Wednesday, February 26, 2014

2014 Cowboys Draft Weekly Notebook - Episode 6 - Defensive Ends

This week, let's break down the top several defensive ends that we have all been looking at for the top of the 2014 NFL draft.  Now, before we dive in too deep, we need to offer a few thoughts right off the top.  One regarding the most talked about player in the mix for the entire draft and the other about scheme fits and finding a glove that properly fits the hand.

First, Jadeveon Clowney talk.  I did not include him in this grouping because for me it is a wild waste of time as he will be long gone before the Cowboys select.  There are just times where we should make it a point to spend our time on worthy endeavors.  Clowney is a fantastic talent who has been under tons of scrutiny during this long spring as many question whether or not we saw his best efforts in 2013.

There was not a question of his talent or his ability or his results.  It was about his effort, which is kind of the most important question anyone could ever ask.  When you watched the Seahawks and 49ers clash in that NFC Championship game last month, you wondered if some had the ability and others the guts.  But, never did you ask if everyone was giving their best effort.  That is a given, right?  You don't excel at the NFL level unless your heart is in it at all times.

So, why does this film tell us that Clowney was not into it last fall?  It would take a while to break it all the way down into a nuanced form, but the quick answer is that we see this all the time.  We see players change from "reckless abandon" mode to taking precautions on the field as they finish their college career.  And you shouldn't blame them.

The NCAA and NFL conspire to make sure that young men serve 3 years of college football before we let them into the draft - without choice.  If they didn't, Clowney would already be a pro (likely when he was 18).  Instead, he plays college football, is told he is the #1 pick about 2 years ago, and then must not do anything to ruin that life-changing payday until May 2014 arrives.

In the meantime, he plays for South Carolina in the most difficult conference in college football where opponents know who he is and how they can make their name off of him.  Also, he happens to play on the same team as a man named Marcus Lattimore who once was a Top of the 1st round pick, but after a horrific knee injury, he dropped to pick #131 in the 2013 draft and lost millions and millions of dollars because he was randomly chosen for a catastrophic moment that took his payday away.

So, Clowney sees this happen and then plays the next season with more caution and less reckless abandon and people can't put the two together?  I say he gets to the NFL and effort is never an issue again, because his financial security will be set and he can just worry about QBs.  I hate it when people criticize a player for expressing human emotions.  It is not ideal to have a guy playing at 70% speed, but it is human.


Now, a thought or two about scheme fits.  This particular position is one of the more difficult spots to define as a player can be in one of 5 different groups:

1) He can be a 5-technique in a 3-4.  This is a defensive end who is stout enough to 2-gap tackle and hold his ground.  He is not known for a pass rush ability as much as he is known for being large and able to move laterally.  He could pass rush on passing downs, but in base downs, he is simply anchoring the line.

2) He can be a DE in a 4-3.  This guy is what we all grew up watching.  Think Jared Allen or Julius Peppers.  These guys are a tackle's worst nightmare on the pass rush but also are not getting pushed around in the running game.  They are longer players with the ability to trouble massive offensive tackles with a combination of quickness and power.

3) He can be a 3-4 OLB.  This is a common theme at the draft.  This is a guy who was a DE in college, but because the NFL is another level up in both size, strength, and speed, he can stay there in the pros or they would run him over.  So, can he be the outside LB who still does many of the same things, but has less responsibilities between the tackles and more on the edge with size match ups he can win.  He also must have hips that allow him to drop and cover in both zone and man situations in the passing game.

4) He can be a situational pass rusher at DE.  This guy cannot play DE in the 4-3 on normal downs because they will run right at him and show his size is insufficient.  But, he also cannot cover RBs and TEs in space because of his tight hips or stiff movement skills and or he just doesn't have the type of speed that is needed to do so.  So, we think that he is only a 3rd down pass rusher and that has significantly less value for a team since that is just 10-15 plays a game.

