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2009 NFL Draft -- Off the Edge -- Defensive Ends Ranked for Denver



NT may be the weakest position on the roster (we have a total of zero legitimate NTs), but 3-4 DE may be the second worst.  While we do have players at the position (Marcus Thomas and Peterson) and Thomas can even be argued to have some talent and upside, we simply have nothing even remotely proven.  The difference between the two positions, NT and DE, for us is that a true 3-4 DE may be even harder to find, as the draft is very weak at this position.  While 4-3 DE and 3-4 rush OLB are so prevalent that half the names on the DE and OLB chart are made up of these prospects, selfless and stout at the point-of-attack inside defenders are actually pretty rare.

There are some options open in the draft however.  An outside the box solution is to prioritize some of great ILB prospects, to help pick up the slack.  Also, there are a number of DTs who may fit better being moved over to end, like Hood, Marks or Moala.  And there are certainly some other legitimate, experienced options at the position, but their distribution in the draft is disconcerting.

While DTs can be had at each level of the draft, no true 3-4 DEs project to be available in the middle rounds, from the end of the third to the middle of the sixth.  DTs like Walker and Scott may be available in those areas, but will require converting, if they are to play DE.  DE features a group of highly talented overall players projected in the first, a group of talented, but questionable players that make up the rest of the first day, and the beginning of Day 2.  But the gap between these players and a tiny contingent of sure rotational players and highly questionable projects is immense.

Bottom line, the sooner Denver addresses this position, the better.

Let's check out the rankings:


DE-Brian Orakpo 


Brian Orakpo, Texas:  Orakpo projects more as a rush OLB, and a very fine one at that.  Though Denver looks to have a number of bodies at the position, and have little chance to actually target Orakpo, they probably still have him highly ranked.  Orakpo is really the whole package, with a variety of rush moves, the ability to play up or in the dirt, tremendous awareness, which makes him a steadying force against misdirection offenses and plays, and the strength to disengage from blockers and bring down the ball carrier.

DE--Everette Brown 


Everette Brown, Florida State:  Much closer to what Denver is looking for, Brown is still primarily more of a rush OLB or 4-3 end.  Where he might interest Denver is his unusual strength at the point of attack, where he can discard one-on-one blocks and anchor vs. the run.  But he needs to add bulk for a consistent 3-4 end, and he didn't flash any ability to take on or defeat double teams.  Unlike Orakpo, he has not had a lot of experience from a rush OLB role, so it is doubtful he will acclimate to the position right away, if moved there.  An all-around good player with potential, but not likely to fit Denver's scheme.

DE--Tyson Jackson 


Tyson Jackson, LSU:  The first true 3-4 DE prospect who is likely to go off the board, Jackson has the right qualities for the position, including the required "team-first" attitude.  He has good, but not elite quickness off the snap, but he is consistent about discarding blockers and causing havoc around the line of scrimmage.  Though he lacks  the variety of pass rush moves you would like to see, he is definitely "field aware" and knows where his teammates are and what his responsibilities are.  As a four-star prospect, he is a great match for Denver, but #12 may simply be too early, and the second round may be too late.

DE--Robert Ayers 


Robert Ayers, Tennessee:  Ayers' technique really impressed me, and later, when I read that the knock against him was that he didn't have a good first step, it seemed to me that the other evaluators were missing the point.  While 4-3 teams are complaining that Ayers isn't quick enough off the edge to help them with their pass rush, 3-4 teams will be anticipating getting a great value.  Ayers anchors well vs. the run, and is great at keeping low and keeping blockers away from him.  He has all the moves, and specializes in changing up his first step - sometimes quick, sometimes slower, to keep the blocker off balance.  His experience and success at DT should give him the right attitude to contribute quickly, and his football intelligence should make him an attractive option for McDaniels and Co.  The drawback is his relative overall inexperience lining up as a starter.  Recognition and other playing-time-centric skills may be undeveloped, or he may be the classic "one-year-wonder" of draft bust fame.  From my viewpoint, what he can do is for real, but he will have to expand his game to guarantee a spot on the defensive line long-term.  Four stars for what he is, and what he can provide right now.

