Digging For Defensive Ends

With Josh Thomas possibly on his way out of Indianapolis and very little activity in free agency, the Colts will probably look for a defensive end at some point in next month's draft. Will they go for a future star in the early rounds or go for value in rounds 4-7? Brad Keller takes a look at some promising prospects inside!

If the Colts decide to utilize their second round pick on a defensive end, they will be looking for a player that fits the mold at the position — someone that is a natural pass rusher, has considerable quickness, and, generally, someone that would be undersized on most other teams.

Current starters Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis tip the scales at 268 and 245 pounds, respectively, so Indianapolis would likely be looking for someone that is in that range from a size standpoint, as long as they also meet the other criteria. Size isn't as big a factor as explosiveness and the ability to get to the quarterback.

Purdue's Cliff Avril is such a player.  He registered a 4.51 time in the 40 yard dash at the Combine last month, started 31 games for the Boilermakers throughout his career there — mostly at left end, but some at linebacker — and, while he collected only six sacks in each of the last two seasons, he has averaged 14 tackles for loss in those two years, so he is certainly familiar with how to force the offense into a negative play.

His experience at linebacker gives him some versatility, and it is worth noting that he also intercepted a pass in each of the last two seasons — once again, playing on the defensive line.

His experience at linebacker also makes him difficult to project and classify.  At 6 feet, 3 inches, 253 pounds, he would project as a Sam or Will linebacker on most 3-4 teams, but he could also add a little bit of weight onto his frame and play end, which is his natural position.

At Purdue's Pro Day on March 7th, he stood on his Combine numbers for the most part, which was a wise decision, but he did run the short shuttle in 4.31 — a number that close to his 40 time shows that he does not have ideal lateral movement ability and would be better suited to play with his hand on the ground.

He's currently listed as a defensive end by Scout.com and is the ninth-rated player at his position, projected to go in the late second to early third round.

He will most likely be available when it is time for the Colts to make their first selection at 59th overall, but, since he appeals to both 3-4 and 4-3 teams, someone could take a chance on him, given his abilities, physical tools, and experience at two different positions.

Darrell Robertson
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Another second-round possibility is Darrell Robertson of Georgia Tech.

At 6 feet, 5 inches, Robertson is a good deal taller than the typical Colts end — Mathis and Freeney are 6 feet, 2 inches and 6 feet, 1 inch, respectively, and they both have a low center of gravity and powerfully-built lower bodies that help them anchor at the point of attack to compensate for their lack of mass — and is fairly light (245), with his weight spread out throughout his body.

The good news is that he could add another 20 pounds or so and it would not have a pronounced effect on his quickness.

The bad news is that, while he's still an excellent athlete, he is not as sudden or explosive at Avril, though he was still able to collect 14 tackles for loss in 2007.

Robertson is currently the 10th-rated end on Scout.com's board, but he could fall on the boards of some teams due to the fact that he injured his pectoral muscle at the Combine and may not be able to work out before the draft.

Scouts have seen all they need to on film, but without solid numbers to work off of, he could slide into the third round, possibly late enough for the Colts to grab him with their selection.

He was rated as a late second, early third round prospect prior to the injury news being posted, so it is not outside the realm of possibility.

In the fourth round, a very intriguing player is Georgia's Marcus Howard, who has been described by some scouts as a Robert Mathis clone.  He has a similar build (6 feet, 2 inches, 235 pounds, with the frame to add more weight), has the same explosive first step, and is a quick-twitch athlete that makes solid contact and tries to push the ball through whoever he is trying to bring down.

He will also probably have a similar start to his career as a Colt, since he will probably only play on special teams and in nickel and dime packages early on.

He projects as a late fourth, early fifth round prospect, so if Indianapolis selects him and gets half as much production out of him as they've gotten out of Mathis, it will be an excellent pick.

Chase Ortiz
AP Photo

Chase Ortiz of TCU would be a solid choice in the fifth or sixth round, given his pass-rushing ability, outstanding motor, and attitude.

While he is not as physically gifted an athlete as everyone else on this list, he always goes at full speed, never gives up, and provides excellent back-end pursuit.

At 6 feet, 2 inches, 249 pounds, he would probably need to add a little bulk to be an effective player and hold up versus the run, but, since he doesn't have a great deal of quickness to lose, the extra weight will help him more than it hurts him.

He projects as a capable backup and a willing special teams performer, which is a good value and a logical choice in the later rounds of the draft.

An interesting developmental player is Eastern Michigan's Jason Jones.  At 6 feet, 5 inches, 275 pounds, he has a great deal of lean muscle mass and looks more like a basketball player, particularly in his shorts at the Combine.

Jones started out as a tight end for the Eagles, then moved to defensive tackle before settling in at end, so he is not a polished player at the position, tends to play too high, doesn't lock on with his hands particularly well, and hasn't developed a repertoire of pass rushing moves yet.

But, he is an amazing athlete for a man his size — he had a better short shuttle time than Howard and Avril, two men who have considerably more straight-line speed — and, if nothing else, could terrorize other teams in the league in the kicking game while the coaching staff works with him on technique.

There are a select few coaching staffs in the NFL that can draft a player like Jones and expect to be able to harness his abilities. Indianapolis is one of those teams.

If Jones is still on the board in the sixth, or especially seventh round, the Colts should take a shot at him, even if they have already drafted one of the men already mentioned in this article.

In a risk-versus-reward situation like the NFL draft, Jones has a great deal of upside and it not that much of a risk in the seventh round.

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