With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on Feb. 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward. In four seasons and 45 starts for the Buckeyes, the son of former NFL running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward amassed 157 tackles (77 solo), 38 tackles for loss (30 solo), 13 solo sacks, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and one interception.
Heyward's 2010 season was a bit of a disappointment after his breakout 2009 campaign (46 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks in 2009/42 tackles, 9.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks in 2010), but nobody questions his effort. Heyward is not Vernon Gholston(notes), the sequel; he's a versatile player in need of the right NFL situation. What does the tape tell us?
Pros: Played all over the line at Ohio State; basically every position but nose tackle. Great fit for any hybrid defense at 6-foot-5, 288 pounds. As the end in a four-man front, he presses the edge inside very well and can fan back out quickly to catch up to the ballcarrier. But as a 3-4 end (which may be his optimal NFL position), he gets under the pads of tackles very quickly, winning the leverage battle and making life difficult for enemy quarterbacks. Could be a real nightmare for opposing linemen in stunts and loops because he's so quick in a short area at the line (the proverbial "phone booth quickness").
As a tackle (one- or three-tech), he displays a decent ability to sift through traffic, though his initial burst off the ball isn't elite; he's more apt to build up momentum from the line to the quarterback. Better explosiveness shading over center; seems to get a bit more lost and late off the snap as a three-tech.
Cons: His sideline-to-sideline speed isn't exceptional at all -- if he's hitting full speed chasing outside, it's a real concern based on the tape I've seen. Though he has impressive strength overall, he gets taken out too easily by cut blocks and redirected by double-teams. Spin move to get out of blocks works well, but he doesn't show a lot of hand moves to blow past blockers, and I don't see a repeatable ability to slide off blocks and continue pursuit. Tends to get so focused on his one-on-one battle that the play will go right past him at times, and I'd like to see him be a bit quicker to disengage from blocks.
Conclusion: The more I watch Heyward, the more I'm convinced that he could be an elite 3-4 end with a few modifications. He might play better in the flex position (the Broncos do this a lot -- they alternate their defensive linemen at the line and about a half-yard back) -- it would give him additional time to diagnose the action and get his momentum going. He did a lot of good things in college, but I could see the right kind of NFL defensive coordinator getting hold of him, teaching him some additional moves, and unleashing a beast on the pros in a couple years. The work ethic and attitude are there; now the NFL needs to meet Cameron Heyward halfway.
More Shutdown 40
#40 -- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State | #39 - Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
| #38 - Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor | #37 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | #36 -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami | #35 -- Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor | #34 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State | #33 -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State | #32 - Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida | #31 - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado | #30 - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame | #29 - Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois