College football's 2012 regular season has come to a close. For many of the sports' top amateur athletes, that means it's time to start preparing for the NFL Draft.
Last year's draft class featured some of the most talented quarterbacks and wide receivers in its history. Teams with high picks lucked-out with the opportunity to select franchise stars like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd.
And even after the first round, there was still plenty of top-shelf talent to choose from. The Rams selected Brian Quick 33rd overall, one of the best receivers in FCS history, while the Bears snagged Alshon Jeffery a few picks after. Even in the third round, impact-level players like Russell Wilson and Mohamed Sanu were still available.
This year's class is much different. It's thin on star quarterbacks, and its wide receiver crop is more deep than flashy. What the 2013 crop does feature is a remarkable stock of game-changing defensive linemen.
As the modern NFL offense has evolved into a deep West Coast passing attack, a new emphasis has been placed on defensive athleticism. Positions that were once unheralded, like nose tackles and 5-technique defensive ends, now boast some of the game's premier talent. They're charged with stopping the run but also assisting their blitzers against the air attack.
Ten years ago, edge rushers in Cover 2 and 4-3 schemes were the fad, and defensive ends like Michael Strahan were taking most of the spotlight. Though there were exceptions, like Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, the interior linemen and 3-4 ends were generally faceless spaceaters, rarely accumulating money stats.
New breeds of athletic trench dwellers, like Justin Smith, J.J. Watt, Haloti Ngata and Ndamukong Suh, have redefined their respective positions.
These players aren't space-eating sumo wrestlers. They're multi-talented playmakers. Armed with speed, strength and size, they sack the quarterback, stuff the run, bat down passes and even drop into coverage. But they're not pretty boys either. They're still big and nasty, adept at beating up on blockers and collapsing the pocket for their backfield buddies to make plays.
The 2013 draft class is dominated by spectacular defensive linemen. Big, fast and vicious 7-technique ends are aplenty, with FSU's Bjoern Werner and Alex Okafor leading a heap of talent. But there's also plenty of starpower at other positions. At 3-4 end, Texas A&M's Damontre Moore and BYU's Ezekiel Ansah follow the trend set by recent draftees J.J. Watt and Muhammad Wilkerson as speed rushers with 5-technique size and strength.
And then there's LSU's star end Sam Montgomery, who's equipped with the tools to play every down in any NFL scheme. Montgomery is a freak athlete, blessed with an inhuman combination of length, power, speed and polished technique. He completes the package with a Pittsburgh Steelers-worthy chip on his shoulder, enjoying ruining any offense's day with extra hard hits and brutal QB takedowns..
On the inside, there's even more to choose from. Usually, there's maybe one or two premium nose tackles available in any given draft and in a good year there could be a handful of legitimate gap-shooting 3-techniques. This class is much different. Utah's Star Lotulelei, Georgia's John Jenkins and Alabama's Jesse Williams are all gifted 2-gap tackles. Each player has the size, strength and technique to harass the center of the opposing offense's line, yet they also have the speed and moves to lineup in the gaps.
And what about pass-rushing specialists and stand-up edge rushers? There's plenty of those too. Oregon Ducks junior Dion Jordan possesses wide receiver length and speed but the hands and muscle of a defensive end. The Lamborghini of defensive prospects, Jordan is raw at the moment, but his ceiling is sky-high.
Barkevious Mingo is even more of a wild card. For teams willing to take burn a first round draft choice on a high risk/high reward prospect, Mingo's got it all, he just needs more coaching to put it together. He's one of the best athletes in the college ranks, with a ceiling on-par with Clay Matthews' or Cameron Wake's. But, his production at LSU falls short of spectacular, with many believing that he's playing out of position, while some others question his motor. Regardless, the opportunity to take home a future elite pass rusher will convince many teams with mid first-round picks to pursue him.
Finally, for pro coaches looking to add a smart, polished player with diverse skill set to their team, Stanford star linebackers Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov fit the bill perfectly. While not quite as flashy as the Barkevious Mingos and the Jarvis Jones of the world, both players are prepared to help defenses right away.
Though not a stat sheet stuffer in any one area, Thomas is a great three-down linebacker, effective at stopping the run, rushing the passer and dropping into coverage. Skov is a similarly built prospect, and though he's spent his college career as an inside linebacker, he's not just a quality open field tackler and run stopper. Skov is also one of his position's top (inside) blitzers, accumulating 28 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks over the past three years.
Here are the 2013 NFL Draft's top defensive line prospects:
Ten years ago, gifted defensive coaches like Monte Kiffin, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith popularized fast zone-coverage-based defenses like the Tampa 2 and speed-oriented 4-3's. These schemes utilized smaller, athletic defensive lines, tasked with putting as much pressure as possible on the QB. As a result, sack specialists on the inside like Warren Sapp, Cortez Kennedy and John Randle dominated the league.
Things have changed.
More and more teams are going with larger 3-4 schemes and hybrid fronts that use strength and gap control to complement press coverage. Many of the NFL's best defenses primarily use these attacks, like the 49ers, Texans, Jets, Cowboys and Steelers. The Seahawks, while they use a 4-3 over, carry a roster of 3-4 defensive lineman in order to control and neutralize both run and gun and West Coast attacks.
So, nose tackles are making a come back.
One of the NFL's most unheralded positions, the modern nose tackle, is often one of the defense's most important players. As the defense's point man, their job is to take away the inside run game, force the guards to double team him and help squeeze the pocket. To accomplish these tasks, they need to be the biggest, strongest players on the field but also be blessed with smarts and explosiveness.
There's two primary types of nose tackles: the two-gap and the one-gap. The former generally lines up in the zero technique, directly over the center, and they're in charge of stuffing the A gaps and taking up extra blockers when there's a blitz up the middle. The one-gap nose is a little bit smaller and faster, deployed as the mauler in the 4-3. Lining up on either shoulder of the center, they're used to draw double teams, allowing the faster 3-technique tackle to blitz the QB through just one blocker.
Because the nose tackle's job description requires a phenomenal combination of size, strength and agility, team's often struggle to find quality talent through the draft. Each Spring there's maybe one or two legitimate starting nose tackles and maybe a handful of developmental prospects.
This year's draft class, on the other hand, is jam-packed with superb nose tackle prospects.
Utah's Star Loutelelei and Georgia's John Jenkins are impact, two-gap players. Alabama star Jesse Williams and Jonathan Hankins can also play as two-gap players, but their quickness and gap-shooting ability also makes them potential stars out of one, three and even five techniques. Even in the latter rounds, there's top-shelf developmental prospects like Tennessee's Daniel McCullers and Jenkins' Bulldog teammate Kwame Geathers.
|Name||Best Position||School||Height||Weight||40 YD||Proj. Draft|
|1||Star Lotulelei||NT||Utah||6'3"||320||5.14s||Top 10|
|2||John Jenkins||NT||Georgia||6'3"||360||5.45s||Mid 1st|
|3||Jesse Williams||1 Tech||Alabama||6'3"||320||5.04s||Late 1st|
|4||Jonathan Hankins*||3 Tech||Ohio State||6'3"||330||5.32s||Mid 1st|
|5||Louis Nix III*||1 Tech||Notre Dame||6'3"||326||5.04s||1-2|
| 8 ||Kwame Geathers*||NT||Georgia||6'6"||355||5.38s||3-4|
|9||Cory Grissom||3 Tech||USF||6'2"||316||5.18s||4-5|
|10||Justin Ellis*||1 Tech||LA Tech||6'2"||330||5.49s||4-5|
|11||Montori Hughes||1 Tech||UT Martin||6'3"||330||5.12s||6-7|
|12||Beau Allen||1 Tech||Wisconsin||6'3"||335||5.12s||6-7|
|13||Anthony Rashad White||NT||MSU||6'2"||330||5.24s||7-FA|
|14||T.J. Barnes||NT||Georgia Tech||6'7"||345||5.48s||FA|
|15||Byron Jerideau||1 Tech||S. Carolina||6'1"||325||5.05s||7-FA|
The Prize: Star Lotulelei
Utah's Lotulelei finished the 2012 season with 42 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and a whopping five sacks.
