As a whole, the defensive-end group for the 2012 NFL Draft is a rather unappealing unit, but there are a couple of intriguing prospects to evaluate.
Only one prospect is your prototypical 4-3 defensive end who has the ideal body frame, and that is Quinton Coples of North Carolina. He has the ideal frame and long arms that you would traditionally look for in a rush end, but Melvin Ingram and Nick Perry also are interesting prospects who may be just as impactful.
Coples is drawing early comparisons to another UNC alum, Julius Peppers, but that is a tall order being compared to possibly the best defensive end in today’s NFL. While the two come from the same school, I think it is a stretch to compare them on the field.
Yes, Coples’ frame is similar to Peppers’ in that he measures 6-foot-6, 284 pounds with 34-inch arms and runs a 4.7 40-yard dash, but he is much more raw as a football player. On tape, Coples shows good lateral movement and agility to avoid the cut block, but he lacks overpowering upper-body strength and often lets blockers get into his chest.
His technique could use improvement, as he is limited in the array of pass moves he shows a blocker throughout the course of a game. He often disappeared as a senior and was a non-factor more often than not. He was outworked and didn’t show the type of motor you want once a play broke down or he was chasing in backside pursuit.
Coples has the potential to be a big time rush end in the NFL, but there are a lot of question marks about his game that make me really question his status as a top 10 draft pick as we approach the draft.
As for Ingram, he is undersized at just 6-1 264, but he has versatility to his game that allows him to make plays all over the field. When watching his tape, I first thought he would be best as a 3-4 outside backer, similar to the way the Cowboys use DeMarcus Ware. But the more I watched, the more I actually liked him as a defensive tackle in nickel situations.
Ingram could provide an interior pass rush that most NFL guards are unable to block and he could collapse the pocket from the inside-out. Because of his smaller stature, he rarely loses the leverage battle and often plays with a lower pad level than his opponent.
He has violent hands and shoots them at the snap of the ball to stun and shed his blocker, but he can also lock out his arms to keep the blocker off his body and then throw him to one side to make a play on the ball carrier.
I rarely saw Ingram take a play off, and he is relentless during the play, whether it is a secondary pass rush on a broken play or chasing down a ball carrier from the back side. Because of his versatility, I would even look to draft him ahead of Coples depending on my defensive scheme.
USC’s Perry is a prospect who has gained a lot of momentum during the ongoing evaluation period. He is a player whom scouts try not to fall in love with in his underwear, but his measureables and Pro Day have his arrow pointing in the right direction.
Perry gets off the ball in a hurry and gets a good recoil out of his stance. He uses his hands well to chop down his blockers’ hands and fights to keep blockers out of his chest. He seems to locate the ball quickly and is a solid read and react player on the edge.
I liken Perry to last year’s standout rookie, Aldon Smith, but I feel that Perry can be more of an every-down player than just a situational pass rusher in the way the 49ers used Smith.
Whitney Mercilus is another prospect who is creating a buzz this offseason, but when I watch his tape I am more often disappointed than I am pleased. He is a lanky player with a good frame and body type, but I fail to see any type of burst about him or explosion off the ball.
Often times Mercilus is the last player along the line of scrimmage to get off the ball at the snap, but he will show some flashes as a pass rusher if you watch long enough. To me, he is more of a project player who has the ability and body type to grow into an effective pass rusher, but I don’t think he can be counted on to be a dominant player from Day 1.
The fact is, if your team has a void at the pass rushing position, this isn’t the best year to be in the market. Either you covet one of the aforementioned players or you try to apply a Band-Aid for the season, because after the top couple of prospects, there isn’t much to offer in the later rounds of the draft.