Posted on: September 21, 2011 9:39 am
Considering the rare blend of size, power and speed that Quenton Coples demonstrated in 2010 while at defensive tackle, many assumed that the North Carolina Tar Heel would be able to duplicate -- or even improve -- as a senior when allowed to move back outside to his more "natural" defensive end position.
So far, it hasn't happened and that fact is leading some NFL teams to switch their projection from defensive end back to defensive tackle.
"Look, I'm not saying he can't play outside," one high-ranking team official told me recently. "But he isn't a quick-twitch pass rusher and why would you invest that type of draft pick into a left defensive end? You wouldn't. Many 4-3 teams are going to eventually move him inside to defensive tackle. He can give you a pass rush there and is so big and strong, he'll be fine against the run."
Coples certainly is big and strong. Rated by some scouts as the elite senior talent in the entire country heading into this season, the 6-5, 278 pound All-ACC pick is viewed as a prospect who could get even bigger in the pros.
"He's got a long, lean, naturally powerful frame. He could add another 10-15 pounds without a significant loss in speed," said a scout representing another 4-3 team also speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Coples, a defensive end before moving inside last year to help a Tar Heels squad reeling from suspensions and injuries, enjoyed a breakout junior season in which he racked up 59 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. So far this season, he's struggled to make plays from the outside. He generally has played at left defensive end (against the right tackle), but was switched back and forth between left and right defensive end in this past weekend's game versus Virginia. The results weren't statistically impressive. Coples registered just three tackles against the Cavaliers, two of which were assists. He did also register three QB pressures.
Over the first three games of the season, Coples has posted six total tackles (four solos). He has two tackles for loss (both sacks) on the year, though they both came against James Madison in a 42-10 season-opening rout at home.
I touched upon Coples' recent struggles in my Big Board, where the North Carolina defender has slowly -- but steadily -- dropped from No. 2 in my rankings of potential 2012 draft prospects to his current No. 5. Coples is currently NFLDraftScout.com's No. 2 rated overall prospect for the 2012 draft. He's rated behind only Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
I see some similarities in Coples' game to that of another former ACC star who has gone on to enjoy significant success in the NFL -- Arizona Cardinals' defensive end Darnell Dockett (who played his collegiate ball at Florida State). Though he projects nicely inside for a four-man front, like the 6-4, 290 pound Dockett, Coples could be also be a star as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.
Fewer and fewer, however, believe he'll be able to make as significant of an impact playing outside in the 4-3 against NFL speed.
Posted on: May 10, 2011 2:11 pm
Over the next two weeks I will be highlighting a different position each day in an attempt to Find the Fit -- identifying 2011 prospects who are a particularly good schematic fits for the club that selected him. I'll also highlight one player per position who I believe could struggle in his new NFL role. Too often in the past rookies who have struggled in the NFL have done so because they were simply drafted into schemes that didn't fit their individual strengths.
Defensive end was one of the strengths of the 2011 draft class, but a disproportionate number of them were five technique defenders best suited to holding the point in a 3-4 scheme. There were few classic 4-3 RDEs to be had in 2011, with former North Carolina standout Robert Quinn being the most explosive of the bunch. In many cases, top collegiate defensive ends -- such as Texas A&M's Von Miller, Missouri's Aldon Smith and Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan will be moved to outside linebacker. As such, much of the focus below is on DEs capable of playing immediately in the scheme in which they were drafted, though they may not be used as defensive ends with their NFL teams.
Like my picks on the offensive side of the ball (the quarterbacks , running backs , wide receivers , tight end and offensive line fits), I highlight players taken in the middle and later rounds, as well as 1st and 2nd rounders.
Players are listed alphabetically.
Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints: New Orleans' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is one of the creative minds in the business, making the versatile Jordan an ideal fit in the Saints' defensive line rotation. Jordan, who emerged as a star at defensive end in the 3-4 while at Cal, proved the ability to be just as disruptive as a 4-3 pass rusher while at the Senior Bowl. At 6-4, 287 pounds, Jordan also has the size and strength to slip inside at defensive tackle in nickel situations.
Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins: The Big Defensive Player of the Year as a defensive end, Kerrigan will be asked to drop to outside linebacker in the Redskins' odd-man front. Kerrigan was widely characterized as strictly a 4-3 defensive end, but some of the clubs I'm closest to who work for 3-4 teams absolutely loved the former Boilermaker's burst and passion as a stand-up OLB. The biggest knock on Kerrigan coming out of Purdue was that he didn't use his hands well enough to keep NFL offensive tackles from latching on to him. The theory went that by moving him further away, he could use his speed to blow past tackles. Playing opposite an established rusher in Brian Orakpo, Kerrigan could prove an immediate impact player from this draft and ultimately quite a steal at No. 16, overall.
Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams: Like the Saints, the Rams simply got lucky when a top defensive end that fit their system simply fell in their lap. Quinn was rated by many as a top 10 prospect, but with four quarterbacks surprisingly making the Top 12, Auburn's Nick Fairley and Quinn fell to the Detroit Lions and Rams, respectively. With the exception of the Broncos' Miller (who will be asked to move to OLB), Quinn was the most explosive pass rusher in this draft. Playing opposite a strong, stout defender like former No. 2 overall pick Chris Long, Quinn's speed should give the Rams' otherwise aging defensive line some real playmaking potential. Quinn is already being viewed by some as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
Jabaal Sheard, Cleveland Browns: Knowing that the Browns desperately needed to get bigger and more productive up front in their transition back to a 4-3 defense, I had Cleveland pegged to take Quinn at No. 6, overall. That may or may not have been the direction they were going to with that pick, but when Atlanta offered them five selections (including their 1st and 4th round picks in 2012) to move down, the rebuilding Browns jumped at the opportunity. In Sheard (taken No. 37 overall), Cleveland got a high-effort pass rusher with an underrated combination of power and burst off the snap. He isn't as explosive as Quinn, but might be a safer pick and could surprise with his immediate production in this scheme.
Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers: While some pointed to quarterback or cornerback as the 49ers' biggest areas of concern, I've maintained that the team desperately needed to address their lack of a consistent pass rush. The 49ers clearly agreed, but I have real reservations about the player they chose to fix their concerns. It isn't that I dislike Smith. Actually, I'm quite high on the former Tiger's upside... I just liked him much more as a 4-3 defensive end rather than as a 3-4 rush linebacker. I didn't see the balance and change-of-direction from Smith that I believe translates into a high degree of success as a 3-4 OLB. Taking into consideration Smith's long, relatively lean frame (6-4, 263 pounds and exceptionally long arms, legs) and age (20), I see Smith getting naturally bigger as spends time in an NFL weight room. Quite frankly, I see Smith growing out of the position and struggling to put up the numbers expected of a player taken so high (No. 7) in the draft.
Posted on: January 11, 2011 8:47 am
Edited on: January 11, 2011 12:54 pm
For those who have watched Auburn's Nick Fairley dominate the competition all year long, last night's performance against Oregon in the BCS Championship game was no surprise. Even the comparisons to the Detroit's Pro Bowl rookie Ndamukong Suh used by ESPN announcer Kirk Herbstreit had been used before.
The reality is, however, many had not seen Fairley play until last night's game -- including some NFL general managers.
The 6-5, 299 pound Fairley was his typically disruptive self, posting five tackles, including three tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. Oregon tried beating with with traps, double-teams and having QB Darron Thomas "read" him in an effort to slow down the big fella and nothing worked consistently.
The All-American finished his junior season with an eye-popping 60 tackles including nearly half of them behind the line of scrimmage (24 for a loss of 106 yards) and 11.5 sacks.
And yet for as dominant as Fairley was last night, he isn't likely to have moved himself into position to be taken with the first overall pick.
Why? There are two reasons.
For one, scouts are rightfully afraid that he is a bit of a one year wonder. Fairley did little to stand out in his first season at Auburn after transferring from Copiah-Lincoln Junior College in Mississippi. Starting two of 13 games, Fairley posted 28 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss.
There is no denying Fairley's talent - I've had scouts tell me he's the most gifted player in the country - but few teams have been willing to gamble a high first round pick on a "one year wonder" at defensive tackle since some high profile busts of similar players in the early part of the decade. The Browns (Gerard Warren), Jets (Dewayne Robertson) and Saints (Johnathan Sullivan) each devoted top six picks to flashy SEC defensive tackles whose stock was based largely off of one dominant season and that tantalizing thought of "upside."
More importantly, Fairley is simply a poor fit for the 3-4 defense Carolina may incorporate if they do hire San Diego's defensive coordinator Ron Rivera as is being widely reported.
