With more and more NFL defenses converting from 4-3 to 3-4 schemes in every passing offseason, the old black-and-white process of ranking defensive ends and linebackers on draft boards has become trickier and less uniform than ever before. A 4-3 defense, take Jack Del Rio's in Jacksonville, will have a very different grading system at DE and OLB than a 3-4 team like Buffalo.
A guy like Derrick Morgan, the 6-3, 245 pound pass-rushing end out of Georgia Tech, is ideal for an NFL 4-3 defensive scheme. The 4-3 defenses like Jacksonville (No. 10 overall pick), Seattle (No. 6 and 14), and Tennessee (No. 16) should be in the market for making the All-ACC sack machine a first-round selection on April 22. The consensus top-rated 4-3 DE rush end, however, might not even be on the first-round boards for such 3-4 defenses like Buffalo (No. 9), Denver (No. 11) and Miami (No. 12). The same goes for fellow 3-4 schemers Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New England, Dallas and Kansas City.
South Florida's Jason Pierre-Paul, Northwestern's Corey Wooton and Florida's Carlos Dunlap -- all no-brainer first-round prospects for 4-3 teams looking to add elite pass rushers -- can be grouped into the same conversation as Morgan: Great for the 4-3; "eh, maybe" for the 3-4.
So, which college DEs do the 3-4 teams look for? In many cases, it's guys they can use at the OLB spot in the 3-4 right away, instead of the DE. In recent drafts, guys like Larry English (San Diego in 2009), LaMarr Woodley (Pittsburgh in 2007) and DeMarcus Ware (Dallas in 2005) were collegiate DEs selected in the first and second rounds of the NFL Draft who have been used primarily at OLB in 3-4 defenses. James Harrison, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil were all tremendous pass-rushing ends in college who have excelled as 3-4 OLBs in the pros.
Ah, the hybrids. They're everywhere this year. Up and down the list of 2010's top prospects, you'll find collegiate DEs who will be used at the OLB spot for 3-4 teams in the pros. Here are my top five:
Sergio Kindle, Texas: Kindle made an unheard of 57 plays behind the line of scrimmage while playing both DE and OLB for Mack Brown at Texas. A two-time All-Big 12 selection, Kindle had 168 tackles, 13 sacks and 39 tackles for a loss in Austin. If he adds 20-30 pounds, he could be a pass-rushing demon at defensive end in a 4-3. As he stands now, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound menace is a tempting OLB prospect in the 3-4.
Brandon Graham, Michigan: The Senior Bowl MVP led the nation in tackles for loss in 2009 with 26 and sacked the QB 10 times. At the Senior Bowl, he recorded five tackles, two sacks, forced a fumble and left everyone in attendance nodding their heads in agreement that he's worthy of a first-round pick.
Everson Griffen, USC: Griffen's one of the few defensive prospects in this draft who's seen significant time at both DE and OLB. The rare true freshman starter at USC, Griffen battled inconsistency for three years in Los Angeles before emerging his senior year as a star. In '09, Griffen recorded 45 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, and eight sacks. Griffen's got silly speed for his size (6-4, 270 pounds), making him a very intriguing prospect for 3-4 teams looking to use him at OLB.
Jerry Hughes, TCU: A former Texas high-school standout at running back, Hughes made the move to DE once he got to Fort Worth and flourished immediately. The defensive leader of the nation's top defense for the past two years, Hughes recorded 26.5 sacks in '08 and '09, and won the Lott Trophy (best defender) his senior year. At 6-2, 255 pounds, the college DE is considered a very intriguing 3-4 OLB prospect because of his lightning speed and pass-rushing ability.
Ricky Sapp, Clemson: Sapp got a head start on many of his 2010 NFL Draft 3-4 OLB brethren by making the move from defensive end to standup outside linebacker for the 2009 season. He responded by recording career highs in sacks, tackles and tackles for loss. A high-school track star, the 6-4, 250-pound burner could be a homewrecker at OLB in a 3-4 at the next level. He's currently considered a mid-second round pick, but like Larry English last year could end up being a first-round selection for a 3-4 team. A knee injury could hurt Sapp's draft stock. His dynamic skill set certainly will not.
Here are three additional names to consider in the later rounds:
Jason Worilds, Virginia Tech Adrian Tracy, William & Mary Antonio Coleman, Auburn A Guy You've Never Heard of That You Should Probably Get to Know, Volume 3 Previous Subjects:
Jared Veldheer, OT, Hillsdale College Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, CB, Indiana (Pa.) University This week's unknown draft gem is Washington defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim .
Though he'll likely fail scouts' initial "eye tests," Te'o-Nesheim put up hard-to-ignore, jaw-dropping stats. The 6-4, 263-pound defensive end started all 49 games in which he played, recorded 194 career tackles and left UW as the school's all-time sack leader (30).
So what's not to love?
At 6-3, 260, the highly productive college performer could find it difficult carving a niche for himself in the NFL. He'll likely need to bulk up to become an every-down defensive end and he's likely not the ideal body type to play linebacker at the next level.
