Draft scout: Justin Hickman

UCLA's Justin Hickman recorded 19 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks against top competition as a senior. Despite standing just a hair over 6'1, his skill and tenacity could lead to a long NFL career.

Justin Hickman DE UCLA

The numbers: 6013/253/4.75

2006 stats: 30 tackles, 12 assists, 19-117 tackles for loss, 12.5-97 sacks, 2 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles, 1 blocked kick

The player: Forget you ever heard the word 'tweener, there's no such thing anymore. If a guy can play, he'll find a position. The term was originally used to describe players who were halfway in size between an outside linebacker and a defensive end, but modern defenses have evolved so that there's little difference these days. These days, what used to have been a 'tweener is now a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 end, if not necessarily a starter at either position.

UCLA's Justin Hickman is just such a player. The draft guides, using antiquated logic, are calling him a 'tweener. I call him an end (which he played in college), who could play in some 3-4 sets as a pass-rush specialist. He's shorter than most ends, but as we've seen with Dwight Freeney, that's not always an important measurement.

Unlike Freeney, Hickman does not explode off the snap, but he is an effective pass-rusher nonetheless. He uses his relentless energy, surprising strength, quick hands and very polished technique to stack, shed and get to the target. While he's not a brick wall on running plays aimed right at him, he's excellent in pursuit and a much better tackler than most pass-rush specialists.

Getty Images/Otto Greule Jr

He has some experience dropping into zone coverage, but it's not a strong point and a shift to linebacker in all but the simplest of schemes would take a very long time to be successful.

The son of a well-respected NFL offensive lineman, Hickman is a strong and vocal leader on and off the field. He gives his all on every play and fights to the whistle.

Reminds me of: The Houston Texans' Jason Babin. A surprise first-round pick in 2004, Babin has had decent NFL production (13 sacks in three seasons), but would have done much better if the Texans hadn't shuffled the small-school prospect from linebacker to end and back.

How he fits: If the Colts were to acquire Hickman, you can forget about him taking reps at linebacker. Indy is not afraid to use undersized ends if they can get to the passer and Hickman certainly can. With Freeney and Robert Mathis in control of the starting spots and Josh Thomas solidly holding down No.3, Hickman would have to compete for the fourth spot. That's not a bad thing. The Colts move their linemen around so much and rotate players in and out so often, that the fourth defensive end can get a lot of work.

Because of questions about his height and bulk, Hickman should be available in the late fourth or early fifth round.


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