Kareem Martin began his career at Chapel Hill amidst much hoopla, earning a starting nod in each of his first three games. The long middle between those three early games and his senior season in 2013, however, are best characterized as, well, decent: a 40-tackle, 7-TFL, 4-sack sophomore year was followed by a 40-tackle, 15.5-TFL, 4-sack junior year. And then he broke out, fulfilling the promise that he flashed as a fresh-scrubbed frosh. In 2013, Martin nearly doubled his two previous years combined, logging 78 stops (20 for loss), 11 sacks, and contributing 14 quarterback hurries, three batted passes and three forced fumbles for good measure - enough to garner him First Team All-ACC honors.
As his TFL figures suggest, Martin "plays on the other side to the line," making a lot of plays in the opponent's backfield (note that he averaged nearly 15 tackles for loss over his final three seasons). With the notable exception of his final campaign, this was largely a matter of stopping the run; despite his impressive sack totals as a senior, the heart of Martin's game is using his length (6'6", with 35" arms) and natural power to hold the point of attack, stack and shed, and get to the ballcarrier. Thanks to Draft Breakdown, we can witness his skillset in all its glory. They have cut-ups from five of his games, including 2012's rivalry game against NC State and a last-minute loss to Miami in 2013.
While Martin might not be a deluxe athlete (several draftniks suggest that his 11.5 sacks as a senior are an anomaly rather than the indication of an upward tick in his career graph), he's definitely an "RKG." He's known to be a leader in the locker room and on the practice field - traits that undoubtedly contributed to his being elected a team captain in his final season. And you know how much Jason Garrett loves his team captains. Martin will definitely have a little star on his draft magnet (we discovered when the draft board was leaked last year that players with little Cowboys start on their draft magnets were "Jason's guys").
Do any of our draftniks consider Martin to be one of their guys? Let's find out...
Rob Rang (CBSSports.com): 6th-ranked DE; 55th overall
Strengths: Certainly looks the part of a first round pick, boasting broad shoulders, long arms and a trim middle reminiscent of an NBA power forward. Offers good initial quickness off the snap, as well as straight-line speed to close quickly on the ball-carrier. Martin's best attribute is his strength at the point of attack. He gets a strong initial jolt to his opponent, quickly locking out to survey the action and showing the strength to rip himself free and pursue or stay home, as needed. While not particularly fluid, Martin's length and strength aid him as a tackler, as he's able to grab hold of the ball-carrier and throw him to the ground. Possesses the frame to handle moving inside on obvious passing downs, using his burst to split gaps.
Weaknesses: While possessing good initial quickness, he isn't explosive off the ball and is stiff when attempting to turn the corner or when changing directions. This inflexibility allows mobile quarterbacks and other alert ball-carriers to elude Martin in the open field. Does not use his length well to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage, tipping only three passes in 2013 (the same number in 2012)... Broke out with a spectacular senior campaign (including a safety in the Belk Bowl win over Cincinnati) to prompt questions as to where was this consistency throughout his career...
Compares To: Justin Tuck, New York Giants -The team that selects Martin hopes the UNC standout will show the same dedication towards improvement that Tuck has since earning a third round pick out of Notre Dame in 2005. Tuck has developed into a fine pass rusher for the Giants but his game remains reliant on his length and strength at the point of attack.
Gary Horton (ESPN.com): 6th-ranked DE; 82nd overall
Pass Rush Skills: Effective hand fighter. Makes it tough for offensive linemen to reach him and can counter-punch when blocker wins initially. Good awareness, instincts and effort (for most part) as a pass rusher. Only average get-off quickness. Inconsistent snap anticipation: last DL off the ball too many times. Lacks suddenness. Slow to redirect, struggles to run the loop, and slow to spin off blocks. Flashes ability to convert speed to power, but can be too slow developing. Too much of power comes from upper body. Has to learn how to stay low and use momentum to drive through OT as a power rusher. Doesn't have a plan at times and will struggle to counter when reached. Flashes ability to penetrate and disrupt as inside pass rusher. Gets skinny and powers his way through small gaps. Has very long arms. Does a nice job getting hands up and bats down a lot of balls. Sack production peaked as a senior but is a bit misleading. Of his 11.5 sacks, 6.5 came versus marginal competition (Pittsburgh's marginal OTs-3.5, Old Dominion-2, MTSU-1).
