NOTE: UPDATED RANKINGS & REPORTS AT 8:44AM 2-13-13.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I jump around quite a bit. I'll be on WRs one day, and DEs the next. Or I'll spend the morning on OGs, then in watching tape I'll notice a particular WR make a catch, then switch to those guys.
Well, the last week has been all DEs. I've stayed the course.
Here are my DE rankings, which, for the most part, should remain the same, assuming none of them blow a knee out at the combine or in a pick-up hoops game somewhere.
It's also worth noting that guys like Cornellius Carradine and Quanterus Smith, both of whom suffered ACL tears this season, could improve or reduce their stock with good workout performances in the coming weeks, as we'll be watching to see how big of an impact the injuries had on their explosiveness, speed, etc.
The 1st list reflects overall grades and rankings, regardless of team or scheme.
The 2nd list is a look at ideal Seattle fits for the "LEO" position - hybrid linebacker/defensive end who's focus is getting pass pressure off the weak-side edge. This list is built in conjunction with what we know about the Seahawks' personnel philosophy, and the preferred type of athlete for the position - fast (typically runs a sub-4.7 40-yard dash), explosive and long. When we break down the outside linebackers in the coming weeks, we'll have a LEO list there, as well.
The 3rd and final list, is a list of ideal strong-side fits for Seattle, or 5-technique defensive ends who have the duty of setting the edge against the run, and providing strong-side pass-rush on early passing downs. Again, in keeping with the personnel philosophy, we're looking for big, powerful, long athletes with "plus" quickness and a knack for getting push at the edge. Typically, you like to see this guy in that 285 to 300-pound range (Red Bryant is 325lbs, but is probably more an exception given his rare quickness for his size), but we've noted some exceptions to that, in Ansah, Taylor, and a few others, considering Seattle's unconventional "hybrid" defense which features some 4-3 and 3-4 elements (the 5-technique being a notable 3-4 feature that has been integrated in Seattle's 4-3 alignment).
With this 5-technique list, we're certainly considering Seattle's current scheme of that big-bodied run-stuffing specialist, but are also suggesting a variation to the scheme in allowing the lighter, quicker and more explosive defender into the alignment as a rotational piece on early downs. Sure, there's some give an take in terms of the run-stopping element perhaps not being as strong on those downs, but if we're coming from a belief that the Seahawks simply aren't getting enough pass pressure from that position on downs 1 and 2, variations may need to be considered in more than just nickel situations. When we break down defensive tackle rankings in the coming days, we'll revisit the 5-technique there as well, as there are a few in the DT group who are candidates for the 5, and present that bigger-bodied athlete we've grown accustomed to seeing with Red Bryant.
Both Seattle-specific lists are constructed from the perspective of pass-rush being the highest-valued trait.
All players listed have been thoroughly scouted.
1. Bjorn Werner - 6'4, 256:
Average get-off at best. Not a great athlete. Surprising hand power, and exhibits ability to shed bigger blockers. Flexible to anchor. Doesn't reach the edge enough due to lack of great get-off. When he does reach the edge, shows the ability to dip and turn the corner. Good closing burst. Good awareness against the run. Needs to develop a repertoire of moves, and utilize his "plus" quickness better to get to the QB. Very well may be the first DE off the board, considering his "plus" instincts against the run, and remaining upside as a rusher. Werner has been compared a lot to Chris Long, and he may very well take a similar amount of time to reach the sack production that he's capable of, just as Long did.
2. Cornellius Carradine, FSU - 6'4, 265:
Carradine suffered an ACL tear before the Seminoles' final regular season game, ending a season that saw him garner 11 sacks and 80 total tackles - an eye-popping number of tackels for a defensive end. On tape, Carradine is probably the most polished edge rusher in the group when considering his explosive get-off, great use of length and hands, impressive flexibility and strong closing burst.
