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2013 DRAFT PREVIEW: EDGE RUSHERS

Overview: Just like on the field, it may come down to the QBs versus the edge rushers as to which position is ultimately the strongest at the 2013 draft. As with several positions this year, though, the actual make-up of this year's DE class won't be known until January as the majority of top pass-rushing ends and OLBs are underclassmen who may, or may not ultimately decide to enter the upcoming draft. Analyzing the DE position is also cmplicated by the fact that there is a significant amount of interchangeability between the DEs and 3-4 rush LBs, while some 3-4 OLBs also have the athleticism to attract attention as more traditional 4-3 outside backers. For now, we are listing players by the category they are most likely to be looked at by NFL teams, although again readers need to be aware that most of the players discussed below will actually get looks at multiple positions.

And whatever they are ultimately called, guys that can rush the passer are likely to pack the early going at the 2013 draft. LSU junior DEs Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo and Georgia junior OLB Jarvis Jones, for example, are all considered top 5-10 prospects. None of the three is particularly big, although the two LSU guys at least have the frames to add some bulk. However, all three can fly to the ball and combined for over 30 sacks last fall, including 13.5 by Jones who is drawing comparisons to former Texas A&M DE Von Miller, the second player selected at the 2011 draft who has had a great start to his pro career. Meanwhile, Florida junior DE/buck LB Ronald Powell also has close to top 10 type physical tools, however, his immediate football future is somewhat cloudy after he tore an ACL in spring practice, although he is expected to be back on the field at some point this fall.

What makes the DEs a potentially fascinating group for the upcoming draft are the storylines associated with some of the second tier prospects at the position. And the most fascinating storyline could ultimately that of 6-7, 275-pound Margus Hunt of SMU, an athletic freak who originally came to the US from Estonia as a world-ranked shot putter and discus thrower before morphing into a top NFL prospect with an imposing wingspan and elite weight room strength, althogh he is still raw around the edges and has yet to dominate at the collegiate level. There's a similar storyline for Florida State junior Bjoern Werner who didn’t start playing football until his junior year in high school when he took up the game as an exchange student from Germany. Like Hunt, Werner is still very raw and lacks elite closing speed, but he has long arms, exceptional power and strength and a terrific motor and passion for the game. Then there is Ohio State dynamo John Simon who is a bit of an odd shape, but redefines the notions of workout warrior, character guy and non-stop motor. Meanwhile, Michigan State junior William Gholston will have to deal with comparisons to his cousin Vernon Gholston, the former Ohio State DE who ended being one of the biggest draft busts of the decade after being selected 6th overall by the Jets in 2008. Whatever the storylines, each of these guys are solid prospects for the upcoming draft with more than a modicum of potential to work their way into the first-round mix, while Michael Buchanon of Illinois, Dion Jordan of Oregon, Auburn junior Corey Lemonier, South Carolina's Devin Taylor and Virginia Tech junior James Gayle are promising second-day types.

There likely won't be quite as much depth among the 3-4 OLBs, but Brandon Jenkins of Florida State, Stanford's Chase Thomas and unheralded Jamie Collins of Southern Miss are solid second-day prospects. Meanwhile, the top pure 3-4 DEs include Kapron Lewis-Moore of Notre Dame, Damion Square of Alabama, Joe Vellano of Maryland, Clemson's Malliciah Goodman, Deandre Coleman of California, Georgia's Abry Jones, David King of Oklahoma, Izaan Cross of Georgia Tech, Spencer Nealy of Texas A&M and N.C. State's Brian Slay, although even the best of those guys are more late-round types. Of course, several DTs like Baker Steinkuhler of Nebraska and Cal's Aaron Tipoti will also get looks as 5-tech DEs.

Sleeper File: Marquis Jackson of Portland State, the twin brother of former Tennessee DE Malik Jackson, a 5th round pick at the 2012 draft by Denver, was a one-time coveted Southern Cal recruiting target. Meanwhile, Stephen F. Austin OLB Willie Jefferson who was originally recruited as a WR at Baylor, but was booted from the team (along with fellow WR Josh Gordon who was selected with a second round pick by Cleveland in the 2012 supplemental draft) after being arrested for marijuana possession. After sitting out the 2010 season, the 6-6 Jefferson transferred to SFA last fall where he made the switch to DE and quickly emerged as a lower-level pass rushing terror as he racked up 15 sacks, blocked 5 passes and picked off two others, both of which he returned for TDs. At the same time, Trevardo Williams of UConn just maybe the closest thing in this year’s draft to former West Virginia DE/OLB Bruce Irvin, the surprise 15th overall selection at the 2011 draft. Like Irvin, Williams isn't overly big even for a LB, but plays DE with his hand on the ground for the Huskies and was one of just two players in the country to average more than one sack per game last year as he racked up 12.5 in 12 games. Same story for Jackson State's Joe Lebeau who lacks prototype size, but led D1AA football last fall with 16 sacks.

Top 20 DE Prospects
#
Player
H/W
School
CL
1
Sam Montgomery 6-4, 245 LSU JR
2
Jackson Jeffcoat
6-5, 255 Texas JR
3
Alex Okafor 6-4, 260 Texas SR
4
William Gholston 6-6, 275 Michigan State JR
5
Margus Hunt 6-7, 275 Southern Methodist SR
6
John Simon 6-2, 270 Ohio State SR
7
Bjoern Werner 6-3, 270
Florida State JR
8
Michael Buchanon 6-5, 240 Illinois SR
9
Devin Taylor 6-7, 265 South Carolina SR
10
Dion Jordan 6-6, 245 Oregon SR
11
Corey Lemonier
6-4, 240
Auburn
JR
12
James Gayle
6-4, 260
Virginia Tech
JR
13
Wes Horton
6-5, 260
Southern California
SR
14
Craig Roh
6-4, 270
Michigan
SR
15
Cam Meredith
6-4, 265
Nebraska
SR
16
Malliciah Goodman
6-3, 280
Clemson
SR
17
Marquis Jackson
6-3, 260
Portland State
SR
18
Damion Square
6-2, 290
Alabama
SR
19
Brad Madison
6-3, 260
Missouri
SR
20
Datone Jones
6-3, 275
UCLA SR

Top 15 3-4 OLB Prospects
#
Player
H/W
School
CL
1
Barkevious Mingo 6-5, 240 LSU JR
2
Jarvis Jones
6-2, 245 Georgia JR
3
Ronald Powell 6-4, 250 Florida State JR
4
Brandon Jenkins 6-3, 260 Florida State SR
5
Chase Thomas 6-4, 245 Stanford SR
6
Jamie Collins 6-3, 240 Southern Mississippi SR
7
Damontre Moore 6-4, 250 Texas A&M JR
8
Travis Long 6-3, 255 Washington State SR
9
Willie Jefferson 6-6, 235 Stephen F Austin SR
10
Nathan Williams 6-3, 255 Ohio State SR
11
Cornelius Washington
6-3, 260
Georgia
SR
12
Toben Opurun
6-1, 245
Kansas
SR
13
Trevardo Williams
6-1, 235
UConn
SR
14
Joseph Lebeau
6-1, 245
Jackson State
SR
15
Sean Fisher
6-5, 235
Nebraska
SR

Future file: No disrepect for the veterans at the position, but the DE that just about every pro scout would take in a heartbeat is South Carolina sophomre Jadeveon Clowney, arguably the top recruit in the country last year period, who more than lived up to the hype the 6-5,255-pounder posted 8 sacks as part of the Gamecocks dynamic pass rush rotation.

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