Good day, Broncos Country. Over the course of the next few weeks, the writers at Mile High Report and I will be doing breakdowns of each position in the NFL Draft as part of our Be the Broncos GM series. This week starts off with defensive ends - a spot at which the Broncos could use an upgrade this offseason.
Please note that the goal of these articles isn't to list every player available, but to provide information on prospects that have a realistic chance to be available at the time the Broncos are picking in the draft in the first several rounds. That means this article won't feature or discuss the premier prospects available - it is extremely unlikely the Broncos would land Jadeveon Clowney, for example, so we're not going to cover him.
Kony Ealy, DE - Missouri - RS Junior
6'5 - 275 pounds, 4.75 40 yard dash
Career production: 38 GP, 93 tackles, 27.5 TFL, 14.0 sacks
Ealy declared shortly after Missouri's Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma State, foregoing his last year of eligibility with the Tigers. His performance against the Cowboys where he accumulated two sacks, and an improved junior season proved he was ready to head to the next level. A two year starter for the Tigers, he spent most of his time at the LDE spot, where he was able to use his speed off the edge to get by opposing tackles. Ealy has the prototypical size you expect from an NFL defensive end and has the frame to carry more weight. Ealy's best strength is his quickness of the snap, which will continue to allow him to have success as a pass rusher in the NFL. If there is criticism to be said about Ealy, it is regarding consistency. To many he is a one year wonder. To develop into a top tier pro, he needs to play lower, as he shows vulnerability playing too high at the line - allowing him to easily get disengaged and blown of the ball. In addition to the aforementioned, better use of hands and improvement in functional strength will help him become an effective every down player.
Outlook: If Ealy performs well at the combine, he may rise out of range for the Broncos - but there are several pass rushers looking to compete for the next spot after Jadeveon Clowney and Anthony Barr and he happens to be in that mix. At this point in time, he is a name to watch out for over the next several months as he would be a welcome addition to a defensive front that needs quality pass rushers and long-term potential.
Trent Murphy, DE - Stanford - Senior
6'5 - 260 pounds, 4.90 40 yard dash
Career Production: 43 GP, 160 tackles, 52.5 TFL, 32.5 sacks
Stanford Cardinal outside linebacker/defensive end Trent Murphy saved his best for last - posting career bests with 62 tackles, 23.5 TFL and 15 sacks as a senior. If you look at his numbers, you can see he is one of the most productive prospects in this class. In my opinion, one of his best attributes are his judgment of the snap, which allows him to compensate for his lack of athleticism and quickly diagnose plays and locate the ball carrier. Moreover, he has good technique and uses his hands well, which allows him to be an effective run stopper. By all accounts he is a leader on the field and one of the most hard-working and respected players in the PAC-12. There are questions about where he will best fit in the NFL and his functional/playing strength was shown to be a concern after being consistently flushed out of drills at the Senior Bowl.
Outlook: Unfortunately, Murphy did not have a good showing several weeks ago at the Senior Bowl in Mobile. He went up against the best in the nation and struggled immensely in drills, which will make his combine and pro day workouts that much more important to solidifying his draft stock. But when you look at his collegiate career and game tape over the past several years, you see a football player who gets it done on the field and consistently got better. If the Broncos want a shot at Murphy, they would likely have to use their first selection on him, as it is unlikely he slips further than the Top 50.
Scott Crichton, DE - Oregon St. - RS Junior
6'3 - 265 pounds - 4.75 40 yard dash
Career Production: 38 GP, 165 tackles, 51 TFL, 22.5 sacks
A three year starter at defensive end for the Beavers, Crichton passed up his final year of eligibility after cementing himself as one of the best prospects in the country with a strong redshirt junior campaign. One of the reasons I like Crichton more than most is his schematic versatility. He has lined up at both defensive end positions for Oregon, as well as kicking it inside and playing nose guard to help disrupt the tempo of high power PAC-12 offenses. In my eyes, he is one of the most complete ends in this class. He is strong for his size, gets off the ball extremely well, and demonstrates a wide array of pass rushing moves, mostly relying on his bull-rush. He is different than many of the other prospects listed in this article because he isn't an elite athlete, but gets by on his strong fundamentals and non-stop motor. Negatives concerning Crichton would be a maxed out frame and lack of elite potential.
Outlook: Crichton is someone Broncos fans should expect to see come off the board in the second or third round. As mentioned earlier, he may not be the explosive athlete that scouts and personnel are looking for at the position, but he leadership qualities, consistency and production will land him a home early in the draft in the Top 64 selections.
Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas - Senior
6'5 - 250 pounds - 4.8 40 yard dash
Career Production: 39 GP, 203 tackles, 60 TFL, 27.5 sacks
Jackson Jeffcoat had a college career filled with accolades. He was the 2014 Ted Hendricks Award winner and led the team as a senior with 21 TFL and 18 total quarterback pressures and the first Longhorn defensive end to be an All-American since Brian Orakpo. He is the son of former great Jim Jeffcoat and has the potential to be a quality pass rusher in the NFL.
Under the tutelage of Manny Diaz, Jeffcoat saw time with standing up and with his hand in the ground to get after the quarterback. One of his best attributes is his size. His long and lengthy frame is something to desire at the position and the ability to put on more weight. Jeffcoat is widely regarded as one of the most natural pass rushers in this class. On the downside, he doesn't play with a nasty demeanor on the field. He can disappear for stretches at a time and must improve his strength and add to his pass rushing moves to be as effective at the professional level.
Outlook: Teams may be shy to use a first round selection on Jeffcoat because of his inconsistent motor and ability to be flushed out of plays, but they will have a hard time overlooking his production and pedigree. His best fit may be in a 3-4 defense on the outside where his negatives can be neutralized; if but he would present himself as a worthy option for the Broncos at the end of round two if he is still available. The question is: Will he be more like Tim Crowder or Brian Orakpo once he ascends to the NFL? That is the trouble with Longhorn defensive lineman - boom or bust.
DeMarcus Lawrence, DE - Boise St. - RS Junior
6'3 - 245 pounds - 4.75 40 yard dash
Career Production: 22 GP, 115 tackles, 33.0 TFL and 20 sacks.
My favorite darkhorse prospect for defensive end in the draft and one of the best unknown pass rushers is Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence. Lawrence started his collegiate career at JUCO (Butler Community College), but has been a two year performer for the Broncos and performed very well. While playing in Boise, Lawrence was moved around everywhere on the defensive line and was a terror for opposing linemen.
Lawrence's best attributes are his quickness of the line and top-end swim move to get by defenders, as well as strong hands and technique easily allows him to weave through traffic to be an effective run defender. His two biggest knocks are his lack of size and only being a two year starter at a D-I program. I also would like to see more consistency in his game on a week to week basis. There have also been reports that he may have character concerns, which will have an impact on his draft status.
Outlook: As of now, Lawrence is projected as a third to fourth round selection. The Combine and his Pro Day are going to be key to his stock rising. His best fit is in a 4-3 defense, much like ours, where big bodied defensive tackles will free up blockers to do what Lawrence does best - creating havoc off the edge. Some teams who employ a 3-4 scheme may give him a look at OLB if he can show adequate enough cover skills. If Lawrence is still on board with the 95th selection in the third round, I would have a hard time passing him up. Teaming Lawrence up with Quanterus Smith on the right side of the line would give the Broncos a youthful pass rushing platoon for the future.
Keep Your Eye On. . .
Kareem Martin, North Carolina - Senior
6'6 - 270 pounds, 4.85 - 40 yard dash
Career Production: 49 GP, 178 tackles, 45.5 TFL, 19.5 sacks
Quick Look: Large defensive end who really improved as a senior, posting career bests in sacks (11.5) and TFL (21.5) - Doesn't have elite potential like former teammate Robert Quinn, but should be an effective three down player in the NFL and likely a Top 75 selection.
Marcus Smith, Louisville - Senior
6'4 - 260 pounds, 4.75 - 40 yard dash
Career Production: 45 GP, 86 tackles, 33 TFL, 24.0 sacks
Quick Look: Undersized pass-rusher poured it on as a senior, totaling 14.5 sacks and 18.5 TFL. Third or fourth round option who would give the Broncos additional pass rushing support.
List of DE Draft Prospects
|Player||Pos.||Pos. Rank||School||Class||Ht.||Wt.||Proj. Round|
|*Jadeveon Clowney||DE||1||South Carolina||Jr||6-5||274||1|
|*Scott Crichton||DE||4||Oregon State||rJr||6-3||265||2|
|*Demarcus Lawrence||DE||10||Boise State||rJr||6-3||245||3-4|
|Kareem Martin||DE||11||North Carolina||Sr||6-6||272||3-4|
|Will Clarke||DE||12||West Virginia||rSr||6-6||271||3-4|
|James Gayle||DE||14||Virginia Tech||rSr||6-4||255||5|
|*Aaron Lynch||DE||18||South Florida||rSo||6-5||244||6|
|Ethan Westbrooks||DE||21||West Texas A&M||Sr||6-4||264||7|
|Chaz Sutton||DE||24||South Carolina||rSr||6-4||263||7-FA|