5) He might be a DT candidate in a 4-3.  This is rare, but on occasion, a DE is better served in the interior because while his skill set may not allow for edge rushing, he may be a better fit inside against guards where his quickness can really cause a terror.

Now, there are several players that fit neatly into a category, others who blur the lines, and still others who can do many of the above.  So, each team is trying to project that with a year or two in the weight program and with a year or two of coaching, what can this player do for us?  And, it is why there are so many misses in this inexact science of projecting 21 year old athletes.

Does a guy fit in this scheme?  These are the debates on each player below and as we look at each one, we will attempt to answer that to the best of our ability.


Let's get started on this crop:

Dee Ford - Auburn - 6'2 - 243

Dee is part of an Auburn defense that spent a lot of time swarming its opponent and Ford was right in the middle of it.  He had 25 explosive plays in this breakout season and did most of it as a DE who got after the QB on a regular basis.  He wins a ton in the pass rush department and will seem to be a candidate with his quickness to continue to do that at the next level.

When you look at him and try to put him in a category, you do have to wonder about how many times he was over-run in the running game.  In fact, it seemed pretty clear that he is caved in when they run right at him and Florida State made a point to call that play several times in the National Championship game.

He is very hard to block and he has that speed that runs down plays from behind and he is so good in hot pursuit on plays going the other direction, but at 240, I just don't see this as a great plan at DE in the 4-3.  In fact, he spent many snaps in the standing posture, hinting that he might be the OLB 3-4 candidate where he is comfortable, but even then, his drops are not something you want to feature very often.  So, that might make him a guy like DeMarcus Ware, but then he better be able to get home 12 times a year and he has only had double-digit sack production the one year at Auburn.


In 52 college games, he accounted for 44.5 explosive plays (Sacks + TFLs) and was also part of a rotation where he did not play the full allotment in college.  He was put in a position to succeed and therefore was kept fresh - which must be done with a player of his size.

There is no way you want to try to run a bootleg to his side or a read option keeper where he is about to body slam your QB, but for me, I just don't totally see him in this 4-3 scheme.  I think he is too small and ideal for a 3-4 OLB.  A team with better depth could ignore this and rotate him in (like Seattle and Bruce Irvin) and just use him in spots where size won't matter, but Dallas is looking for full-time players right now and Dee Ford - for all his abilities - is not a full time player in a 4-3 at defensive end.

I just don't think I can see that after watching him plenty.

Kony Ealy - Missouri - 6'5 - 275

Now, this is player with the size that you look for when trying to find that DE who can do everything that you need to be a 3-down option on the edge.  He is big, has long arms, and has wonderful quickness as he demonstrated at this week's combine with a 3-cone drill performance that was at the top of his position group.  So, all of that checks out very well.

On his game tape, we saw a player who did a lot of nice things.  First, he stood up to runs and collapsed several nicely.  He won't get pushed around on power plays in his direction, and yet possesses quickness that is interesting.  Let me be clear, he is nowhere near as quick as Dee Ford, but at 30 pounds heavier, that is ok with me.

He moves inside and is even better on the inside rush on nickel downs, but as a 3-down DE can do everything I need at a solid enough level that you would have to consider him a 1st round option.  


38 games and 39.5 explosive plays is solid, but not jaw dropping.  He has room to get better and you might want another helping of knowing his hair is on fire.  He saw a ton of double teams (which may explain some of Michael Sam's production on the other side) and I would like to see him take his weight room training more seriously as I get the impression that he has not to this point of his football career.

He can find creases well and he can even spy a bit on a QB who moves.  He can run down plays from behind for a big man and just causes disruptions quite a bit.  There are several games where it is clear he is playing a bit faster and wants "in" on more tackles and ramps up his aggressiveness.

If you were to draw up a blueprint for the defensive end the Cowboys need, Kony Ealy is pretty close to the guy.  Is his motor there and will he get as strong as he needs to? In other words, does he have a fire burning inside him to be the best he can be?  I might need to hear him talk in the team interview before I would pound the table on this pick, but with just the eyeball test, Ealy is someone to consider at #16.