Versus the Run: Despite excellent size, is a bit of a high-cut and narrow-based run defender. So when pads start to rise, he gets on roller skates quickly. Also does a lot of lunging and winds up on the ground too often. Most of his power comes from upper body. But he does have intriguing upside. Shows ability to stack and shed when he's using good leverage and technique. Also flashes ability to anchor versus double team. Powerful upper body. Presses and controls tight ends. Locates and tracks ball well. Can shed quickly. He's in on a lot of plays. Like his effort. Works back down the line after initially setting the edge, and tracks down indecisive RBs in the hole.
Versatility: Best suited to play LDE in a 4-3 scheme and really doesn't project well to other positions/schemes in NFL. Lacks burst and flexibility 4-3 teams typically covet at RDE. Has shown flashes of being able to reduce to DT and rush QB on obvious passing downs, but needs to master his own trade first. Too many athletic limitations for 34OLB, and as it stands now; lacks bulk/base for 34 DE as it stands now.
Instincts/ Motor: Can be a bit of a front-runner from an effort/toughness standpoint. He tends to turn up the heat and become much more physical when things are going his way (Pittsburgh, Old Dominion). But if he fails to win initially or if he's stuck in an unfavorable matchup (South Carolina, UVA vs. LOT Morgan Moses), his motor can run hot-and-cold.
Intangibles: Leader. Team captain. Hard worker. Well respected by teammates and coaches. Very good football character.
Tony Pauline (draftinsider.net): 6th-ranked DE; 90th overall
Positive: Three-year starter at defensive end who posted 82 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks last season. Also recorded 14 quarterback hurries. Underrated defensive end who possesses next level athleticism. Moves well, can bend off the edge, and displays a good change of direction. Easily gets down the line of scrimmage and pursues the action with speed. Natural pass rusher who quickly closes on the quarterback. Easily makes plays in every direction. Exploits tackles around the edge, keeps his feet moving and displays quickness. Relatively instinctive and does a solid job diagnosing the action.
Negative: Does not consistently play with a sense of urgency. Possesses a thin frame and out positioned by opponents. Struggles getting off blocks.
Analysis: Martin showed consistent progress and quietly had a terrific senior season. He's an athletic prospect with natural pass-rushing skills and offers ability at defensive end in a four-man front.
Nolan Nawrocki (NFL.com): 6th-ranked DE; 148th overall
Strengths: Has very long arms. Good eyes and recognition -- senses screens, locates the ball and understands contain. Strong-handed to punch and extend. Good short-area burst. Uses his length to force his way into gaps. Flashes power potential. Nice closing speed. Wrap tackler. Football smart. Durable three-year starter. Solid personal and football character with leadership traits. Showed explosion at the combine, recording a 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump (best among defensive linemen) and a 35 1/2-inch vertical jump.
Weaknesses: Needs to bulk up and get functionally stronger. Has tapered legs and is not stout at the point of attack -- does not generate power through his lower half and is too easily displaced. Pad level fluctuates. Needs to improve as a hands fighter. Can do a better job protecting his legs. Average get-off -- pops up off the snap and initial steps are unthreatening. Rush lacks variety. Does not accelerate off blocks or consistently bend the corner. Occasionally loafs on the back side. Tweener traits.
Draft Projection: Rounds 2-3
Bottom Line: Big, narrow-framed, long-levered defensive lineman who shows big-time flashes of potential as a 4-3 left end, though he needs to fortify his base as a run defender and hone his technique as a pass rusher. Possesses very intriguing dimensions for a rush OLB role in a traditional, two-gapping, 3-4 alignment and showed he is athletic enough to handle it at his pro day.
Our panelists have Martin graded in a fairly tight cluster, as a late second- or early third-rounder. Given the need teams have for pass rushers as well as Martin's NFL-caliber size-speed ratio, long arms, and explosiveness, I'm inclined to go higher rather than lower, thinking that he's not likely to last until the 78th pick, where the Cowboys select in round three. So. I'll slot him in round two on my big board, as one of Dallas' myriad options at #47.
Another reason I'm persuaded to grade him higher is that he fits what is rapidly becoming the clear criterion for Cowboys defensive ends: position flex. As I've written on other DE profiles in recent days, a key component of the team's "waves" pass rushing strategy is to collect strongside end types capable of playing tackle in obvious pass rushing situations. And Martin fits that bill; as Rang notes, K-Mart boasts "the frame to handle moving inside on obvious passing downs, using his burst to split gaps." That description sounds like exactly what the team's braintrust envisions. If Martin can do that with any regularity, he'll prove to have been a second round pick well spent.
Later today: Now that you've seen how the national draftniks rate Martin, stay tuned for our in-house scout, Joey Ickes, who will post a detailed film study of the UNC product to add to what you already know.
Tomorrow: Pitt DT Aaron Donald