But there's stellar college production, experience and the charisma factor to consider. One of the more beloved defenders in University of Washington history, the two-time team captain and defensive MVP defied his physical shortcomings to produce in one of college's toughest conferences for four years. Words like "cerebral," "crafty" and "intangibles" are often tossed around when describing Te'o-Nesheim. In the NFL Draft, that's a lot like describing a girl your friend is about to go on a blind date with as "having a great personality."
It's not like he's a slow, plodding shrimp. Te'o-Nesheim ran a 4.73 in the 40 at the Combine and recently starred at UW's Pro Day, excelling in position drills. He's just not the physical freak of nature that Derrick Morgan or Jason Pierre-Paul is.
Te'o-Nesheim can likely go anywhere from the third to seventh round. Coaches and general managers that value production over potential will like him. I've got him going in the fourth round on Day 3 to the Falcons.
Team of the Week: Cleveland Browns The Browns have been one of the busiest teams of the 2010 offseason, overhauling their front office, changing parts of their coaching staff and making over several areas of their depth chart. Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson are out at quarterback; Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace are in. Veterans Kimerion Wimbley. Hank Fraley, Brodney Pool and Corey Williams are gone; Super Bowl champion Scott Fujita and veterans Ben Watson, Tony Pashos and Peyton Hillis are in.
With the seventh overall pick, most pundits have them pegged to take one of two defensive backs -- Tennessee's Eric Berry or Florida's Joe Haden. But before we start fitting Berry and Haden for their Browns jerseys just yet, let's take a look at what else could be on the board at No. 7.
Most intriguing to me is Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen. If the draft shakes out a certain way -- one in which St. Louis takes a passer and both Washington and Seattle go O-line -- Clausen could be on the board at No. 7.
Though Holmgren's already come out and made comments suggesting he's not particularly fond of Clausen as a QB prospect, I wouldn't read too much into that chatter. Everyone's a poker player in the months before the draft. As for the Browns QB situation being "set" already? I'm not so sure about that. Delhomme's not the long-term solution and Wallace -- though a Holmgren favorite -- likely isn't either. Clausen comes from a pro-style college offense, has shown big game ability and a knack for the clutch, and an above average arm. Whether or not the Dawg Pound is ready to embrace another first-round quarterback out of Notre Dame is an entirely other issue.
Another reason to like Clausen to Cleveland at No. 7? The Browns have an unheard of 12 draft picks. As dynamic as Berry and Haden are, there's a far better chance of landing a late-round gem at DB than QB. In recent years, Antoine Bethea (6th round in 2006), Kerry Rhodes (4th round in 2005), and Asante Samuel (4th round in 2003) have all been to Pro Bowls despite being second-day selections. Tom Brady, Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme success stories at quarterback do occur -- but far less often than those at defensive back.
If Clausen's available at 7, Cleveland should pounce. Sure, they'll miss out on Berry and Haden -- but with one second and three third round picks -- the 71st, 85th, and 92nd -- Cleveland could address DB in later rounds.
A wildcard in the conversation? Dez Bryant. Most draft pundits have Bryant's stock slipping, but the more I watch his tape, the more I'm mesmerized. Holmgren and Mangini might not want to deal with a potential headache and a character red flag -- but the lack of a premier wideout in Cleveland is glaring. Bryant's been compared to Randy Moss. The more I watch him, the more I'm beginning to think that's not hyperbole.
So, Cleveland at No. 7? Look for four names: Jimmy Clausen, Eric Berry, Joe Haden or Dez Bryant.
Reader E-mail of the Week Peter,
If I recall, you were awfully high on Brian Cushing, Malcolm Jenkins and Knowshon Moreno prior to last year's draft. You clearly have a sweet spot for Jersey kids. Any Garden State guys aside from Anthony Davis I should be looking for this year?
Craig, Manalapan, N.J.
Seven of the 32 players taken in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft played high school football in New Jersey. Ronnie, Snookie and the Situation weren't the only 20-somethings from Dirty Jerz to make a splash on the scene last year. Cushing, Jenkins, Moreno, B.J. Raji, Eugene Monroe, Donald Brown and Kenny Britt all contributed in their rookie years. Toss in Joe Flacco (2008) and it's been a good couple years for the Garden State.
However, 2010 is a bit light for New Jersey-grown talent. Davis and Boise State CB Kyle Wilson are likely the only first round talents. Other names to look for, though, are Jason Worilds, the DE/OLB prospect out of Virginia Tech, Rutgers OT Kevin Haslam and Virginia fullback Rashawn Jackson.
The states with the most first-round talent this year?
Texas (Sean Weatherspoon, Jerry Hughes, Daryl Washington, Earl Thomas, Russell Okung, Trent Williams, Colt McCoy, Sergio Kindle), Oklahoma (Jermaine Gresham, Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, and Dez Bryant) and Florida (Patrick Robinson, Dan Williams, Nate Allen, C.J. Spiller, Tim Tebow, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Maurkice Pouncey).
At least we'll always have Seaside Heights.