Below is an interesting article by Hunter Ashley of DraftZoo.com on NFL draft prospects who are defensive ends, but are viewed as 3-4 outside linebackers at the next level because of their size.
There comes a time in many players’ careers when the coach calls them in, sits them down, and “asks” them to switch positions for the good of the team, and often for the good of the player. Sometimes a change in spots is a savvy career move. I recently interviewed UNLV running back Frank Summers who was asked to play fullback in the Texas vs. the Nation all-star game. He was receptive to the change. In fact, he was so receptive that he hauled in four passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. Brian Toal of Boston College took that a step further and worked out as a fullback and a safety at his pro day after realizing that he lacked the size to remain at linebacker in the pros. Voila, Toal is now a draftable player.
Of course, it is a gamble, and it doesn’t always work out so well. Just take a gander at Vernon Gholston. Perceived as an athletic freak and a near lock to transition smoothly from collegiate defensive end to professional rush linebacker, Gholston took the F train to Bust City in his first year as a pro.
With more NFL teams switching to a 3-4 alignment, the need for players who fit Gholston’s mold is growing. But here’s the rub: it’s one of the hardest positions to grade due to the fact that so few colleges run anything other than a base 4-3. NFL scouts are forced to pour over hours of tape to find undersized ends with the quickness and bulk to man the outside in the latest defensive trend.
But with this year’s crop of DE/OLB tweeners looking like one of the strongest ever, the chances of finding a good fit have got to be better than actually finding Gholston in the backfield, right? We won’t know until the 2009 season ends, but why not take a look at the guys who’re being billed as the top candidates to slide into a new home with more success than Paris Hilton has sliding out of a limo.
Texas’ Brian Orakpo is a classic tweener. A pass rushing terror as a senior, Orakpo showed the speed and fluidity to warrant comparisons to Gholston — in a good way. He was never a force until his last year under defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, but that explosiveness off the line makes him attractive to teams like the Chiefs and Browns who finished at the bottom of the NFL in sacks. Orakpo doesn’t quite have the grade to be a realistic possibility as the third overall choice, but stranger things have happened. More than likely, he’ll end up as the newest experiment for current Browns and former Jets head coach Eric Mangini. The same guy who bet it all on Gholston and walked away from New York with his pockets turned out.
Cincinnati’s Connor Barwin has a slight edge in the versatility department after starting his career at tight end. He worked out on both sides of the ball at the Senior Bowl, and not many prospects have shown his blend of strength and malleability. His 4.66 combine 40 time was the second fastest for a defensive lineman and ranked in the top five for linebackers. Bottom line: he’s fast enough to create pressure. Barwin was a defensive end for the Bearcats, however, and it remains to be seen if he can make the switch since no one asked him to stand up in Mobile either. Still, you can’t argue with his production. In his first year on the defensive side of the ball Barwin notched 11 sacks and three blocked punts. The biggest asset a rush linebacker can have is a knack for making plays. Barwin’s got no problem there. But, that lack of experience will likely keep him out the first round. Not many guys can excel playing their third position in as many years.
Perhaps one of the most violent tacklers looking to lift his hand at the next level is Florida State’s Everette Brown. It doesn’t take a lot of film study to see why many teams are drooling over his potential. When Brown locks on to a quarterback, not even the best wingman in the world (Ice Man or Maverick, take your pick) stands a chance of preventing a sickening collision. Brown actually rushed from a standing position on occasion in Tallahassee, which at least gives scouts some video evidence of his prowess, but it also sheds light on his biggest weakness. Too often, Brown’s sacks came on plays when he was literally unabated to the quarterback. As nice as that might sound, it raises serious questions about his ability to shed blocks and take on bigger offensive linemen. NFL offensive tackles are a different breed, and Brown’s size (6-01 256) doesn’t exactly get him mistaken for Lou Ferrigno.
Then there’s Northern Illinois’ Larry English. One of the hottest names among draftniks all offseason, English, like Orakpo, is still getting some serious looks as a traditional defensive end in the 4-3. His size is a concern, but at 6-02 255, it’s not nearly as alarming as his 4.90 40. Sure, 40 times aren’t everything, but when your main job is to blaze into the backfield while still being able to chase down a Darren Sproles type in the flats, it matters. Like meeting a girl who measures 36-24-36 with a great personality. Those measurements are what grab your attention, and they are definitely a substantial part of the attraction equation. But if she yaps all day about handbags and The Bachelor, she might only last a week. Now that great personality, coupled with the numbers, is what turns her from “that girl” into “Hi Mom, meet Candy.” Maybe it’s a weak analogy, but you get my point. English may not have outstanding combine numbers, but there is no denying his productivity. 30 career sacks will get you noticed.
Like it or not, the NFL Draft is the world’s biggest gambling event. Last year’s number one pick had $57.5 million wagered on him. Kind of puts the paltry 10 grand entry fee and $7 million dollar purse at the World Series of Poker in perspective. At least Texas Hold’em has definite odds. Grown men spend years evaluating younger grown men in the hopes that mutual success will allow both to keep their jobs with no real guarantees offered. Ever. But that won’t stop them from trying. Scouts will always look for the guys with the best chance to morph into a hybrid position player at the play-for-pay level. The Al Davises of the world will continue to roll the dice on speed and beauty, the Patriots will continue their attempt to beat the house with multiple picks, and the entire league will sit at the mercy of 22-year-old kids who have no idea that this business is a crap shoot, and they’ve just been asked to blow on the dice.
Hunter Ansley is Senior Editor at DraftZoo.com. He can be reached with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
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