He flashes a strong swim move to the outside shoulder of the tackle, a decent spin back to the inside, and good use of flexibility and leverage to generate a strong bull-rush. Plain and simple, before the ACL tear, Carradine was the best 3-point rusher in the draft. Pre-Draft workouts will be the teller as to how the injury has effective his explosiveness and agility, so expect his draft position to be tied pretty tighlty to how well he tests. The listed ranking assumes Carradine makes a respectable recovery and returns to something close to pre-injury capability. Had he not torn the ACL, I'd have a hard time ranking him any lower than No. 1 on my board, overall, among DEs.
3. Demontre Moore, Texas A&M - 6'4, 250:
Not incredibly flexible, and like Werner, possesses only an average first step. Is exceptional against the run, exhibiting strong awareness, anticipation and timing to disengage and close on his target. Relentless competitor who will get the coverage sack due to not giving up on the play. Will chase QB without letting up. Doesn't use his hands enough, and relies more on the bull rush than anything. Struggles to bend at the edge and doesn't break down in space or move laterally with any fluidity. Instincts and effort will make him a strong all-around contributor, but to be a big-time rush threat, he'll need to use his hands better. Intelligence, consistency and effort put Moore in my top 3 here.
4. Barkevious Mingo, LSU - 6'4, 240:
Might be the most naturally gifted athlete of the top 'ends. Flexible, explosive first step and devastating closing burst. Holds up surprisingly well against big powerful right tackles. Ability to change direction on a dime, and exhibits strong burst out of stop/redirect. Flashes a good spin. Gets too upright and is easily pushed out when he does. Needs to maintain lower pads better, and use arm length to generate leverage.
Capable of being disruptive against the run with his ability to disengage at the edge, break down and fire inside to close off gaps. Good use of length as a tackler. I'm breaking form here by elevating a guy who hasn't played with a ton of consistency - something I don't do often - because there's just something about this guy that makes me believe he could be something really special. Could just as easily be 7th or 8th on my list, but he's that polarizing of a prospect, and I don't go out on a limb too often. One of the few cases where raw upside weighs pretty heavily in my grading.
5. Dion Jordan, Oregon - 6'6, 243:
Dion Jordan is a little frustrating to evaluate. The physical traits are exactly what you look for in a prototypical rush end, but like with Mingo, they didn't always translate to results. He's long, fast and quick, but his rush technique is one-dimensional. He pretty much takes off for the edge and tries to turn the corner the same way, on every pass play - with speed. He doesn't use his hands or advantageous arm length to create space or move blockers, and he rarely counters back to the inside.
While he's flexible enought to flatten at the edge and turn the corner, he's not consistent enough off the snap to reach the edge regularly, and he comes off the line high at times making it even tougher to generate leverage. I love the athlete. I'm just not sold on the football player yet. That being said, the San Francisco 49ers' recent success with Aldon Smith - who also underperformed in his last college season - should inspire a 3-4 team to take an early gamble on being able to put Jordan's strengths to best use in hopes of generating big sack numbers.
6. Ezekiel Ansah, BYU - 6'5, 274:
Big, powerful frame with good length and flexibility. Not an edge rusher who will ever generate big time sack numbers. Good instincts against the run and does a good job of disengaging and timing his close. Uses length well to wrap up. Good effort to the whistle. Gets upright and struggles to anchor or hold position when he does. Good timing off the snap and possesses better than average first step for his size.
Looks like a run-stopping 5-technique, although some might say he would need to add some poundage to hold up there, or perhaps as a 3-4 end who could potentially rotate inside on passing downs and provide some rush up the middle. Accelerates well in open space and when he keeps low, exhibits a nice surge straight-ahead. Can break down and change direction well for his size. Undersized to be a full-time interior lineman, but may already be the most instinctive and aware, versus the run, of any of the DEs in the class.
7. Corey Lemonier, Auburn - 6'3, 242;
Lemonier possesses an explosive first step, and "plus" straight-line speed coming off the edge. Does a good job of dipping the shoulder and getting into his blocker's frame to establish leverage when turning the corner. Exhibits impressive natural power to set the edge and generate surprisingly effective bull rush, when he's able to get his arms extended and maintain low pad levels. He tends to let defenders into his frame too easily though, and as a result, is often stood up and pushed off the line quickly, rendering him ineffective.
