With Julius Peppers having turned 36 and entering his final season under contract, the Green Bay Packers made a pre-emptive move by shifting Datone Jones into the elephant position — a combination of outside linebacker and defensive end.
Still, Jones has been a disappointment as the team’s first-round pick in 2013 and also is entering his final year under contract. Nick Perry returned on a one-year deal and Mike Neal appears unlikely to be back. So, the Packers could be looking toward tapping into this star-studded list of prospects to fill that void.
Stats are from STATS via Real Football, though statistical comparisons and missed-tackle rates are from Packer Report.
SHAQ LAWSON, Clemson
Position rank: 1
Height: 6-foot-2 5/8. Weight: 269. 20 shuttle: 4.21. 3-cone: 7.16. Broad jump: 10-0.
Notes: Lawson led the nation with 25.5 tackles for losses. Among his 58 tackles were 12.5 sacks. Among our 11 prospects with complete stats (STATS does not have data from Division II Grand Valley State’s Matt Judon), Lawson tied for third with 35 quarterback pressures and was second with 25 quarterback hits. Impressively, Lawson tied for No. 1 with 17 stuffs (a tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage on a running play) and was third with 40 run disruptions. He’s also the best tackler in the group, with 11.6 tackles per miss (58 tackles, five misses). He added one forced fumble as he was a consensus All-American who was a finalist for the Nagurski, Lombardi and Hendricks awards.
Scouting: NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock took note of Lawson’s all-around game. “He ran 4.7, but more importantly, he can stack. He's physical against the run, and he can get up field against the pass. He can handle long left tackles. And that's kind of the knock on him: Is he long enough to be a high-level pass-rusher in the NFL? I think he's one of those guys kind of like a Brian Orakpo, for instance, potentially best case scenario, Tamba Hali. That kind of height, width, speed ratio. He's just got to get a little bit more sophisticated. He's got to learn his craft a little bit more, and if he's a true professional, I think he's got a chance to be a high-level pass-rusher in the NFL.”
If there’s one red flag, it’s a shoulder injury that prevented him from doing the bench press at the Scouting Combine or at Clemson’s pro day a month ago. But he is a powerful, athletic package. His 20-yard shuttle — perhaps the No. 1 evaluating tool for edge rushers and linebackers — was the fastest in this group and among the top five for all front-seven defenders. “Lawson is genetically gifted, as he flashes excellent acceleration closing from the backside and the powerful burst to be quite effective splitting double teams and impacting pocket pressure when working towards the inside gaps,” Thomas said. “He has that short, sudden burst off the line to surprise a lethargic offensive lineman and has shown great leaping ability along with the long reach to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage. His suddenness off the snap allows him to consistently gain penetration. He plays with tough aggression and is a disruptive force who needs to be accounted for on every play. His flexibility and balance allow him to change direction without having to take false steps. With a 270-pound frame, big hands and long arms, he is a nightmare for offensive tackles in one-on-one confrontations. He plays much bigger than his size indicates in run force and has the lower body strength to hold ground firmly at the point of attack. With his ability to come off the edge, using him standing up in a 3-4 alignment could see him wreak havoc vs. the passing game.”
Personally: Before he was Shaq Lawson, Clemson’s sacker of quarterbacks, he was Shaq Lawson, Clemson’s seller of popcorn as a stadium vendor. Lawson didn’t shrink from the pressure of replacing Vic Beasley, who was the eighth pick of the 2015 draft. During fall camp, defensive coordinator Brent Venables said Lawson was “giggling and laughing” on his way to the quarterback. “I bring a lot of different moves to the pass rush,” Lawson said at the Combine. “People say I’m mostly a power guy. I don’t see myself as just a power guy. I can spin, beat you off the edge, run past you, everything.” His goals? They’re lofty: “I would like to be the best player to ever play the game.”
EMMANUEL OGBAH, Oklahoma State
Height: 6-foot-4 1/4. Weight: 273. 20 shuttle: 4.50. 3-cone: 7.26. Broad jump: 10-1.
Notes: Ogbah turned in back-to-back dominant seasons for the Cowboys. In 2014, he was voted the Big 12’s Defensive Lineman of the Year — the first OSU player to win that honor — with his 11 sacks, 17 tackles for losses and one forced fumble. This past season, he rang up 13 sacks and 17.5 tackles for losses, plus forced three fumbles, as he was named the Big 12’s co-Defensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, which goes to the nation’s top defensive end. Ogbah was a one-man pass rush, piling up a staggering 67 pressures and 32 quarterback hits. That was 25 more pressures and 13 more hits than any of our elephant prospects, and 21 more pressures and three more hits than any prospect in the draft. He wasn’t as dominant against the run (10 stuffs) or as a tackler (nine misses; 7.1 tackles per miss). Ogbah finished his three-year career with 26 sacks — second among all active players and just one behind Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun, who needed four years to get his 27.