The reigning Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best defensive lineman, Star continues to prove himself as the prize of this year's defensive line crop. Lotulelei boasts a truly remarkable mix of skill, power and smarts. It should say enough that he's not only considered the best at his position by scouts and coaches, but his conference's offensive lineman were nearly unanimous in voting for him in Morris Trophy balloting.
After getting his feet wet at Utah in 2010, Lotulelei earned a starting gig heading into 2011. Taking over as the team's nose (1-tech), Lotulelei absolutely dominated his opponents from the beginning of the season to the end.
Though the Utes' weak offense kept the defense on the field more than other top programs, the Utes allowed the fewest yards per play (4.99) in the Pac-12 and only Stanford allowed fewer rushing yards. Individually, Lotulelei made 44 combined tackles, 1.5 sacks and led the defense with 9 tackles for loss. He topped off his monster campaign by taking home the Sun Bowl's Most Valuable Lineman award.
This season, Lotulelei has been even more dominant. As the front man of the Pac-12's second-best run defense, Lotulelei has made a whopping 42 tackles while playing mostly on the nose. He leads all Pac-12 defensive tackles with 5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. The Utes' have been disappointing this season, and because he's by far the most talented player on the squad's defense, Star has had to deal with opposing teams focusing their game plans on him. Despite this, his numbers are extraordinary, especially for a nose tackle.
Lotulelei's game starts with his incredible football smarts and unrelenting drive. He's one of the best in the sport at anticipating snap counts and exploding through the line. He's built with incredible balance, and he plays with an ideal pad-level. Despite his lack of FCS experience, he's an instinctual player that makes accurate reads much more quickly than his peers.
Lotulelei's brute strength is almost inhuman, and he bursts through the line with remarkable explosiveness. Opposing blockers have fits trying to keep their hands on him, and even when they do, it takes a center and a guard to fend him off from the back field.
Seemingly a prototype for the nose, Star uses his hands to control opposing blockers, extending them away from his body before shedding or simply pushing them into a gap. He's so explosive and strong that he'll often drive his opponent into the dirt before they can even get their feet squared.
For a 320 plus pound guy, Star is as nimble as they come. He accelerates so quickly that he might be able to break 5.0s on his pre-draft 40-yard dash. But even if he doesn't, his game speed is top-shelf, and if he can kick his motor into high gear on a consistent basis, he's a potential All-Pro.
Lotulelei is a superb two-gap player, but he's also a top-notch pass-rusher. His bull rush is unrivaled, and he displays the lateral skills to stunt and twist at the next level.
Star's versatility makes him a perfect top pick for any NFL team. He fits best as an elite nose guard prospect for a team like the Jets (if he gets that far), but he could also play very well in a 4-3, or even as a big 5-technique end.
Best Tools: Jesse Williams
Alabama's Jesse Williams is a few steps behind Lotulelei in terms of present ability, but in terms of ceiling, there may not be a better defensive lineman in the draft.
Only a few years ago, Williams hadn't played a down of football. Growing up in Australia, he was a rugby player and basketball star for most of his life. When he was 15, one of his close friends recommended he try America's game out. He did, and immediately fell in love with the sport, and in return, the game fell in love with him.
It took him only one year of playing on the gridiron before floods of D1 scholarship offers started arriving at his door step.
After spending a year in junior college for NCAA academic eligibility reasons, Williams enrolled at Alabama and has developed into one of the greatest defensive linemen in the college ranks.
After collecting 24 tackles and four tackles for loss last season, he moved inside to nose tackle this fall.
In Nick Saban's defense, the nose is crucial for drawing double teams and allowing his faster rushers to blitz effectively. They don't generally rack up flashy stats, yet Williams manages to look good on film and on paper. He finished the season with 36 tackles, eight tackles for loss, four QB hurries and a sack. His athleticism also played well on offense, as he was one of 'Bama's crucial impact blockers in the redzone.
Williams' greatest strength is his strength. He's a monster and the most powerful defensive lineman (hands down) in his class. He's maxed out at 600 pounds on the bench press in summer workouts, significantly more than Dontari Poe's 500 lbs., the best of last year's draft workouts.
Jesse's incredible power makes him a body stacker on the inside. He's a prototypical inside agitator who's skilled at jamming running lanes and pushing around double-teams. Opposing blockers simply can't move him, and when he's one-on-one, he'll drive the center back and crumple the pocket. Like Vince Wilfork or a young Casey Hampton, he creates a mess on the interior of the line of scrimmage, piling up big bodies and closing-up the A-gaps.
Beyond pure power though, Williams possesses crazy athleticism and speed for a defensive lineman. He's still learning the game, and pass-rushing moves were never his forte, but he has the prerequisite burst and agility to get in to the backfield in the NFL.
Williams' draft stock has sky-rocketed this season, and as we inch closer to the combine, he's looking more and more like a first-round pick. His athleticism lends itself to versatility, and he can fit in any defensive scheme. He's played some 3-technique in college, but ideally, a team looking for a nose will draft him. In that case he's a three-down player, and he fits well as either a one-gap or two-gap tackle.
Most Underrated: Brandon Williams
For teams willing to risk money for serious upside, Brandon Williams could be a steal in the mid rounds of next Spring's draft.
The Missouri Southern product is the sole DII player invited to this year's Senior Bowl. Though the division lacks numbers, it makes up for with William's remarkable talent representing DII football.
The 330-pound nose tackle has absolutely torn apart opposing offenses this season, racking up 68 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss. His 8.5 sacks ranks third in the MIAA and his five forced fumbles are second. He's the rare stat sheet-stuffing nose, that has the moves, endurance and motor to wreak havoc o the line and in the back field.
Williams is versatile enough to play anywhere on the interior of the defensive line, but his future home is on the nose. He's got the size and strength to stuff the run game, and the burst to run through the center if he isn't double teamed.
Though he's a DII star, Williams isn't a second tier talent. Beyond his athleticism, he's also an extraordinarily polished product. He's dominated weaker competition, with the numbers NFL scouts want to see from players below division-I ball. He already shows NFL-grade footwork and moves, and he plays with great knee-bend. He generates his upper body power from the ground up, and bursts through the blocker by getting under their pads. Blessed with above-average speed, he's also a relentless pass-rusher, and his motor is second to none.
Despite his talent, it's hard to predict where Williams will go on draft day. His resume suggests he's a second-round talent, but it's hard to see teams drafting a DII lineman that high. Wherever he goes, he's a safe bet to be a quality NFL player. He could fill a variety of roles in the bigs, but with the proper coaching, he could be a monster on the nose.
