The Defensive Ends
The season is over, and draft season is in full swing. I start my series of Draft Previews at Defensive End and Linebacker, simply because these are the two crucial needs for the 49ers this offseason (a list which I would add OT to and, if we lose Buckner, DT).
Jamal Reynolds, the early favorite by many scouts to be the first defensive end taken in the draft, is typical of the 2001 DE draft class and, in a larger way, the direction the NFL is going when assessing defensive line players. Reynolds game is speed and quickness. He has that coveted first step and can string together enough moves to be lethal. The negative? He's undersized at 6-3, 255.
Get used to that term "undersized". We're seeing a lot of it this year.
Andre Carter, probably the most well rounded prospect? Undersized. David Warren, Aaron Schobel? Same. Alex Brown? Undersized. Karon Riley weighs a few pounds more than a good NFL fullback. It seems every team is trying to find a Jevon Kearse, a 255-60 pound speed rusher. The result is that defensive lines are going for speed and quickness over bulk - and the offenses are responding by running the ball down their throats and drafting mobil quarterbacks. I believe the strong showing by NFL running backs this year and the rise of the running quarterbacks is directly attributable to the call for Jason Taylor-type DEs. They are speed specialists who require offenses to become more mobile and develop running games that are more physical. My Defensive End short list:
1. Andre Carter, 6-3 260 4.72 California
59 tackles, 19 for loss, 13 sacks, 2 FF
Bueno: Came back for his Senior year and it paid off. The most complete end in the draft. Very well rounded - can play the run and has the speed to rush the passer. Comes from an NFL family, father played 12 good years for Broncos. A physically talented player with a blue collar. Tremendous work ethic. Good character but can play nasty when he's on the field. Starter since the sixth game of his freshman year. Super technique with his feet, hands, and has great body lean and leverage when taking on lineman. Has good moves outside and great moves inside. Has an NFL arm-over move. Very good tackler and finishes well. The opposite of Reynolds - very assignment oriented and not a freelancer. Undersized, but has shown an ability to put on weight - he came to Cal weighing 230 pounds.
Malo: Not big. Solid everywhere, but not a down-to-down impact player with explosive speed. PFW thinks he is too scheme-oriented and does not rely on his natural ability as much as he should.
The Skinny: My early favorite for the 49ers at the #9 spot. With the underclassman who have declared, and considering that as many as six of the eight teams drafting before SF may go with offensive picks, Carter should be there (remember, Shaun Ellis dropped to #12 last year, and he's one heck of a player). Could really rise if his combine reflects his athleticism (I've heard he has a 35 inch vertical). Has the all-round game, character, work ethic, and athleticism the 49ers want and need. The more sure-thing pick in the top ten. He will be a great player.
2. Jamal Reynolds 6-3 258 lb 4.58 FSU
58 tackles, 15 for loss, 12 sacks, 4 FF, 1 pass defensed
Bueno: The early favorite at DE in many mock drafts. Best pass rusher in the draft. A prime athlete with top speed off the edge and a Julian Peterson first step. Closes well. Gets off the ball very well. Is superb changing directions. Can use leverage and callapse a pocket. Do not run sweeps with this guy, can cover the flanks. Appears to have the instincts. Generally has good character and competes. Coachable. Played through some nagging injuries this year and didn't show it much.
Malo: Undersized. Though he didn't show it in college, looks like he could wear down with his size. Looks like a guy you can run at. Has always freelanced at FSU; how will he handle the more assignment-oriented NFL? Must put himself in better position vs the run. Did not have the monster year some thought he might, though he had some injuries.
The Skinny: Truly a pass-rushing defensive end, could be another Jason Taylor. His weight is not as big a concern - there are some very effective DE in the NFL who play at 260-265 (Mickael McCrary of Baltimore, for exmaple) and I see no reason why this guy can't add 5-to-10 pounds in an NFL conditioning program. Exactly the kind of player the 49ers need on their line. But it looks like the Bengals will take him at #4. If he slips past there, the Seahawks are waiting at #7. Arizona might nab him, too.
3. Justin Smith 6-4/6-5, 273 (250?) 4.64 Missouri
81 tackles, 24 for loss, 11 sacks, 2 FF
Bueno: Has solid athleticism. Fast. Very agile, can shift and change direction. Great motor. Has a DE disposition. Flies around the field and makes a lot of tackles. Anticipates plays well and at times seems to be very aware of how a play is developing. Extremely productive. A playmaker. A junior, but started every game as a Freshman and thus has three full years of experience. Played tight end and DE in high school.
Malo: Some mixed signals regarding his size - I really like him at 270, but I really don't like him at 250. A little reckless on the field and must stay in control of his emotions. Not a overly powerful end despite his size.
