In the final part of our position analysis, we take a closer look at the nation's top 3-4 defensive prospects. Every year, more NFL teams are in need of unique 3-4 position players, so let's break down the top guys at each spot.
1. Jarron Gilbert, San Jose State (6-foot-5, 288 pounds)
2. Tyson Jackson, LSU (6-4, 296)
3. Alex Magee, Purdue (6-3, 298)
4. Fili Moala, USC (6-4, 305)
5. Everette Pedescleaux, Northern Iowa (6-6, 305)
6. Zach Potter, Nebraska (6-7, 279)
7. Khalif Mitchell, East Carolina (6-5, 318)
8. Kyle Moore, USC (6-5, 272)
9. Matt Shaughnessy, Wisconsin (6-5, 266)
10. Pannel Egboh, Stanford (6-6, 276)
The top two five-technique defensive ends in this year's draft are Gilbert and Jackson. Both are tall, long-armed linemen with good base strength and an ability to stack blocks on the outside. Gilbert is a better athlete and offers teams a much higher ceiling. Jackson reminds me a bit of former first-round pick Marcus Spears and will likely come in and start from day one – but he doesn't offer as much upside.
Defensive tackles Moala and Magee may both be best suited to play in a 4-3 scheme, but with a lack of capable five-technique ends in the draft, I can definitely see a team taking a chance on one of these two linemen. Magee is a DT/DE tweener who is only 6-3 but has long arms (35 inches) and a strong upper body. Moala's transition to the 3-4 DE position may take some time since he doesn't use his hands as well as Magee. However, he does have a strong base, good length and the stack-and-shed ability needed for the position.
One guy to keep an eye on is Pedescleaux. The 6-6, 305-pound lineman has ideal size, athletic ability and length but needs time to develop in an NFL scheme. He possesses a very intriguing skill set for the position and could definitely develop into a starter.
1. B.J. Raji, Boston College (6-2, 337)
2. Ron Brace, Boston College (6-3, 330)
3. Dorell Scott, Clemson (6-3, 312)
4. Chris Baker, Hampton (6-2, 326)
5. Roy Miller, Texas (6-1, 310)
6. Sammie Lee Hill, Stillman (6-4, 329)
7. Vaughn Martin, Western Ontario (6-3, 331)
8. Myron Pryor, Kentucky (6-0, 319)
9. Terrance Taylor, Michigan (6-0, 306)
10. Antonio Dixon, Miami (6-3, 324)
Interior linemen Raji and Brace take the top two spots on the nose tackle board. Both possess the size, girth and base strength to hold the point of attack and eat up blockers inside. Raji is a more explosive athlete and will be able to play three downs at the next level, while Brace is more of a two-down plugger who is best suited to clog run lanes inside. Clemson's Scott has been consistently overlooked throughout the draft process but showcases some intriguing tools and athleticism for his size to develop inside. He's a surprisingly polished nose tackle and has the base strength and technique to control blockers at the point of attack. He definitely has the athletic ability to two-gap and should be able to add a little more weight and not lose much athleticism.
Small-school prospects Baker and Hill both have the size for the position, but what makes them intriguing is their natural athleticism and quickness inside. Baker played the five-technique position at Hampton and could be asked to play anywhere along the defensive line at the next level. However, his short, squatty frame and natural leverage will likely draw some interest among teams in need of a nose. Hill, on the other hand, was an absolute man among boys last season at Stillman, but he still has a way to go from a technique standpoint. However, all the tools are there and he likely will be drafted a bit higher than most think because of his immense upside.
Finally, one guy who has really climbed up drafts boards of late is Western Ontario's Martin. He possesses a big, thickly built frame with good upper body strength and athleticism for his size. He, like any other small-school prospect, is still raw and has a learning curve, but the physical skill set is there. You have to believe a team would be interested in developing a 6-3, 331-pound specimen who can run a sub-5.0 40.