This year's defensive lineman crop is one of the best. There's an incredible group of nose tackles—maybe more talent at the position than there ever has been in any single draft—but there's also a bevy of athletic, gap-shooting tackles.
These days, NFL teams are exercising two personnel approaches on their defensive lines.
Hybrid defenses are becoming more and more popular, so teams either look for more versatile athletes on their defensive lines—guys like Ndamukong Suh, Justin Smith and J.J. Watt excel in multiple roles—or they go the cheaper route, opting for specialization. The latter approach allows teams to find more value in the later rounds, where they can draft players that are very good at one or two skills.
This year's defensive tackle crop is deep in flashy athleticism. At the top, Sheldon Richardson, Kawann Short and Sylvester Williams offer extraordinary combinations of size, speed and agility.
They're the best inside rushers in the NCAA, but they're also strong against the run. In the NFL, they'll be able to line up all along the defensive line, in multiple fronts. Richardson will excel out of the 3-technique in a 4-3 but could also play well as a 3-4 end. The same goes for Kawann Short. Williams is mixture of nose tackle and speed rusher, making him perfect as a 3-4 specialist, or as a 4-3 one technique.
More and more teams using 4-3 defensive attacks are specializing their defensive tackles in order to patch-up the scheme's shortcomings against the run.
The Seahawks for instance carry multiple types of tackles, allowing them to adapt to the opposing offense from down to down. They have a two-gap nose like Alan Branch, a prototypical 3-tech in Brandon Mebane and also a gap-shooting speedster, Jason Jones. On the ends, hulking Red Bryant plays against the run, while Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin fly off the edges to combat the pass.
|Name||School||Height||Weight||40 YD||Proj. Draft|
|1||Sheldon Richardson*||Missouri||6'3"||295||4.89s||Top 20|
|6||Akeem Spence* ||Illinois||6'1"||305||5.12s||3-4|
|8||Jordan Hill ||Penn State||6'1"||294||5.06s||3|
|11||Brent Russell||Georgia Southern||6'1"||300||5.08s||6-7|
|12||Everett Dawkins ||Florida State||6'2"||304||4.95s||3|
|13||Donte Rumph ||Kentucky||6'3"||302||5.08s||7-FA|
|14||Josh Boyd||Mississippi State||6'3"||300||4.96s||4|
Linden Gaydosh ||Calgary||6'4"||290||-----||7-FA|
|16||Khyri Thornton||Southern Miss||6'3"||300||5.28s||5|
|19||Anthony McCloud||Florida State||6'2"||322||5.18s||4-5|
Cream of the Crop: Sheldon Richardson
Missouri's Sheldon Richardson is an ideal fit for the 3-technique defensive tackle in the NFL.
Richardson just finished a phenomenal, breakout season. The junior was an unstoppable force and the unquestioned leader of Missour's defense. Recently selected to the first-team All-SEC squad, he led the league's defensive tackles with 75 combined tackles. He also beat blockers for four quarterback sacks, seven hurries and 10.5 tackles for loss.
The third-ranked JUCO prospect back in 2010, Richardson has quickly developed into one of the NCAA's most dominant defensive players.
After racking up 37 tackles and two sacks last year in a part-time role, he absolutely tore apart opposing offenses this season. And, if not for past shoulder and wrist injuries keeping him from taking a feature role in Mizzou's defense immediately, it's likely he would've added to his already impressive 18.5 career tackles for loss and 6 sacks.
Richardson's combination of speed, strength and motor make him a formidable pass rusher, and a true gap-shooter.
He possesses great hands and an arsenal of moves to beat opposing blockers. He can either bust through his gap with vicious quickness and agility or hang back, read the play and then make a move. In the ladder situation, Richardson explodes off the line, and punches his hands right into his blockers' gut, throwing them off balance with a huge upper cut. He also exhibits great fight and endurance for a big man, refusing to allow his team to build a secure pocket in the passing game.
Unlike most young defensive linemen, Richardson has the ingredients to step into a starting role in the NFL immediately.
He's a great trench fighter, and he's quick enough and strong enough to give slower guards fits. Richardson regularly beats chip-block double teams, and he's fast enough to chase down runners in pursuit from the backside of the play. Beyond his motor, he also plays with a mean streak, showing the kind of aggressive approach that thrives in the pros.
Similar to 2011 first-round pick Cameron Jordan, Richardson could fit as a defensive end in the 3-4, but his size and speed make him an ideal pick for the 3-technique. He broke out this season, and his name is getting hot at the right time. With a strong pre-draft performance, he could earn a top-20 pick come draft day.
Late Round Value: Nick Williams
Samford's Nick Williams has just three year's of on-field football experience but has emerged as one of DI-AA's top NFL prospects.
A star basketball player at his Alabama high school, Williams didn't step on to the gridiron until his senior season. But his size and agility drew plenty of attention from local programs, and he eventually ended up committing to Samford, a member of the FCS' Southern Conference. Thought not a top-flight FCS program, Samford has produced plenty of football talent, including Pro Bowl cornerback Cortland Finnegan, and legendary Florida Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher.
Williams redshirted in 2008, and then came off the bench as a rotational defensive lineman for the next two seasons. He finally earned the Bulldogs starting tackle job in 2011, and since then, he's put together a remarkable career.
Playing mostly out of a four-point stance as the Bulldog's right defensive tackle in their 4-3 defense, Williams made 23 tackles (3.5 for loss) and a sack in his first season as a starter. His 2011 campaign was solid, and his athleticism showed in his incredible football aptitude.
After all, this was really only his fourth season in the sport.
This fall, Williams established himself as a star. He collected four tackles and two sacks in his first two games, and then took off, tearing apart opposing blockers for the rest of the season. He seemed to get better with every game, finishing the season on a tear. In his last six contests, he racked up 15 tackles, six tackles for loss, four sacks and a blocked kick. On the year, he totaled 31 tackles, six sacks and eight tackles for loss, extraordinary statistics for an interior lineman.
Williams is a great developmental prospect for NFL teams seeking a 4-3 defensive tackle or a 3-4 end. His body is a perfect fit for an NFL defensive line job as he's an athletic 310 pounder with a chiseled upper physique and a frame that's conducive to adding muscle. He also has a ton of power in his base, with the bubble that scouts look for in their trench fighters.
Williams is nimble but strong, offering serious upside for a late-round draft pick.
His hands and technique need some work, but he's a capable pass rusher, already able to run stunts and loops effectively. He's not always the quickest off the snap, but he can compensate for late jumps with pure power and his above-average speed. His low center of gravity makes him difficult to pass block and even more of a problem for offense's to deal with when he gets in open space.
In the run game, Williams' premium balance and powerful base make him a wall when he gets his shoulders squared. He has the body control to make hard tackles in the back field, coming from lateral angles, and he reads the play well when uses his hands to clear his field of vision.
But, he still needs some work. His play recognition skills can make him tentative in pursuit at times, and his tendency to use short hands (leading with his head) can take him out of a play quickly.
Overall, Williams is a terrific late-round prospect for a rebuilding team. He offers the ingredients for an All-Pro career, but for him to reach his ceiling, he'll need to work for a patient team that can stash him on the back of their roster for a few seasons.
