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Cowboys 2015 Draft Targets: LSU DE Danielle Hunter

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, it's important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we look at LSU DE Danielle Hunter

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Danielle (dah-NEEL) Hunter committed to LSU as a four-star defensive end recruit. After seeing limited defensive snaps as a true freshman in 2012 (he was, however, known as a special teams demon), he became a starter four games into his sophomore season and started every game the rest of the season, finishing with 57 tackles (8.0 TFL) and collecting three sacks. In 2014, Hunter continued this run, started all 13 of the Bayou Bengals' games, leading the team in tackles for loss (with thirteen), and notching 73 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Despite this somewhat undernourished resume, Hunter elected to skip his senior season and enter the 2015 NFL Draft. As might be expected for a player coming out with so little game action under his belt, Hunter is a mixed bag. On one hand, he boasts the frame, length, and explosiveness that have scouts comparing him to the Giant's Jason Pierre-Paul; on the other, his pass rush arsenal is badly in need of polish.

On almost every level, Hunter is a goodnews-bad news proposition. He's lean but strong enough to set the edge, and exhibits cat-like quickness, an explosive burst, and a relentless motor in pursuit of enemy ballcarriers. Yet his rudimentary technique, underdeveloped pass rush moves, and poor anticipation off the snap (on tape, he's often the last LSU D-lineman to get out of his stance) keep him from threatening the edge in the manner to which his athleticism suggests he is capable.

Indeed, with Hunter there always seems to be a "but": Hunter emerged as LSU's most dangerous pass rusher last season, but did not have the statistics to reflect it; the scouting report on Hunter is that his floor is high (thanks to his overwhelming physical traits and motor), but that his ceiling depends on the level of coaching he receives at the next level. Which side of the equation will win out? That's the complex problem that scouts must solve.

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Want to scout like a boss? Start by looking at Hunter's measurables (those marked with an asterisk were from his pro day, which is why we're missing a SPARQ score):

Height Weight Arms Hands 40yd 10yd Bench Vert Broad 3Cone 20ss
6' 5" 252 34¼" 10½" 4.57 1.58 25 36½"* 132"* 6.95* 4.47*

And here are his Combine results in the form of a spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com:

Now you're ready to go to the tape. Unfortunately, they only have one of Hunter's games over at Draft Breakdown - from the Tigers' early-season loss to Mississippi State, when Hunter had six tackles and a sack. You can also find a short compendium of his work against New Mexico State. But that's about it...

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So, without further ado, let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about Hunter's game:

Gary Horton (ESPN.com) 8th-ranked DE; 77th overall:

Pass Rush Skills: Has a lot developing to do in this area, but his long, athletic and flexible frame provide him with a high ceiling. Displays a quick first step when firing off the ball with proper pad level. Possesses quick hands and shows the ability to bend the edge. Naturally strong in core and shows the ability to generate speed to power. Also flashes finishing strength at the top of his rush. However, still a project in this area. Inconsistent pad level coming off the ball. Lacks ideal instincts as a rusher at this point. Appears to be processing instead of reacting, which equates to a lot of wasted motion. Still learning how to gain initial leverage by working one half of the blocker's body. Goes to the spin move far too often once initially slowed by blockers.

Versus the run: Above-average length and functional strength in his core. Effective setting the edge. Will come off the ball high on occasion and will get initially rocked back, but flexibility in lower half allows him to reset feet and regain leverage to anchor down. Strong upper body and flashes an explosive punch to jar blockers. Does a nice job of locking out and shedding in a phone booth. Above-average lateral agility and has excellent overall range. Better instincts as a run defender than as a pass-rusher. However, still developing in this area and will be more concerned about perfecting assignment instead of adjusting on the fly to make play. Also will get caught peeking inside on occasion and give up edge contain.

Versatility: Best fit appears to be as an RDE in a 4-3 scheme. Has experience reducing inside in pass-rushing situations but is much more effective as a rusher on the outside. Could fit in a hybrid scheme, but would best utilized with his hand in the dirt attacking up field than dropping into coverage where he lacks ideal instincts and awareness in space.

Instincts/Motor: No question about toughness or effort. High-energy player and motor constantly locked in fifth gear. Physical and shows good fight at the point of attack. Gives excellent effort in pursuit and will chase down the field.

Intangibles: Respectful individual. Excellent weight room and practice habits. Willing to put in the extra time.

Rob Rang (CBSSports.com) 6th-ranked DE; 50th overall:

Strengths: Looks more like a tight end than a traditional pass rusher, with broad shoulders, very long arms and plenty of room for additional muscle. His exciting combination of length, balance, awareness and agility helped him make plays against the run and pass. Hunter's quickness allows him to dip under would-be blockers, beating them inside rather than relying on his length and strength to string run plays out wide, as tackles expect. He's aggressive and physical, showing a willingness to sacrifice his body uncommon for edge players with his body type. Shows surprising strength at the point of attack and is passionate in pursuit. Gets his hands up in the passing lanes when he can't get to the quarterback and knocks down passes. He's aggressive and physical and shows a willingness to sacrifice his body uncommon for edge players with his body type.

