2007 NFL draft/positional analysis: DEs

A defensive end who can hold the point of attack in the 49ers' base 3-4 scheme and provide legitimate heat in the pass rush is arguably the team's biggest need in the 2007 draft. Those players are hard to find, but there are a few prospects at this position on which the Niners would pounce at the No. 11 slot in the first round. Here, we analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the draft's top DEs.

POSITION ANALYSIS: The 49ers need to address this position somewhere high in the draft, even though they have a solid set of projected starters in their base 3-4 with Bryant Young and Marques Douglas. The problem is, Young is 35 and entering his 14th NFL season and Douglas turned 30 last month. The team also has young Melvin Oliver, who surprised last year while starting 14 games on the edge as a rookie, and Ronnie Fields, who also can play on the nose but might be better suited for duty as a 3-4 end. That's the basis for a solid rotation at the position, but the Niners would like to add a stud who could upgrade the pass rush, an area where - besides Young - the players mentioned above aren't particularly strong. The 49ers don't figure to have a shot at Clemson's Gaines Adams, who has fantastic potential as an edge rusher and is considered the top DE in this draft, but he'd have to add weight to be a true 3-4 end anyway. If fast-rising Arkansas junior Jamaal Anderson still is there, he might be a better prospect for the 49ers because of his potential to add size. Beyond that, there are other legitimate possibilities for the 49ers - in the first round or otherwise - because some scouts are rating this position class as one of the best in years. It might surpass the four DEs that went off the board in the first round of the 2006 draft, and it is very possible that there might be as many as a dozen defensive ends go off the board in the first three or four rounds and more than the 21 DEs that were drafted last year.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Gaines Adams, Clemson, 6-4¾, 261: Fifth-year senior…Played eight-man football in high school…Two-year starter who recorded 118 tackles, 32.5 tackles for a loss, 22 sacks, 15 batted balls, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in that span…Named Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2006, was a First-Team All-America and a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award, given to the country's top defensive player…Has very good size and a body that still has the ability to get bigger…The most explosive pass rusher in this draft and some would argue, while a different type of player, is as productive as Mario Williams was coming out a year ago…Has great counter move and can slip and rip on the inside…Plays well against the run and uses his feet well to chase plays…Finishes tackles and punishes…Doesn't have an ideal anchor at his current playing weight and teams will run his way early on…Will get tied up on running plays and get pushed around…Didn't come across as a player that was into the aspects of the Combine and turned off some teams with his interviews…On the physical side, he owned the Combine, finishing first for DEs with a 4.65 40, 21 reps of 225 pounds, and tying for third-best in both the vertical jump (35 inches) and the broad jump (9-11).
Projection: He has so much of an upside, he could go as early as the second pick of the draft to the Lions or slip as far as No. 6 to the Redskins, but doesn't figure to slip much farther. A player who can line up as a down lineman and a standing pass rush linebacker is attractive to every team and he won't stay on the board long.

Jamaal Anderson, Arkansas, 6-5½, 284: Third-year junior…Extremely athletic, he played wide receiver and broke his high school record for receptions and yards that had been held for more than 20 years by former Eagles TE great Keith Jackson…Did not become a full-time starter until last year, when he recorded 65 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, 13.5 sacks, six batted passes and one forced fumble…Long arms and good first step to hook around offensive tackles…Strong edge rusher who makes quarterbacks adjust the pocket…Times his jumps well when neutralized and gets his hands on a lot of passes…Strong at the point of attack in run defense…Uses his hands well…Can get even bigger…Likely would have made millions more by staying in school another year and potentially be a top two or three pick in 2008…Doesn't always play with a lot of intensity or focus…Is tall and comes off the snap a little to high and gets directed and pushed out of plays more often than he should…Ran a 4.75 40 at the Combine with 22 reps, a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump.
Projection: Anderson has a mountain of upside, but looks like a better fit in a 3-4 defense because of his long arms and quick feet. He won't last on the board long, and at this point, doesn't figure to be around when the 49ers pick at No. 11. If he is still there, he'll probably be wearing a San Francisco uniform in 2007.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Adam Carriker, Nebraska, 6-6, 291—Fifth-year senior…A former high school quarterback…Became a starter early in his sophomore year and, in the two years he was a full-time starter, he had 95 tackles, 33 tackles for a loss, 16.5 sacks, six passes batted down and one fumble recovery…Won Big 12 Lineman of the Year in 2006…Already married…A tremendously strong upper body that he showed off at the Combine (see below)…Uses his hands well to push around offensive tackles…Holds his ground well in the running game…Had an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl with some variety to his pass-rush moves…Very coachable and loved by his teammates…Is not going to be a dominant pass rusher for sacks at the next level…Doesn't have good explosion off the snap…Plays a little too tall and will get cut too often…Doesn't always pick up screens and will get burned when out of position…Tied for the most reps of 225 pounds by defensive ends at the Combine with 33, adding a 4.72 40, a 33½-inch vertical jump and a 9-2 broad jump (second worst among DEs).
Projection: He is a guy who has been working his way steadily up draft boards for the past two months. He has the ability to be an end on rushing downs and a tackle on passing downs in either a 4-3 or 3-4 alignment. Few players possess that kind of versatility and somebody is going to get a very good player somewhere in the middle third of the first round. He seems like a good fit for the 49ers, but they might be looking for a player with more impact potential at No. 11. Then again, Carriker's quality might be worth the pick.

