NFL Draft Head 2 Head: Long vs. Gholston

With the NFL Draft right around the corner, the debate over whether Chris Long or Vernon Gholston is the better defender has heated up.'s Chris Steuber profiles, analyzes and breaks down Long and Gholston and puts them Head 2 Head.

Who's the best DE in the draft:
Chris Long or Vernon Gholston?

Long looks on as his jersey is being retired prior to Virginia’s game vs. Virginia Tech.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

You can’t discount the element of a pedigree. Chris Long has a strong football background, and it all started with his father, Howie. We all know Howie as one of the four panelists on the Fox pregame and postgame show during the NFL season. But what some people forget is that he was a Hall of Fame defensive end who dominated in the trenches during the '80s and early '90s.

Fast forward to the present, and Chris finds himself as the top defensive player in the 2008 NFL Draft, a high octane, maximum effort performer who makes plays.

Long entered the draft process as a highly productive player at the collegiate level who was successful defending the run and rushing the passer. He enjoyed a breakout season this past year and recorded 75 tackles, 14 sacks and an interception.

Prior to the 2007 season, Long didn’t have as much success getting to the quarterback, as he was basically double-teamed on every play as a junior. Despite being double-teamed, Long still managed five sacks and an impressive 57 tackles.

The biggest improvement in Long’s game during his senior year was his hand placement. He’s so explosive off the line, and he used his strong hands to engage, gaining instant leverage on contact. He was able to fight through double teams and get into the backfield using his high motor.

Long is an outstanding athlete and shows great fluidity in his hips, which will allow him to drop back and play OLB in a 3-4 defense.

He demonstrated those attributes favorably at the Scouting Combine and his Pro Day.

At 6-foot-3, 272 pounds, Long had an outstanding performance at the Combine. He ran a 4.75 in the 40-yard dash and showed great explosion in the vertical jump (34”) and broad jump (10’4”).

In positional drills, Long displayed the ability to flip his hips smoothly and transition without any flaws. Long’s athletic ability was definitely showcased at the Combine and continued at his Pro Day.

At his Pro Day, Long went through a 15-minute linebacker drill under the direction of his former head coach, Al Groh. The workout was viewed by the Miami Dolphins, along with a cast of other teams. Miami’s national scout, Bill Baker, and linebackers coach Jim Reid were in attendance.

Groh is close with many of the Dolphins' personnel, including Bill Parcells, who he worked under while he was with the New York Giants. Obviously, just because Groh is close with Parcells doesn’t mean that Long will be selected by Miami. The Dolphins will feverishly try to trade the No. 1 pick, move back in the first round and acquire additional selections.

But if they are unable to trade out of the top spot, it appears that Long is the leading candidate to end up in Miami.



Gholston looks on before Ohio State's game against the Washington Huskies this past season.
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

When he lines up on the line of scrimmage, offensive tackles know that they have to bring their “A” game. His ability is freakish and his intensity is masterful. Ohio State’s Vernon Gholston is a physical enigma who possesses uncanny strength and speed that allow him to dominate.

This past season, Gholston had a breakout season for the Buckeyes and displayed his tenacity as a pass rusher by attaining 15.5 tackles for a loss and 14 sacks. As a sophomore, Gholston posted 15 tackles for a loss and recorded 8.5 sacks.

Gholston’s ability as a pass rusher has never been questioned, but his inconsistency defending the run is well documented. As strong as Gholston is, he has trouble disengaging from blockers to consistently position himself to make tackles.

At 6-foot-3, 266 pounds, Gholston has all the intangibles to improve his inconsistent run defense and displayed those qualities this offseason in front of scouts.

Gholston’s presence was felt at the Scouting Combine when he exceeded expectations during drills. He ran the 40-yard dash and was timed at an impressive 4.67, and he also performed well in the shuttle and 3-cone drills. Gholston showed his athleticism with a 35.5-inch vertical and a 10’5” broad jump, as well as his monstrous strength when he put up 225 pounds 37 times.

After a star-studded performance at the Combine, nobody expected Gholston to work out at his Pro Day, as he already put his best foot forward. But to everyone’s surprise, Gholston decided to re-run the 40 and attempt a better vertical jump.

Gholston declined to run the 40 on Ohio State’s fast track and preferred to run on field turf. His decision to run on turf paid off as he was timed at a 4.58. Gholston also improved his vertical jump from the Combine at his Pro Day with a 40-inch effort.

After those two sparkling performances, Gholston decided to run through positional drills.

Gholston looked a little stiff in the hips in drills, had trouble changing direction and didn’t bend his knees consistently throughout.

This revelation is concerning to NFL teams that run a 3-4 defense because Gholston’s measurables translate well to an outside linebacker who can come off the edge and rush the passer. But just because Gholston struggled a bit during one workout, that doesn’t mean teams running a 3-4 defense will shy away from him in the draft.

Gholston has received interest from a few teams that run a 3-4 defense who select in the top 10 and will also receive attention from teams that run a 4-3 defense where he will lineup at DE.

Gholston was recruited as a linebacker out of high school and was then converted into a DE at Ohio State. It seems like the reverse may occur when he reaches the NFL, but his versatility gives the team that selects him options in regards to what position he plays.


Strengths: Long has great size, quickness and plays with a high motor. He’s strong off the edge and sheds blocks well. He uses his hands to gain an advantage, displays great technique and plays with leverage. He’s highly instinctive and diagnoses the action extremely well. He locates the ball carrier quickly, possesses a solid burst and is quick in pursuit. He’s versatile and can play DE or OLB at the next level.

Weaknesses: He may already be a finished product with little upside. He’s still developing as a pass rusher and has only demonstrated elite pass rushing ability during his senior year.

NFL Comparison: Patrick Kerney, Seattle Seahawks


Strengths: Gholston’s an explosive pass rusher who has tremendous strength and is able to get in the backfield and create havoc. He’s quick off the snap and uses his freakish strength to get around the end. He uses his hands well and gains leverage inside. He has great agility and is fluid changing direction in pursuit of a ballcarrier. He’s versatile and can star in a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense.

Weaknesses: He struggles to get off blocks against a bigger opposition. He has a tendency to wear down as a game goes on and is a bit streaky when it comes to his sack total. Gholston, if he plays in a 4 – 3 defense at the next level, will have to improve his run defense to become a complete DE.

NFL Comparison: Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens

Long is the safer selection now and should be the top pick in the draft, but Gholston has better upside and will be the more dominant defender.


A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.

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