The Skinny: The Urlacher of 2001. Scary athlete. If he falls to the 49ers, they have a serious choice to make. My early impression is that he won't. Was used as a stand-up end at Missouri on certain downs; almost a hybrid LB/DE. He probably won't be doing that for the 49ers, but it's nice to know he can rush upright if the need arises (especially nice on third down, as it gives him a jump on the rush and in coverage if he drops off). This is one player who should vault into the top ten after his combines because he stands to put up some serious numbers - has been timed as low a 4.5 in the 40, has a solid 30.5 inch vertical leap, and power-cleaned a Missouri-record 485 pounds.
4. Alex Brown 6-4, 255 Florida
56 tackles, 11 for loss, 7.5 sacks, 3 FF, 1 int.
May be staying for Senior year.
5. Karon Riley, 6-2 248 4.7 Minnesota
49 tackles, 20 for loss, 13 sacks, 1 FF, 4 passes defensed, 1 int.
Bueno: Has the speed and athleticism to be an edge rusher at the next level. Plays even faster than he times, in part because he takes great angles to the ball carrier. Despite his size, seems to be servicable vs the run. Makes plays. Has some very good pass rush skills. Has shown some ability in pass coverage. Young; will turn 21 in June. Best as a rusher when he lines up down, so he should stay an end (as opposed to being converted to LB).
Malo: Undersized. Though he was servicable in college, it's will be tough for him to be much of a run player at an NFL level at 250. Does not get off the ball as well as he should with his speed and size.
The Skinny: There is talk of 36 inch vertical leaps and 4.55 40 times with this kid, and he needs to really bulk up to be effective on the next level. But I like this pick. He isn't any bigger than the other undersized ends in this draft, but he plays better than he times and is stronger than he lifts. I am especially encouraged by his ability vs the run for a guy his size and his coverage ability. He's extremely well-rounded. The 49ers could easily put 10-15 pounds on this guy and have themselves a solid pass rusher. A tempting pick if he's there in the second round, but I wouldn't take him at #9.
David Warren, 6-2 245 4.48 FSU
41 tackles, 19 for loss, 9 sacks, 4 FF, 2 passes defensed, 1 int.
Bueno: On paper, a serious prospect. Not heavy, but is very strong for his size and has the measurable everywhere else. Has ultra-special speed, has been timed as low as 4.45. An pure edge rusher, and good at it. Uses his strength well and stays low. Is a good contain player and covers the sidelines well. Is not repulsed easily after his first move fails and will fight to get to the passer. Good motor.
Malo: Was very heralded player out of high school but never lived up to his hype. His play and production on the field does not reflect his athleticism. Lacks football instincts. Puzzlingly, he seems to utilize technique over his athleticism at times, which is the exact opposite of what needs to do. A real problem in the running game. Some talk of moving him to linebacker. Has had a recurring disc problem in his back. Needs improvement with his hands, can get logjammed in close quarters with an OL. Does not appear to be an every-down player.
The Skinny: Definitly not the pick early, but is an intriguing prospect in the third-fourth round. His lack of a position, however, is concerning. He really may fall in the draft. How far? Well, condiser that the best college defender of last year, Corey Moore, fell to the fourth round because of his size. Warren is a little bit bigger than Moore, and might sneak up a round ot two. I like his playmkaing potential, but this guy is not worth anything more than a third rounder to the 49ers - and I'd take Karon Riley over him if presented with the option, anyway.
Roland Seymour, 6-4 260 4.66 FSU
Bueno: When healthy, has great speed and quickness. Can really fly for a mna his size. Has good technique and knows how to use balance on the pass rush. Very agile. A good re-direction player, can adjust to ballcarrier and is very good on stunts. Has a good, not great, first step. Looks like he has the frame to fill out. Has an inside move. Good hands.
Malo: Started out strong at FSU but started getting injured in 1999 and has not come close to regaining his 1998 form. A liability physically. Suffered all kinds on injuries in 1999 and then tore his knee ligaments in the Sugar Bowl. Did not play until the Miami game this year and has not been very good since. Undersized to begin with, and not a strong player vs the run. Doesn't look like he can add a lot of weight. Needs to show more pass rush moves.
The Skinny: Big red flag on this guy. Undersized and injured. The only redeeming factor to this guy is that his injuries and size may see him fall so far that he becomes an alluring pick. Do the 49ers take him if he makes it the third round? I still say no. We cannot lose players to injuries.