Jarvis Moss, Florida, 6-6½, 258: Third-year junior…A career plagued with injuries, including two dangerous staph infections, a hernia and a series of pelvic muscle injuries…Didn't become a starter until last year, posting 56 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, four batted balls and four forced fumbles…Excellent size and long arms…Good burst off the snap and big first step…Routinely gets around tackles and hones in on the quarterback…Good closing speed and makes a lot of hits that don't register as sacks…Gets pushed beyond the pocket too much and tends to depend on bull rush too much…A little thin and could use more bulk…Injuries have to be a concern because his 2005 staff infection saw his weight drop to 220 pounds…Didn't not have a good Combine performance—ran a 4.76 40, his 16 reps of 225 pounds was the worst of any DE that tested, his 30½-inch vertical jump was tied for third-worst, but ironically his 10-0 broad jump was second-best.
Projection: Another player who could have greatly helped his stock had he stayed another year in school, but his potential as a Julius Peppers type of pass rusher from the outside is going to get a lot of teams' attention. Someone likely will take the jump at him late in the first round or early in the second.

Charles Johnson, Georgia, 6-2¼, 270: Third-year junior…Didn't become a starter until last year when he had 44 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks, 10 passes batted down, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery…Has excellent playing size and very long arms…Chases down plays to the other sideline…Holds his ground pretty well in run defense…Has a solid dip-and-rip move on inside pass rush technique…Good tackler who finishes when he gets contact…Has trouble against massive OTs…Will not be an effective edge rusher consistently at the next level and will have to learn savvy moves to beat most competent OTs…Only a one-year starter, so will need time to learn intricacy of the pro game…Disappears when tight end is on his side for a double team…His 4.86 40 at the Combine was the second slowest among DEs, but his 33 reps tied for first and had added a 34-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump.
Projection: Will never have the speed to be a consistent pass rusher, but has tremendous strength and looks like an ideal left end that can be a force vs. the rush. He'll need time, so he will go somewhere in the second round and possibly after a couple of the players we have rated below him.

Anthony Spencer, Purdue, 6-3¾, 265: Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who played two years at tackle—recording 56 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, seven batted balls, six forced fumbles and one fumble recovery...Moved to end last year and had a whopping 93 tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, six passes broken up, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovery...His 26.5 tackles-for-loss were the most in the country and just 1.5 tackles short of the Purdue school record of 28 set by Jeff Zgonia…Got better every season and really blossomed in '06 against some very tough competition…Very quick off the snap and forces tackles to stand and spin almost immediately…Good closing speed and gets to the QB a lot…Motor never stops…Durable player who started his last 37 college games…Needs to take advantage of his weight-room strength and apply it on the field…Comes off as a one-trick pony who only wants to take the outside pass rush…Is viewed as undersized and perhaps a best fit as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 scheme…Is not at his best in run defense and ends up getting cut down too often…Ran a 4.69 40 at the Combine with 30 reps, a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 9-4 broad jump.
Projection: Viewed as a ‘tweener, he will likely be viewed by many 4-3 teams as a better fit in a 3-4, which could drop his draft stock. But Purdue has put a lot of good pass rushers in the league over the last few years (including the Vikings' Ray Edwards last year), so he will definitely be on teams' radars. The question is whether he will last long enough for the Vikings to consider him in the third round.

