NFL Scouting Combine Research: Defensive Ends, Part 1

Why did Joey Bosa live like he was in a dark cave? Which players had their careers defined by injuries? Who was 15 when he received his first scholarship offer? Those answers and more as we get to know the defensive end prospects.

Note: These players were listed as defensive ends when the NFL released its list of players invited to the Scouting Combine. That doesn't necessarily mean they'll play defensive end in the NFL.

Mehdi Abdesmad, Boston College (6-6, 285): Injuries were the story of his career. Early in the 2013 season, he was the victim of a blind-side hit and missed the rest of the season with a torn patella tendon. In 2014, he made it through a few games before being shut down for the rest of the year. Abdesmad also missed the final three games of his freshman season. "[Being on the sidelines] helps you become a better football player because you get to learn the game more. You also become a better man because you're going through a tough time. It forges you and makes you tougher." He stayed healthy and delivered in a big way as a senior, though, with 49 tackles (35 solos), including 5.5 sacks and 15 tackles for losses to earn honorable mention on the all-ACC team. Abdesmad is a native of Montreal and the son of Tunisian immigrants. "My Mom told me 'that's not a good sport for you,'" said Mehdi Abdesmad. "And my father … his dream was to see me play soccer. He wanted me to play it like all the immigrants because this is our national sport."

Sterling Bailey, Georgia (6-3, 282): Bailey was a primary starter for the Bulldogs in 2013 and 2015. As a senior, he had a career-high 46 tackles (13 solos), with one sack, 2.5 tackles for losses and seven quarterback pressures. In 42 career games, Bailey rang up 108 tackles (35 solos) with 2.5 sacks and four TFLs. In 2015, he had a season-high nine tackles vs. Alabama. In 2013, he had a 10-tackle game against South Carolina — the most by a Bulldogs defensive lineman against an opponent not running a triple-option offense since 2001. He didn’t play in 2011 because of a torn labrum and barely played in 2012 after a torn metatarsal ligament. He leaned on his parents to get him through those tough times. “Always sending me Bible verses, always telling me, ‘You worked hard to get to this point. Just keep working harder. Don’t let it slip away.’”

Jimmy Bean, Oklahoma State (6-5, 250): Bean missed the final five games of his senior season with a torn ACL. The injury ruined what had been his best season. Even while limited to eight games, Bean recorded career-high totals of 5.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for losses to earn second-team all-Big 12. Bean had 25 tackles (20 solos) as a senior and finished his career with 103 tackles (75 solos), 13.5 sacks, 26 tackles for losses and three forced fumbles (all in 2014) in 37 games — the final 34 in the starting lineup. He had trouble coming to grips with the injury at first. One day, he quietly walked out of a film-review session. “He had to go back into the locker room because he couldn't stand it,” defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah said. “He couldn't take it that he couldn't be out there with us. That kind of made me almost cry.” He’s a leader who wants to make a difference.

Ronald Blair, Appalachian State (6-3, 272): Blair was the Sun Belt Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. He led the conference with 19 tackles for losses and ranked second in the league with 7.5 sacks. Yes, that’s against lesser competition, but he had two sacks against Clemson. The three-time all-conference player finished his career with 20.5 sacks (10th in school history) and 53.5 tackles for losses (fifth). He’s come a long way after missing most of the 2013 season. He broke his thumb during the second game. “I had to become a little ambidextrous,. My hand-writing right-handed was horrible, but it got me through class. I had a pretty good semester, so I was right-handed for a while.” Shortly thereafter, he was arrested for underage drinking and driving without a license. The NCAA gave him a fifth year of eligibility, which he took advantage of in 2015. “I wouldn’t even change it,” Blair said. “It’s been a difficult journey, but a great journey.”

Joey Bosa, Ohio State (6-5, 275): Underclassman. What could Bosa do for an encore after being a consensus first-team All-American and the winner of the Big Ten’s Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2014? He won those honors again in 2015 with his 51 tackles including five sacks and 16 tackles for losses. He added one interception, four pass breakups, 14 quarterback hits and one forced fumble in 12 games. In 2014, he was named the Big Ten’s Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year along with capturing the Smith-Brown honor. He he led the Big Ten in tackles for losses (21) and sacks (13.5) and added four forced fumbles. As a freshman in 2013, he rang up 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for losses. Bosa might have been the Big Man on Campus but he was a Man in Isolation in 2015.  He was suspended for the season-opening game vs. Virginia Tech for an undisclosed reason (reportedly marijuana and academics, according to ESPN). To have his final season also be a fresh start, Bosa moved out the apartment he shared with star running back Ezekiel Elliott and lived alone. "I just thought separating myself — not from Zeke, but just from pretty much everybody in general — and being able to control who goes in and out of my life, I just thought it would be a smart idea to lay low for a while.” Not that he minded sitting in a “dark cave for hours.” Bosa’s father, John, was a first-round draft pick by the Dolphins out of Boston College in 1987 who had seven sacks in three seasons. A brother, defensive end Nick Bosa, committed to Ohio State in July. An uncle, Eric Kumerow, was a star linebacker for the Buckeyes between who recorded five sacks in three seasons for the Dolphins. “Joey was prepared for this long before anyone else was,” said south Florida recruiting analyst Larry Blustein, who has covered recruiting for more than four decades. “It’s safe to say he was prepared for this before he was born. That’s a huge advantage, to grow up in a family where both sides produced first-round draft picks. It’s like a perfect storm.”

