Analysis of the Conventional DEs

Quinton Coples is the best player in this group, but our NFL scout scoffs at comparisons to Julius Peppers. Overall, this is a weak class if the Packers want to upgrade their defensive end group with a rugged playmaker.

Fortunately for most NFL teams, they either utilize a 3-4 defensive scheme or incorporate speedy edge rushers at their defensive end positions. One look at the crop of conventional defensive ends — the tall, wide, run-stuffing types — and you will see why those teams are better off looking at the veteran free agent route for talent.

Among the conventional types, Quinton Coples is regarded as the best of the bunch, but those so-called "experts" comparing him to Julius Peppers is like somebody comparing me to George Clooney in the looks department. All I have to say to those making such a ridiculous comparison is, "Come on, dudes!" Yes, they hail from the Carolinas and, yes, Coples is a fine athlete, but that is where the comparisons end.

Peppers not only has been consistent but dominant on practically every play throughout his career, when healthy. Coples? He's like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates from play to play — you never know what you are going to get. Actually, he is much more effective in run-contain duties or when lined up to angle or attack through the "A" and "B" gaps, rather than coming off the edge.

Coples needs to improve his leverage, for despite his long arms, when he gets too tall in his stance, he leaves his chest exposed, resulting in combo blockers having a field day riding him out. He has good quickness through the gaps, but when having to loop around an offensive tackle playing off the edge, he does not have that second gear in his motor for long pursuit and fails to display good hand usage to prevent blockers from latching on.

In a system that might use him as a five-technique or as an under-tackle/inside rusher, they might be able to gain value for a first-round pick, but as a top-10 choice? Good luck, buddy, if you are that general manager trying to explain the choice in a year or so. His motor is too inconsistent to be regarded as a top-10 choice, and if you look at game film, you see a player who really lacks an array of pass rush moves and one that struggles to consistently use his reach and hands in attempts to disengage.

After Coples, the talent level bottoms out. Some evaluators will play it safe and bunch all defensive end types in one report, but it is like comparing apples to oranges. As you will see when my ratings are posted here on Tuesday, edge rushers, strong-side linebacker candidates and a few run-stuffers are not listed here.

Listening to the Dallas Cowboys and the player they truly covet, Alabama's Courtney Upshaw appears destined to be a strong-side linebackerl. Boise State's Billy Winn appears on some draft boards as a defensive end, but with an obvious lack of lateral agility and more comfortable playing inside, I've targeted him as a defensive tackle.

Akiem Hicks is being looked at on the edge, but the Regina product lacks the burst and suddenness to play outside. Others like Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones, Nick Perry, Whitney Mercilus, Vinny Curry, Bruce Irvin and Cam Johnson were all worked out at the linebacker position at the Scouting Combine and those type of performers will be analyzed on my second report that deals with the rush-end types.

Winn's teammate, Tyrone Crawford, has made steady strides adjusting to life on the football field, and with patient coaching, the Canadian native could become an efficient starter at the next level. Some might target him as a potential linebacker at the next level, but his noticeable lack of lower-body flexibility likely will keep him off the field in obvious pass coverage situations if he has to play a standup position. He does a good job as a bull rusher, as he has enough valid foot speed and upper-body power to either escape or walk a lineman back into the pocket.

Still, he's a raw talent who has yet to develop secondary moves when his initial ones fail. Even with his power, he seems to prefer to push with his hands or lean with his body rather than generate a violent hand punch. I just don't think his game has the discipline to play in a 3-4 standup spot, making him a better value choice in a conventional 4-3 system over the left offensive tackle.


Jared Crick
Brett Davis/US Presswire
Jared Crick of Nebraska has had some injury issues to deal with the last few years. He played mostly inside in college, but you can see a lot of the Steelers' Brett Keisel/Aaron Smith in his game — nothing spectacular as a pass rusher but he can shift inside to under-tackle in passing situations, as he has that above-average hand punch to develop into an effective bull rusher, as he knows how to use his hands to simply rip through blocks, stack and shed.

Cal's Trevor Guyton might seem to be more suited playing inside, but he's not even an adequate pass rusher. He has the low center of gravity, quick hips and nimble feet working down the line, though. He relies too often on his rip moves, but will collide and punch with great authority. He maintains balance and uses his hands well to stave off low blocks and when challenged by double teams, he has more than enough lower-body strength to firmly anchor, as few linemen in this draft possess his core strength.

Mentioned in my tight end report, Southern Methodist's Taylor Thompson is a poor man's version of the Texans' Connor Barwin — an impressive looking athlete with great quickness and good strength. Unlike Barwin, the major concern teams have about him is his mind-set. He's really not a student of the game and the light has yet to come on upstairs. He seems to go through the motions a lot and would rather be out hunting than watching game films or working on his craft. Still, in the mid-rounds, his athleticism will make teams forget about his inconsistent effort.

Malik Jackson of Tennessee could be a better fit as a five-technique type, as he is built in the Ty Warren (ex-Pats) mold, with a tall, well-built frame, big hands and a wingspan to engulf ball carriers. Because of his tall frame, he is not really suited to play inside, as his long legs prevent him from keeping his pad level down. He hits blockers with very good hand violence, and you can see from his agility test results that he has the foot quickness and burst to loop around an offensive tackle, along with valid quickness to bull rush.

West Virginia's Julian Miller was not invited to the Scouting Combine, as he was forced inside to tackle by a staff trying to give more playing time to Bruce Irvin at Miller's former left end spot. The Mountaineer was also banged up with a tender ankle that left him with just a handful of plays during his first four games. But, an astute scouting director can find a late-round gem if they see Miller at his best — the 2011 Pittsburgh game, when he returned outside for one contest and simply destroyed the Panthers' game plan with three QB pressures, four sacks, 12 tackles and four on third-down plays.

Penn State's Jack Crawford had his apartment the subject of a drug arrest last month, but his agent claims he was no longer residing with his other teammates that were involved in the seizure. The native of England lacks quickness to be relied upon as a pass rusher, as he lacks lower-body flexibility to escape coming off the edge, but he does have decent moves (spin is his best) and keeps his hands active throughout the play. Some teams eyed him as a strong-side linebacker, but it is apparent that would be a folly, as he has no retreat skills and looks awkward dropping back in coverage.

The rest of the class is strictly hit-and-miss, as players like California's Ernest Owusu, Wisconsin's Louis Nzegwu, Clemson's Kourtnei Brown and North Carolina's injured junior Donte Paige-Moss (knee surgery) might be biting their fingernails hoping to hear their names called at the tail-end of the draft. The rest of the class will vie for a great training camp as they all appear destined for free agency.


Dave-Te Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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