Monday, June 17, 2013

Senior DE / Rush LB Rankings (Preseason)



       1.  Anthony Barr (3-4 Rush LB) - 6’4” / 245 - UCLA

Bruins running back Anthony Barr was a breakout performer in his junior season...as a linebacker. In his first season as a defensive starter, Barr’s numbers (60 solo tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and five pass breakups) did nothing but reinforce the move on the part of the new coaching staff. Barr possesses elite explosiveness, speed, and flexibility on the edge. He flashes the ability to use his long arms to set the edge against the run, and the ability to shed blockers to make stops on plays run in his direction. Still very new to the position, Barr struggles to diagnose plays on the field, and is highly susceptible to misdirection and play fakes. His raw talent and productivity will make him an early pick, but he may need a year or two to develop in a situational role similar to what Aldon Smith played in his rookie season with the 49ers.     


      2.  Trent Murphy (3-4 Rush LB/4-3 DE) - 6’5” / 261 - Stanford

Murphy showed tremendous improvement in his second season as a starting outside linebacker on the Cardinal defense, earning first team All-Pac-12 honors with 58 total stops, 18.0 tackles for loss, 10.0 sacks, four passes broken up, and an interception. Murphy does not possess elite edge speed, but he combines ample quickness and flexibility with sound technique to disrupt opposing backfields, against both the pass and the run. He plays with good leverage at the point of attack, and does an excellent job of shedding blockers in time to bring down the ball carrier. He compensates for the speed he lacks with good instincts and surprising fluidity in coverage for a player his size. Murphy is a true hybrid edge defender who, while he may be passed over for better athletes, will be a rock-solid contributor wherever he is drafted in 2014. 


       3.  Jeremiah Attaochu (3-4 Rush LB) - 6’2” / 240 - Georgia Tech

Attaochu is undersized, but possesses the requisite speed and quick-twitch athleticism to threaten the edge as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive front. His violent hands, lateral agility, and explosiveness enable him to blow past blockers on the edge. He shows adequate instincts and awareness, and looks comfortable dropping back in coverage. While he has the strength and athleticism to get off blocks, he can get pushed around in the running game, and needs to become a more consistent tackler. Adding strength and improving hand placement will help him play with better leverage, something that will aid him in his move to defensive end in Georgia Tech’s new 4-3 scheme. Having already shown that he can be effective playing in space, a season in which he is challenged more at the point of attack should only make Attaochu a more complete player.     


       4.  Ed Stinson (Base 4-3 DE) - 6’4” / 282 - Alabama

Stinson started all 13 games for the Crimson Tide in 2012, playing strong-side defensive end in both three and four-man fronts, and rushing from the interior on passing downs. A former “jack” linebacker, Stinson is able to sidestep blockers and break down in space with athleticism and lateral agility generally only seen from smaller defenders. He is a rock at the point of attack, playing with good leverage despite inconsistent hand placement, and shedding blockers with explosive power in his upper body. He is a sound tackler who explodes through contact. More of a power rusher than a traditional speed threat on the edge, Stinson is used more as a contain defender in Alabama’s defense. He is a vastly underrated prospect whose versatility will make him a highly coveted defender by teams who employ multiple defensive fronts.    


       5.  Kareem Martin (4-3 DE) - 6’5” / 265 - North Carolina

Martin thrived as a second-year starter at North Carolina in 2012, racking up 40 total tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, and three pass breakups. Despite intriguing size, speed, and athleticism for a pass rushing defensive end, Martin has not shown the ability to provide consistent pressure off the edge. His explosive first step is often negated by poor snap anticipation, and he struggles to free himself from blockers with his hands or dip his shoulder to beat offensive tackles around the arc. Martin exhibits impressive lateral agility for a defender his size, which could translate into pass rush upside if he adds strength and becomes more explosive with his initial pop. While he is unlikely to produce 12-15 sacks with regularity at the next level, Martin looks to be a solid run defender with the length and athleticism to approach double-digit sacks as he develops.       


