BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
The 2014 senior crop of defensive ends is full of hybrid type players who may project to play 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level. I based these rankings off of the positions these players primarily play in college, so all of the players ranked currently play defensive end.
The class doesn’t have any sure-fire top ten players but there are plenty of players with starter upside.
1. Trent Murphy, Stanford (6’6’’, 261 lbs)
Murphy checks in as the No. 1 senior defensive end and one of my favorite prospects in the draft. He is a complete player who embodies many of the valued characteristics in an edge player.
With 10 sacks as a junior in 2012 and 12 sacks through his first 10 games as a senior, Murphy is one of the top pass-rushers in the nation. He is very quick off the ball and reads his opponents well to recognize pass reads. He has a wide variety of pass-rush moves which he sets up beautifully by utilizing his length to create separation from his blockers and then executing rush moves. He does an excellent job of exploding to the quarterback when he beats his man.
Additionally, Murphy isn’t the type of rusher you have to worry about getting too far upfield and allowing easy running lanes for the quarterback. He is very disciplined in his rush lanes.
Murphy is very stout as a run defender. This starts with his physicality at the point of attack and his ability to get his arms extended on his blocker and control his man. From there, Murphy can shed blockers and make plays.
He reads blocks very well and utilizes proper technique while squeezing down against down blocks, defending backside and handling drive blocks. His strength is very apparent in his run-stopping ability.
The way I see it, Murphy is a day one starter as a 4-3 defensive end and a first-round selection.
2. Dominique Easley, Florida (6’2’’, 285 lbs)
Before a torn ACL ended his senior season early after just three games, Easley was blossoming into one of the draft’s best defensive line prospects.
Easley consistently wins with his excellent first step and ability to anticipate the snap. Blockers have fits with him since he is able to control them at the point of attack. Easley draws regular double-teams and handles them extremely well.
He plays with good leverage and consistent, solid technique. He uses his hands effectively and does not allow blockers to get under his pads. He is extremely strong and physical.
Easley can play in any defensive system, but he would be best utilized by a multiple-front system. He can anchor as a 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, or kick inside to tackle in even fronts.
How Easley checks out medically will greatly influence his draft stock. When healthy, he is a powerful and explosive player who was on track to be a first-round pick.
3. Kareem Martin, North Carolina (6’6’’, 265 lbs)
Martin has been a steady contributor for the Tar Heel defense and a starter since his sophomore season, while he earned three starts as a true freshman. With two games left in his senior season, Martin has established new career highs for tackles (63) and sacks (nine).
Martin is a balanced contributor who can both stop the run and generate pass-rush.
While playing the run, Martin is physical at the point of attack and displays good instincts. Martin is solid in his gap assignments and is rarely out of position. When teams run right at him, Martin can penetrate, shed and make big plays.
When rushing the passer, Martin shows the ability to get by his man, but doesn’t have the ideal bend or closing burst to consistently get to the quarterback. He will utilize his length to create separation, but he doesn’t have any great counter moves to consistently beat his man. The tools are in place for Martin to become a steady pass-rusher, but it hasn’t yet fully developed. His best football may be ahead of him in this area.
Martin looks like he could be a solid rotational piece in the NFL with the upside to develop as he gets professional coaching.
4. James Gayle, Virginia Tech (6’4’’, 255 lbs)
Gayle has been a starter for the Hokies in each of the past three seasons and has proved to be a well-balanced player. He has consistently pressured the quarterback and made plays against the run.
Gayle’s activity off the ball is very solid. He fires out of his stance with leverage and good burst while he anticipates the snap very well. He accelerates well and is a quick-twitched athlete.
Gayle can win with his speed rush and a rip move, but he is more effective when utilizing power moves and creating separation from his blocker. He has good bend when working towards the quarterback.
Gayle has good awareness as a run defender and is very physical off the ball. He works to extend his arms to control his man so he can shed and make plays. Gayle is also a good backside defender in pursuit.
Gayle is an all-around solid player with good instincts and technique. He can be a solid addition to a defensive line rotation.
5. Michael Sam, Missouri (6’2’’, 255 lbs)
Sam became a full-time starter this season as a senior, and he is truly making the most of his opportunity and is officially on everyone’s radar. Through 10 games, Sam has 10 sacks to go along with 16 tackles for loss. Sam has been a dynamic playmaker this season.
I love Sam’s aggressive demeanor off the ball. Sam is not overly quick off the ball, but he physically attacks his opponents with good leverage. While Sam does not have great length, he is very strong and plays with leverage and technique.
Sam is a good dip-and-rip rusher who is relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback. Sam has a decent counter move and will utilize a spin move at times.
Sam is not a great run defender, but he does a good job of keeping his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and maintaining his gap.
Sam has really blossomed into a solid player for the Tigers in his senior year and is playing his best football heading into the end of his senior year. He is someone who may continue to ascend up the rankings.
See page 2 for the senior defensive ends ranked 6-20.
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