Gazing Into Crystal Ball: Conventional DEs

NFL Draft Report's Dave-Te' Thomas provides the Cream of the Crop, Best of the Rest, Most Overrated and Underrated, and Super Sleeper among the pure defensive ends. Actually, in this case, the best player in this class is overrated and the sleeper will end up being a two-way player.

Cream of the Crop/Most Overrated

Quinton Coples, North Carolina

Quinton Coples
Bob Donnan/US Presswire
Coples ends up being the "winner" in both categories, as I feel this is strictly a boom-or-bust type of athlete. To those that compare him to Julius Peppers, yes, I can see it physically, but outside of that and attending the same university, the comparisons quickly end there.

While the comparisons are sure to continue as he embarks on a professional career, Coples might not have produced the same numbers that Peppers compiled for the Tar Heels. But he is a versatile and athletic defender whose experience and playing time inside as a defensive tackle, at times, the last two years has to impress a general manager that he is a player who puts the team's success in front of his personal one.

The problems lie in his lack of consistency, along with having a very high impression of himself. In 2011, he never came close to matching his junior season numbers. He has good foot speed, evident by his 4.71 timing at the Scouting Combine, but more often than not, he fails to maintain a low pad level and his penchant for getting too upright leads to blockers having great success washing him out (see 2011 Rutgers and North Carolina State games).

While Coples has impressive raw strength, he is slow to react to double teams and takes forever to disengage from blocks when caught up in one-on-one battles. He won't shy away from contact, but there were too many times on 2011 game film when he throttled down when he was not involved in the play.

Compares to: the Raiders' Richard Seymour There are times when he has better success playing the "A" and "B" gaps than coming off the edge, and he might be a better fit as a five-technique type or inside rusher. There are other times when he looks like Jane Seymour and does not want to get his pretty little uniform dirty. He needs someone to bring him down off his pedestal, as he has a high opinion of his worth. Yes, his numbers from 2011 looked almost identical to 2010, but his best games were against lowly James Madison and Duke. Are those games the true evaluation of his talent, or were the disappearances in the Rutgers, Virginia, North Carolina State games, along with a rash of offside and face-mask penalties the real Coples?

Best of the Rest

Tyrone Crawford, Boise State

Brian Losness/US Presswire

The Broncos will produce three defensive linemen for the NFL this year in Crawford, Shea McClellin and Billy Winn, but if Crawford ever gets with a patient coach, his potential to produce on a steady basis could see him hanging out with the elite at the Pro Bowl one day.

With Ryan Winterswyk having graduated, Crawford joined McClellin as Boise State's starting defensive ends in 2011. The All-American started 11 games, posting 44 tackles while again leading the Broncos with 6.5 sacks and 13.5 stops for loss. He caused two fumbles, recovering two others, including one that he returned for a touchdown, and blocked his second kick during his BSU career. He ended his college career by playing in the Senior Bowl.

Crawford has a well-defined frame with excellent length to engulf ball-barriers, and you can see the sudden quickness he utilizes coming off the edge. He plays with a search-and-destroy mission that produced six turnovers in 25 games at Boise State, and his long reach and leaping ability (former track and basketball standout in high school) has seen him excel as a kick blocker.

Compares to: the Giants' Justin Tuck Like Tuck, Crawford is effective sliding down the line and chasing until the whistle. He is coordinated and combines strength with his speed to not only anchor firmly, but consistently walk the offensive linemen back into the pocket.

Most Underrated

Julian Miller, West Virginia

A little head scratching appears here when trying to understand why Miller was not invited to the Scouting Combine. While he might not be considered an elite product, here is a senior who sacrificed personal success to be an under-sized defensive tackle so the coaches could get Bruce Irvin on the field regularly at the end of last year.

When the coaches finally realized that Irvin was not an every-down player, Miller went on a second-half tear, as he also had recovered from ankle woes that limited him through the team's first four games. For his overall body of work, here is a player that has proven more than capable of coming up with big plays on his own.

While his 186 tackles in 52 games (3.58 tpg) might not be an eye-opener, the Mountaineers' defensive game plan calls for the front wall to take out the trash while their linebackers make the big plays.

His 28.5 quarterback sacks rank second in school history behind Canute Curtis (34.5; 1993-96) and place eighth in Big East Conference annals. He led the Football Bowl Subdivision active performers in total sacks and solo sacks (25), as his lost yardage generated in that category (156) rank fifth among active NCAA players.

Miller's 45.5 tackles for losses rank second in school history, surpassed by Grant Wiley (47.5; 2000-03). Among active FBS players, that total ranks sixth in the nation. He lost yardage total of 188 placed eighth among active players. His 15.0 stops behind the line of scrimmage in 2010 tied for third on the WVU annual record chart, while his 14.0 tackles for losses in 2009 tied for fifth on the season record list.

Scouts compare Miller's ability to play a variety of roles on the defensive front wall to that of Raheem Brock. Much like Brock, Miller might not have the frame you look for in a classic defensive tackle, but his ability to split double teams and penetrate through the inside gaps have teams utilizing the 3-4 defensive alignment showing considerable attention in his skills.

Compares to: the Seahawks' Raheem Brock — The senior lineman has produced an incredible 78 stops on third-down plays (40 vs. the run and 38 vs. the pass), adding eight more fourth-down hits, including three vs. the rushing attack. He has posted 42 quarte-back pressures with 29 touchdown-saving tackles/chase-downs, as 19 of those have come on third-down plays. With teams using sub packages constantly, Miller can provide breathers at either the end or tackle positions.

Super Sleeper

Taylor Thompson , Southern Methodist

Taylor Thompson
Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
A pure athlete in the mold of the Texans' Connor Barwin, Thompson might go the opposite route of the future Houston Pro Bowler and switch to tight end at the pro level, as scouts love his athleticism, excellent quickness and his experience (high school all-state tight end) on the offensive side of the ball.

Thompson might have ranked with the Conference USA sack leaders each of his final three seasons, but the same scouts that love his athleticism question his desire and fire in the belly when it comes to playing the game. He moves like a linebacker, as he played on defense at 285 pounds last year, but perhaps knowing that his lack of passion to hit on defense would lead to alternate avenues to the pros, he lost more 25 pounds from his frame and performed in tight end drills during SMU's pro day, clocking 4.55.

He also has impressive strength, along with long arms and sudden movement skills. But he lacks the temperament you'd want to battle in the trenches, and outside of his speed, pass rush moves are sorely lacking. Still, he could be a fourth- or fifth-round find for a team facing a roster crunch, as he can provide depth on both sides of the ball.

Compares to: the Seahawks' Jameson Konz — Because of their ability to use their athleticism while playing on both sides of the ball, Thompson will be drafted more for his athletic skills rather than production. He might not ever be a starter on defense, but it will be interesting to see if he can develop quicker as a pass catcher.

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 and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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