Scouting: A scout familiar with Green Bay’s defensive scheme said Ogbah would make the most sense as someone capable of playing Peppers’ role, pointing to Ogbah’s 35 1/2-inch arms helping him to win battles in the trenches but acknowledging he needs to play with better technique against the run. “Ogbah is a strong, powerful defender with excellent explosion and quickness to get to the football,” Thomas said. “He plays with tough aggression and is a disruptive force who needs to be accounted for on every play. The thing you see on film is that he always plays at a high tempo. Against the run, if Ogbah can get a side and keep it, he will use his lower body to hold at the point of attack in one-on-one situations, but his lack of ‘sand in his pants’ and hand usage will see him struggle vs. double teams. When he gets a little high in his stance or leaves his body exposed, he struggles to shed. He is functionally strong and plays with leverage at the point of attack, but is best served on the move, as his sudden quickness off the snap allows him to disrupt the action in the backfield. He is a better fit for a 3-4 alignment, as he has the mobility and ability to locate at the point of attack. As a pass rusher, Ogbah can beat a lethargic lineman with his speed and has the enough power to take on smaller blockers. He has very good body control and excellent hip snap. The thing I like is the way he can squeeze through the tiniest of creases to get into the backfield.”
Personally: Ogbah was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He almost didn’t survive as his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. His parents gave him the middle name Ikechukwu, which means “God’s power” in Igbo, a native language of Nigeria. Ogbah arrived in the United States when he was 9. He started playing football in seventh grade, attracted to the sport because of former Oklahoma State offensive lineman Russell Okung, who’s also of Nigerian descent. “Coming from Nigeria at the age of 9— the hard times, working hard, getting better every day, learning the sport of football starting in the seventh grade. I just feel like I have a lot to prove. A lot of guys are looking up to me, too. I just have to be the best I can be.”
KEVIN DODD, Clemson
Position rank: 3
Height: 6-foot-5. Weight: 277. 20 shuttle: 4.44. 3-cone: 7.18. Broad jump: 9-2.
Notes: Dodd’s numbers were comparable to those put up by 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 11.5. Dodd saved his best for last, with one sack and 3.5 TFLs in the Orange Bowl vs. Oklahoma and three sacks and five TFLs in the national championship game vs. Alabama. He ranked sixth in our group with 33 pressures, fifth with 13 stuffs and eighth with 24 run disruptions. In his first two seasons, Dodd had a grand total of 15 tackles and no sacks. This year, he was second-team all-ACC.
Scouting: “I could see him playing that Peppers role,” a scout said. “You look at him and he can easily add another 10 pounds.” Not only is he big and athletic, but he’s got 34-inch arms to further combat offensive linemen. The scout did note that Lawson generally faced left tackles and Dodd right tackles, so his production came against inferior blockers. “Dodd has the strength to hold his ground vs. bigger blockers, but must do a better job of protecting his feet when working in-line from low blocks,” Thomas said. “He has the quickness to slip blocks and the strength to throw and jerk the lead blocker. When he keeps his hands active, he can’t be blocked for long, as he can disengage thanks to his power. Dodd is more of a bull rusher than a natural pass rusher. He is disruptive in the passing lanes and can generate good backside pursuit, but his bit of hip stiffness prevents him from changing direction as quick as you would like from an edge rusher. To best utilize Dodd, he must be utilized on stunts and twists to take advantage of his explosion and strength.” The hip stiffness noted by Thomas showed up with Dodd missing eight tackles (7.4 tackles per miss).
Personally: Dodd was a total unknown entering the season and played a mean second-fiddle to Lawson during the season. Then came the playoff games and Dodd jumped into the spotlight when Lawson was limited to just six snaps in the semifinal game vs. Oklahoma. “Shaq went down in the Orange Bowl game and then all eyes came on me like, ‘What is this young guy going to do?’ I showed up like I’ve been showing up all season and then I finally got the praise, I feel like.”
CARL NASSIB, Penn State
Position rank: 4
Height: 6-foot-6 7/8. Weight: 277. 20 shuttle: 4.37. 3-cone: 7/27. Broad jump: 9-6.