Deep Sleeper: Linden Gaydosh
A defensive tackle for the Calgary Dinos, Gaydosh hopes to follow in the footsteps of fellow CIS alumni Vaughn Martin, Akiem Hicks and Israel Idonije and play in the NFL.
Gaydosh burst on the scene in 2009, taking the spotlight as soon as he stepped on to the gridiron. He anchored the Dinos' defensive line with outstanding play and helped Calgary to a Vanier Cup birth.
Though he totalled just 10 tackles and two for loss, his modest numbers don't tell the whole story. The nose tackle stuffed the A-gaps for the entire season and led the Dinos' rush defense to the top of the college ranks. His performance earned him the Peter Gorman Trophy from coaches, as the conference's top rookie.
Starting all along the defensive line in 2010, Gaydosh established himself as the Western Conference's elite defensive player. Through eight regular season games, he collected 22.5 tackles and two sacks and added 15.5 more tackles in the playoffs. He put together an even better junior season in 2011 when he racked-up 20.5 tackles (7.5 for loss), four sacks and two forced fumbles.
The Dinos entered 2012 as the top-ranked CIS team, and Gaydosh was widely regarded as Canada's top college football player. He shed over 30 pounds of weight in the offseason, cutting to 290 pounds, and improved his quickness and stamina. With him playing primarily on the nose once again, the Dinos reclaimed their place as Canada West's top run defense.
Because he plays for the CIS, Gaydosh didn't start drawing strong attention from NFL scouts until last year's East-West Bowl. Once his talent was showcased though, U.S. agents and scouts started targeting him. And for the most part, those that have watched him play extensively believe he'll sign with an NFL team. Even some CFL coaches that were interviewed on the subject are convinced he has the tools to succeed south of the border.
Though he's cut significant weight, Gaydosh is blessed with a massive frame, generally operating around 300 pounds. His lower body is well-developed, complete with huge calves, herculean glutes (the bubble) and wide hips. Barrel-chested with sloped shoulders, he's built like B.J. Raji or Sione Pouha with stout bone structure and a deceptively low center of gravity (for such a tall lineman).
He'll have to gain some more bulk without sacrificing mobility to survive in the NFL. That shouldn't be a problem though. In his best season (2010), he weighed-in around 350 pounds but still managed to move fluidly.
Best deployed out of the one technique, Gaydosh has the size, strength and physical style to crumple the pocket and eat up blockers. He's probably double-teamed more than any tackle in Canadian Interuniversity football, yet he still manages to put up great numbers.
He's adept at squaring his shoulders and keeping his feet and hands moving, rarely losing balance. He plays with great knees and feet, always keeping his pad level low and sturdy. Paired with his strength, his center of gravity and polished technique help him re-set the LOS and walk blockers back into the pocket.
Gaydosh does his best work against the run. He's quick off the snap and has a nose for the ball, able to fight through multiple bodies to make a play. Like any good nose tackle, he's adept at clogging both of his gaps and even does a nice job sliding down the line of scrimmage and making stops in space. His extra mobility allows him to perform stunts and hit the ball carrier on the outside smoothly. He gets penetration with pure power, using long arms and great knee bend to push through blockers. But he also has enough technique to disconnect and move laterally, avoiding trash at his feet.
Playing for the Dinos, Gaydosh comes from a program that's produced 10 CFL draftees over the past two years. He's spent a lot of his time practicing against future pro offensive lineman like Paul Swiston, Alex Krausnick-Groh, Mark Dewit and Dylan Steenbergen, and his counter moves and technique are NFL-grade as a result.
Gaydosh might fall short of an NFL draft pick, but he possesses the size, balance and technique to become a quality NFL nose (4-3 scheme specialist). He's a well-rounded tackle, able to rush the passer and stop the run, but the ladder is his forte. His strength and ability to penetrate makes him a great prospect in the 4-3. For a guy his size, he moves remarkably fluidly and can cover outside gaps.
So, he could really fit anywhere on the defensive line as a pro, and even if he doesn't assume a starting role, he could be a valuable utility lineman. His current build and skill set makes him a better fit on the outside of the guards, but if he gets back to his 2010-11 size, he'd be a great fit as a 4-3 nose tackle.
The 3-4 end is enjoying a renaissance in the NFL.
Almost 30 years after Bill Belichick's '86 Giants defense won a Super Bowl employing the scheme, the 3-4 is making a strong comeback.
It was initially devised as a counter to quick run 'n gun offenses, that survived by running between the tackles and an efficient, west coast style passing attack. The line was bigger and slower, tasked with clogging-up gaps and ruining blocking assignments, while defensive backs used press coverage to force the QB to hold the ball longer.
Today, the 3-4 has evolved in to a more balanced defense. Now that teams are including more athletic personnel and using a more aggressive pressure system, the 3-4 scheme is becoming the most dominant defense in all facets of the game. It's still great at pilling up blockers in the middle, but it's lineman and backers have developed a much more broad array of skills.
The 3-4's success is undeniable. Proponents of the 3-4 like Wade Phillips, Dick LeBeau, the Ryan brothers and the Harbaughs run defenses that dominate the NFL. More and more teams are following their lead by switching from speed/zone-coverage oriented defenses to the bigger, stronger 3-4 attack. Even those that stick with the base 4-3 or Tampa 2 often carry a 3-4 package (at least a few two-gap lineman) in their playbook.
One of the most important changes to the 3-4 lays in the ingredients. The scheme's defensive end has evolved, perhaps more than any other position in the game. And now, the 5-technique includes some of the league's marquee players.
Traditionally, 5-technique ends were unheralded space-eaters. A decade ago, guys like Steelers end Aaron Smith fought behind the scenes and in the trenches. They did the dirty work on the inside, jamming gaps, collapsing the pocket and eating up double teams, allowing athletic playmaking linebackers to get to the backfield and enjoy the glory.
For much of the NFL's history, 3-4 ends have taken stat sheet backseats to their peers on other defenses. Unlike the Lamborghini athlete's in the 4-3, who racked up sacks and money stats, the big guys weren't really considered playmakers. Usually, they only made a handful of sacks a season, and primarily focused on effectively clogging gaps and manhandling blockers (think Igor Olshansky or Brett Keisel for prototypical examples).
Hall of Famers Howie Long and Bruce Smith, the greatest 3-4 ends in history, were huge exceptions to the norm. They were big, strong and fast. The fact that each collected five plus more sacks than the next-best player at their positions—annually in the '90s—is a testament to their truly phenomenal talent.
Now a days, more and more 3-4 ends are playing more like Bruce Smith instead of Ray Childress, Ty Warren or Kimo Von Oelhoffen. They make contributions in multiple roles and are able to run an array of elaborate stunts, twists and tricks.
So, with the rebirth of the 3-4, defensive coordinators like Wade Phillips and coaches like Jim Harbaugh have helped put more emphasis on defensive end talent.
Playmaking stars like Justin Smith, J.J. Watt and Muhammad Wilkerson now man the position, and instead of taking a back-stage role, they're up front and in the spot light at all times. They're still tasked with mauling multiple blockers, but these ends are so athletically gifted that they also rush the quarterback like an edge speedster, and stuff the run like a big-bellied tackle.
Every year, it seems like more and more GM's are using high-draft picks on their defensive lines. And in turn, it seems there's more and more talented defensive linemen coming out of the college ranks.