Jackson Jeffcoat - Texas - 6'3 - 245

There is a lot to talk about with Jeffcoat and I will admit to being guilty of always defaulting to bloodlines.  If your dad had over 100 sacks in the NFL, you might make it a point to offer his offspring the benefit of the doubt.

However, Jackson was not invited to the Senior Bowl.  And with a list of injuries that he has dealt with, he is the type of guy where there comes a time that he is worth grabbing.

But, let's start with production.  In 40 college games, he had 75 explosives and another 4 forced fumbles!  That is insane and when looking at him sideways about his deficiencies and scheme concerns, you should always remember that he has routinely whipped the guy in front of him to get to the ball at every level.  

Here are his numbers and they are awesome:


The concerns are many.  He played much of his time at Texas standing up on the edge or even at times playing at 5 yards depth as sort of a shallow LB (see the Texas Tech game this year).  And yet, his drops were usually zone and simple and not really something that answered any NFL questions as he is thought of as again, too stiff to play OLB in the 3-4 if you want him to do anything but pass rush.  But, if you do want him to just pass rush, you must know that he also cannot hold up to a direct run very well and will be attacked in the NFL on 1st and 2nd downs.

He absolutely loves to turn the corner on big offensive tackles and his sack and strip is a thing of beauty.  He gets to the QB if you give him a chance, but he doesn't look super quick or super strong.  So, does that work best at the college game?  He is very useful, but what does he do that is special at the NFL level?

He runs into too many single-team blocks where he can't get anywhere, but then will pop up for a huge sack and if he could just sustain the consistency, he would be a Top 50 player for me.  But, when you consider the inconsistencies and then add in the injuries, I would have to feel like the risk and the reward match-up better later in the draft.

I like him, but I don't love him.  I also don't love him for this scheme unless he is a 3rd down option and I can't pay any more than a 3rd rounder for that.  I am sure he will have a chance to prove himself a starter in the NFL and should be productive, but is he a 1st or 2nd round option in Dallas?  I don't think I can do that for a guy who may not have a true position.  

Scott Crichton - Oregon State - 6'3 - 260

This is a player I knew nothing about when I started this process.  I never watch Oregon State and had never heard of Scott Crichton.  But, I am really impressed with him.

The first thing that jumps out at you is how relentless he plays and just seems to rush every pass with attitude and full battle.  He really wants that QB and of all the candidates seems the most likely to crush whatever to get there.

He is built like a DE of normal size and from that standpoint you might wonder if he could stand to be a bit more stout, but when it comes to flexibility and the ability to win with leverage and to contort his body to turn the corner or squeeze in between a gap, he checks the boxes quite well.  


In 38 college games in the Pac 10, he accounted for a crazy 73.5 explosives and 10 more forced fumbles.  This guy is a beast and the best part is from everything I can tell, he treats each play as it is very, very important to him.  In other words, he seems like a Rod Marinelli type player.

His tests at the combine were good, but not great.  He is not a freak of nature at all, but rather just a guy who has good skills and then red-lines his RPMs on a regular basis.  He has very solid pass rush skills and can get after it.  His biggest weakness might be that you wish he was a bit heavier and a bit stronger, but otherwise, I would expect this guy to go easily in the Top 50 and if you aren't careful, he could go late in the 1st.

I really feel that Crichton will be a heck of a pro in the 4-3 at defensive end.  Ealy versus Crichton would be a fun discussion to witness in the war-room.  

Stephon Tuitt - Notre Dame - 6'6 - 303

Now, this is a fascinating kid.  First, know that Stephon Tuitt has a stress fracture and may not be available for any more spring testing or pro day activities.  That means that you might have to gamble on how fast he really is and other explosion drills.

But, it is just a stress fracture, so before you compare him to Bruce Carter's medical, simmer down.  It is not an injury to get too worried about.  And it could send him down the board right to a team that is opportunistic.

