Due to his exorbitant contract, the Chicago Bears may part ways with veteran defensive end Julius Peppers this offseason. In addition, Corey Wootton is set to hit free agency and Shea McClellin is switching positions to linebacker. Conceivably, the Bears could be in the market to replace their top three defensive ends this offseason.
As a result, GM Phil Emery is likely to look early and often in this year's draft to find young edge rushers. Only three or four defensive ends are projected to land in the first round of this year's draft and Missouri's Kony Ealy is one of them.
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports
Kony Ealy, Missouri (Junior) (6-5, 275)First-team AP All-SEC in 2013
Projected: 1st Round
Ealy is well built with long arms. He was one of the nation's leaders in batted balls and has ideal size to play 4-3 defensive end. His power, particularly his upper body strength, gives him an edge against the run. He has good pop upon initial contact and is a solid, brick-wall tackler. Ealy has very good straight-line speed and can chase down quarterbacks from sideline to sideline. He's also adept at working his way through the trash to make tackles from the weak side.
As a pass rusher, Ealy is extremely explosive. He times his rush very well off the snap and has a quick first step. Most of his sacks were the result of him beating the opposing lineman off the ball. He's good at dipping his shoulder and, when he gains leverage, he uses his power to fight through blocks. Ealy's strength serves him well on inside rushes also, allowing him to rip through arm blocks.
Ealy relies too much on his power and does not have a full arsenal of pass-rush moves. He doesn't change directions well and almost never uses a spin move. He has strong hands but doesn't use them consistently to shed blocks. Too often, when he can't gain leverage and use his power, he's done.
Ealy can hold his own at the point of attack but he doesn't have great awareness against the run. He doesn't consistently fight off blocks and he lacks the ability to change directions when locked up with an opposing lineman.
Missouri used a number of 3-4 and 4-3 fronts. Ealy was asked to stand up on occasion but looked hesitant in his reads, both against the run and dropping back in coverage.
Ealy had 8.5 sacks his junior season, his second as a starter and earned first-team All-SEC honors. He played his best during Missouri's biggest games, forcing two fumbles in the SEC Championship game and tallying two sacks in the 2014 Cotton Bowl.
Ealy is a three-down player who has yet to reach his ceiling. He showed last year a lot of potential as a pass rusher and got better as the season progressed. His strength off the edge will give NFL offensive tackles fits. When he dips his shoulder, he can drive right past a blocker. He also showed well as a defensive tackle and can slide inside if necessary.
While not exceptionally quick, Ealy makes up for it with a great first step and all-day power. If he's taught a few more pass-rush moves, he can be a double-digit sack producer at the next level.
His body type is tailor made for a 4-3 defensive end. His dimensions are almost identical to South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, whom many believe will be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Ealy still learning how to stop the run on a consistent basis but he has all the tools to be an effective run stopper.
As far as all-around players, few other defensive ends in this year's draft can match Ealy. When you throw in the fact he's just scratching the surface of his abilities, you see why he's considered one of the top defenders in this class.
The Bears struggled to pressure the quarterback and could not stop the run in 2013. Ealy would be able to help in both areas right away. At 14th overall, Ealy would make a solid fit and would help fill a number of needs for Chicago's defense.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is entering his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.