In the opening installment of this series, we looked at which positions in the 2016 draft are expected to be strong - early returns show defensive end, cornerback, safety, wide receiver and quarterback with potentially rich yields - and posited that the can benefit from that strength. To wit: when a position is strong, and the majority of teams are drafting for need (which they are), it means that players at these strong positions will fall. When pursued over the long term, therefore, a strategy of drafting to positional strength yields greater value.
How might this impact the 2016 draft? Think about the above-delineated positions of strength: while the Cowboys have done a lot to shore up their defensive line, can we confidently say (with Greg Hardy here on a one-year deal) that they are done with their rebuild? Rod Marinelli will need still more "rushmen" for this to be a top of the line defense. Along those lines, with both Mo Claiborne and Brandon Carr likely to become ex-Cowboys after the 2015 season, CB looks like a position in need of further reinforcement. The search for a rangy, "true" free safety continues; the 2016 class may well offer value at the position. And, with as many as four signal callers seen as likely first rounders, when better to draft (and begin to groom) Tony Romo's successor that in a QB-rich selection meeting?
Today, we offer you a look at some of the early top defensive end candidates. As is usually the case, most of the best prospects are juniors. That doesn't mean that all the good'uns are also young'uns, though. Our list is dotted with excellent senior candidates. Also, please note that I have included several players who will be projected as 3-4 OLBs in the Pros, with the idea that the Kiffinelli system values quickness over size, and could conceivably draft a 6-2, 240 pound defensive end if he had Von Miller's get-off. Along those lines, I haven't included bigger DEs like Oregon's DeForest Buckner, because they project as 5-techniques or 4-3 defensive tackles.
Note: Juniors are designated with an *
Joey Bosa*, Ohio State (6-6, 275):
Bosa lived in opponents' backfields during his stellar sophomore campaign, recording 13.5 sacks, 21 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and pass defended. This followed a freshman season in which he racked up 44 tackles with 13.5 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and one forced fumble that season.With this kind of output, its no wonder he enters the 2015 season as the consensus top defensive end in the draft.
Bosa boasts impressive quickness to go with natural strength. He has a serious burst off the snap and with the speed to turn the corner. He also displays good hands to shed blocks while working upfield. He's a versatile pass-rusher, with the ability to go through you or around offensive linemen. Further, he plays with tremendous awareness and does a great job coordinating his hands and his feet (a surprisingly under-appreciated skill).
The major knock on him is his burst around the edge; he has a good, but not great, get-off at the snap. If he can show scouts the elite burst they covet, he can be a top-5 pick.
Shawn Oakman, Baylor (6-9, 275):
Oakman spent 2011 as a redshirt at Penn State before sitting out the 2012 season after transferring to Baylor. In 2013, he totaled 33 tackles (12.5 TFLs), two sacks and two forced fumbles, then topped that in 2014, tallying 48 tackles (a stunning 19.5 for loss), 10 sacks, three passes batted and three forced fumbles. After his stellar Junior campaign, Oakman considering making the leap to the NFL before deciding to return to Waco for his senior season.
Oakman is both both long and powerful, with a physique that makes scouts gush. He boasts good balance and flexibility, especially for his length, showing good feet and long arms to jolt and drive blockers backwards. Plus, Oakman is versatile; Baylor has lined him up at defensive tackle and as a standup rush linebacker. On the other hand, he's a work in progress; Oakman is very raw as a pass rusher, and scouts say he neither uses his hands properly nor has desireable edge speed or sufficient pass rush repertoire to succeed versus NFL tackles.
It was probably a good decision to return for his senior year, since Oakman has to play with greater consistency to merit the high draft selection that his immense physical skills suggest. If he can continue to improve his leverage and counter a little better when he gets blocked initially, he's capable of being picked in the first half of round one.
Emmanuel Ogbah*, Oklahoma State (6-4, 275):
Ogbah played in every game as a sophomore in 2013 - registering four sacks and 20 tackles as a rotation player - then started every game last season, finishing with 49 tackles (17 TFLs), 11 sacks and five pass breakups. That was enough for him to be first Oklahoma State player to be named defensive linemen of the year by the league's coaches. Ogbah could have declared for the 2014 draft decided to but decided to return for another year of seasoning.
Ogbah is a very impressive physical specimen, with a prototypical 4-3 DE frame with flashes of out-of-a-cannon quickness. He has quickness to go with strength and made a lot of plays in the backfield. However, Ogbah isn't a pure quick twitch speed rusher (indeed, a high percentage of the sacks came on extended plays or easy closeouts) but he displays power, plays the run well and has a good motor.
If Ogbah improves in 2015 like he did last year, than his decision to stay for another season will prove to be a wise one. If his stock continues to rise, look for Ogbah to find himself picked in the latter half of day one.
Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State (6-5, 250):
Calhoun was one of the top players on Michigan State's superb defense in 2013. For the year, he recorded 37 tackles (with 14 for loss), 7.5 sacks, 18 QB hurries, two forced fumbles and an interception. He finished the 2013 campaign as the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the year and garnered several All-American votes. After a slow start to 2014, Calhoun picked up the pace, recording 39 tackles (12.5 TFLs), eight sacks and a forced fumble - enough to earn him a second consecutive first-team All-Big Ten selection.
Calhoun plays with good arm extension in setting the edge against the run, using his length to jolt blockers, and has the lateral quickness to shut down running lanes quickly. Calhoun's burst to the ball is a big advantage; he has the highly desired ability to "curve the arc." He is coordinated in space, showing good change-of-direction skills. Conversely, he needs to add functional strength - he's too easily slowed or stonewalled at contact when trying to penetrate - and add to his repertoire of pass-rushing moves.Finally, his snap anticipation and technique are both underdeveloped and require polish.
