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Kony Ealy: The Next Great Dallas Pass Rusher?

While fellow Missouri Tiger DE Michael Sam had a better statistical season, many think that Kony Ealy is likely to have the better NFL career.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The first thing that stands out about University of Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy is that, in spite of the #47 on his Tigers jersey, he looks like an NFL-caliber edge rusher. At 6'5" and 275 pounds, he could either shed a few more pounds and still remain a powerful but perhaps even quicker force outside or he could also add some strength and move inside and disrupt the middle. Athletic for his size, Ealy saw the bulk of his action at the right defensive end, but did move around enough to demonstrate his versatility along the defensive line. Of late, he has been earning love from national sources.

In his two seasons as a starter for Missouri, Ealy has been a consistent force for the Tigers. For 2013, he accounted for 43 tackles including 14.5 for a loss and 9.5 sacks. He forced three fumbles on the season and recovered another to go with an interception that he returned 49 yards for a score. His long arms helped him bat down an additional six passes. As a sophomore, Ealy recorded 37 tackles, ten of which were for a loss. He added 3.5 sacks and seven passes broken up.

Once you actually watch Ealy in action, his natural athletic ability stands out. Not only is he able to use his length to his advantage, but he also has a nice long-ranging stride that helps him to run down plays from behind. He has a nice first step off the ball, and he does not rely on just one or two techniques to bring heat to the quarterback. Ealy also has very good control of his body and plays with balance which allows him to change direction quickly in response to the action.

While Ealy does appear to have all the tools needed to become a high-level, perhaps even elite, pass rusher, he is still raw. One of my first impressions in watching him play was that "Marinelli needs this guy, and he needs Rod." There are some technical flaws in the way he uses his hands and Ealy does show some issues with playing too high at times. These are problems that can readily be corrected with NFL-level coaching. Instruction seems to be something that he takes well to; watching the improvement between his sophomore and junior seasons shows a player who will continue to refine his skills.

While rushing the passer is his strong suit, Ealy does need to improve in his run defense. My biggest concern with his game is that more attention needs to be placed on securing the edge. While he can recover quickly and run down plays, I saw several times where he should have been able to diagnose outside runs and shut them down before the ball carrier was able to gain the corner. As the competition gets better, Kony is not going to be able to rely on just his athletic ability to help him recover from such errors.

In watching Ealy play, there were moments that he reminded me of a young (and somewhat bigger) DeMarcus Ware. His snap anticipation is not nearly as good as Ware, but the first step is there. The next goal for him should be to gain the consistency that #94 has shown and to improve his run defense. If Kony can do that, there is no reason why he should not be successful in the National Football League. Based on the tape I have watched and the improvement he has shown over his career, had Ealy chosen to return for his senior season, I could see him as a legitimate top ten or perhaps even a top five talent in the 2015 draft. The way it stands now, I would grade him just inside the top twenty, and that puts him in a perfect situation to join Rod Marinelli's merry band of rushmen.

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