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Cowboys Draft Prospects: Kenrick Ellis

The final group of players our draft prospects series will look at are defensive linemen. Our first stop is at little Hampton, where a big man, defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis, has made a name for himself. For his work in the 2010 season, Ellis was awarded All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference honors for the second consecutive year, after finishing second on the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. Ellis has always been a top-shelf talent: he initially matriculated at South Carolina, but was booted from in 2008 for repeated violations of team policy, whereupon he landed at Hampton and largely overwhelmed a lower level of competition.

Ellis is built to play nose tackle in a "30" front, both physically and mentally. He's a massive man (6-4, 346), with excellent athleticism for his size. He has long arms that make it easy for him to keep blockers off his body and allow him to engage and shed blockers and make tackles at the line of scrimmage. More importantly: for a small-school guy, Kendrick keeps working until the whistle blows. Furthermore, scouts note that he's a leader and excellent teammate, who makes the players around him better. Lastly, he likes to mix it up and reportedly likes to be the top dog on the line--all characteristics that are needed in the center of the action. You can see a little of what these scouts are referring to in this video of Ellis in action at the NFLPA All-Star game (he's number 97).

At the Combine, Ellis chose only to participate in the 40-yard dash (5.19) and bench press (26 reps at 225 pounds)--here's a video of Ellis' Combine workout. At Hampton's pro day, he added to these with solid vertical jump (32 inches) short shuttle (4.88) and 3-cone (7.84) marks, as well as a decent broad jump (8-6). While doing so, he performed for scouts from 12 different NFL teams. A goodly quantity of organizations--many of them teams that deploy a 3-4 defense--invited Ellis out for team visits. In addition to the Cowboys, the Broncos, Colts, Chiefs, Patriots, Jets, Steelers, Seahawks, and Cardinals wanted a closer look at the big tackle.

After the jump, let's take a look at what might have interested these teams, through the eyes of four of my favorite Internet draft gurus...

National Football Post (Wes Bunting) 9th-rated DT; 60th overall

A tall, thickly put together defensive tackle with a strong-looking lower half and a long set of arms. Carries his weight very well for his size. Is a gifted athlete for his dimensions. Possesses an explosive first step, does a nice job keeping his pad level down through contact when trying to knife his way up the field and closes well away from his frame. Lacks ideal awareness off the snap and is a bit inconsistent getting off the ball on time. However, when he does he has the flexibility to gain leverage on contact, uses his length well to keep himself clean and exhibits good range in pursuit. Is a developing pass rusher, displays natural lateral quickness for his size and has some violence with his long arms when trying to disengage thought contact. At times get too overextended and will pop upright, causing him to lose his balance. But the natural skill set and length is there for him to counter laterally, keep himself clean and make his way in the backfield. Just needs some time.

Is a strong anchor player inside. When he sits into his stance and keeps his head up he's a tough guy to move off the football. Uses his length well to fight his way through contact, closes quickly on ball off his frame and displays a good motor in pursuit. However, has a tendency to drop his head down and fails to see the football at times vs. the double. Looks content to be blocked at times vs. any kind of additional attention and will wait until the ball carrier breaks into the second level to begin working in pursuit. However, I will give him credit because for a big man he will chase the ball carrier on all areas of the field and does have pretty good range.

Was kicked off the South Carolina football team in 2008 for violating university policies. Was suspended for the first three games of the 2008 season prior to his dismissal from the team for an undisclosed violation of team rules. According to sources Ellis had failed multiple drug tests during his time at South Carolina.

Impression: A gifted physical athlete with an impressive get-off for a guy his size. Is powerful, can anchor as a nose and is athletic enough to get looks as a five-technique as well. Has some raw spots to his game, but is a character corner guy. Also, has had some weight issues and seems like a mid-round boom or bust type prospect.

The Sporting News (Russ Lande) 7th-rated DE; 48th overall

Strengths: Is a tremendously talented defensive tackle with the rare combination of great size, excellent natural strength and top-notch athleticism. Is able to shed a block easily and make the tackle on run plays at him. Is competitive and has consistently shown a willingness to hustle and chase the running back 10 yards downfield. Flashes the size, strength and aggressiveness to jolt the offensive lineman backward into the backfield and blow up the running play in backfield. Flashes the strength to knock the offensive lineman to the side with a strong club move, and explode through the hole to sack the quarterback. Does an excellent job of getting his hands up to tip/disrupt the pass.