Victor Abiamiri, Notre Dame, 6-4¼, 267: Fourth-year senior…Was going to attend Maryland, but transferred to Notre Dame when the Terps' recruiting scandal broke and put the program on probation…A full-time starter the last two years who recorded 91 tackles, 30 tackles for a loss, 18.5 sacks, two passes batted down and three forced fumbles…Was named team captain in 2006…Has a great motor and chases plays all over the field…Durable and has never missed a game with injuries…Has multiple pass-rush moves…Has the upper-body strength to hold his own vs. the run…Had a very strong week at the Senior Bowl…Doesn't have great closing speed and won't have the same sort of edge vs. NFL offensive tackles…Put up some gaudy numbers against the cupcakes on Notre Dame's schedule and wasn't as dominant against quality opposition…Doesn't have top end measurables or skills…Didn't jump at the Combine, but ran a 4.81 40 and did 25 reps with 225 pounds.
Projection: He has the total package of skills required to be a NFL DE, but isn't off the charts in any of them. He'll be a good addition to a team, but more likely will be a player who spends most of his career in a DE rotation and is asked to play a role rather than be a stud. But, with his upside potential, he would be a solid pick in the third round.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Ikaika Alama-Francis, Hawaii, 6-5¼, 276: Fifth-year senior…His father was old when he was born—Joe Francis played for the Packers in 1958-59 under Vince Lombardi…Was a walk-on with the basketball team in 2002…Never played football in high school and walked on to the football team in 2003…A two-year starter who had 88 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss, nine sacks, four batted passes, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries…Tore his right pectoral muscle during Hula Bowl week and also got hurt during the East-West Shrine Game practices…Has the ideal measurables for a NFL defensive end…Very good size and long arms…Strong upper body…Has good rush moves…Adept at stopping running plays coming right at him…Gets through the pile to make plays on runs to the other side…Extremely inexperienced and not ready for the physical toll the NFL season will take on his body…Likes to bull rush but doesn't have the speed to do it consistently at the next level…Will take plays off and give up early if going in the other direction a bit too often…Is slow off the snap…Didn't lift at the Combine while recovering from his pectoral injury, but his 4.85 40 was the third-worst of his group; however, he did have an impressive 35-inch vertical jump (third best among DEs) and a 9-6 broad jump.
Projection: If you strictly go by his look and his measurable numbers, he would be a first-round pick. But he has only played organized football for four years, started for two, and Hawaii isn't exactly like playing in the Big Ten against some of the top OTs in the college game. Some team may gamble on him in the second round because of his enormous potential, but more likely he'll slide into the third round.

Ray McDonald, Florida, 6-3½, 282: Fifth-year senior…His father Ray Sr. was a wide receiver for the Gators from 1984-87…Only the fourth Florida player in school history to start his first game as a freshman on Opening Day…Played his first two years at defensive tackle, starting 19 of 24 games and recording 93 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, two passes knocked down, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery…Moved to end as a junior but was injured and needed two surgeries to repair a torn ACL in his left knee…Came back as a senior to start all 14 games at end, picking up 36 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, five deflected passes and one fumble recovery…Very good upper-body strength and one of the best linemen in proper use of his hands in this year's class…Very quick off the snap and always appears to be the first guy moving…Has good closing speed on the man with the ball…Has long arms and keeps them in the air when the ball is coming out…Could be used at end or tackle…Doesn't have top end explosion and ran awful at the Combine (see below)…Is a ‘tweener…Durability has to be a big question mark after two major knee surgeries…Gets cut blocked too easily and too often…Plays a little too high and can be maneuvered…His time of 4.88 in the 40 at the Combine was the worst of any DE that ran and his 29-inch vertical jump was also the position worst. He opted not to lift at the Combine.
Projection: He has the experience of playing both DT and DE, but his best hope in the NFL is probably to add 20 pounds of bulk and become a pass-rushing tackle. His speed likely won't translate well as a pass-rushing end in the NFL, which should take him to the latter stages of Day One.

