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I am now on the defensive side of the ball and I will start with the guys who get paid big money to get to the QB, the pass rushers. Some guys will play the 7 technique in a 4-3, some could possibly make the transition to a 3-4 rush linebacker, but I will give you my top 5 prospects and another 5 to look for on draft night as well.
1. Quinton Coples 6-6 285lbs UNC
Strengths: Is clearly the most talented defensive end in this draft. Has a freakish combo of size, speed and strength that he’s used at times in his career to be unstoppable. Played defensive tackle in 2010 due to player suspensions and played it great. Is very scheme diverse, I can see him being an anchor LDE in a 4-3, play defensive tackle on passing downs in a 4-3, or even play the 5 technique in a 3-4.
Weaknesses: His effort has been questioned, his play in 2011 was good, but not as good as in 2010. Some scouts might stay away from the fear of Coples not giving his all every play, every game.
Grade: Top Ten Pick
2. Nick Perry 6-3 270lbs USC
Strengths: Has good first step to go along with power and explosiveness off of the edge. Shows the ability to bend and get around the edge. Is underrated against the the run, holds the edge pretty well by using his arms and good leverage. We might see a team draft him and have him stand up to play a rush backer in the 3-4. Has an array of moves he uses to get to the QB. I love his bull rush.
Weaknesses: Needs to do a better job with play recognition. Meaning deciphering the pass from the run quickly and making a play. If he is the left end in a 4-3, he could use some extra weight on his frame in order to deal with offensive tackles.
Grade: First Round
3. Melvin Ingram 6-1 264lbs South Carolina
Strengths: Has elite speed and explosiveness off of the edge. He’s shorter than you would like for a defensive end, but so is Dwight Freeney and Elvis Dumervil. He’s short and stocky and that helps him hold his own on the edge against the run. When rushing the passer, he uses his power to his advantage as well, getting up under the pads of the tackles and driving them into the offensive backfield. He lined up over the guards in certain instances and was able to generate a pass rush as well.
Weaknesses: Lack of ideal height and arm length could hurt him against the long armed, talented tackles in the NFL. Has only one full year as a starter and needs to become better at figuring out the play type on the go and then reacting.
Grade: Mid first round
4. Courtney Upshaw 6-1 5/8 271lbs Alabama
Strengths: Made big time plays in the best conference in college football, with the best players. Showed the ability to line up hand in the ground and as a standing 3-4 backer and get to the QB. Very well put together prospect at 6-1 and 271lbs and uses his strength and leverage while rushing the passer and holding the point in the run game.
Weaknesses: Isn’t very agile, more of a straight line type of athlete. Doesn’t have the hips or change of direction ability in order to play in pass coverage in the NFL. May have some trouble due to his short arms against offensive tackles.
Grade: Mid first round
5. Andre Branch 6-4 260lbs
Strengths: Has a very good first step, long arms and uses good leverage when rushing the passer. Has good power and explosiveness and I like the way he gets up under the Tackle and jacks him up while bull rushing. He is scheme diverse, Clemson used him hand in the ground and as a standing rush linebacker.
Weaknesses: I would like to see him play the run better on the edge, often gets blown off the ball by opposing tackles and tight ends. I know he can rush the passer, but I’m not sure if he has the ability to drop in coverage if used in a 3-4.
Grade: Mid to late first round
Next 5: Chandler Jones 6-6 266lbs Syracuse, Vinny Curry 6-3 266lbs Marshall, Whitney Mercilus 6-3 261lbs Illinois, Jonathan Massaquoi 6-2 264lbs Troy, Jared Crick 6-4 280lbs Nebraska(5 technique in a 3-4 defense)
Up Next: Defensive Tackles