NFL draft: Hard to spot a good DE
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com April 16, 2012 9:02PM
CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 11: Defensive end Richard Dent #95 of the Chicago Bears points as he looks over the Atlanta Falcons offense during game at Soldier Field on November 11, 1990 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears won 30-24. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Updated: May 18, 2012 9:53AM
Finding a pass rusher in the NFL draft is as simple as with any other game-changing position.
You spend hours studying the nuances of college game tape; you use your keen insight, honed by years of experience, to find that one difference-making quality nobody else sees. And then you do what everybody else in the NFL does — you cross your fingers and hope for the best.
Unless you have a top-five shot at Julius Peppers, Bruce Smith or Simeon Rice — and even those are 50-50 propositions — that’s what it comes down to. And if you have the 19th pick in the first round, as the Bears do this year, you pretty much have to hope you’re as smart as you think you are and that the stars align for you.
Beyond the first round or two, you fall into a Pro Bowl defensive end as much as you draft one. Bears scout Bill Tobin thought Tennessee State’s Richard Dent was the best pass rusher in college football in 1983. But even after the Bears saw what they had, they didn’t know what they had. Coach Mike Ditka was hoping Dent would be the next Fred Dean.
When the Kansas City Chiefs took Idaho State’s Jared Allen in the fourth round in 2004, his best chance to make an immediate impact was as a long snapper.
Dent had broken Ed ‘‘Too Tall’’ Jones’ sack record at Tennessee State but was deemed too small to be an every-down player in the NFL. Even the Bears listed him at 6-2, 240, as a rookie. But by his second year, he was 6-5, 253, and on his way to the Hall of Fame.
The 6-6, 265-pound Allen already was known for his ‘‘high motor,’’ his relentless drive and his on-field leadership. But he was seen as a soft, weak player who dominated slower, smaller opponents in Division I-AA. ‘‘Not sudden or explosive,’’ according to Pro Football Weekly’s annual draft preview. ‘‘Lacks the initial quickness and burst to beat NFL offensive tackles. Big fish in a small pond.’’
The upshot? ‘‘Developmental prospect with the ability to long snap. Will have to gain weight and move inside. Off-the-field issues may hurt his position. Draftable in late rounds.’’
It didn’t take long for Allen to prove he was more than a long snapper. Even though he didn’t start until his seventh game of his rookie season, he had nine sacks in 2004. He has had double-digit sacks in six of the following seven seasons, including an NFL-best 221/2 last year. At 30, he has 105 sacks in 125 regular-season NFL games.
So what should the Bears be looking for in a defensive end to better complement Peppers? Here’s a look at snippets of scouting reports from Pro Football Weekly’s annual preview over the years — written by Joel Buchsbaum (1979-2003) and Nolan Nawrocki (2004-present) — for a glimpse of what scouts saw in future Pro Bowlers:
Michael Strahan, Giants (second round, 40th overall in 1993): ‘‘Has the frame to get bigger . . . long arms . . . Good first step and is really quick over the first 10 yards . . . Will hustle and chase . . . Learns well . . . Is receptive to coaching . . . Has improved every year . . . still raw and green . . . rarely shows big-time closing burst.’’
John Randle, Vikings (undrafted in 1990): ‘‘Good athlete . . . quick . . . Gets up the field . . . Makes plays . . . Pressures the quarterback . . . Gives great effort . . . Excelled on his level but may be too small to play in the NFL . . . Would really do well in Canada.’’
Robert Porcher, Lions (first round, 26th overall in 1992): ‘‘Has big bones, hands and ankles and long arms . . . Has a great first step . . . uses hands well . . .Can elude blockers . . . Very good at shooting gaps and coming in clean . . . Does not have great speed for an outside player or great strength for an inside player.’’
Osi Umenyiora, Giants (second round, 56th overall in 2003): ‘‘Good athlete with size and speed to run and chase . . . Does not have great technique, but can close on the quarterback and chases well from behind. Good motor … lacks football intelligence . . . just learning to play the game.’’
Dexter Manley, Redskins (fifth round, 119th overall in 1981): ‘‘Tremendous speed, quickness and overall athletic ability … Great pass rusher with fantastic closing speed … Outstanding upper-body strength and explosiveness … Up-and-down performer who will not play hurt.
Howie Long, Raiders (second round, 48th overall in 1981): ‘‘Big, immature player with tremendous size, strength and speed … Lets up on plays down the line. However, at times he’ll show you the type of initial quickness, closing speed and explosive strength you dream of. A big baby who just turned 21, but when he matures he could be something special.’’
Trent Cole, Eagles (fifth round, 146th overall in 2005): ‘‘Reacts to what he sees … Plays gap responsibilities vs. the run and gets penetration … Football is important to him … Shows sudden movement and can work across blockers … Intense competitor … will chase in backside pursuit … lacks ideal size and bulk for an end.’’
Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants (first round, 15th overall in 2010): ‘‘Big-framed with great body length and a huge wingspan … Outstanding burst, balance, agility and hip flexibility for his size … Threatening first-step quickness … Bends naturally, comes underneath blockers and is difficult for blockers to adjust to … very raw … lacks positional instincts, intelligence and football smarts.’’