Quentin Moses, Georgia, 6-5¼, 261: Fifth-year senior…Played on the Bulldogs' basketball team as a freshman…A two-year starter who had 77 tackles, 32.5 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks, three passes broken up, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries in that span…Three-time All-SEC Academic Honor Roll…Good speed to make the corner on pass rush…Uses his hands to keep linemen off of him in pursuit…Has long arms and can loop around OTs…Chases plays on the backside and makes tackles on the other side of the field…Good finisher who doesn't have many broken tackles…Doesn't have bulk and, after looking skinny at the Senior Bowl, he gained 12 pounds between then and the Combine and looked out of shape…Tends to avoid contact more often than initiating it…Can get forced wide of the pocket by good offensive tackles…Doesn't have good upper-body strength (see below) and will struggle against bigger mauling tackles…Ran a 4.85 40 at the Combine with a 32-inch vertical jump, a 9-7 broad jump and just 17 reps of 225 pounds—the second lowest total of any DE that lifted.
Projection: A player who looked like a first-rounder after a solid junior season seemed to regress last year. He is likely going to be pigeon-holed into a 3-4 defense as a rush linebacker, which will limit the number of teams that will go strong after him. Because of that, we don't see him off the board until the third round, but because of the need for pass rushers, he could go earlier than we project, but we believe that might be a mistake given that he doesn't play with a lot of passion.

Tim Crowder, Texas, 6-4, 272: Fourth-year senior…Became a starter early in his true freshman season and started the final 47 games of his career…Had better numbers each year, finishing his four years with 191 tackles, 40 tackles for a loss, 19 sacks (10 of those last year), 14 passes batted down, eight forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Very good upper-body strength (see below) and a force when shooting his hands in run defense…Sheds blockers smoothly and easily…Has a long stride and gets around the corner quicker as a result…Gets moved inside on obvious passing downs…Drops into pass coverage when he senses screens and can break up plays…Intelligent…Doesn't have multiple pass-rush moves and opponents figure him out…Has never been overly productive from one game to the next…He flashed some nice rush moves at the Senior Bowl drills, but rarely showed the same diversity in games…Had an up and down Combine performance, running a 4.72 40, doing 32 reps of 225 pounds, which was the third-best among DEs, but his vertical jump (30½ inches) and broad jump (9-3) were both third-worst for his position.
Projection: At the Combine, scouts paid a lot more attention to Crowder when he was performing linebacker drills. Most likely he will be a preferred piece in a 3-4 system that allows pass rushers to be stand-up linebackers. With his upside, he could be a Day One prospect, but there will be teams greatly divided as to just how good he is. If one of those teams that likes him is up in the second round, he could go then, but it would be more likely to see him slide a ways.

LaMarr Woodley, Michigan, 6-1½, 265: Fourth-year senior…Became a starter late in his true freshman season and finished his career playing 49 games and starting 33 of them…Finished his Michigan career with 177 tackles, 52.5 tackles for a loss, 24 sacks (12 of them last year), five passes defensed, 10 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries…Played two years at rush linebacker before moving to right defensive end as a senior…Aggressive player who never lets up…Is strong in the fundamentals of playing the game…Brings the versatility of having played both and started at rush end in a 4-3 system and a rush LB in a system that translates to a 3-4…A leader who was very coachable and picked up on adjustments quickly…Undersized for a NFL defensive end…Doesn't have big-time playing strength, although he has good upper-body strength…Doesn't have great explosion as an edge rusher…Will lose track of where the ball is when locked up with an offensive lineman…Sometimes slow off the ball…Disappears when double-teamed…Ran a 4.74 40 at the Combine with 29 reps, a position second-best 38½-inch vertical jump and a 9-9 broad jump.
Projection: Has all the intangibles to be a solid pro, but his lack of height will be a killer in the eyes of a lot of coaches, especially line coaches. Odds are he will have to move to linebacker and most likely in a 3-4 system. That kind of switch will take time, so he will likely fall to late in the first day before being selected.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Brian Robison, Texas, 6-3, 274
Baraka Atkins, Miami
Dan Bazuin, Central Michigan, 6-3, 266
Jay Moore, Nebraska, 6-4¾, 274


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