With the 2011 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Right up to the draft, we'll be taking a closer look at the 50 players who may be the biggest NFL difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue this year's series with Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry. In two full seasons as a defensive force for the Thundering Herd, the 6-foot-3, 266-pound Curry lived up to the team's name all by himself -- through he started all 13 games in 2009, it wasn't until 2010 that Curry really started to explode off tape and the stat sheets. In the 2010 campaign, he amassed 12 sacks (11 solo), 18 tackles for loss, and 18 quarterback hurries. He build on that great season in 2011, racking up 11 sacks (10 solo), 21 tackles for loss, 8 quarterback hurries, and a new skill displayed -- three blocked kicks. Any concern that he padded his stats against inferior opponents can be put to rest; Curry was a consistent disruptor of one type or another through the last two seasons. If he didn't have a sack, he'd have three hurries, or a forced fumble (six of those in 2011), or a special teams standout play.
Curry seems athletically predetermined to mess up quarterbacks, but how well will he attain that goal at the NFL level? The world is full of defensive ends who blew it up in college, only to attain a Milk Carton Scholarship in the NFL. Curry has a few technique fixes to deal with, but does he have what it takes to do what he did against the best?
Pros: Curry is an outstanding fast-twitch, first-step athlete -- he comes off the snap with lightning speed and is very good at finding or creating an opening right away. Total forward-motion player who is always looking for the ballcarrier in the backfield. Even when he comes up late off the count, he's fast enough to get going and create problems for opposing tackles.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Curry's game is his upper-body strength; combined with his speed, he's got a lot of pass-rush potential at any level because he doesn't just vaporize when presented with power blocking. He will bull-rush with consistency and can actually keep a blocker at bay with one hand at times while waiting for a play to develop. Very difficult to handle one-on-one when playing from a wide slanted position, because he will double back if he overplays the original rush. Great edge-rusher in four-fronts from either side, though one of his best moves is the inside stunt from the LDE position. Quick enough from the line to blow up swing and screen passes before the back gets very far. Startling chase speed; Curry can be a factor on plays happening yards away from him because of his ridiculous speed and great motor.
Curry's lateral speed gives him the opportunity to dominate when looping and stunting inside; he did that a bit at Marshall, and he was generally a problem to deal with when doing so. Outstanding run defender who will go sideline-to-sideline and can chase down elite speed backs. Plays a bit as a five-tech end and "endbacker" pass rusher in five-man fronts or four-man slanted fronts with a blitzing DB at the line. Has the raw strength to make some plays as an inside rusher on passing downs, and the speed to come off the edge as a 3-4 OLB, though he may not have the quick "dip-and-rip" move common to many great 3-4 edge rushers.
Cons: Right now, Curry has two speeds: "Off" and "Kill." While you can see traces of a more patient and even more effective player on certain plays, he can be fooled on traps and misdirection plays -- at times, he'll overrun plays by a pretty wide margin as a result of his breakneck pace.
Can be fooled out of position on playfakes, as well -- he'll bite pretty hard on that stuff. Comes off the snap too high at times and can get bulled back as a result. Will need better and more varied hand and foot movement against the NFL's stronger tackles, though he shows an embryonic swim move that could be devastating. Ran a slow time (4.98) at the scouting combine, but went much faster (4.69) at his Pro Day, and at no time does Curry appear slow on tape.
Conclusion: Because of his speed and gap versatility at the college level, some may try to buy into Curry as a pure 3-4 outside linebacker, but he's really a pass-rushing specialist with impressive run-defending ability. He's not going to drop into coverage at an expert level without a lot of work, but expecting him to do that would like asking a Lamborghini to tow a U-Haul trailer. His one scheme-transcendent asset -- demon speed off the edge -- should translate very well to the NFL.
Where Curry can separate himself from the college speed ends who wash out in the pros is in his ability to develop technique around his raw tools. There's evidence of this when switching from his 2010 to 2011 tape. He's now more of a read-and-react player, and if he can augment this new patience with the kinds of moves that work at the professional level, he's got what it takes to be one of the NFL's more feared pass-rushers. Curry would be best-utilized in a four-man or hybrid front in which he plays outside, especially in conjunction with a defensive tackle good enough to soak up blockers and let him wreak havoc.
Like Pierre-Paul, who went to the Giants with the 15th overall pick in 2010 despite limited college experience, Curry could surprise with his draft position -- he's projected by most as a player worthy of a top-second-round selection, but it will only take one defensive coordinator falling in love with the speed on tape to change that.
Pro Comparison: Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants
More Shutdown 50:
#39: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State | #40 : Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers | #41: Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina | #42: Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska | #43: Jared Crick, DE/DT, Nebraska | #44: Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina | #45: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State| #46: Orson Charles, TE, Georgia | #47: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami | #48: Shea McClellin, OLB/DE, Boise State | #49: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU|#50: Jonathan Massaqoui, OLB/DE, Troy