NFL Draft 2013: Finding Playmaking 4-3 Defensive Ends

Eric P. Mull-US PRESSWIRE

In a defensive end class that is surprisingly top-heavy, we review the college production of 28 draft prospects. And in addition to the well-known names we unearth a couple of late-round prospects with intriguing college stats.

For the last couple of years, we've looked at the Production Ratios for front seven players prior to the NFL Combine here on BTB. And it was no different this year, as we started off by looking at 3-4 outside linebackers and 3-4 defensive ends in early January. A few days after those posts were published, the Cowboys announced the hiring of Monte Kiffin and a move to a 4-3 based scheme. We quickly adapted and posted the production ratios for 4-3 defensive tackles, but never got around to doing a thorough run-down of 4-3 defensive ends. Today we change that.

A lot of the draft talk among Cowboys fans has focused on either offensive linemen or defensive tackles. And a quick look at our latest Mock Draft Tracker shows that those are the positions most often mocked to the Cowboys in the first round. Yet there is a strong argument to be made that finding a defensive end could be the number one offseason priority for the Cowboys. Consider that even if Spencer is re-signed, the Cowboys have almost no depth at DE.

DE is not yet a popular pick for the Cowboys, but I'm willing to bet that that's going to change over the coming months as under-the-radar prospects like Sam Montgomery and Alex Okafor shoot up the boards after laying down the law at the Combine. Also, some small school prospects like David Bass, Mike Catapana and Quanterus Smith are going to get some attention due to their college production as we'll see below.

We've established in previous posts that the Production Ratio looks like a good indicator for how good a college player could be at the NFL level. Of course, there are a multitude of other factors that determine how well a prospect will do both at the college and NFL level, but the correlation between college production and NFL production is strong enough to use it as one of the tools with which to evaluate college prospects. If you are unfamiliar with the Production Ratio, follow any of the links above and read up on it. Here's how it's calculated:

PRODUCTION RATIO = (SACKS + TACKLES FOR LOSS) / NUMBER OF GAMES PLAYED

The resulting number basically tells you how many splash plays (sacks or tackles for loss) a player recorded per game in the offensive backfield. For pure pass rushers, a number above 1.5 is often indicative of elite talent. Recent stand-out pass rushers like Aldon Smith (1.96), Von Miller (1.78), J.J. Watt (1.85) and Bruce Irvin (1.94) have all scored very high on the Production Ratio. The ratio is usually calculated over the entire college career of a prospect, but that method can be inaccurate because not every prospect has a four-year career in college. To correct for that, we'll look at two Production Ratios, one for the entire college career (an indicator of consistency) and one for the last two seasons of a player's college career (an indicator for potential).

The 2013 prospects are split into two tables. The first table shows the top 20 DE prospects (per the CBS Sports big board), all of whom are projected to be drafted in rounds one through six. The second table shows a couple of prospects who are projected as seventh-rounders or free agents, but who could be intriguing prospects on the strength of their college production. Let's start with the top 20 DE prospects:

College Production Production Ratio
CBS Rank Player School Ht Wt Proj. Round Sacks TFL Games College Career Last two seasons
2 Bjoern Werner Florida State 6-4 256 1 23.5 35 41 1.43 1.81
4 Damontre Moore Texas A&M 6-4 250 1 26.5 45 38 1.88 2.38
9 Barkevious Mingo LSU 6-4 240 1 14 29 40 1.08 1.30
16 Ezekiel Ansah Brigham Young 6-5 274 1 4.5 13 31 0.56 0.70
21 Datone Jones UCLA 6-4 280 1 13.5 36.5 51 0.98 1.25
25 Alex Okafor Texas 6-5 261 1 23 35 52 1.12 1.83
27 Dion Jordan Oregon 6-6 243 1 14.5 29 45 0.97 1.38
32 Sam Montgomery LSU 6-5 260 1-2 19 32.5 32 1.61 1.61
46 Margus Hunt SMU 6-8 277 2 13 25.5 40 0.96 1.15
72 Malliciah Goodman Clemson 6-4 272 2-3 12.5 23.5 54 0.67 0.87
76 Brandon Jenkins Florida State 6-3 260 2-3 22.5 37.5 36 1.67 1.57
84 John Simon Ohio State 6-2 256 3 19.5 43 50 1.25 1.94
95 Cornellius Carradine Florida State 6-4 265 3 16.5 21 25 1.50 1.50
113 Devin Taylor South Carolina 6-7 275 3-4 18.5 35.5 52 1.04 1.00
120 Corey Lemonier Auburn 6-3 242 4 17 24 39 1.05 1.36
126 Lavar Edwards LSU 6-3 272 4 10.5 20 52 0.59 0.63
140 William Gholston Michigan State 6-6 278 4-5 10 30 36 1.11 1.48
158 David Bass Missouri Western St. 6-4 263 5 39.5 57 50 1.93 2.38
171 Michael Buchanan Illinois 6-5 252 5-6 14 26 44 0.91 1.30
202 Stansly Maponga TCU 6-2 265 6 15.5 23 36 1.07 1.38

Two obvious standouts here are Bjoern Werner and Damontre Moore, and their track record of production against premier college competition rightfully sees them ranked at the very top of the 2013 draft boards. As we move down the table, it's frankly a little puzzling to see the likes of Alex Okafor and Sam Montgomery ranked fairly low. If those two stay ranked as low as they currently are, the teams drafting them will end up getting tremendous value.