This year's draft crop follows the tradition of the recent classes that have produced phenomenal two-gap ends like Watt (2011), Wilkerson (2011), Tyson Alualu (2010) and Tyson Jackson (2009). That means there's plenty of power and speed on the line. Even many of the outside prospects, like LSU's Sam Montgomery, have the tools to develop into premium two-gap players.
And now that more teams are willing to spend their talent allotment on their line, athletic college linebackers Devin Taylor and ends like Tank Carradine could move to 3-4 defensive end in the NFL. Both players are premium pass rushers, but their outstanding size and strength fits the Watt/Wilkerson profile.
|Name||Best Position||School||Height||Weight||40 YD||Proj. Draft|
|1||Sam Montgomery*||6T/7T||LSU||6'5"||260||4.59s||Top 10|
|2||Sheldon Richardson*||3T||Missouri||6'3"||295||4.89s||Top 20|
|3||Ezekial Ansah||SDE||BYU||6'6"||275||4.74s||Late 1st|
|4||Sylvester Williams||3T||North Carolina||6'3"||315||5.08s||1-2|
|7||Tank Carradine||6T/7T||Florida State||6'5"||265||4.75s||2-3|
|9||Devin Taylor||OLB||South Carolina||6'7"||267||4.79s||4|
|11||Chris Jones||DT/DE|| Bowling Green ||6'1"||292||5.02s||4-5|
|12||Jordan Hill||5T||Penn State||6'1"||294||5.06s||3|
|15||Kerry Hyder*||5T||Texas Tech||6'2"||281||4.68s||5|
|22||William Gholston*||OLB||Michigan State||6'6"||280||4.76s||4-5|
|23||Kapron Lewis-Moore||5T||Notre Dame||6'4"||306||4.90s||5-6|
|30||Jake McDonough||1T||Iowa State||6'5"||280||5.21s||UFA|
Cream of the Crop: Ezekiel Ansah
Yet another late bloomer, Ziggy Ansah hadn't even seen an American football game until a few years ago. Ziggy Ansah was living in Accra Ghana and pursuing his dreams of becoming an NBA basketball star. He met a BYU student and missionary on a local basketball court and from there began a long journey to stardom.
After converting to the Mormon faith, Ansah enrolled at BYU with Frei's encouragement. Initially, he set his sights on the school's basketball team, but when he didn't make it past tryouts, he decided to use his remarkable athleticism on the track.
But then Frei took Ansah to his first football game. Ansah immediately fell in love with the sport, and in the fall of 2009, Ansah stepped into coach Bronco Mendenhall's office and asked to tryout for his football team. Looking at the tall, muscle bound kid with 10.9 second 100 yard dash times on his resume, Mendenhall decided to give him a shot.
Three years later, Ansah went from not knowing how to put his pads on correctly to one of the NFL draft's brightest defensive end prospects.
After sitting on the bench for two years, Ansah fought his way into the starting lineup this season. He broke out on September 20th, in the Cougar's loss to Boise state. He racked up eight tackles against the Broncos, including 2.5 for loss and a sack. From there he, he established himself as a legitimate star.
He proceeded to tear apart his opponents throughout October. After helping the Cougars crush the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on the 27th, collecting eight combined tackles and a sack, Ansah finished the month with 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and 22 combined tackles.
All and all, Ansah put together a spectacular 2012 season.
Starting for his first time, the defensive end totaled 57 combined tackles, including 13 for loss and 4.5 sacks. Combined with his extraordinary size (6'6", 275 pounds), strength and speed, Ansah's swiftly developing on-field skills make him a great NFL defensive end prospect. He's young and fresh, and what he lacks in experience he makes up for with potential. If he's this good already, it's difficult to imagine how amazing he'll be with a few years of professional coaching.
Ansah has played all over Brigham Young's defensive line, and his athleticism makes him one of his class's most versatile prospects. He's explosive out of either a two-point or three-point stance, and he delivers some of the loudest tackles at the position. His speed and pass-rushing ability would make him a premium 4-3 end or even a strong outside linebacker. But, as one of the strongest and longest defensive lineman of his class, his ideal NFL home should be as a two-gap end in a 3-4 scheme.
Ansah's speed and brute strength makes him a disruptor wherever he plays. He's adept at using his hands to keep space between his body and opposing blockers, and he's far too quick-footed for big college tackles. He regularly beats-up and sheds players 40 pounds heavier than him with ease. His loose hips and relentless motor combine to make him a terror off the edge, able to burst through the tackle and avoid bodies in the open field. He's also one of the longest lineman in the class, and he does a great job at timing his jumps and swatting passes.
Ezekiel's biggest knock is his relatively young football IQ.
Though he's proven to be a quick leaner, he can be beat with zone read, draw and misdirection plays. Doing his best to follow the ball, he'll often expose himself to big open field hits or take himself out of the play altogether. He'll also struggle to maintain his pad level at times, often using his waste to bend rather than his knees and wasting significant amounts of burst.
Though Ansah is inexperienced, he's taken to football extraordinarily quickly. He reads the field like a pro, understands the game and employs relatively polished technique. Opposing blockers simply have fits trying to contain him, and he draws double-teams from even the meanest offensive lines. Beyond pure strength in speed, his length is a headache for passing attacks as he does a great job of getting his hands into passing lanes.
On draft day, Ziggy Ansah will almost certainly hear his name called in the first round. If the picks fall just right, he even has an outside shot at the top-20 picks.
Late Round Value: Joe Kruger
Though he hasn't received a lot of pre-draft hype, the 20-year-old possesses an NFL mixture of size, skill and smarts. Since leading the state in sacks as a high school senior, Kruger has developed into a star at Utah. He earned seven starts at left end in 2010, tallying 35 total tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks.
This season, Kruger was an unstoppable force on Utah's line. Playing alongside star sophomore Nate Fakahafua and All-Conference nose tackle Star Lotulelei, Kruger cut through opposing blockers like butter. He notched a team-leading six sacks and eight tackles for loss. He also forced two fumbles, and he was the only defensive lineman on the team to record an interception.
Standing at a towering 6'7" and weighing in at a cut 270 pounds, Joe is a monster even for a defensive end. At just 20-years-old, he's already developed the power and push to fight through the PAC-12's biggest, nastiest interior linemen. He's in NFL-grade shape, with tree-trunk legs and a cut upper body, and his huge-boned frame leaves him plenty of space to add 30 pounds of quality bulk if necessary.
Kruger's at his best coming off the edge on the strong side where his length and hands make him a disruptor in passing lanes. Unlike most young defensive linemen, his hands are top-shelf, and he does a great job locking-up opposing blockers and distancing their jerseys from his body before breaking away. He plays too high right now, but his hips and balance should help him learn to lower his pad level in the future.
Despite his size, Kruger runs like a mustang.
Before dedicating himself to football full-time, he was Pleasant Valley High School's star power forward on the basketball court, and there he honed his remarkable balance and quickness. He shows an explosive first step and finishes his jump with relentless feet and hands. Combined with his strength and feet, his loose hips help him gain leverage against opposing blockers to gap, and he adjusts his angle on the fly.
Even better, he's already smart enough to read blocking schemes.