Weaknesses: Is raw fundamentally and does not consistently play up to his talent level. Does not use his hands aggressively, which allows the blocker to get his hands on him first and seal him out of the play. Can be cut to the ground too easily by low blocks. Does not have a wide variety of pass-rush moves and often gets stopped on the line of scrimmage. Has off-field issues, including being dismissed from South Carolina in 2008 for repeated violations of team and university policy.

Bottom line: Ellis stood out at practices for the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Game, where he showed rare strength and athleticism for such a big man. If he had began his career at Hampton and never had any off-field questions arise, Ellis would potentially be a first- or second-round pick because of his size, strength, athleticism and uncommon competitiveness. Ellis has the talent to become an elite 2-Gap defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme or top-level end in a 3-4 defense such as New England's, but teams should be cautioned, as players with off-field issues in their past who also display inconsistent technique on film often struggle to ever become the consistent player they have the talent to be.

Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki) 10th-rated DT; 94th overall

Positives: Giant interior force with imposing stature—naturally big, thick and well-built with sheer mass and girth. Has broad shoulders and long arms. Plays with a load in his hands. Digs in and anchors against double-teams. Can push the pocket with his bull rush. Heavy hitter. Flashes a mean streak—plays violently and cleans up piles. Light on his feet for a big man. Tough and competitive. Takes to hard coaching.

Negatives: Eyes and instincts are lacking—struggles to locate the football. Hand use needs refinement. Can do a better job protecting his legs. Limited football aptitide and cold require extra reps. Not a leader. Questionable maturity and trustworthiness. Character and commitment to the game needs to be evaluated—has made some poor decisions off the field and has a history of drug use.

Summary: Jamaican-born, massive, rugged, space-eating nose tackle with ample size and ability to anchor a "30" front, but could require some patience and will have to land in a structured environment where he will be guided and held accountable in order to maximize his potential.

ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton) 13th-rated DT; 115th overall

Versus the Run: Plays a little too high but rarely gives ground in one-on-one situations and can clog up the middle by occupying multiple blockers when plays with sound technique. Thick, powerful arms. Can reach out and latch onto ball carrier with one hand when teams run at him. Base narrows as he works way upfield and can get knocked off balance by angle blocks. Can bite on misdirection and not fluid enough to recover when takes false steps.

Pass Rush Skills
: Powerful bull rusher who can drive interior linemen back into the quarterback's lap. Strong upper body and can knock linemen off-balance with a strong slap/punch. Flashes an effective rip move and the ability to bend back inside. Above-average closing speed for size. Long arms and gets hands up when sees quarterback start throwing motion. One area of concern is ability to force offensive linemen to redirect. Did not show a fluid outside-inside move during film evaluation.

Quickness (hands/feet)
: Explosive first step for size. Can beat blockers to the point of contact and establish position. Flashes the ability to shoot gaps but hands could be more violent and active.

Toughness/Motor: Vocal competitor who's not afraid to get in opponents' faces. Labeling him as relentless would be an overstatement but he plays hard. Chases the run and gets after the quarterback.

Intangibles: There are concerns about mental toughness that stem from problems at South Carolina and inability to keep weight down in the past. South Carolina suspended Ellis for the first 3 games of the 2008 season for violating team policy. South Carolina dismissed Ellis from the team the following spring.

By all accounts, Ellis has a rare combination of size and athleticism--one that translates well to playing on Sundays. He also seems to me to have a good motor, to be competitive and he apparently likes to play the game. The most glaring red flag attached to his evaluation concerns his history at South Carolina, were he was dismissed for repeatedly being a knucklehead. The most important questions scouts must ask about him is: has he outgrown such tomfoolery? I'd suspect that this is one of the primary reasons the Cowboys extended an invitation to Valley Ranch. If they like what they hear, he is one the two or three legitimate nose tackle prospects in the draft.

Whether or not the Cowboys like what they heard from Ellis, I'd bet that some team did. Thus, given the amount of teams that are changing over to a 3-4 scheme and the dearth of true NT candidates in this draft class, I think Dallas is gong to have to draft him in the early second round if they are going to get him at all. That's where I'm going to slot him, at the 40th pick.

Next up: Iowa DE/ DT Christian Ballard

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