LSU's defense produced two of the top 14 picks of the 2012 draft, and they could get two even higher this year, because they possess the most dynamic pair of defensive ends in college football.
Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery will be able to feed off of each other's productivity and talent to elevate their games to an elite level this season. So far this year, Montgomery has been the more impressive player, making plays and creating opportunities for his teammates on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage with regularity.
How is he doing it?
Montgomery is a classic long-limbed defensive end at 6'5", but he has a sturdy 260-pound build, giving him a significant presence in run defense and as a bull-rusher. He uses his long arms to obstruct passing lanes and keep offensive tackles away from his body on the pass rush.
Montgomery has a good vertical leap to increase his reach, but he is not a quick-twitch athlete. Still, he does have an extra gear of explosiveness and efficiency of movement when he is within striking distance of the football. Here, the ball-carrier is about to receive the handoff with the play designed to get outside of Montgomery:
Montgomery uncoils like a viper into the running back and throws him for a significant loss:
In addition to size and strength, Montgomery also makes plays with his always-hot motor. The defensive end never gives up on a play and makes multiple plays for himself and others in every game by not shutting down when his initial attack is unsuccessful.
On this play, Montgomery flushes Washington quarterback Keith Price from the pocket:
Montgomery is athletic, but not athletic enough to catch Price. He still pursues him to the sideline and forces a throw:
Price was rushed and didn't see the LSU defender waiting on the sideline to pick him off:
Montgomery is not a flashy edge rusher who will turn offensive tackles into turnstiles, but he has plenty of tools to make a difference every time he steps on the field.
Even though Montgomery isn't going to win battles with his first step, he is still an accomplished pass-rusher. He is excellent on stunts and twists, when he dives inside to try to cross up the blocking scheme. Montgomery can also use his power to create pressure. On this play, the offensive tackle engages Montgomery at the 13 yard line:
Montgomery walks him all the way back to the quarterback at the 10:
Offensive linemen can look like they are on roller skates when Montgomery gets into their pads. Montgomery is an effective pass-rusher because he instinctively takes the shortest path to the quarterback.
On this play, Montgomery displays good hand-fighting to get past the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. This is one of the more underrated skills of a pass-rusher:
Once he has the edge, Montgomery gets low and "turns the corner," twisting his hips to get an angle toward the quarterback, while his upper body is torqued to fight off the offensive tackle trying to recover:
Montgomery drives toward the quarterback and forces an early throw, which is almost intercepted downfield:
Montgomery finishes his pass rush with ferocity, running through the quarterback and driving them into the ground. He can also tie up double-teams to free up his teammates to get at the passer. Montgomery might not look like he is shot out of a cannon, but he destroys passing plays with his heavy artillery.
Montgomery is a force against the run, and he clearly has a zest for defending on run plays. He is very strong at the point of attack, usually pushing the blocker in the backfield to disrupt the play and turn it back inside, as he does on this play:
Montgomery can also shed blocks, and he is strong enough to arm-tackle SEC running backs when he gets free of a blocker. Penetration and changing the complexion of the running play in an overall way is routine for Montgomery. He can even make game-changing plays against the run.
Here, he pushes his opponent into the end zone and doesn't allow the Auburn running back to get to the edge:
Montgomery's teammates swarm the back and score a safety, which ended up being the margin of victory in the game:
Montgomery is the rare every-down 4-3 defensive end prospect with his length, strength and outstanding two-way game. LSU uses him in a 4-3 almost exclusively, but he can also effectively line up as a 5-technique defensive end when LSU goes to a three-man front:
He is able to push his man back into the quarterback's face and gets his big paw up to force an incompletion on the play:
In an NFL that is moving toward defenses that switch between 3-4 and 4-3 fronts depending on the offensive set and personnel, Montgomery's ability to generate pressure inside and go toe-to-toe with guards in the more physical style of pass rush will only enhance his value.
There are few holes in Montgomery's game. Whatever sacks he misses by not being an elite-speed rusher are more than compensated for by his pass rush generated by strength and hustle. He puts his nose in just about everything that happens in the backfield, and his stamina keeps him at full speed well into the fourth quarter.
He is looking like an elite first-round prospect who could even threaten to go first overall if Matt Barkley continues to struggle this season.