1. Everette Brown, Florida State (6-2, 256)
2. Connor Barwin, Cincinnati (6-4, 256)
3. Clay Matthews, USC (6-4, 240)
4. Larry English, Northern Illinois (6-2, 255)
5. Clint Sintim, Virginia (6-3, 256)
6. Lee Robinson, Alcorn State (6-2, 249)
7. Cody Brown, Connecticut (6-2, 244)
8. Julius Williams, Connecticut (6-2, 252)
9. Victor Butler, Oregon State (6-2, 248)
10. Pierre Walters, Eastern Illinois (6-4, 269)
11. Slade Norris, Oregon State (6-2, 232)
12. Jovan Belcher, Maine (6-2, 243)
13. Phillip Hunt, Houston (6-1, 244)
14. Moise Fokou, Maryland (6-1, 233)
15. Jamaal Westerman, Rutgers (6-2, 257)
One of the toughest evaluations for any NFL team is the ability to predict the success of an undersized DE to the 3-4 OLB position. We purposely left USC's Cushing off the list because we firmly believe he's best suited to play inside in a 3-4 scheme. We don't think he possesses the fluidity to play in space or will offer as much as most scouts think as a pass rusher.
Brown is considered the nation's top rush linebacker as he showcases the first step burst and closing speed to consistently be a force off the edge. He's a bit undersized to be an every-down DE but has the quickness and fluidity to play in space and rush off the edge. Barwin, Matthews and English all fall into that next tier of pass rushers and should come off the board in the mid/late first- or second-round range and eventually become starters.
Small-school prospects Walters, Robinson and Belcher have experience rushing the passer and showcase the athleticism to stand-up in the 3-4 OLB role. Robinson offers the most intriguing skill set to me, as he plays with a strong base, good flexibility and natural leverage off the edge. He exhibits a good first step and has the upper body strength to disengage from blockers on the outside. Robinson is being viewed as a mid/late-round pick in most draft circles, but I think he has a lot of added value to a 3-4 defense as an outside or even an inside linebacker.
1. Rey Maualuga, USC (6-2, 249)
2. Brian Cushing, USC (6-3, 243)
3. Frantz Joseph, Florida Atlantic (6-1, 242)
4. Jasper Brinkley, South Carolina (6-2, 252)
5. Clint Sintim, Virginia (6-3, 256)
6. Antonio Appleby, Virginia (6-4, 243)
7. Nick Reed, Oregon (6-2, 245)
8. Mortty Ivy, West Virginia (6-2, 248)
9. Josh Mauga, Nevada (6-2, 243)
10. Ronnie Palmer, Arizona (6-2, 245)
USC's Maualuga and Cushing are the top two middle linebackers on our board, but bring different skill sets to the position. Maualuga is a physical, downhill linebacker who loves to attack the ball and create collisions at the line of scrimmage. He needs to become a bit more disciplined but also offers the ability to create a pass rush inside. Cushing is a more instinctive linebacker who diagnoses plays quickly and will always be flowing toward the ball. He does offer some versatility to kick outside, but I feel his best spot will be inside a 3-4.
Another versatile prospect is Sintim, a pass rushing OLB in Virginia's 3-4 defense who is now also being considered as a 3-4 inside linebacker. Sintim really struggled with his fluidity in space at this year's Senior Bowl and did not show the type of explosive pass rush ability we expected. However, he possesses a strong frame, smooth footwork and, like Cushing, will add some versatility to a defensive scheme.
Reed, a former defensive end at Oregon, was never given a chance by NFL scouts, no matter how productive he was in college. But after posting a 4.71 40 time at his pro day, he's now being taken more seriously. At 6-2, 245 pounds, Reed is undersized for the defensive end position, but he plays with reckless abandon, works hard and I think his skill set might be best suited to play inside linebacker in a 3-4. Reed is considered more of a late-round prospect who doesn't possess much upside, but all the guy has ever done is produce. He should get a shot somewhere at the next level.
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