DeForest Buckner, Oregon (6-7, 290): As a senior, Buckner was an All-American, the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year, a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, which goes to the nation’s top defensive end, and the winner of the Morris Trophy, which goes to the conference’s best defensive lineman, as voted on by Pac-12 offensive linemen. Buckner was Oregon's second-leading tackler and its defensive Most Outstanding Player. Not only was he second on the team with 83 tackles, but he was No. 1 in the Pac-12 with 10.5 sacks and No. 4 with 17 tackles for losses. He had a tackle for loss in 12 of 13 games and a sack in each of his final eight games. As a junior, he had 81 tackles, including four sacks and a team-high 13 for losses. The native of Waianae, Hawaii, saw his life change when he was 13. His father was involved in a motorcycle accident and spent six months in a medically induced coma. One night after George Buckner emerged from his coma, father told son that it was time to become the man of the house. "After the accident, I had to keep my head on my shoulders,'' Buckner said. "I had to be how my dad wanted me to be, how he raised me. Having to do that definitely built me to who I am today.''

Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State (6-5, 252): Calhoun was a three-time all-Big Ten first-teamer and three-time All-America second-teamer. As a senior, Calhoun led the Spartans in sacks (career-high 10.5), tackles for losses (career-high 15) and quarterback hurries (18). He added 49 tackles (a career high and tops among the defensive linemen) and three pass breakups to be a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, which goes to the nation’s top defensive end. For his career, he is one of only eight Spartans in program history and the first defensive lineman to be first-team all-Big Ten three times. He finished with 27 sacks — tops among all active defenders — and 44 tackles for losses. Upon first sight, he reminded Michigan State defensive line coach Ted Gill of Julius Peppers — complete with two-sport talent. Why did Calhoun go back to Michigan State for his senior season? It goes back to a 2002 fire at his family’s home in New Jersey.

Kamalei Correa, Boise State (6-3, 245): Underclassman. Correa was first-team all-conference as a sophomore with a Mountain West-leading 12 sacks and 19 tackles for losses among his 59 tackles (40 solos). “That’s just a level ground right there,” he said entering this season. “That’s something to build off of. ... I’m not going to live off the past.” Correa’s production fell back this past season, though, as he wound up with 39 tackles (23 solos), with seven sacks and 11 tackles for losses. He was second-team all-Mountain West and received a second-round grade from the NFL’s College Advisory Committee. Correa is from Honolulu. It’s not as if Hawaii didn’t recruit him. In fact, the school offered him a scholarship — when he was 15.

James Cowser, Southern Utah (6-3, 250): Cowser statistically might be the best defensive player in FCS history. He owns the FCS records with 43 sacks and 80 tackles for losses. Cowser was the FCS Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, with 68 tackles (34 solos), 19 tackles for losses, 13 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. It was quite an encore from his junior season, when his 28.5 tackles for losses broke Jared Allen’s Big Sky Conference record. He added 11.5 sacks and three forced fumbles to earn All-America honors. It’s quite a story for a 210-pound high school nose tackle who was ignored by the big schools. Not only that, but he holds a 3.99 grade point average as he graduated with a degree in psychology and he worked toward a master’s in communication. Why not a 4.0? An A-minus in a human biology lab. After redshirting in 2009, he took a two-year church mission to Hong Kong. He lost almost 40 pounds.

Kevin Dodd, Clemson (6-4, 275): Underclassman. Dodd’s numbers were comparable to those put up by All-American Shaq Lawson. While Lawson led the nation with 25.5 tackles for losses, Dodd’s 23.5 ranked second. While Lawson had 12.5 sacks, Dodd contributed 20. Dodd, who registered 62 tackles (44 solos) and one forced fumble, saved his best for last with a whopping 8.5 tackles for losses in the Orange Bowl and National Championship games. In his first two seasons, Dodd had a grand total of 15 tackles and no sacks. This year, he was second-team all-ACC. “I think most people were like, ‘Who’s this guy?’” Dodd said. It took Dodd some time to heed his position coach’s words. "I always teased him," Marion Hobby said. "I'd say, ‘Man, you're 6-5, but I can't tell because you're always walking with your head down. Stand up. Get your chin up because you're going to be a heck of a football player.'”