He also has some tape that makes you wonder if he was playing at his full capabilities last fall or if he might have also been playing safe like Clowney.

However, he is an amazing talent.  He is so quick for a big man and so agile and loves to hit the QB.  There was a sequence in the USC game where he repeatedly abused the left tackle and looked unblockable.  He has great hands and can get off his block and to the gap on a regular basis.  I love his skill set.


43.5 explosives in 35 college games shows that he can do his thing on the stat sheet, too.

Now, where do we play him?  Great question with the easiest answer is that he looks like a 5-tech which is a DE in a 3-4.  In fact, sometimes you look at him and he looks like Chris Canty back in the Parcells days.  But, as you recall, the New York Giants wanted Canty to play in their 4-3 on the inside and he moved very well over there into the rotation.  And Tuitt has more skills than Canty.

I know I am taking a chance here, but I would love to get Tuitt and try him at the 3-technique where he could replicate the frame of Jason Hatcher reasonably well.  I think he could be a terror there and would love Dallas to try it.  And, if it didn't work, I think he can still be a player you can line up anywhere and either be a strong side DE or a 1-technique.

Does he play with maximum effort and is he a perfect scheme fit?  Not sure.  But, man, he is a monster of a man with great quickness that I believe is as tempting as anyone on this list.  And, he could fall out of Round 1 and right to you in the 2nd round if things go right.

Trent Murphy - Stanford - 6'5 - 252

He led the nation in sacks and was a 1st team All-American.  Trent Murphy plays football very, very well.  However, like Dee Ford, we don't know how he would hold up at DE in the 4-3 because of size and strength and therefore might not fully fit in the 4-3.

He gets washed inside on running plays at him as a tackle can cave him in due to his size limitations. He worked as LB at the combine so that might tell you what you need to know for this scheme, but do not sleep on his very impressive quickness.  I am not sure he has Clay Matthews ability, but his Stanford career would say that you better look carefully if you are a 3-4 team.


85 explosives?  That is insane in just 43 college games.  I really like him and think that he is going to have an excellent career.  But, I also don't think there is any chance the Cowboys would try him out at DE and therefore wasting too much time on a player who is not a candidate to play here might not be appropriate.

Trent Murphy is an exceptional college player who just needs to land in the right spot.  Stand-up 3-4 OLB and let him play for a decade.

Chris Smith - Arkansas - 6'1 - 266

The last guy on my list might be the player that most resembles a level behind Scott Crichton from Oregon State, but the same type of player with perhaps a bit less of that motor, but more explosion.

Smith is really something, though, and when you watch him play DE, you again see a Rod Marinelli fit that reminds you of the Kiffin/Marinelli handbook about "never being outworked".

Smith has a very nice pass rush and in 2013 seemed to really fall in love with a spin move that he improved upon and that allowed him a lot of productivity even though he had a target on him after a big 2012.


One of my favorite reels to watch of him was his Auburn game in 2012 when Auburn tackle Greg Robinson (Top 5 pick) was trying to block this guy and seriously could have been called for 5-6 holds as Smith gave him fits.

He isn't great at the point of attack and will not silence a run game by himself by any stretch.  In fact, when he gets tired, he just sort of throws a shoulder in there and that won't cut it on Sundays.

But, when it is time to go get the QB, Chris Smith is another edge guy to look for in Round 2.

His productivity of 52 explosives in 43 games is plenty to show that he needs a look with his size.  He also put on a combine performance that will have him snapped up early because his vertical, broad jump, and bench press all add up to that of a player with great explosion, something scouts add together to find a total that is appealing.  Chris Smith has that all.


So, in closing, Dee Ford, Jackson Jeffcoat, and Trent Murphy are not scheme fits.

Stephon Tuitt is not ideal, but worth the trouble.

And, Kony Ealy, Scott Crichton, and Chris Smith are perfect fits for what you want to build.

Past Draft Profiles:

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