Kenyon Coleman, 6-4 278 5.01 UCLA
50 tackles, 9 for loss, 3.5 sacks (junior year)
Bueno: Bucks the undersized trend. Has Pro size. Looks like he's stout enough to be a factor vs the run. Has some quickness and can throw a move or two at you. Aggressive player at times.
Malo: Lacks great movement skills. Not an edge rusher. Living off his Junior year. Injury problems everytime else - the guy just hasn't played. Broke a leg in high school, missed three games as a Sophmore with a sprained knee, missed Spring Practice with mononucleosis, then injured his left knee early and missed all but 3 games in 2000. Though he is big, he does not have enough strength in his legs to be as effective as he needs to be. This is compounded when he plays too upright, which he will do from time to time. Not a finisher and will take downs off. Is not as physical as he needs to be.
The Skinny: Not a prime prospect for the 49ers due to his injuries, and certainly not what the 49ers are looking for from an DE right now - we need more of a pass rusher. Too many injury problems. Doesn't want it bad enough.
Cedric Scott, 6-5 275 4.87 Southern Miss
65 tackles, 19 for loss, 12 sacks
Bueno: Has the right size-speed ratio. Hustles and has the ability to drive through offensive lineman. Understands good leverage and usually stays low.
Malo: Inconsistent. Does not make himself known every down. Appears to wear down a bit as a game progresses. Does not possess killer technique when fighting off a lineman's block.
The Skinny: Looks more like a second-third round, servicable player than an first rounder.
Kyle Vanden Bosch, 6-4 265 4.7 Nebraska
56 tackles, 17 for loss, 6 sacks
Bueno: Nice size. Looks the part for a DE. Has fine timed speed and can rush the passer. Always moving. Relentless. Had a amazing 26 QB hurries in 2000, the most by any DE I looked at (Jamal Reynolds, by comparison, had 13). Hits like a champ. Works his butt off and is a fine soldier. Had a 3.8 GPA and was an academic All-American.
Malo: His size and speed number do not always translate to big plays on the field. Does not get great jumps off the ball and will not cause many NFL tackles to get jumpy. Solid and servicable, but not a difference maker. Does not provide a prescence on the line play in and play out. Can get a little crazy at times and overpursue, etc.
The Skinny: If the 49ers want impact, this is not the guy. A bit like Engelberger, though, and a nice player to have to rotate into the lineup.
Kenny Smith, 6-3 288 4.85 Alabama
72 tackles, 13 for loss, 3.5 sacks
Bueno: Great size-speed ration. One of the better run-defenders at DE. Wide frame and solid strength. Holds up well at the point of attack. Very good footwork. Has decent speed and can apply some pressure vs the pass. Tore up his knee in 1999 but worked through it and had a productive Senior year.
Malo: Had a bad knee injury in 1999 and there is some concern about his knee ligaments. No dynamo when it comes to rushing the passer.
The Skinny: If healthy, he will be off the board in the second. Not the kind of end the 49ers need, however. He's enough of a pass rusher to be called "all-around", but the 49ers need more speed from their Des in this draft. Not a bad player, just not quite the right fit for us and our needs right now.
Aaron Schobel 6-3 254 4.68 TCU
54 tackles, 15 for loss, 6.5 sacks
Bueno: Could be a pass rusher the 49ers take a look at. Has a nice combination of pass rush skills and intangibles. Good size. Can run well for a big man and turn the corner. Possesses some fine pass rush skills - can use leverage and his hands well. A pure edge rusher. Fine intangibles, four year starter who hustles and has a great motor. Never gives up on a play.
Malo: Too lean a build for a DE and needs to add something to his frame. Does not possess enough strength at his current weight. As one dimentional as they come.
The Skinny: Looks like third down pass rusher at this stage, and certainly until he adds some weight. The 49ers need bodies along the line however, and if they trade down and get more picks he's a possibility, but not until the third, in my mind.
Felipe Claybrooks 6-4 255 4.9 Georgia Tech
40 tackles, 10 for loss, 5 sacks
Very intense player. Scrappy. Always fighting, plays stronger than he looks, and can hold himself well at the point of attack. Very quick in the first five yards. Has some issues with leverage - does not play high enough at all. Will need some seasoning. A tempting morsle in the late rounds.
Fred Wakefield, 6-6 267 5.0 Illinois
56 tackles, 20 for loss, 7 sacks
Has the size. Fairly athletic player who can get a good jump. Plays hard and competes. Coachable. Lives in the film room and generally maximizes his ability. Not very fast for a guy his size, and still not tough enough on the run. Has a frame that can add muscle though, and his work ethic and attitude make him intriguing.