Like his older brother Paul, Joe's motor is second to none, and once he lowers his pad level and develops a stronger set of moves, he'll be a complete pass-rusher. In the run game, he's solid right now. He's a very strong open field tackler, showing great wrap technique and the hips to follow the ball carrier fluidly. His ability to change direction helps him wash down the line effectively as well.
Kruger's ultimate destination in the NFL should be an inside end in a 3-4 defense. He's not strong enough or stout enough to hold up as a 5-tech just yet, but with more polish and about 20 pounds of muscle, he could be a star at the position. His speed, pass-rushing skills and open-field tackling ability could also make him a great linebacker, a la Anthony Spencer or Ahmad Brooks.
Deep Sleeper: Jamie Meder
Hailing from DII Ashland University, Jamie Meder is one of this year's top small school prospects, and he has the opportunity to develop into a superb NFL defensive lineman.
The DII ranks have produced plenty of NFL stars in years past. Hall of Famers like Shannon Sharpe, Walter Payton and Darrel Greene all played DII ball, and plenty of Pro Bowlers have too. He won't be the first of his school's NFL draftees. He'll follow kicker Billy Cundiff and fellow defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton (taken last year) to the pros.
Though he's built with mediocre length, measuring at 6'2", Meder is quite possibly the strongest, meanest defensive lineman this side of Jesse Williams. Numerous NFL scouts have endorsed him as a premium NFL prospect and a much more skilled player than former teammates and 2012 NFL draftee Jeris Pendleton.
For a big, thick-waisted defensive lineman, Meder is a phenomenal athlete. When he was in high school at Valley Forge, he was highly recruited not only as a football player but also as a wrestler and boxer. During his junior season, he made it to the top of the Ironman 285 rankings, just behind future OSU tackleGarrett Goebbel. In the ring, he was even a spectacular boxer, making it all the way to the 2009 Cleveland Golden Gloves semi-finals.
After earning All-Conference and second-team All-Ohio laurels in high school, Meder has continued to shine in his three seasons playing on the Ashland gridiron. In his freshman season, he was one of the most dominant defensive lineman in college football, making 45 tackles and leading the Eagles with 5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. His performance not only outshone Pendleton, but Meder impressed the conference's coaches enough to take home honors as 2010 GLIAC Freshman of the Year. He was the program's first player to win the honor, and one of the first defensive lineman in history to earn the recognition.
Meder's 2010 season was just as impressive. He started off with a bang, tallying a career-high 10 tackles (2.5 for loss) and a forced fumble against Hillsdale on September 17th. Two weeks later, when the Eagles faced off against Northwood, Meder raked in eight more tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. By season's end, his relentless production had totaled 53 tackles, three sacks, a blocked kick and a team-leading 10.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
He was named First-Team All-GLIAC for the second season in a row.
With the departure of Pendleton heading into 2012, it would've been understandable for Meder's performance to tail-off a bit. After all, his opponents would be much more apt to tailor their blocking schemes and game plan to him now that Pendleton wasn't here to keep them honest. Somehow, the young defensive tackle has managed to sustain his incredible play.
This season, Meder led Ashland to an 11-1 record, recording a whopping 61 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. His play earned him First-Team All-GLIAC honors for the third consecutive season, and the conference's coaches named him Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Meder's game starts with his extraordinary strength. From head to toe, he's built out of cement, complete with a barrel chest, a huge core and a massive lower body. He bench presses over 500 pounds with easeand is one of the strongest linemen in this year's class.
His wrestling and boxing background have evidently helped him build great hand strength and technique. He punches opposing blockers in the gut and grabs control of them by their pads before driving through them. His balance is superior, and he's a nightmare for opposing blockers to move.
Meder's best home in the NFL is probably the 5-technique. Despite lacking experience at a 3-4 end, he has the tools to grow into a superb two-gap player. Built like a bowling bowl, he plays with a low pad level and great knee bend, making him extremely difficult to seal off from either of his gaps. He loves to eat up double teams, and he's more than strong enough to take on the NFL's bigger tackles.
Meder is a solid all-around player. He has strong tackling technique, and he's explosive, showing a great first step and motor.
His lone shortcomings are his lack of agility and adaptability/flexibility. He gets a great burst off the snap, but he probably doesn't have the speed or the moves to break through blockers and make a lot of plays in the back field at the next level. He's also relatively squat, and his short arms won't make separating from blocks easy against huge, long offensive tackles.
Meder is a quality NFL football prospect, and although his ceiling is limited to a run-stopping 3-4 end or serviceable 3-tech, he's a good bet to reach his potential. Any NFL team that's looking for an immediate contributor out of the 5-technique or a solid 2-down run stopper will take Meder on draft day.
The base 4-3 still dominates the NFL and has been the league's most popular scheme for decades.
Even with more and more teams running 3-4 schemes and putting heavy resources into their linemen, the 4-3 defensive end is arguably the most gifted athlete on the field.
The "lamborghini" of defensive lineman, these edge rushers combine premium speed and agility into a 250 plus pound build. They rack up money stats, sacks, forced fumbles and tackles for loss. So, it's not surprising that NFL defensive ends earn the second highest average annual salary, behind quarterbacks.
In terms of skill set, 4-3 ends are pretty much identical to the 3-4 edge rushing linebackers. They're generally just a little bit bigger, and probably less fluid in pass coverage (it's not their job). Strong-side 4-3 ends will tend to be stronger against the run and longer (to block the QB's passing line).
In terms of technique, 4-3 ends line up in the six on the weak side, and occasionally the seven on the strong side—just off the outside shoulder of the tight tend. The 3-4 outside linebackers, when blitzing, usually employ same techniques but just lineup in the seven on the strong side more often.
However, 3-4 outside linebackers don't necessarily lineup in a three or four-point stance on the line of scrimmage. They'll stand up on more downs or use a running start from one to two yards back.
The biggest difference between the two positions is pass coverage. The 4-3 ends engage tight ends and tackles on nearly every play and rarely drop into coverage. The 3-4 outside linebackers on the other hand, don't always play as linemen. They'll often drop back, a yard or two behind the line and cover a tight end, or rarely, a receiver. In either case, coverage requires them to trade size, power and length for agility, quickness and footwork.
For teams that run 3-4 schemes, their outside linebackers are still their most important player.
They might rely on their ends and tackles to make their job easier, but their jobs remain crucial to the defense's proper functioning. They have to be gifted rushers with more emphasis on speed than power, yet they also have to excel at open-field tackling and pass coverage. The complex skill set that the position demands leads many teams to focus on drafting their edge rushers in the first round.
This draft class is defensive-line oriented, and beyond a great group of tackles, it also boasts an extraordinary amount of impact-level defensive end prospects.
FSU defensive end, Bjoern Werner, is the prize of the crop, but he's not the only prospect that has the ability to compete for All-Pro honors right out of the gate.
LSU's Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are two of the most gifted athletes in the entire draft, each armed with sub 4.6-second wheels, hulking frames of muscle and a scary array of skills.