The value is less clear for popular luxury picks Ezekiel Ansah and Margus Hunt, two prospects straight out of Forrest Gump's box of chocolates: "You never know what you're gonna get." A little further down the rankings Brandon Jenkins and John Simon stand out with strong Production Ratios, but both likely project better as outside linebackers. Right after that pair we have the criminally underappreciated Cornellius Carradine who's ranked this low because of a season-ending ACL tear in late November. After that we come across two players who are traveling in opposite directions on many boards: William Gholston has fallen a little out of favor recently despite a solid college production record. Right below him is David Bass, who has been shooting up draft boards recently after a strong showing in the East-West Shrine game practices.

Our new favorite draftnik Tony Pauline was suitably impressed with Bass:

But before we anoint Bass the new DeMarcus Ware, keep in mind that he played against mediocre competition at Missouri Western State. I haven't seen any film on Bass, but some reports suggest that while he is great against the pass, he has trouble against the run. Regardless, Bass is an interesting prospect based on his production and measurables, but teams and their scouts will have to make the call as to whether that will translate to the NFL level.

Which, in a round-about way, brings us to the small-school standouts in this year's draft class. Keep in mind that these guys are ranked as low as they are for a reason. At the same time, they still offer at least the hope of some serious pass rushing potential. Outside of Mike Catapano (more on him later) I'd consider the guys in the following table priority free agents and wouldn't be mad if the Cowboys took a flyer on one of them with a late-round pick.

College Production Production Ratio
CBS Rank Player School Ht Wt Proj. Round Sacks TFL Games College Career Last two seasons
366 Travis Johnson San Jose State 6-2 244 FA 32 49 50 1.62 2.38
386 Armonty Bryant East Central 6-4 262 FA 26.5 49 30 2.52 2.29
364 Quanterus Smith Western Kentucky 6-5 248 FA 23 41 46 1.39 2.20
377 Mike Catapano Princeton 6-3 270 FA 19 28.5 39 1.22 2.10
400 Marquis Jackson Portland State 6-4 268 FA 20.5 45 33 1.98 2.02
257 Walter Stewart Cincinnati 6-4 248 7-FA 17.5 34.5 43 1.21 1.61
349 Tourek Williams Florida Int'l 6-3 259 7-FA 18 45.5 50 1.27 1.54

These are players whose best chance to get to the NFL is via the fee agent route. All have shown enough to attract some attention, similar to Prairie View standout Adrian Hamilton last year. Hamilton was picked up by the Cowboys on the strength of 22 sacks notched in his senior season. The Cowboys ended up releasing him, ruffling a lot of fan feathers in the process. Hamilton joined the Ravens where he played a grand total 10 snaps in week 17. And while it's not like he set the world on fire in Baltimore, he will get a Super Bowl ring. So there's that.

Hamilton's flaw, at least from a Cowboys' point of view, was that he wasn't particularly effective against the run and didn't have a lot of pass rush moves. Most of the players above also have various flaws. Walter Stewart for example was diagnosed with a congenital spine defect last year and it's currently not clear whether he'll pursue an NFL career or whether the defect will keep him out of football altogether. Others like Travis Johnson may not have the frame to play 4-3 DE. Yet all of them have flashed potential at some point that should have teams looking at them closely.

Perhaps the most intriguing prospect on the second list is Princeton's Mike Catapano, who had 12 sacks and 15 TFLs in 10 games in his senior season. Catapano was the 2012 recipient of the Bushnell cup, given annually to the best offensive and defensive Ivy League players as voted on by the eight Ivy League coaches. Previous winners of the Bushnell Cup include Jason Garrett (1988) and Judd Garrett (1989). Catapano was co-captain of the Princeton Tigers for the last two years and tore it up at the Shrine game practices according to Russ Lande:

1. Mike Catapano, DE, Princeton (6033, 270 and 4.85): After dominating the Ivy League, Catapano came to Tampa needing to prove he could be as productive against better competition and he definitely did that. Quick off the ball, Catapano displayed strong and aggressive use of hands to jolt and defeat pass blocks with surprising ease. Able to consistently beat the offensive tackle around the corner and inside allowed him to regularly pressure the quarterback in every drill. Not only productive rushing the passer, his ability to defeat run blocks allowed him to make plays against the run at him and away. His strong week of practice has put Catapano in position to be a third round pick if he continues to perform well the rest of the spring.

Chuck Smith, the former Falcons pass rusher who now runs a pass-rushing training center in Georgia, helped Catapano prepare for the Shrine game and was also very complimentary of Catapano in a Tweet in December:

In an interesting twist, Smith was the DL coach for new Cowboys WR coach Derek Dooley while Dooley was head coach in Tennessee, although reports are that Smith left Tennessee in 'bizarre' circumstances.

Yet depite all these accolades, Catapano was not invited to the Combine. He remains a very interesting prospect nevertheless, and I'll be watching his progress through draft season very closely. Watch his highlights here.

Overall, the chances are good that at least one of the 28 players featured in this post will end up wearing a Cowboys jersey. Interestingly, this year's DE class appears to be very top-heavy, with up to eight players projected as potential first rounders. Would you be willing to invest the Cowboys' first-round pick for a defensive end, and if so, who would you be looking at? And if not, which other player piqued your interest?

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