If Calhoun can show scouts increased consistency and strength at the point, his natural pass rush skills could earn him a top ten selection next spring. But we could just as easily see his draft stock fall, such that he's chosen somewhere late in day two.
Best of the Rest:
Devonte Fields, Louisville (6-4, 240):
Fields began his career at TCU, taking the Big XII by storm in 2012 as a First-Team all-conference pick and the Big XII Freshman of the Year after a breakout season in which he finished with 10 sacks, 53 tackles (18.5 TFLs), four passes batted, two forced fumbles and an interception. However, he was suspended for part of 2013, playing in only two games before a season-ending foot injury, and then was suspended permanently in 2014 by Gary Patterson, leading to Fields' departure from the Horned Frogs. He has flashed clear first-round talent but, after multiple suspensions and a hum-drum 2014 at the JUCO level, wil have to show scouts a lot for them to be willing to pound the table for him.
Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma (6-4, 281):
Tapper broke into the Sooners' starting lineup in 2013 and had a strong debut, earning a First-Team All-Big XII selection after registering 49 tackles (nine for loss), 5.5 sacks, and a pass batted. In 2014, Tapper had 37 tackles (7.5 TFLs), with three sacks, one forced fumble, two passes broken up. Tapper has a nice combination of size, strength and quickness, using long arms to generate push, and displaying nonstop effort to motor through blockers. That said, the OU coaches ask him to set the edge more than go after the quarterback, so his pass rush skills remain largely an unknown. Still, scouts note that he possesses NFL-level skills as a strong-side defensive end prospect.
Kyler Fackrell*, Utah State (6-4, 245):
As a freshman in 2012, Fackrell enjoyed a solid campaign, with 87 tackles (eight for loss), seven quarterback hurries, three sacks and three pass breakups. The following season, he earned second-team all-Mountain West honors after finishing with 82 stops (13 TFL) five sacks and two forced fumbles. Fackrell is a college linebacker with the frame to transition to defensive end in the pros. He is extremely athletic, fast, and physical, with a great first step and natural bend ability off the edge. More important for NFL scouts, he's a skilled pass rusher with a variety of moves. If Fackerell can show he's returned to health after suffering a season ending ACL tear in the first week of the 2014 season, he could go high in the draft.
Noah Spence*, Eastern Kentucky (6-3, 252):
Spence is a former Ohio State Buckeye who played well for Ohio State in 2013, collecting 52 tackles (14.5 for loss), eight sacks, a forced fumble and two passes broken up. However to end the season, he was suspended for three games. Spence was then suspended in 2014 for repeated failed drug tests, prompting his transfer to Easter Kentucky after being ruled permanently ineligible by the Big Ten (and, to make matters worse, Spence was arrested and charged with public intoxication and second-degree disorderly conduct in May). Spence has NFL-caliber talent, flashing impressive natural strength and speed off the edge. Like Fields, the question looms: can he show scouts enough to overcome hisoff-field ledger?
Jonathan Allen*, Alabama (6-3, 272)
After seeing plenty of action as a freshman for the Crimson Tide, Allen really emerged last year as a true sophomore, finishing with 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, meriting First Team All-SEC laurels. He's an extremely disruptive defensive lineman who lines up all over Alabama's defensive line, demonstrating the power, athleticism, and tenacity to work his way through opposing linemen to the ball. He flashes the ability to be a dynamic pass rusher; at present, his best move is a bull rush wherein Allen consistently maintains forward momentum through contact.
Joshua Perry, Ohio State (6-4, 254):
Perry was a tough run-defender for the Buckeyes in 2014, totaling 124 tackles (8.5 for loss), three sacks, two passes batted and an interception. He's built like a linebacker, so he'll need to increase his strength at the point of attack in 2015.
Hunter Dimick*, Utah (6-3, 266):
In 2014, Dimick formed a nice duo with Browns' second-rounder Nate Orchard, collecting 10 sacks to go with 52 tackles, two forced fumbles and two passes broken up. It will be interesting to see how Dimick, who has a complete game, rises to the occasion without Orchard opposite him in 2015.
Theiren Cockran*, Minnesota (6-6, 257)
Cockran is a puzzle: he recorded 23 tackles, seven for a loss and four sacks with a forced fumble in 2014, enough to merit an All-Big 10 honorable mention, but lost his starting job late in the season. As a sophomore, he tallied 30 tackles (10 TFLs) and 7.5 sacks. For scouts to solve this puzzle, they'll have to determine: can Cockran return to this sophomore production in 2015?
Bronson Kaufusi, BYU (6-7, 265):
In 2013, Kaufusi logged 37 tackles (7TFLs) four sacks, one interception and a forced fumble. Last season, despite a series of nagging injuries early in the season, Kaufusi managed to build on that, with 43 tackles (11.5 for loss), five passes broken up and seven sacks. If he can continue to improve, he'll draw quite a bit of interest from NFL teams.
Kamalei Correa*, Boise State (6-3, 244):
Correa led the Mountain West with 12 sacks last season as a true sophomore, ranking 13th in the nation. He led the team with 19 tackles for loss and was fifth with 59 tackles, earning All-Mountain West honors. The question with him is consistency; if he can play more steadily, he can be a dynamic force at the NFL level.
All right, people. There a list of pass rushin' dudes to keep yer eyes on when you watch football on Saturdays this fall!
Next up: the 2016 cornerback class