 system.

Gholston appears to be the type of versatile end who could fit into either a 4-3 or a 3-4 defensive front in the NFL. He’s got the type of size, natural strength, explosiveness, instincts and toughness to flourish in either scheme, and it will be interesting to see how pro teams view him.

As with any top college prospect, Gholston does have a few flaws in his game. Since he’s only played for two years at the collegiate level, he’s obviously still a raw talent that could stand to refine his technique and work on his overall fundamentals, but that will come in time.

The only real major concern that I think NFL teams will have about Gholston is his propensity to cross the line from being a tough player to a dirty player. His highly publicized jab to the face of Michigan OT Taylor Lewan and his facemask twist on Michigan QB Denard Robinson were two of of the most disgraceful acts that we saw from a college player last year, and there’s no room for those types of actions on a football field.

Gholston may be a young man who likes to constantly play on the edge and play the game with ferocity and passion, but he has to realize there are certain lines that you just don’t cross. It’s OK to go out and play with reckless abandon, but when that attitude leads to personal fouls and suspensions, that’s doing something selfish and something that will hurt your team in the long run.

If Gholston can come out this season and play with the same type of tenacious attitude he did as a sophomore, yet figure out a way to harness that energy and keep his actions within reason, he should be able to show scouts that he’s learned from his past mistakes and that he now “gets it,” so to speak.

William Gholston is a tremendous talent, and he has the chance to develop into an elite prospect over the course of the 2012 season. He could possibly even end up as a Top-15 pick in the 2013 NFL draft. However, if he has some of the same incidents that we saw against Michigan last season, there’s no doubt that many scouts will start to seriously question his maturity.

It seems like the only person that can stop Gholston from reaching his potential and becoming one of the most destructive pass-rushers in the country is himself.

While I don’t think there’s any other defensive end in college football that can compare to LSU’s Barkevious Mingo, I do think that Gholston could ultimately work his way up draft boards and possibly be the second pass-rusher taken in the 2013 draft.

Before he can reach that level of respect and recognition, though, the wild and somewhat unpredictable junior will have to show scouts that he’s matured as a player and that he’s ready to accept the responsibility that goes along with being a high NFL draft pick.

There’s no doubt that Gholston is one of the most gifted and physically superior defenders in college football. Now he just has to go out in 2012 and show that he’s ready to become the consistently dominant defensive end that he’s capable of being.