Bryan Ray, 6-3 250 4.68 Wake Forest
36 tackles, 6 for loss, 3 sacks
Tough guy who competes. Smart player. Has trouble shedding blockers at times. Can run, but plays slower than he times. Not a great athlete. Ray is a technique guy, an overacheiever.
Randy Garner, 6-4 272 4.8 Arkansas
27 tackles, 3 for loss, 2 sacks
Converted linebacker who has some speed and enough size to be a DE on the next level. His size hasn't translated to solid run defense, however, and though he has the measurables, was not really a dynamic pass rusher at the college level.
Brady McDonnell, 6-4 265 4.6 Colorado
35 tackles, 8 for loss, 7 sacks
Has good game speed. Shows more quickness than pure speed. Is quick off the corner. Has an explosive first step. Never stops hustling. Is a tough player who plays through pain. Is well conditioned and has a great work ethic. Plays too high and needs some leverage technique. Raw. Needs better pass-rush technique. Needs to bulk up. Gets a little crazy and will overpursue. Not the most agile player.
Joe Tafoya, 6-4 258 4.80 Arizona
54 tackles, 18 for loss, 6 sacks
On the all-intangible team. Has the disposition to play and a relentless motor. Has the size and possess some quickness. Effective at the point of attack at times. Not the world's greatest athlete. Simply does not possess the agility to be a great pass rusher. Gets pushed around in the running game at times. Great attitude, but has the look of a special teamer on the next level.
Andy Bowers 6-5 277 4.79 Utah
39 tackles, 9 for loss, 7 sacks
Good size and frame. Has some speed and can move down the line. Is a good athlete. Seems pretty aware on the field. Never stops hustling. Tough, like to battle. Has all the natural tools. Raw. Has a narrow build and needs to add strength. Needs to improve the use of his hands. Lacks pure pass-rushing skills. Must translate off-the-field work ethic to on-the-field production. If he falls far enough, he's worth a late round pick.
By the way: raise your hand if you're tired of hearing the lame, scout cop-out line "has trouble shedding blocks when engaged by a lineman". This is what 'Internet' scouts say when they don't know what to put down under 'negatives'. If a good offensive lineman locks onto you with a block, you should have trouble getting off of it. The point is to not get locked into a block in the first place; to fight it off. And it's silly to sweat about this as a 'negative' for defensive lineman. It's not a prime concern at that position.
Look at the Ravens. Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary had 48 and 43 tackles this year, respectively. An end's job on run support is to play contain; to funnel runners back towards the middle where there are tacklers. The idea is to occupy blockers and leave the linebackers free to make the tackle. This is what the Ravens front four do. They essentially take on blockers and funnel the running backs towards the black widow - Ray Lewis (his 137 tackles are made more incredible when you consider that the Ravens defense was on the field for fewer plays than any other team). Now, not every defense has a Ray Lewis. But a good middle linebacker will make plays if the front four do their job and keep blockers from swarming past them and engulfing the linebackers.
To ask a DE to take on blockers, shedd them, AND make the tackle is a little much. This is why the "trouble shedding blockers" gripe is so ridiculous when applied to college lineman. Linebackers, on the other hand, should be able to fight off blocks, because they are the ones who need to do the tackling. If they can't fight off the block and make the tackle, your strong safety will be getting paid overtime and the defense will be seeing a lot of second-down-and-two situations.
The 49ers real need is an impact, pass-rushing DE. But if neither Reynolds, Brown, or Carter fall to the ninth pick, the 49ers should take the best defensive player or offensive tackle available or trade down. The 49ers are not rock solid anywhere, and need bodies on the front seven. Dan Morgan, who has become linked to the 49ers via many mock drafts, would be a fine pick under these circumstances. But by trading down, the 49ers would likely still find comparable talent (assuming the 3 DEs above are gone) in the late first at DE and LB as they would have at the 10th spot and have one more pick to boot.
Will one of those 3 DE fall to us? Well, San Diego stands to draft Vick, Atlanta will do whatever it can to draft Brees. Cleveland and New England will almost certainly take offensive players. While Arizona could do anything, they have overhauled their offensive staff and are talking to Norv Turner - all signs pointing towards offense being the priority there. Chicago invested a lot of free agent money for Shawn Wooden, Phillip Daniels, Brad Culpepper and Thomas Smith. They have a good young defense; they don't have a great running back or any wideouts after Robinson. So Chicago is looking like an offensive pick. Therefore, the only teams picking ahead of the 49ers who are likely to go defensive are Seattle and Cincinnati. Cincinnati will take the first defensive end, in all likelihood. Seattle may go DT or CB, but QB remains a possibility if Drew Brees is available at #7. I'd say the chances are very good that Andre Carter will be there with the ninth pick.
Talk about it in the 49ers Forum