For clubs willing to trade a little bit of glitz for polish, Stanford's linebacker duo of Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas are prepared to start immediately and both have the versatility to play on the line or behind it.
|Name||Best Position||School||Height||Weight||40 YD||Proj. Draft|
|1||Bjoern Werner* ||SDE||Florida State||6'4"||260||4.78s||Top 10|
|2||Sam Montgomery* ||SDE||LSU||6'5"||260||4.59s||Mid 1st|
|3||Damontre Moore* ||WOLB||Texas A&M||6'4"||250||4.83s||Mid 1st|
|4||Jarvis Jones*||SOLB||Georgia||6'2"||242||4.74s||Top 10|
|5||Ezekiel Ansah ||5T||BYU||6'5"||270||4.74s||Late 1st|
|6||Alex Okafor ||WDE||Texas||6'5"||265||4.75s||Mid 1st|
|7||Barkevious Mingo* || WOLB ||LSU||6'4"||240||4.57s||Mid 1st
|8||Dion Jordan ||SOLB||Oregon|| 6'6" || 243 || 4.68s ||Mid 1st
|9||Chase Thomas ||WOLB||Stanford||6'4"||248||4.74s||2
|10||Jackson Jeffcoat* (Inj.) ||SDE||Texas||6'5"||245||4.67s||2|
|11||Anthony Barr* || WOLB ||UCLA||6'4"||238||4.73s||2-3|
|12||Cornelius Carradine (Inj.) ||WDE||Florida State||6'4"||265||4.75s||3|
|13||Brandon Jenkins ||OLB/DE||Florida State||6'3"||260||4.69s||3|
|14||John Simon ||WDE||Ohio State||6'2"||260||4.76s||2-3|
|15||Quanterus Smith* (Inj.)||WDE||Western Kentucky||6'5"||250||4.64s||3|
|17||Morgan Breslin ||WDE||USC||6'2"||250||4.67s||2-3|
|18||Kyle Van Noy*||OLB||BYU||6'3"||235||4.69s||3|
|19||Jamie Collins ||OLB||Southern Miss||6'3"||240||4.65s||3-4
|20||Scott Crichton*||DE||Oregon State||6'3"||265||4.73s||3|
|21||Devin Taylor||DE||South Carolina||6'7"||265||4.79s||5|
|24||Jeremiah Attaochu*||SOLB||Georgia Tech||6'3"||240||4.64s||3-4|
|25||Prince Shembo*||WOLB||Notre Dame||6'2"||250||4.76s||4-5|
|26||James Gayle*||SDE||Virginia Tech||6'4"||269||4.58s||2-3|
|27||Travis Johnson||WOLB||San Jose State||6'3"||245||4.81s||5-6|
|29||Larry Webster ||DE||Bloomsburg||6'6"||240||4.74s||4-5|
|30||Michael Buchanan ||WDE||Illinois||6'5"||240||4.75s||3-4|
|31||Will Sutton* || 5T ||Arizona State||6'2"||270||4.79s||4-5
|32||Kareem Martin*||WDE||North Carolina||6'5"||260||4.73s||4-5|
|33||David Bass||WDE||Missouri Western||6'3"||262||4.76s||Late|
|34||Willie Jefferson ||WDE||Stephen F. Austin||6'5"||235||4.78s||UFA|
|36||Sean Progar ||WDE||Northern Illinois||6'2"||254||4.79s||Late|
|38||Ethan Westbrooks*||WDE||West Texas A&M||6'4"||272||4.78s||6|
|40||Meshak Williams||WDE||Kansas State||6'3"||245||4.74s||7-UFA|
Cream of the Crop: Bjoern Werner
Born and raised in Germany, Werner—the 2012 ACC Defensive Player of the Year—has just five years of football experience.
Werner didn't start playing American football until high school, when he was forced to play on flag football and club teams because of the country's lack of amateur programs. At the time, he played offensive tackle where his tremendous size and strength helped him dominate his opponents. His success on the gridiron led his club coach to recommend him for a foreign exchange program so Werner could play in the United States against competition that matched his skill level.
Werner ended up transferring to Salisbury, a prep school in Connecticut. Recognizing his incredible athletic ability, his coach immediately moved him to defensive end, a position that would make the most of his size, speed and power. He also played a number of other positions as well, including kicker, defensive tackle and safety, but he was a natural at the end position. After two dominant seasons, he earned a 3-star prospect status from Rivals.com and ended up signing with Florida State.
With the Seminoles, Werner made an immediate impact as Markus White's back-up on the strong side. He appeared in 14 games as a freshman, registering 20 tackles (six for loss) and 3.5 sacks. Even though he'd only played 2 years of football in the US up to that point, he proved that his learning curve was incredibly steep.
Earning the starting left end job heading into the fall, Werner broke out during his sophomore season. He teamed up with opposite end Brandon Jenkins as the ACC's premier pass-rushing duo. He made 25 solo tackles for the nation's second-best rush defense and ranked second on the team with 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks.Facing No. 1 ranked Oklahoma that September, Werner made 6 tackles, including two for loss and one sack, taking home ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week.
This year, Werner managed to kick his game up another notch—to an elite level.
After Brandon Jenkins went going down for the season with a Lisfranc injury to open September, Werner has had to deal with offenses completely focusing their blocking schemes and game plan on him.
Despite the heavier responsibility, Werner's overall production exploded. Facing Murray State in the first game the 2012 season, Werner made four sacks, five tackles for loss, forced a fumble and broke up a pass. His incredible game was one of the top individual performances in ACC history, and he ended up taking home both National Defensive Performer and National Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Werner made the Seminoles very proud in Mark Stoops' final season as defensive coordinator. His dominance helped Florida State lead the ACC in both passing and rushing defense, and on an individual scale, he's taking home ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Werner finished the season leading the ACC with 13 sacks, the second-best mark in the nation behind UCLA's Anthony Barr. He's also the ACC's active leader with 23.5 career sacks, an incredible mark for an underclassmen playing most of his snaps on the strong side. But he's been much more than an elite pass rusher as he's also made 18 tackles for loss and batted seven passes.
Werner is a complete, 5-star prospect.
On the mental side of the game, he knows his job inside and out and rarely gets beat on his gap or around the edge. This season, he's done a much better job of reading the play and containing the run. He doesn't bite on play action like most sack-happy rushers coming from the strong side, and he doesn't over commit on his tackles in the back field. His body control and upper body strength are evident in his wrapping ability. He's able to take down and knock back even the strongest runners, but he's also a very capable cover man too, using his physicality to harass tight ends and his quick feet to close off the flat.
Werner's love for the game is evident in his play style. He has a relentless motor and plays hard through the whistle. His greatest asset is his mental preparation, which is an extraordinary statement considering Werner's short time in the game and his off the charts athletic tools.
He always finds himself in the right place, making the play up and down field. Alongside Lotulelei and John Simon (Ohio State), he's one of the best linemen at anticipating the snap count. He's explodes out of his down stance with powerful bursts and follows his quick first step with active, lively feet.
Werner is blessed with unbelievable strength and power. Combined with his plus speed and range, that makes him extremely effective in run defense. He's adept at beating the opposing tackle around the corner, and his lateral agility helps him stretch and force ball carriers to bounce back inside.
Among this year's crop of linemen, Werner isn't particularly fast or light on his feet. But, he has great balance, and he plays with natural bend. Exploding off the snap, he does a great job of getting under the opposing blocker's pads and taking away their footing. He gains control of his blockers immediately, reads the play and then frees himself to make a move.
On runs to the inside, he shows great play recognition speed, reading the designed hole and doing his best to close it. He's also great at stacking at the point of attack. When he doesn't flat-out knock his run blocker off balance, he knows how to time his disengage and make the play. He moves laterally with solid fluidity and can slide down the line of scrimmage to make powerful tackles.