Weaknesses: One potential red-flag is Hunter's inconsistent get-off. Too often he is the last of LSU's rushers off the ball. Hunter's length makes him susceptible to the run, though he does show surprising strength at the point of attack and is passionate in pursuit.

Compares to: Barkevious Mingo, Cleveland Browns -- Like his former teammate, Hunter is much more dangerous off the edge than his rather pedestrian sack numbers would indicate.

Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 7th-ranked DE; 68th overall:

Strengths: Freakish combination of size, athleticism and explosiveness. Has long arms with jarring power behind his hands. When technique is right, he can stack and overpower tackles at point of attack. Fluid and agile in space. Uses length to bat down passes and disrupt the passing lane. Flashes winning spin move in pass rush, but needs to learn to set it up better. Uses arm-over inside move to set up tackles for loss. High-end tackle production for his position. Secondary motor to pursue and speed to chase leads to more tackle opportunities. Lead all SEC defensive linemen in "stuffs" (tackles for no gain or loss of yards) with 17. Active and energetic at all times. Continues to work to improve position vs. run and pass. Off-field character considered "squeaky clean" by NFL scouts. Has speed and agility to become special-teams star early in his career.

Weaknesses: Relies heavily on his athleticism and motor over skill and instincts. Pass-rush production doesn't match the traits. Played 80 percent of the defensive snaps in 2014, managing just 1.5 sacks. Doesn't have the upfield burst and bend to turn the corner. Considered a "thinker" as a pass rusher rather than a naturally instinctive reactor. Must show he can effectively counter as a pass rusher. Has winning power in hands, but inconsistent with how he uses them against run and pass. Scouts want to see more competitive nastiness from him.

Sources Tell Us: "If he walked into your living room, your eyes would pop out of your head. He looks that good on the hoof. He's going to blow up the combine, and then ace all of the interviews and NFL teams are going to fall in love with him. He still needs someone to unlock all that talent, though." -- Former LSU coach

NFL Comparison: Jason Pierre-Paul

Dane Brugler (NFL Draft Guide) 6th-ranked DE:

Strengths: Good-looking athlete with a rocked-up, workable frame and inspector gadget arms...quick ignition out of his stance to get upfield with above average play speed...light-footed with easy lateral movements - nimble in space with a highly active playing temperament...alert with heady awareness after the snap, reading, tracking and attacking without much hesitation...understands contain responsibilities, staying home and sniffing out run plays...nice job watching the eyes of the quarterback and disrupting passing lanes (eight career passes defended) - some experience dropping into space...will shoot his hands into blockers at the point of attack, delivering a shock with a quick punch...hustler always pursuing the ball with consistent effort, never taking plays off...has some room to get stronger and add muscle...coachable with a motivated attitude and reliable football character...consistent production against the run.

Weaknesses: Lean body type and lacks ideal bulk and muscle mass on his upper and lower body - high cut with questionable growth potential...functional strength is a concern, lacking overpowering traits...prefers to go around blockers and needs to consistently generate power when attacking bodies with leverage and lower body drive...needs to improve his snap anticipation and is often the last to move off the ball, thinking too much instead of reacting...doesn't consistently threaten the edge...pass rush moves lack seasoning - needs to put more thought behind his rush attack and do a better job stringing moves together...bad habit of turning his body at the line of scrimmage to try and gain body position, making it easy for him to be washed out of plays...will play too tall at times, needs to do a better job protecting his lower body against cut blocks...uninspiring sack production (4.5) over 23 career starts and never earned All-Conference honors...minor durability concerns - nagging right hamstring strain limited him at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine.

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Our panelists rate Hunter from 50th (mid-second-round) to 77th (mid-third-round) overall. Given the paucity of legitimate 4-3 defensive ends in this year's class, I'm inclined to push him up rather than down, into the second round. So that's where I'll place him on my "little board," all the while cognizant that he could go well before the 60th pick. Why? Well, he has a deluxe toolkit; he just doesn't yet know how to use the tools that are in it. A lot of NFL defensive line coaches will look at that and think: "I'm just the man to teach him how to use those tools." As a result, he's likely to get over-drafted, perhaps as early as the end of the first round.

As news of the Cowboys pre-draft invites filters out, it is becoming apparent that they have covered their bases at several positions - including defensive end - across the first two days (first three rounds). The DE candidates are all first- or second-rounders, so if Dallas doesn't select one in round one, they seemingly will in round two or not at all. Should the Cowboys pick, say, Kevin Johnson or Todd Gurley in round one and then choose Hunter in the second frame? Rabble could live with that scenario...

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Next up: Kentucky DE Alvin "Bud" Dupree