DE--Michael Johnson 


Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech:  Though inconsistent, and not quite the strong type of anchor we should be looking at, he has a tall (6'7") frame with lots of potential to add more build without affecting his first step.  Very good chance that he translates better to a strongside OLB prospect, but his potential on the line is undeniable, and his athleticism could be harnessed best there, as his drop-back coverage skills are non-existent.  He needs to get significantly stronger and work on his technique to prevent his height from hurting him more than it helps. Also needs to improve his situational awareness, and learn to get his hands up.  Overall, might not be the best project to take on for a team in desperate need of talent on the D-Line.  His high draft stock puts him way out of Denver's reach, but players have plummeted before, and Johnson could be a valuable backup with starter potential.

DE--Paul Kruger 


Paul Kruger, Utah:  Another returned missionary, Kruger is an excellent athletic package whose age and eligibility all are tied up because of the two-year mission for his church.  Yet another high-character guy, great motor, strong at the point of attack.  He will try to add some weight to his frame, which should help him in anchoring against the run, but he has the versatility to stand up at OLB, and the speed to cover the TE.  As a 25-year-old rookie, with the need to strengthen his frame and work on consistently staying low, his value may still make him a first-day pick.  Three stars for a smart player who will need to slide into the second day before Denver can afford to take a look.

DE--Jarron Gilbert  


Jarron Gilbert, San Jose State:  Absolutely prototypical size for the 3-4 DE, he flashes athleticism that belies his 290 lbs, and word is, he can add more weight.  He has excellent balance, startling production, and a famous YouTube video...ok, the last, while cool, is hardly the measure of the man.  He has had some maturity concerns, but nothing that shows up in his game film.  He is a relatively consistent source of pressure, but needs to work on not getting too tall against blockers and overall needs address his knowledge of the game.  His impressive lower-body strength does not translate consistently to explosion off the snap;  I suspect conditioning issues with him fading late in games.  The number-one knock against him, however, and the one he can't address, is that the level of competition he faced did not provide the challenge needed to expose holes in his game.  Overall he could be a solid find at the beginning of day 2.

DE--Mitch King 


Mitch King, Iowa:  This may be Denver's last chance to nab a true starting DE prospect in the 2009 draft, and for my money, King could merit going sooner than the 3rd round.  His consistent technique puts him up with the head of the class, and his passion for the game and football intelligence are obvious, stellar qualities.  He was a consistent producer, getting much of his production on his own, though because he is considered shorter than average (6'2") this production is often labeled "overachieving."  What stands out in his technique is how he never gets stood up by blockers, and indeed can frustrate double-teamers who fail to back him up.  He is a master at getting leverage and keeping blockers' hands out of his body.  Doesn't have the kind of speed that most teams want from their ends, but he does have a good first step.  If Denver has the patience to wait and the intuition not to wait too long, King could be one of the best players at 3-4 DE to come out of this draft, and Denver could get him.

DE--Michael Bennett  


Michael Bennett, Texas A&M:  After what can only be called a drought at the 3-4 DE position through the middle rounds of the draft, it isn't until the final picks and college free agency that we start to again see some potential there, starting with Bennett.  He is a physical specimen who has never added up to the sum of his parts. He lacks both the explosiveness in the pass rush and anchor against the run to be projected as a starter in the near future.  As a project, he does have some things going for him though.  His length will allow him to practice at either end of the line, and he has experience at both positions.  He has adequate-to-good speed for pressuring the blocker, and he knows how to use his hands in a bull rush, one of his few moves.  Not a lot going for him, but enough to stand above others this late in the draft.

DE--Derek Walker  


Derek Walker, Illinois:  An ideal player to draft for immediate depth on the line.  He doesn't have quite the speed or strength to reach the next level, but he is capable and understands his role on the line.  He is willing and able to occupy multiple blockers, and he has the size and burst to demand double teams on a limited basis.  He is durable and gives everything he has, but he empties the cup pretty quickly and so doesn't project as a long-term solution as a starter.  For cheap, effective and immediate depth, he should be a great find.