EDIT - Rivera played and coached extensively out of the 4-3 alignment during his time with the Bears (player and coach) and Eagles before becoming the Chargers defensive coordinator --
Fairley's best attribute -- his explosive burst upfield - makes him a prototypical fit as a three-technique defensive tackle in the 4-3 alignment -- just as he was being used last night (and all year long) by Auburn. His long arms make it possible that he could make the transition to the 3-4, but it would be a waste of his talents to put him at defensive end in the odd man front, especially considering that the "money" man in this alignment is at nose guard. Fairley, for as dominant as he is, is special due to his quickness, not extraordinary strength -- a requirement to play the zero technique in the 3-4.
Of course, with Carolina expected to strongly pursue any trade offers out of the No. 1 pick, a teaming built around the 4-3 and willing to gamble on Fairley's upside could still make him the No. 1 pick.
As always, for the best in NFL draft coverage, be sure to check out NFLDraftScout.com.
Posted on: January 5, 2011 1:14 pm
NFL scouts watching last night's Sugar Bowl may have tuned in primarily to watch Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett play in what is widely expected to be his final collegiate game, but a funny thing happened along the way -- Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward stole the show.
Heyward was dominant, lining at RDE, LDE and defensive tackle and beating virtually every blocker the Razorbacks put in front of him, including All-SEC offensive tackle DeMarcus Love, a potential first round pick.
Heyward, the son of the late Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, played inspired football last night on the same field in which his father had once starred at fullback for the New Orleans Saints. Ironhead succumbed to a long battle with brain cancer and passed away in May of 2006 at the age of 39.
After a breakout junior season in which young Heyward registered 46 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks while earning Second Team All Big-Ten honors, expectations were high. Heyward's production in 2010 was similar in tackles (42) and tackles for loss (10) but with only 2.5 sacks on the season, many characterized his regular season as a disappointment. Big Ten coaches certainly did not, as they voted Heyward to the First-Team all-conference team.
Against the Razorbacks, however, Heyward was a terror, registering six tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack. On numerous other occasions, his rare combination of burst upfield, stellar strength and recognition forced Arkansas ball-carriers to alter their running, presenting Buckeye teammates with easy tackles near the line of scrimmage.
Heyward lacks the burst off the edge that teams operating out of the 4-3 defense are looking for in a first round defensive end. However, with enough burst to occassionally surprise pass blockers, an effective swim move and most importantly excellent size and strength, Heyward rates as one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the draft.
Considering that roughly half of the NFL listed the 3-4 scheme as their base defense this season, there should be plenty of suitors for Heyward early in the draft - including the Baltimore Ravens - who I currently project as taking Heyward in the first round.
Posted on: March 3, 2010 2:13 pm
With only three D-I teams (Alabama, Virginia, Cal) using the 3-4 as their last year base defense last year, NFL teams looking for rush linebackers to fit this scheme are being forced to consider how pass rushing defensive ends from the 4-3 will convert.
Taking some of the guess work out of the process, 34 (out of 39) defensive ends tested at the Combine also did linebacker drills.
Scouts leaving Indianapolis yesterday told me that former defensive ends Sergio Kindle (Texas), Jerry Hughes (TCU), Everson Griffen (USC), Ricky Sapp (Clemson), and Thaddeus Gibson (Ohio State) were the most impressive of the conversion bunch. The fact that there were so many who did so has scouts excited that some of these young pass rushers will be able to make an immediate impact as rookies.
Kindle, who has experience at linebacker and is widely viewed as one of the draft's better all-around athletes, was not a surprise. Griffen, also viewed as an elite athlete, also was expected to perform well. Scouts felt that each were so athletic, in fact, that some question why they weren't more productive during their collegiate careers.
Sapp needed a strong workout to ease teams' concerns about his surgically repaired knee.
The more impactful workouts may have been had by Hughes and Gibson.
Hughes (6-2, 255) gambled by not attending the Senior Bowl, but may have proven he made a wiser decision in prepping for workouts. Scouts clocked him in the low 4.6s in the 40-yard dash and he also impressed in linebacker drills, as well as the 3-cone and 20 yard shuttle, each of which are designed to test how well an athlete changes directions -- typically areas of concern for DEs making the conversion to OLB.
Gibson (6-2, 243) is less known to scouts due to the fact that he left by Ohio State after his junior season. Gibson proved his agility by leading all defensive linemen (and finishing 3rd among linebackers) in the 3-cone drill (6.84 seconds), while also posting solid numbers in the short shuttle, 40-yard dash and bench press.