Is not very instinctive against the run, and will often over-pursue when he's able to fire the gap and get into the backfield early. Is a bit tight in the hips and struggles to stop and start in space, or correct laterally when he does over-pursue or when trying to mirror a cutback. Possesses only marginal flexibility when asked to turn the corner, so he relies heavily on his get off, and hands to establish leverage at the edge. Despite some limitations, Lemonier appears electric coming off the line at times, and certainly has the look of a guy who could give opposing QBs and tackles fits, from either side of the line.
8. Sam Montgomery, LSU - 6'5, 260:
Sam Montgomery is a well-built, athletic end with an impressive combination of speed and power to his game. He's physical and can be extremely competitive at the point of attack, but simply hasn't shown consistent effort. He also lacks in the get-off department. He doesn't have an elite first step, and struggles to create space with his hands to compensate. He relies heavily on the bull-rush, but will get stood up off the snap too frequently to generate enough push to knock back opposing tackles. Instinctively, he's solid against the run, tracking the ball carrier well through traffic, and does a good job of using his length to wrap up his target.
Again, this is only evident when he decides to put forth a high effort. If he can stop taking plays off, become more active with his hands, and work on developing some counter-moves back to the inside as a pass-rusher, he could be a constant disruption at the next level. Becoming more consistent off the snap will also improve his chances of getting to the QB.
9. Malliciah Goodman, Clemson - 6'4, 272:
Goodman is known for his powerful frame and long arms, and possesses better-than-average get-off for his size. Guys like John Schneider salivate at athletes with this combination of speed and length, and Goodman has shown flashes of brilliance at times coming off the edge at Clemson. Where he needs to improve is in putting his powerful hands and long arms to use, to create a clean path to the QB and get better push with his bull-rush, and to set the edge against the run.
While Goodman does a good job of funneling the run back inside with his extension and push, he's not always as good at disengaging and closing on the play, which simply isn't good enough for a guy of his length. He's stiff in space, and wastes a lot of motion when changing direction, so he'll need to rely more on his length than most guys, in order to compensate for such limitations. His combination of "plus" explosiveness of the snap for his size, and flexibility to turn the corner should be an immediate strong-side upgrade for several 4-3 teams in terms of getting a pass-rush from that side, and if he can learn to use his naturally powerful arms and hands more frequently, he could be much more disruptive than he currently is, in both facets of the game.
10. Lavar Edwards, LSU - 6'3, 272:
Edwards has been overshadowed by the flashier Mingo and Montgomery at LSU, but he certainly has nothing to hang his head about. He's a guy I consider to be a real potential steal between rounds 3 and 5, as I see one of the more well-rounded, balanced ends in the entire class.He doesn't possess an elite first step, but it's certainly not bad, and unlike Montgomery and Mingo, consistently gets his arms extended to create the space he needs to maneuver to the QB or running back.
He's patient and disciplined as a run defender, and always seems to know what's going on around him. He's impressively powerful on contact for his size and is capable of setting the edge consistently on either side of the line, regardless of his blocker's size. He routinely establishes low leverage, and exhibits a strong closing burst in space. He may not have the rubber-band flexibility of guys like Mingo or Carradine, but his active hands and plus awareness put him in position to make disruptive plays against both the run and pass.
11. Margus Hunt, SMU - 6'8, 277:
Hunt is an intriguing athlete considering his unique combination of size and athleticism, as well as when considering how quickly he has picked up the game of football in three years. He's also 26 years old already which adds another twist of intrigue to attempting a projection of where he'll be picked. Although still lacking consistency, Hunt displays an ability to get off the ball with big-time explosion. He also exhibits an ability to keep his frame clean with strong utilization of arm length and strong initial punch.
What might impress me the most, however, is his use of flexibility and balance to get into the chest of his blocker, and turn the corner consistently. His understanding of how to use leverage and length, this early in his development as a football player, tells me that he possesses significant natural football ability. As for his limitations, he's stiff in the hips when asked to move laterally, and changing direction isn't something he's able to do with any real suddenness. He's not very aware or instinctive versus the run, and will lose track of what's going on around him, when engaged at the point of attack. At this point, he's one of the top pure rushers in the class among the strong-side, bigger ends, but has a long way to go in terms of being a well-rounded defender in both facets of the game (run and pass).