Notes: Nassib was named CBS Sports’ National Defensive Player of the Year and the 13th unanimous All-American in school history with NCAA-leading totals of 15.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. He also won the Lombardi Award as the nation's top lineman (offense or defense), the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end, the Lott IMPACT Trophy for the top defensive player that represent the qualities embodied by Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott and the Big Ten’s Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year. Even though he played only four snaps in the final two regular-season games, Nassib finished second in the Big Ten with 19.5 tackles for losses and broke the school’s single-season record for sacks. Interestingly, while Nassib had four more sacks than anyone in our elephant group, he tied for third with 35 pressures — barely half of Ogbah’s 67. He was seventh with 26 run disruptions and beat out only Iowa’s Drew Ott — who missed most of the season with a knee injury — with four stuffs. Almost as bad, he had 11 missed tackles — giving him a position-worst rate of 4.3 tackles per miss.
Scouting: “Nassib relies on quickness more than brute strength to penetrate inside” against the run, Thomas said. “He plays with good leverage and strength, but they will be negated when he fails to use his arms to combat blocks. He is very determined coming off the snap and until he improves his hand technique, he can compensate with explosiveness off the snap to get good penetration and disrupt the play. Despite his lack of hand usage, he sees the field well and is quick to spot even the slightest of creases in order to shoot the gaps (to sack the quarterback). He is effective with his counter moves working to the inside. His spin moves and quickness lets him easily defeat the slower offensive tackles when working off the edge.” Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah thought Nassib could go in the second round: “I had a chance to go see Nassib live at Northwestern,” he said. “When you're scouting, you always go down (on the field before the game) and get body types. I still do that now. I go down there and wrote down on my notes (that) he's built like Jared Allen and he kind of looks like Jared Allen. He's tall, he's long, he's really, really good with his hands. He doesn't have that elite burst off the line of scrimmage, the get-off. But, man, he knows how to use his length. He does not let guys get into his chest, and he's got a real knack for finishing.”
Personally: Incredibly, all of this comes from a former walk-on who didn’t even start a game in high school. He was 6-foot-6 and 218 pounds when he arrived on campus. “I never cared what other people thought about my size and my abilities,” he said at the Combine. “I was always confident in myself.” About his only claim to fame was that he was brothers with Giants quarterback Ryan Nassib. Would he rather play with his brother or sack him? “Both scenarios sound pretty awesome. So awesome.”
BRONSON KAUFUSI, BYU
Position rank: 5
Height: 6-foot-6 1/2. Weight: 285. 20 shuttle: 4.25. 3-cone: 7.03. Broad jump: 9-2.
Notes: Kaufusi finished his career with 26.5 sacks and 44 tackles for losses, with that sack total ranking second at the school since the NCAA began keeping sack stats in 2000. 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 was dominant as a senior with 10 sacks, 20 tackles for losses, three forced fumbles and four blocked kicks. He was a one-man wrecking crew against Utah in his collegiate finale. While he didn’t have a sack, he had a whopping 10 run disruptions and five stuffs. He ranked second in our elephant group with 42 pressures, third with 40 run disruptions and tied with Lawson for first with 17 stuffs. However, he missed too many tackles (nine; rate of 7.0 tackles per miss).
Scouting: After a big senior season, Kaufusi kept the momentum with an excellent scouting season. He had a big week at the Senior Bowl, then confirmed he could play linebacker with that 20-yard shuttle time that was just 0.04 behind Lawson’s position-best time. “He made himself some money in Mobile,” Thomas noted. “Even at 282 pounds, he surprised scouts with his range and ability to drop back and cover tight ends in the short area.” The athleticism should be no surprise, considering he played on the BYU basketball team as a freshman. He’s also got 34 1/2-inch arms. “I like him in that Peppers role,” a scout said. “They use Julius a lot as an inside rusher and that’s one thing that (Kaufusi) has shown he can do.” At his height, pad level is an issue, and he’s not strong enough to win when he plays too high.
Personally: Kaufusi is a tremendous athlete who was good enough to play on the BYU basketball team in the 2012-13 season. Kaufusi has been surrounded by athletics throughout his life. He is the son of BYU defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi, is brothers with fellow BYU football player Corbin Kaufusi and is married to a former BYU soccer goalkeeper. “When you’re growing up, you’re around the game,” he said at the Combine. “I remember my family, for fun, we’d go to practice. I loved it. We’d go. Football games were huge. Bowl games — we look forward to that time of year. There’s no offseason. I learned that real fast when I was young. Going to spring ball, workouts. As a kid, I wanted to be all around it as much as I could. It’s been a big help being around that since I was born.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.