Seventh Round: 212th Pick
Surprisingly, it seems like no one is talking about Joe Kruger. Kruger has the type of story NFLdraft analysts typically love to talk about. His older brother Paul plays for the Cleveland Browns, and the 20-year-old defensive end is a physical specimen.
Yet it seems like Kruger has flown under the radar, and he is rarely mentioned as an early-round pick. But does the Utah product belong there?
At 6'6", 269 pounds, Kruger has great size and length—his arms measure in at 34.38" long. He has the frame to add weight and could probably even drop a few pounds if he was asked. As an athlete, Kruger is underrated. For his size, he can move reasonably well, and his Scouting Combine performance was impressive. Kruger plays with excellent natural strength, showing a strong punch and the ability to overpower offensive linemen. On run plays, Kruger does a great job of flowing to the ball, and he rarely surrenders ground. As either a run-defender or pass-rusher, Kruger can blow up linemen, pushing them into the backfield.
As a pass-rusher, Kruger remains unrefined. He relies on his power too much and doesn't properly utilize pass-rush moves or his hands. Kruger also comes out of his stance too high, and only his sheer strength keeps him from being overpowered at the point of attack. He needs to better utilize leverage. Kruger's burst and quickness are merely okay for a defensive end, and he will probably never be a great threat off the edge.
Kruger's size is impressive. A 6'6" frame that can handle more weight is a valuable trait, and Kruger combines that with strength and power. Kruger's 24 reps of 225 pounds don't accurately represent his strength. He isn't a truly explosive athlete, but he is capable of moving and can play on the outside.
Kruger's family is well-rooted in football. His aforementioned brother, Paul, has found success in the NFL. His other brother, Dave, is a defensive tackle prospect in the draft. In addition to his brothers, though, Kruger has a brother-in-law, Tony Bergstrom, who plays guard for the Oakland Raiders. Kruger has no known character issues and displayed a high motor on the field.
Kruger moved around the defensive line at Utah. The team often utilized three-man fronts, and Kruger would line up anywhere from five-tech to nine-tech. He displayed an ability to play from either an interior or outside position along the defensive line. Occasionally, Kruger would stand up, either rushing the passer or dropping back in coverage.
Kruger isn't a great pass-rusher by any means, but he has the ability to improve. Kruger's go-to move is the bull rush, and it's an effective one. Despite playing too high and not utilizing great leverage, Kruger is able to blow offensive tackles into the backfield with ease. He does a great job of combining lateral quickness with an explosive punch, using his length to disengage from blockers.
Unfortunately, though, this is essentially his only move. Off the edge, Kruger doesn't display much bend. He isn't quick-hipped enough to really work the arc, and he lacks the explosive first step to make offensive tackles off-balance. He is average-at-best here.
Though Kruger will never be a consistent double-digit sack player, he could vastly improve as a pass-rusher with just a couple subtle adjustments. He simply needs to play lower and do a better job of using leverage. This combined with his natural strength, length and athleticism could make him a threat to sack the quarterback.
Against the Run
This is Kruger's area of strength. The same traits that make Kruger a good bull-rusher make him a force against the run. Kruger's ability to overpower offensive linemen is even more valuable here than it is as a rusher. Often, Kruger will simply blow up a run play before it is even started. With a single powerful punch, he can be in the backfield, ready to make a play. Occasionally, Kruger's tendency to attack the backfield backfires, as he is too quick to contain.
When Kruger isn't simply pushing offensive linemen backwards, he's throwing them aside with that same powerful punch. This is where his lateral ability and long arms come into play. Kruger uses his length to disengage from blockers, and his lateral movement helps him get around the lineman after shoving him to the side. Kruger also does a great job of reading the run and flowing with the ball, constantly searching for an opportunity to make a play.
Despite often surrendering leverage by playing high, Kruger is rarely pushed off the ball. That is a perfect indication of just how strong Kruger really is. Again, if Kruger can learn to use leverage, he could be even more dominant here.
Rarely does Kruger miss a tackle. Between his long arms and strength, Kruger is a sound tackler, who doesn't even need to use proper technique. He can simply reach out and wrap up a running back as he attempts to run passed.
Use of Hands
Kruger's violent punch is one of his keys to success. He packs such force with his hands that he can toss a lineman to the side as he attempts to make a play against the run or rush the passer. However, he could afford to be more active with his hands. There are some plays when Kruger's hands seem to not be moving at all, and increased activity could make him a more consistent threat.
Scheme Versatility/Future Role
Because of his size and skill-set, Kruger's best fit probably comes as a left end in a 4-3 scheme. Here, his strength and strong run defense would be utilized, but he would also have an opportunity to use his power to rush the passer. However, Kruger is hardly limited to that role. If he gains 10-20 pounds, he could play defensive end in a 3-4 for those same reasons. Though he wouldn't be great off the edge or in coverage, Kruger could also conceivably play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.