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NFL Draft 2014: The Year Of The Tweener?

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In a year in which the Cowboys have a significant need for pass rush help, it's an interesting year to try to draft rushmen.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Overall rank Name School Height Weight
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
Clowney Crichton Barr Mack
Ealy Reilly Ford
Martin Murphy Attaochu
Clarke Lawrence
Bradford
Smith
Jeffcoat

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?