Werner's pass-rushing skills rely heavily on his burst, strength and technique rather than dexterity and flashy moves.
When he plays on the right side, he'll simply beat big, lumbering pass-blockers around the edge by exploding low and using his hands to separate quickly. Against quicker run-blocking tackles, his low pad level and fierce lower body burst helps him bust them back into the pocket before discarding them. His bull rush is second to none. Even when he gets locked up, he'll jam the blocker into the gap or steer them into passing lanes where he can get his hands in the quarterback's face.
Athletically speaking, Werner's ceiling falls just short of Sam Montgomery's or Barkevious Mingo's, but he's also a more polished all-around player.
He's a monster against the run, and he has the pass-rushing skills to continue to excel in the NFL. His body type and tool set also makes him especially versatile, and while he'd be a great asset on either end of a 4-3 defense, he could also fit well in a 3-4. His hulking frame could easily hold another 20 pounds of muscle without sacrificing much agility, which would allow him to play in the 5-technique consistently.
Late Riser: Anthony Barr
Right now, Anthony Barr is on the fence. He's indicated that he wants to return to UCLA for his senior season, but he's still determined to get an NFL Draft evaluation and look at his immediate pro prospects.
Whether it's this spring or next, Anthony Barr is looking like a high draft pick—spectacular for a guy that solely played running back and H-Back during his first two seasons at UCLA.
Coming out of high school, Barr was rated as one of the top athletes in the high school ranks. He came to the Bruins as Scout.com's No. 10-ranked prep outside linebacker, but his coaches believed his remarkable speed and agility would be best used at running back. After seeing sparse playing time in 2010 and then 2011 as a blocking H-Back, Jim Mora made the decision to return Barr to the defensive side for his crucial junior season.
Though Anthony was playing on defense for the first time at the college level, UCLA's coaching staff took his incredibly raw skills and immediately put them to work. Barr opened the 2012 season with at least one sack in each of his first seven contests, helping the Bruins to the top of the college ranks in pass rushing. He put together his best game on November 10, when the Bruins were facing off against Washington State Cougars. Taking advantage of the Cougar's poor blocking, he racked up eight tackles and 2.5 sacks and also blocked a punt in the game and forced a safety.
Barr finished his outstanding 2012 campaign leading DI football in sacks (13.5) and ranking fourth in the nation with 20.5 tackles for loss. Though his coach, Jim Mora, had told the media that he believed Barr wasn't receiving the recognition he deserved back in October, Barr ultimately took home Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Barr is a high-end NFL speed rusher, and a perfect prototype for a blitzing weak side OLB in the NFL.
First of all, his game speed is probably the fastest among 2012 prospects, and his ability to chase down tackles from the backside is almost unrivaled. At his best standing up and about one-yard off the line, Barr moves like an NFL wide receiver and can kick it into high gear immediately. He burns around the edge, often using a quick juke to go completely untouched and uses sharp angles and unbelievable acceleration to make takedowns from behind, even on running plays to the opposite edges.
In the pass-rushing game, Barr isn't as polished as Werner or Moore, and his high sack totals are partially attributed to his teammates Cassius Marsh and Datone Jones taking up so much of the offense's focus.
But, in terms of pure athletic ability, Barr is the best of the best. His lack of size and strength keeps him from a down stance most of the time, but standing up, he's a terror. He explodes off the line like a split end and has an incredible spin-move and even a defensive version of a juke. So often, his blockers can't even get a hand on him, and even when he curls around the edge to avoid the blocker (a more circular route), his plus-plus wheels still allow him to get to the QB.
Barr's high-speed approach from the weak side requires him to be a great open-field tackler—and he is. Along with his extensive time playing special teams, Barr's lose hips, quick feet and top-notch body control have helped him build great wrapping technique. In run defense, he moves laterally with great fluidity and a low center, and he explodes into the ball carrier's legs with a strong wrap-up. He also has great field vision, is able to adjust with the play, pick an angle and flow to the ball.
Though Barr would earn a high-draft pick this spring, probably somewhere in the second round or early third round, he appears convinced that he wants to play for the Bruins next year. Financially speaking, it's almost always smarter to take the NFL opportunity if it's available, but as long as Barr stays healthy, sticking with UCLA for one more year could really help him.
Anthony already has high first-round talent, he just needs a little bit more experience, polish and more muscle. He'd be best suited developing a few more block-shedding moves, and maybe even taking some more snaps out of a down stance. Though his length is great for the outside linebacker position in the NFL, he needs to add about 10-20 pounds of bulk to be able to develop into a more complete player.
Late Round Value: Willie Jefferson
Jefferson has taken a long and winding path to draft prospectdom.
Jefferson spent his freshman season playing wide receiver for the Baylor Bears. His playing time was sparse, as Baylor's receiver core was stacked with young talent, but his size and athleticism made him very promising heading into his sophomore campaign.
However, the following October, Jefferson and teammate Josh Gordon (now in the NFL), were arrested for Marijuana possession. Both players were suspended immediately, though Baylor eventually dismissed Jefferson altogether. Gordon ended up transferring to Utah a year later. Jefferson on the other hand, decided to stick to Texas and play FCS ball for SFASU.
After his transfer, Jefferson's new coaches decided to move him to the other side of the ball and utilize his big-game tools at defensive end. Though he sat out the 2010 season, Austin managed to add 20 pounds of muscle and learn the new position.
Jefferson took to defensive end quickly and put together a phenomenal junior season. Through 11 games, he recorded 15 sacks, good for first in the Southland Conference and fourth nationally. He set a new school record against McNeese State, making 4.5 sacks in a single game. Beyond decking quarterbacks, he also made 29 tackles and picked off two passes.
Jefferson wasn't quite as dominant this season, but neither was the rest of his team. After leading the conference in sacks last year, they fell to a 5-6 record and got shredded by the superior offenses of SMU and Sam Houston State. The defensive units' struggles led to more of their opponents double-teaming and focusing on Jefferson heavily. Taking the entire picture into account, Jefferson still played at a premium level. He got into the backfield plenty, making 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss through 11 appearances.
Jefferson's length, speed and loose hips give him a sky-high ceiling as a pass-rushing outside linebacker. He already has a great swim move and has the hands and foot quickness to easily beat blockers around the edges. He's best out of a stand-up rush, where he can get his eyes on the ball immediately, but he also shows good burst out of a three-point stance. His history as a receiver gives him sharp vision and great hands as well, and he's a terror in passing lanes.
A great teammate, Jefferson plays with a mean streak and the reckless abandon that coaches love from their edge rushers. He's more of a hard-hitter than a great wrapper, as he'll lay too many of his hits on the upper body.
But man, he really knocks guys around. Though he's still pretty thin for linebacker and end, he already has the power to knock even the biggest opponents in the mouth with vicious hits. His motor is in top gear from the first snap until the last, and more importantly, it appears his off-the-field problems are a thing of the past.
Still rough around the edges, Jefferson needs a team dedicated to defensive player development to earn a draft pick. However, he has the raw tools and the motor to thrive in the NFL once he polishes his game. In order to put it all together, he just needs to learn better technique, lower his center of gravity and add some more muscle to his thin frame.