12. Devin Taylor, South Carolina - 6'7, 272:
Taylor is a rare athlete for his size. He has a great first step off the snap, impressive straight-line speed, and surprising power to go with highly desireable length. He's at least average in terms of instincts against the run, and he uses his length well to close space and wrap up. He's an effective bull-rusher despite his leaner build, and has room to carry more bulk on his frame without losing a step.
The one major drawback to Taylor is his lack of hip flexibility. This inhibits him from being able to turn the corner consistently, even when he gets a good jump, and he doesn't flash a lot in terms of counter-moves to get back to the inside, although he has plenty of quickness and hand-power to develop some. Putting all of this together, I see a guy who can set the edge from the end on the strong side, in a traditional 4-3 alignment, and then move inside and rush from the 3-technique on passing downs, where his burst, length and hands should afford him some penetration, similar to how Jason Jones was utilized in Seattle'd defense in '12.
13. Alex Okafor, Texas - 6'5, 261:
Okafor is another tough grade, because he's a good athlete with some tangibles that you just love at the edge, but struggles to put it all together. The stats are strong (12.5 sacks in '12), and there's something to be said for production, but my biggest issue with him is he's not a guy who seems to know what's going on around him, and freqently finds himself out of position to, not just make a play, but be remotely close to even having an affect on the play.
He's a really hard worker in terms of fighting and using his hands to get push, or move blockers in pass-rush, and is relentless to the whistle. His length and natural strength are impressive, but he's often stood up to the point that he loses leverage and is stone-walled. He's not fast enough to consistently reach the edge off the snap, and is not an instinctive run defender. He also lacks break-down and change-of-direction ability in space, and isn't sudden when attempting to counter as a rusher. If he was better against the run, he'd be in my top 10 at the position, but as of now, he looks like a one-dimensional rusher who is only average at that one dimension.
14. Datone Jones, UCLA - 6'4, 280:
Jones is another prospect that seems to be getting unusually high grades from a lot of analysts and evaluators, but the tape simply doesn't support it. Granted, he's been playing out of position at UCLA as a 0-technique inside space-filler, and he simply isn't built to be that kind of player. But as he has moved around at times, he simply hasn't displayed the burst or suddenness that you'd like to see out of an impact end at the next level. His natural strength and power does show up from time to time, but only when he has the initial space to get up to speed, which won't be very frequent in the NFL.
He also comes off the line high too frequently and lacks the flexibility to cover a lot of ground laterally, so he missess a lot of opportunities in the backfield, or ends up pushed out of the play completely. A guy who has been moved around as much as he has, hasn't really been given a fair shot at showing NFL scouts what he can do, so workouts could be critical for him. It seems as though Senior Bowl week helped his stock a bit as he had a few impressive practices, but the tape doesn't show the over-hyped explosiveness that many claim to see in him
15. Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky - 6'5, 249:
Smith tore his ACL right around the same time that Carradine tore his, but not before throwing up 12.5 sacks, including 3 against an Alabama team that featured potential 1st round O-linemen Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker - both of whom, by the way, surrendered sacks to Smith.
At 6'5, 249lbs with long arms and explosive get-off, Smith looked dominating at times, and flashed all the key traits you look for in a prototypical NFL edge rusher - speed, flexibility, active hands and closing burst. Like Carradine, Smith's pre-draft workouts will be key in him convincing scouts that he can get back to full speed. If he can, he has the potential to be a big steal and impact sack artist relatively quickly at the next level. The listed ranking assumes Smith makes a full recovery and returns to pre-injury capability.
16. William Gholston, Michigan State - 6'7, 280:
Gholston possesses a massive frame with surprising quickness and burst off the line. He's not very consistent in terms of his timing off the snap and doesn't have the strongest closing burst, but he also possesses raw power that has helped him compensate for these deficiencies, and does flash the ability to over-power opponents with his size and strength.
