POSITION OVERVIEW: If not for an expansion team joining the NFL, it is doubtful QB David Carr would be the first pick in the 2002 draft. That would go to Julius Peppers of North Carolina. Blessed with a ton of talent, he likely won't make it past the second pick, whether Carolina keeps it or trades it away.
However, after he goes off the board, defensive end will be a non-existent position for the next three hours of the draft. With players like Kalimba Edwards, a Chris Doleman-like tweener who was drafted as a linebacker and moved to DE, Charles Grant and Dwight Freeney, you have players the scouts like, but not as much as the talented players at deeper positions. As a result, several of these players will fall to the final third of the first round and possibly one or more will fall out of the first round completely.
However, with Peppers and Edwards potentially being the only DEs to move in the first round, the second and third round could see as many as 10 more go off the board, as teams use the defensive end position as a secondary item of need.
THE TOP OF THE HEAP
Julius Peppers, North Carolina, 6-6, 284 — Fourth-year junior who came to Tar Heels as a tight end but switched to defense while redshirting...Prior to his senior year, also played with North Carolina's basketball team...Three-year starter who was a Freshman All-American in 1999, All-ACC and All-American the last two years...Won the Lombardi Award in 2001, given to the best defensive lineman in the country...In three years, he had 177 tackles, 53 tackles for a loss, 30.5 sacks and five interceptions...Everything a team looks for in a DE who has been compared to Jevon Kearse only better...Physical specimen who has all the dimensions a coach wants and pass-rushing ability that is frightening...Has agility to drop into pass coverage and break up screens and crossing routes...Has been a little inconsistent, but it is believed anything he doesn't already do well can be coached...May have hurt his standing a bit by not working out at the Combine, but really didn't need to impress anyone. PROJECTION: Won't last past the second pick, whether Carolina keeps it or trades it.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Kalimba Edwards, South Carolina, 6-5, 265 — Fourth-year senior who was a three-year starter...So impressed coaches that, as a sophomore, the Gamecocks moved John Abraham from DE to LB to open up a spot for him...When the team changed its defense to a three-man front in 2000, he moved to linebacker and won All-SEC honors...Senior season ended with a tear to his left MCL...In three years as a starter, he had 212 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss and eight sacks...Has the rare ability to be successful at either DE or OLB, which usually isn't the case with players called "tweeners"...Has a body that can add 15-20 pounds without getting flabby...Knee injury has some teams concerned...His injury prevented him from working out at the Combine, which could have raised his stock. PROJECTION: In the Doleman mold, he could have been seen as a non-playoff lottery pick in the top dozen or so, but is likely to fall somewhere around No. 20 overall and, if allowed to stick at one position, has a ton of potential.
Charles Grant, Georgia, 6-3, 281 — Technically a fourth-year junior who spent one season at a Virginia military academy to get his grades in order...Freshman All-American who tore his right ACL late in the season...Two-year starter who recorded 103 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and eight sacks...Extremely quick at the point of attack...While not a sack master at college, he has the ability to be a very solid pass-rushing DE...Did 24 reps with 225 pounds at the Combine...Has some baggage that he brings along, including a suspension after being arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover policewoman...Doesn't have the greatest technique, but his quickness and athletic prowess are expected to make up for that. PROJECTION: Many seem to think if he would have stayed at Georgia for his senior year, he could have been a top 10 pick next year. As it stands, he looks to go late in the first round or early in the second.
Dwight Freeney, Syracuse, 6-1, 268 — Fourth-year senior who didn't start regularly because of a hand injury that limited his playing time as a sophomore...A two-year starter whose junior year was cut short when he suffered a dangerous spleen laceration...Two time All-Big East, All-American last year and a Lombardi Award finalist...In two years, including just seven games as a junior, had 82 tackles, 33 tackles for a loss and an amazing 30.5 sacks...A weight room God who bench presses 500 pounds, squats 700 pounds and has been clocked at running a 4.4 40-yard dash while weighing 263 pounds...Nobody was a better pass rusher by the numbers last year...Is polished in his pass rushing technique, able to bull rush OTs and use leverage and spins to get to the quarterback...Size can be a problem at times — while he had 4.5 sacks vs. Michael Vick when playing Virginia Tech in 2000, was stuffed by Miami's Bryant McKinnie...Did 28 reps at the Combine. PROJECTION: Has the potential to be a Pro Bowler, but 6-1 is viewed as too short for a quarterback, much less a defensive end, so that will have some teams shying away from him. However, in the right system he could be special and could go late in the first round or early in the second.
Bryan Thomas, Alabama-Birmingham, 6-4, 265 — Fifth-year senior who was a three-year starter and two-time Conference USA pick...In three years as a starter, he had 122 tackles, 49 tackles for loss and 28 sacks, with all three numbers going up each year he played...Has the strength and build of a DE and the speed of a linebacker...Has and will play special teams...Explosiveness is his main selling point...Impressed coaches at the Senior Bowl with hard work...Will have to bulk up a little because he will be bowled over in the running game as an every-down DE...Despite playing at UAB, the school scheduled a lot of tough opponents and he held up well. PROJECTION: Would likely be best-suited for a team that runs a 3-4, though few do anymore, and concerns about his size and the perception he might struggle as an OLB in the NFL will drop him into the second round, perhaps to Houston, which will run a 3-4.
Alex Brown, Florida, 6-3, 260 — Fifth-year senior who came to the Gators as a linebacker and, after moving to DE, spent his first year backing up Jevon Kearse...Three-time All-SEC selection, All-American last year and a finalist for the Lombardi, Nagurski and Outland Trophies...In three years as a starter, he had 161 tackles, 36 tackles for loss and 31 sacks...Has speed to play linebacker and was used in coverage on passing downs, dropping into coverage with tight ends and running backs...Very quick off the line and closes ground on quarterbacks like few others can...Small for a DE and it is feared that tackles that outweigh him by 75 pounds or more will be able to dominate him and pick up on his quickness...Gets frustrated when neutralized and tends to get taken out of his game at times...Another player who could play LB in a 3-4 defense. PROJECTION: Too athletic to ignore, but many think he hasn't taken full advantage of his potential. With the right coach, he can be a great one and looks to go off the board in the second round.
Ryan Denney, BYU, 6-7, 277 — Like many Mormons, he went on religious mission following high school, so he will be 25 before the 2002 season starts...Fifth-year senior who has started the last two years...Numbers have improved every year and, in the last two seasons, he had 115 tackles, 33 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks...Rare height and speed combination...Very strong upper body, he did 36 reps at the Combine — by far the most of the top-rated DEs in the draft...His motor doesn't quit, as he will work sideline to sideline...Had a strong showing the week of the Senior Bowl...Upper body strength doesn't carry over to lower body...OTs with good leg strength can neutralize him when they lock him up in running game. PROJECTION: Being 25 will be enough to keep some teams from investing a top pick in him, but has the ability to shine and will likely go in the middle or end of the second round.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Will Overstreet, Tennessee, 6-2, 258
Dennis Johnson, Kentucky, 6-5, 258
Jarvis Green, LSU, 6-3, 274
Raheem Brock, Temple, 6-4, 266
Kenyon Coleman, UCLA, 6-5, 283
Aaron Kampman, Iowa, 6-4, 283
Akin Ayodele, Purdue, 6-2, 257
Michael Josiah, Louisville, 6-3, 265
Gregory Scott, Hampton (Va.), 6-4, 267
VU Draft Profiles: DE
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