Posted on: March 30, 2009 3:29 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2009 3:39 pm
With the draft less than a month away most teams are settling their draft boards. One player whose stock remains very much in flux is Tennessee defensive end/outside linebacker Robert Ayers.
There appear to be two camps when it comes to Ayers. Some teams view him as a top ten prospect. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network, whose opinion I respect, recently ranked Ayers as the 5th best player in the entire 2009 draft. Other teams, however, view Ayers as a second round prospect -- and a marginal one at that.
I contacted four teams about Ayers -- two AFC teams and two NFC teams. Two of the clubs operate primarily out of the 4-3, two primarily out of the 3-4 defense. The reviews were stunningly mixed. One 3-4 team loves him. The other ranks him as the 8th best pass rushing OLB prospect of the draft. Similar results came from the 4-3 teams. Each viewed him strictly as a 4-3 defensive end in their scheme.
I respect the opinions of my contacts in the league, but ultimately, I trust my own eyes more than anyone else's. Therefore, I went back to the film. I own game-film of 6 Tennessee games (UCLA, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Wyoming, Kentucky), as well as the Senior Bowl. After two days of reviewing these tapes, I feel comfortable with my current grade of a late first round to early second round grade.
Ayers, 6-3 (3/8), 272 pounds, primarily lined up as the right defensive end out of the 4-3 alignment in the 6 UT games viewed. This is the position he lined up throughout the week of practice at the Senior Bowl, as well. I have detailed notes from those practices, as well as the Senior Bowl, itself, in which Ayers earned Defensive MVP honors with 3 tackles, including 1.5 sacks. I thought that Ayers was arguably the most impressive player early in the week of practice in Mobile and wrote as much in my Monday and Tuesday reviews of the South practices.
Monday: The surprise was vs. Oher was Ayers, whose quickness off the snap, strength to anchor and dizzying array of counter moves enabled him to beat Oher at times and consistently proved too much for lesser pass blockers. If he can build upon his initial showing with a strong week of practice, Ayers could be the latest example of players catapulting up draft boards with a strong performance in Mobile.
Tuesday: Perhaps due to the colossal battles waged between Oher and Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers on Monday, the two were rarely matched up against each other for this second practice. After an eye-opening initial practice, Ayers struggled with lesser blockers early Tuesday. He picked up his play as the one on ones heated up, however, and finished practice playing with the fervor he’d shown a day earlier. His final snaps of the scrimmage Tuesday, in fact, were spent bull-rushing Tulane tackle Troy Kropog onto his back during one play and using a beautiful swim move to cleanly get past the Green Wave blocker and into the backfield on the next.
The concern I and others have with Ayers is twofold. For one, he didn't establish himself as even a starting caliber player until his senior season despite signing with the Vols as one of the most highly touted preps in the country. Until this season, he was viewed by many as a bit of a bust. Secondly, even though he was as good as any defensive lineman in the SEC this season (and that is saying something) and absolutely deserved the 1st team conference honors he received this year (49 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss), he finished with only 3 sacks.
Based on the film, Ayers consistently plays to his level of competition. His most dominant game (statistically-speaking) was against Georgia, which unfortunately, I don't have film of. Against Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith, Ayers showed good burst, impressive strength to shed, good agility and vision when redirecting and hustle. These were the same attributes I saw against Oher in the Senior Bowl practices.
Against lesser talent in the Wyoming and UCLA losses, however, Ayers disappeared too long for my taste.
Ayers' fluidity improved so dramatically from his Combine performance and Pro Day, that I can understand why some are very excited about him. Those close to the Tennessee program rave about his emergence as a senior leader and there is no denying his athleticism. While he predominately lined up at right defensive end, he also moved inside to defensive tackle, at times, to the left defensive end and was a standup pass rusher from either side, as well. He is not truly explosive off the snap, but can bend under the tackle and has very good lateral quickness to "get skinny" and beat the offensive tackle back inside after a jab-step to the outside to tackle runners for loss.
He has the versatility that every team is looking for and the opinion that he could be an ascending talent will likely push him into the first round -- but there is significant boom or bust potential here.
For these reasons, Ayers was characterized to me by a high ranking official of one of the four teams as "the most polarizing defender who's gonna go in the top 50. Some love him. Some are only luke-warm on him. He's moving up though..."