Jason Fanaika, Utah (6-2, 276): Fanaika played at Utah State in 2010 and 2011, took a church mission in 2012 and redshirted in 2013. In 2014, he started eight games (including two at linebacker) and tallied five sacks and 9.5 tackles for losses. As a senior, he was an honorable mention on the all-Pac-12 team with three sacks, 9.5 tackles for losses and a unit-high 53 tackles (27 solos). According to the school, he is Utah's strongest player has an 830-pound squat and 495-pound bench press. Fanaika’s path to the draft was not an easy one. While on his mission to Indianapolis, he learned that his father was battling colon cancer. He returned home, got a full-time job and helped tend to his siblings. Now, his father is cancer-free and Fanaika got married and became a dad. "From the [time] that I've spent doing all these different things, working and trying to provide for a family, I think I take all these opportunities that I'm given more serious." His cousin is Chiefs guard Paul Fanaika and his brother, Brandon Fanaika, is a guard at Stanford.

Branden Jackson, Texas Tech (6-4, 268): Jackson was a three-year starter who had 11 sacks, 24 tackles for losses and three forced fumbles during his career. Jackson was at his best as a sophomore and junior, with back-to-back seasons of 44 tackles with four sacks and nine tackles for losses in 2013 and five sacks and 10.5 tackles for losses in 2014. As a senior, however, he had 31 tackles (24 solos) with two sacks and 4.5 TFLs. Coach Kliff Kingsbury, however, called Jackson a “stalwart” who looked like a “different guy” compared to past seasons. Jackson, a native of McKeesport, Pa., was the outsider on a roster in which more than 90 players hail from Texas. “They like to gang up on me, but I hold my own pretty well. They tell me I'm a nerd. They say I talk really proper, and I need to get some swag in my voice. I just tell them I speak the way I always have. Up north, we pronounce our E's and R's.” He had his teammates gained inspiration when HBO’s “Hard Knocks” chronicled Houston Texans training camp this past summer.

Matt Judon, Grand Valley State (6-3, 255): Judon won the Gene Upshaw Award, which goes to the best offensive or defensive lineman in Division II. Judon led all of college football with 20 sacks and wound up just a half-sack short of the Division II record. He piled up 81 tackles, including 23.5 for losses, along with three forced fumbles and two recoveries. He lacked the grades at West Bloomfield (Mich.) High School to play in Division I. His career at Grand Valley was slowed by a torn MCL, which cost him the end of the 2012 season, and a torn ACL, which cost him all but seven plays of the 2013 season. In 2014, Judon had 8.5 sacks and 19 TFLs to set the stage for his historic senior campaign. “I’ve always been a fighter and I want to overcome obstacles,” Judon said before this past season. "I know the player I am on the field and I want to be that player all the time. I don’t ever want to lose… It’s not about overcoming the injury or proving myself, it’s just me playing how I know how to play the game. It’s not that I’m trying to prove that my knee is healthy, it’s me trying to be one-eleventh of the defense and when I do that I can make plays. I know what type of athlete and what type of competitor and what type of football player I am.”

Ufomba Kamalu, Miami (6-5, 293): Kamalu started nine games as a senior and had a career-high 47 tackles (22 solos), with one sack, four tackles for losses, one forced fumble and one interception. The fumble and interception — a 46-yard pick-six — came vs. Georgia Tech. Kamalu, who played at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan., in 2012, had a career-high 3.5 sacks as a backup in 2014. He tries to play with “chaos temp” — the words on a bracelet he wears. Kamalu was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States when he was a high school freshman.

Bronson Kaufusi, Brigham Young (6-7, 281): Kaufusi finished his career with 26.5 sacks and 44 tackles for losses. After registering 4.5 sacks as a freshman and four sacks as a sophomore, Kaufusi really hit his stride. As a junior, he tallied seven sacks and 11.5 tackles for losses. He had 63 tackles (45 solos) as a senior, as he piled up 11 sacks, 20 tackles for losses, three forced fumbles and four blocked kicks. Kaufusi is a tremendous athlete who was good enough to play on the BYU basketball team in the 2012-13 season. The "perfect" Kaufusi garnered more attention from scouts than former BYU stars Ziggy Ansah and Kyle Van Noy, according to then-coach Bronco Mendenhall. Kaufusi, the son of BYU defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi, is a chip off the old block, with his final sack total ranking second since the NCAA began keeping sack stats in 2000. Kaufusi’s wife was a goalkeeper on the BYU soccer team and brother Corbin also plays on the BYU football team.  “Any coach’s kids, if they’re into sports, they’re gym rats,” Steve Kaufusi said. “After school, they’re whining about doing their chores because they want to come down to visit. They always want to be around here.”

ALSO IN THIS SERIES

Defensive ends, Part 1
Defensive ends, Part 2
Defensive tackles, Part 1 (FREE)
Defensive tackles, Part 2 (FREE)
Defensive tackles, Part 3 (FREE)
Offensive tackles, Part 1
Offensive tackles, Part 2
Offensive guards, Part 1 (FREE)
Offensive guards, Part 2 (FREE)
Centers (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 1 (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 2 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 1 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 2
Wide receivers, Part 3
Wide receivers, Part 4 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 1 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 2
Running backs, Part 3
Fullbacks (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 1 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 2 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 3 (FREE)

Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.



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