It's conceivable the Chicago Bears will enter the 2014 campaign without their top three defensive ends from last season. Corey Wootton is set to hit free agency, Shea McClellin is being moved to linebacker and Julius Peppers, due more than $18 million next year, is a likely cut candidate. Needless to say, GM Phil Emery will be looking at both free agency and the draft to re-build his corps of edge rushers.
North Carolina defensive end Kareem Martin is an intriguing mid-round player who could be on Emery's short list. Martin was named first-team All-ACC his senior year in 2013 after posting 11.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss, which were Top 5 totals nationally last season.
I was fortunate to get an up-close look at Martin during the Senior Bowl and just poured over game film from three of his collegiate contests. Here is my scouting report on the former Tar Heel.
Kareem Martin (6-6, 272)40-Yard Dash: 4.72
Bench Press: 22
Vertical Jump: 35.5
Broad Jump: 10-9
Martin has extreme length and he can be very explosive in pursuit. When given a clear path, he's on quarterbacks in a flash. He's a wrap up tackler who uses his size to smother ball carriers.
Martin is very strong against the run. He uses good leverage and consistently extends his arms to create separation. He keeps his eyes in the backfield and has strong hands, allowing him to quickly shed blocks at the point of attack. He's technically sound and has great instincts when tracking running backs. When he gets a head of steam, Martin can be an explosive force in the backfield.
As a pass rusher, Martin is at his best on nickel downs when he can pin his ears back and get after the quarterback. When he comes hard off the ball, he shows signs of absolute dominance. In the Cincinnati contest from 2013 (video below) Martin picks up a sack/safety after splitting a double team on 3rd and 10. At 5:36, he knocks the opposing offensive tackle on his butt with a wicked forearm shiver. Impressive stuff.
Martin is one of the most inconsistent defensive linemen in this year's draft class. He can be an unstoppable force on one play and then he'll disappear for a full quarter. When he's unmotivated or winded, he comes off the ball like a slug and gives very little effort.
Martin lacks explosion at the snap as a pass rusher. When it's not an obvious passing situation, he's often the last defensive lineman out of his stance. He also needs to gain strength in his upper body. Against the pass, once opposing offensive tackles get their hands on Martin, he's usually finished.
Martin was not very impressive during the week of practices leading up to the Senior Bowl. He rarely beat his man in one-on-one drills and looked ponderous as a pass rusher.
Yet during the game, Martin showed up in a big way against the run, something that's nearly impossible to evaluate in practice. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded the highest of any defensive player at the Senior Bowl in stopping the run. As a first- and second-down defensive end, Martin will have an immediate impact in the NFL.
When I spoke with Martin at the Senior Bowl, I asked him if he felt he was a first-round draft pick.
"I definitely think I'm first-round talent," he said. "I'm coming here to prove it this week. I feel like a good week here and a strong showing at the combine could put me in the late first round."
Martin won't likely land in the first round but he did himself very well at the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this week. Amongst defensive linemen, Martin was one of the top performers in the 40-yard dash (4.71) and the vertical jump (35.5) and posted the No. 1 broad jump (10-9, a half inch better than Jadeveon Clowney).
For a player of Martin's size, those are outstanding numbers. Yet even more impressive was his 10-yard split (1.53) which was the best amongst all defensive linemen, faster than both Clowney and Aaron Donald. The 10-yard split measures a players ability to explode out of his stance and obviously Martin has a lot of potential in that area.
Make no mistake, Martin is a project. He's still a raw player who doesn't possess much of a pass-rush arsenal. As such, he'll likely be a third-round pick in this year's draft. For the Bears, he could pay big dividends. The combine showed that Martin has all of the physical tools to be a dominant player at the next level. He's also versatile, playing in both 3-4 and 4-3 systems while at North Carolina. Under the right coach and in the proper strength and conditioning program, he could develop into a quality NFL starter.
In the meantime, he'll be able to clog running lanes from the very start of his professional career. He's a physical specimen with a lot of upside. If he's still on the board when it's the Bears' turn to pick in the third round, Emery should give Martin strong consideration.
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.