By College Football Analyst Taber Small for TonySoftli.com
The need for elite pass rushers is much more of a necessity today in the NFL with the rapid increase of spread option offenses. NFL defenses are valuing more edge defenders who can rush and drop back in coverage. The 2014 NFL top draft pick Jadaveon Clowney a college 4-3 defensive end is converting to play as a stand up 3-4 outside rusher for the Houston Texans. Louisville’s Lorenzo Mauldin, Missouri’s Markus Golden and Texas Longhorn Cedric Reed represent the type of hybrid defensive ends that teams are coveting in the NFL.
Below are the 2015 NFL Draft DE and LB Prospects to Watch
1. Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville (6-4/243)
Positives: Mauldin is a physically gifted pass rusher who possesses a quick and explosive first step. He is a very athletic defender with the speed, balance and active hands to consistently get around offensive tackles. Mauldin displayed his skills as a fierce pass rusher all last season as he constantly gets pressure in the backfield. He is a tall well-built athlete at 6-foot-4, 250-pounds with long arms and impressive change of direction to go along with his superior athleticism. Maudlin shows great potential as a pass rushing specialist at the next level.
Negatives: Mauldin is still a bit raw needing to improve his technique and strength at the point of attack. He possesses a thin cut frame and lacks bulk in his legs leading him to become engulfed by bigger offensive lineman. Mauldin needs to play with better leverage and discipline against the run. He will receive a lot more attention with first round pick Marcus Smith gone. Mauldin must demonstrate that he can fight through double teams.
2. Markus Golden, Missouri (6-3/260)
Positives: Golden is an instinctive fluid defensive end that caught the eye of scouts in 2013 because of his athleticism and size (6-foot-4 260-pounds). He was a very reliable backup pass rusher for 2014 draft picks Kony Ealy and Michael Sam last season. Golden displays explosive upper body strength, good quickness and closing speed in pursuit. He provided the Tigers with great versatility upfront and was used inside on third down and long distance situations to rush up the middle for more speed. Golden is very stout against the run and is a solid tackler.
Negatives: He needs to improve his technique, leverage and consistency. Golden struggled at times to get off blocks and needs be more active with his hands. He has a tendency to play off balance and must learn how to play with better body control.
3. Cedric Reed, Texas (6-6/258)
Positives: Reed is an impressive specimen that possesses the length, quickness and explosion that scouts covet at the defensive end position. He demonstrated great speed off the edge while effectively using his hands to protect his body. Reed plays with good strength and drives lineman back in the pocket. He drops well in coverage and shows some ability to play in space. Reed is a freakish athlete with great size and tremendous ability. He is an explosive edge rusher who displays good movement skills and fluid change of direction. He has tremendous speed in pursuit and covers a lot of area.
Negatives: Reed lacks the bulk to play in a 4-3 scheme and is considered a tweener defensive end prospect. He also struggles at times to shed blocks against offensive lineman with great arm length and great strength. Reed is not a consistent tackler and too often goes for the kill shot instead of wrapping up.
Underclassmen DE/LB to watch
Charles Tapper, Oklahoma (6-4/261) – Tapper is an athletic defender with a ton of untapped talent. He is very quick off the snap for someone his size and is projected to be a 4-3 end at the next level. He’s not a superior speed edge rusher but he does find his way to get into the backfield. Tapper improved last season against the run and played with more discipline towards the end of the season. With the Sooners converting to a 3-4 defensive scheme this season we will see if Tapper can make the transition to the outside hybrid position. If Tapper becomes a more consistent sacker and shows the ability to cover this season he could be a top 45 pick.
Sleeper DE-LB Prospect to watch
Martin Ifedi, Memphis (6-2/263) – Ifedi is an underrated DE prospect with good speed and size at 6-foot-3, 265-pounds. He had a breakout 2013 season with 52 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. Ifedi is a strong and athletic pass rusher with a quick first step. He’s a very fluid athlete who shows the ability to change directions effortlessly and has above average closing speed in pursuit of the ball and the quarterback. Ifedi does a good job of diagnosing plays and reacting to the football. He is still filling into his 6-foot-3 frame. With only two years at the DE position Ifedi needs to play with better leverage and pad level to attract more attention.
Small School DE/LB Prospect to watch
Lynden Trail, Norfolk State (6-6/260) – The Florida transfer has been a disruptive force for the Spartans the last two seasons. He has imposing size at 6-foot-6, 260-pounds and is a versatile defender that can line up in multiple positions. This giant can either rush standing up or from a three-point stance. Trail had 94 tackles, 12.5 for loss, 8.5 sacks, 8 pass breakups, 10 QH’s and five forced fumbles last season. He has fluid hips for his size and moves naturally in space possessing the speed to cover a lot of ground. Trail uses his length and athleticism to fend of blockers but has a tendency to get locked up against bigger offensive lineman. He needs to be more violent and active with his hands.
Follow Taber Small on Twitter: @Tabersmall and NUCSports.com