He finished 2012 with 4.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, and 10, yes that's right, 10 passes batted down. While Gholston hasn't lived up to all the expectations, he certainly has been an impact player, and possesses the size and athleticism to be one at the next level as well. Ideally, his best fit is as a strong-side, 5-technique end in a 4-3, but could move inside on passing downs, and could hold his own as a 3-4 end as well.He flashes quick get-off for his size, nice hand power, and better-than-expected lateral agility to beat blocks in pursuit. Could be another potential steal if he drops past round 3.
17. Stansly Maponga, TCU - 6'3, 268:
Maponga isn't an elite athlete but possesses some physical traits that remind me of Carradine, in terms of the long arms, flexibility and quickness. Maponga's get-off is only average, but he does have a second gear, and flashes an impressive spin move to counter back to the inside, when coming off the edge. He does a good job of making himself thin through gaps, and exhibits "plus" flexibility to establish low center of gravity and flatten at the edge. He could be more active with his hands, and needs to expand on his repertoire of counter-moves considering his lack of "plus" speed, but as of now looks like a guy who could be an immediate nickel rush contributor, with future starter upside as a weakside end.
18. Michael Buchanan, Illinois - 6'5, 252:
Buchanan's length, speed and burst are highly enticing to a team needing a stand-up or hybrid rush-end. He came in to the '12 season with big-time expectations, as many projected him to be a 1st-round pick this year, but his numbers were underwhelming.
He's not a very effective run defender, and lacks the instincts to drop into coverage, so he's pretty much a one-dimensional rush end, and one who will have to get there with speed as he lacks power and plus flexibility to consistently generate leverage. That being said, Buchanan's closing speed may be the best in the class, and his ability to rush from the outside, or stunt in is appealing for a scheme that shows a variety of looks up front. Much like Bruce Irvin last year, Buchanan could be selected higher than his grade, due to his explosiveness as a pure rusher.
19. Joe Kruger, Utah - 6'6, 280:
For whatever reason, Kruger (the younger brother of Paul Kruger) has gone overlooked by a lot of analysts. The tape on him is far from shabby though. At 6'7, he possesses the length and girth to consistently get push off the edge, and provides the versatility to line up outside or in as a rusher with his strong first step and ability to establish leverage quickly. He does struggle to disengage at times and isn't the lateral athlete that his brother is, but there's certainly a place for him as an edge-setter with some pass-rush upside.
20. David Bass, Missouri Western State - 6'4, 263:
From small-school scouting specialist and fellow NFL Draft Network member, Matthew Elder: "Bass has explosive ability out of the 3 point stance, does a good job utilizing his hands to shed for a small school guy and knows how to bend. He's still not strong enough at the POA and he hasn't developed a good repertoire of moves to counter blockers but he does a nice job working inside and out and will utilize stutter steps to try and get the OT to lean before shooting the gap.
The best part about his game though is his explosion into the QB or ball carrier. He seems to find that extra gear when closing that the best pass rushers all have. He delivers a brutal blow to QB's from the backside."
21. Meshack Williams, Kansas State - 6'2, 248:
Williams is undersized to be a traditional down defensive end at the next level, and lacks fluidity in space to be a traditional linebacker. However, he does have a knack for getting to the quarterback, exhibiting a nice first step and really strong closing burst, to go with great effort on every play. He reminds me of Cordarro Law, but is stronger against the run, and is faster in a straight line, which leads me to believe that for a team looking for a situational rusher, Williams could be worth a 6th or 7th round pick, and potentially grow into a more significant role down the road.
DE Rankings – "LEO" Position (weak-side hybrid DE/OLB-type unique to Seattle’s scheme)
|Missouri Western State
DE Rankings – DEs for Seattle’s strong-side (would upgrade the pass-rush from the LDE position)
You can find more of Derek's analysis at his Seahawks-centric draft, free agency, & pro player personnel site called "ScoutTheSeahawks." Head over and bookmark it - he maintains a really great free agent tracker in addition to his Draft focus that is much more in-depth than most places because of his background doing deep scouting of NFL Draft prospects.