In response to the outbreak of offenses that spread defenses out in order to get their best athletes in space to make plays, teams at the college level have started playing with more and more smaller, faster players on defense. As a result the old theme of college edge rushers all being 4-3 defensive ends in college has faded to all but the most old-school and box-dwelling thinkers, while the rest of us watch defenses at the college level become more multiple.
Therefore, when you look at players in preparation for the NFL Draft, it creates a unique set of problems evaluating and projecting those players to positions within schemes at the NFL level. There are very few "prototype" 4-3 defensive ends that come out every year, because the combination of size, speed, and power are very rare. Most guys come out as true pass rushers, with little, if any, experience playing coverage, but without the prototypical size for a 4-3 end. Leaving lots of "Tweeners" who fall in between two possible positions without a true fit.
Let's look at this year's class of edge rushers and consider how many fall in this "tweener" category. For perspective we will use Bill Walsh's definition of a prototype end, which is 6' 5" and 275 pounds.
For our purposes today, we'll look at players who project to be edge rushers, rated in the top 100 overall of CBS Sports Prospect Rankings.
|1||Jadeveon Clowney||South Carolina||6' 5"||266|
|3||Khalil Mack||Buffalo||6' 3"||251|
|8||Anthony Barr||UCLA||6' 5"||255|
|23||Dee Ford||Auburn||6' 2"||252|
|34||Kony Ealy||Missouri||6' 4"||273|
|45||Scott Crichton||Oregon State||6' 3"||273|
|47||Jeremiah Attaochu||Georgia Tech||6' 3"||252|
|48||Demarcus Lawrence||Boise State||6' 3"||251|
|54||Kareem Martin||North Carolina||6' 6"||272|
|66||Trevor Reilly||Utah||6' 5"||245|
|68||Carl Bradford||Arizona State||6' 1"||250|
|70||Trent Murphy||Stanford||6' 5"||250|
|81||Marcus Smith||Louisville||6' 3"||251|
|89||Jackson Jeffcoat||Texas||6' 3"||247|
|98||Will Clarke||West Virginia||6' 6"||271|
That's 15 edge players in the top 100 of the draft. If we consider a tweener to be anyone who is 6'3" or shorter, or who weighs 265 or less. That gives us the following break down.
|Prototype||Too Short||Too Light||Both|
That gives us, 8 players who meet AT LEAST one of the the criteria (within 2 inches or 10 pounds of standard), with only half of those meeting both. While 7 players, including 4 in the first two rounds, don't meet either of the criteria. What does it mean? It means that when you consider that drafting well requires marrying value with opportunity, as Rabblerousr opines, it's an interesting year to have a glaring need at defensive end.
However, one thing this defensive staff has shown in the past, both with the Cowboys and with other teams, is that they are willing to look outside the typical height & weight profile of a position, in order to get guys to play positions that allow them to use their physical abilities and compete where they win.
Knowing all of this, could the Cowboys next great right defensive end be in this group?