       6.  Jackson Jeffcoat (4-3 weak-side DE) - 6’4” / 245 - Texas

A celebrated recruit whose father had over 100 sacks during his NFL career, much was expected of Jeffcoat when he arrived in Austin in 2010. He is a gifted athlete who is technically sound in virtually every aspect of his game. He has a quick first step (though he is markedly more explosive from a three-point stance), uses good hand placement and technique, and is a sound tackler. Yet when you watch him on tape, the vast majority of his splash plays come when he is unblocked. For a defensive end many consider to be an elite pass rusher, his 13.5 career sacks in 27 games are less than spectacular. He needs to add strength to prevent blockers from driving him off the football or sealing him out of running lanes, and must develop his arsenal of pass rush moves to help him power through contact when he fails to beat his blocker with quickness off the snap.  


       7.  James Gayle (4-3 weak-side DE) - 6’4” / 253 - Virginia Tech

Following a solid sophomore campaign in which he totaled 12.5 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, with 20 quarterback hurries, Gayle added 12 pounds of muscle to help him better hold up against the run. While he looked bigger and stronger on tape, he was still overpowered often when taking on blockers. What he gained in strength and leverage at the point of attack, he lost in flexibility to bend the arc as a pass rusher. Gayle has elite edge speed, although he does not always play fast. He needs to better utilize his long arms to shed, and be more deliberate and explosive toward the football after he sidesteps his blocker. Gayle is reportedly close to his 2011 weight again, which should lead to improved productivity as a pass rusher in 2013. If he fares well in his senior year and has a strong showing at the combine, Gayle will likely go in the top half of the draft next May.        


       8.  Prince Shembo (3-4 Rush LB) - 6’2” / 250 - Notre Dame

Shembo played a critical role on the Fighting Irish defense in 2012, starting at outside linebacker in their 3-4 and playing with his hand in the dirt when they went to a four-man line. He plays with a low center of gravity, which translates into a natural leverage advantage at the point of attack. As a run defender, he consistently shows the ability to set the edge, locate the football, disengage, and bring down the ball carrier. While he forced a number of hurried throws and tallied 7.5 sacks as a junior, Shembo lacks ideal explosiveness and strength to power through contact as a pass rusher. He shows good flexibility and closing speed, but will have to do a better job of jolting blockers with initial contact to compensate for his lack of quick-twitch explosiveness and enable him to turn the corner against longer offensive tackles.   


       9.  Denico Autry (4-3 DE) - 6’4” / 265 - Mississippi State

A highly publicized JUCO transfer, Autry didn’t exactly set the SEC on fire in his first season in the conference (42 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 4.0 sacks). He finished strong, however, totaling 4.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, and two forced fumbles in his final four games, leaving hope that he would be up to the challenge of leading the Bulldogs defense in 2013. Autry combines ideal length and long arms with the necessary first step, edge speed, and flexibility to pressure the quarterback. He needs to vary his pass rush moves and generate more pop with initial contact if he is to enter that next tier of pass rushers. He does a solid job shedding blockers against the run, but must add strength and improve his technique to better hold up at the point of attack. A strong senior year could transform Autry from a relative unknown to a high pick in 2014.


      10. Morgan Breslin (situational rusher) - 6’2” / 250 - USC 

A JUCO transfer, Breslin stepped up and produced at a high level as a surprise starter in his first season with the Trojans, totaling 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.0 sacks in 2012. His move to outside linebacker in 2013 should create more favorable matchups against tight ends and halfbacks in pass protection, but it will also expose his stiffness and force him to answer questions about his ability to play in space. Breslin shows good burst and flexibility, and exhibits exceptional speed off the edge as a pass rusher. Undersized and not particularly adept at using his hands to free himself from blockers on the edge, he currently lives and dies with his speed rush. He demonstrates proper hand technique and plays with good leverage against the run, but how he responds to his new position will be critical in determining whether or not he has an NFL future beyond that of a situational pass rusher. 

    


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