When grading draft prospects, very seldom can you look at just a single game of a player's tape and get the full story on him. Players will have bad games or exceptional games that don't fit the norm, or they'll be playing injured, and you simply won't get the full picture of what they bring to the table.
It is possible, however, to see one specific trait that makes a player so special in a very short bit of tape. The clips in this post are taken exclusively from the final minute of Lorenzo Mauldin's tape from Louisville's 2013 game against Kentucky. In this short clip, which totals 0:57including instant replays, Mauldin puts on display all of the talent that makes him one of the best edge rushers in the 2015 NFL Draft class.
Before getting into the tape, here's what Mauldin brings to the table:
He is very quick off the snap both with his feet and his hands, using foot quickness to get into blockers' bodies quickly, and then using his hands to swat away blockers' hands and gain leverage.
Mauldin attacks downfield and does not get pushed off his path very often, and he is flexible in the hips, allowing him to bend around the edge on outside rushes. Through the middle, Mauldin is agile and has the ability to turn his shoulders and contort his body to get after the quarterback.
One area of weakness is changing direction. Mauldin lacks the ability, or at least does not show it on film, to change direction and beat blockers with a move back to the inside once engaged.
In the minute of tape from the Kentucky game, there are four separate plays that Mauldin stands out on, all of which I'd like to break down individually. The tape comes from the great guys over at DraftBreakdown.com, who always do a great job of providing game tape and other draft content.
On the first play, Kentucky has the ball on its own 20-yard line in a 1st-and-10 situation with 3:27 remaining in the game. Louisville's defense is protecting a 14-point lead at this point, attempting to close out the game against the opposing Wildcats.
Needing to get the ball downfield and score quick in order to get the ball back and have a chance at winning the game, Kentucky is in an obvious passing situation. The Kentucky quarterback drops into a five-step drop, with five men in pass protection, against a three-man rush from Louisville.
Mauldin lines up in the 5-technique position, in a three-point stance outside the offensive tackle. Utilizing his foot quickness and agility on the edge, Mauldin beats his man to the edge. But the tackle is able to use Mauldin's momentum against him, pushing him past the quarterback. The lineman gets first contact with his hands, but Mauldin is able to knock them away, turning the corner and closing on the quarterback for the strip sack.
Ideally, you'd like to see Mauldin turn the corner in one fluid motion, using flexibility to bend into the blocker and keeping his feet moving the entire time around the edge. He has to stop his motion and regain his footing, but his superior agility and foot speed still allows him to beat his blocker and make a big hit on the quarterback.
The second play of the clip is a 2nd-and-16 for Kentucky from its own 14, another obvious passing situation, which means Mauldin has one responsibility - to get after the quarterback.
On this play, Mauldin shows off his functional strength and his ability to create disruption in the pocket, without actually bringing down the quarterback. He does not get off the ball quite as quickly as he does on the first play, but Mauldin beats the offensive player to the punch, getting his hands into the tackle's chest.
Once he gains inside position with his hands, Mauldin uses that leverage, bringing his legs up under his hips, to drive the defender back. The quarterback completes the pass down the sideline, but the play is another way Mauldin shows his ability to create disruption in the pocket, even on a short drop from the quarterback.
The third play in this series of plays is a 2nd-and-10 for Kentucky, from the Louisville 18-yard line. Louisville still holds a two-score lead over the Wildcats with 1:40 left in the game.
On this play, Mauldin jumps off the snap with very quick feet, exploding past the tackle before he can even get into his stance. From the get-go, the left tackle is on his heels, as Mauldin bursts off the snap and gets past the blocker before being contacted at all. And once the blocker does make contact, Mauldin maintains balance around the edge and closes quickly on the quarterback.
This play showcases Mauldin's ability to rush with speed out of a three-point stance, as he beats the blocker solely with foot quickness and then power to stay on his feet after contact. Mauldin's closing speed on the quarterback forces a hurried, incomplete pass, bringing up a 3rd-and-long situation for Kentucky.
Mauldin takes a break on Kentucky's 3rd-and-10 play from the 18-yard line, but he's back in as a pass-rusher on 4th-and-10 - a do-or-die play for the Wildcats as the game nears its end.
Again, Mauldin bursts out of his three-point stance with excellent quickness, meeting the blocker before the offensive player can get into a strong stance. Mauldin beats the offensive player to his punch, swatting away the blocker's hands with ease, taking away all of his power and leaving him flat-footed on the edge.
Utilizing his flexibility and a good bend at the hips, Mauldin transfers his power effectively around the edge and maintains a tight line to the quarterback, closing quickly and bringing him down for the game-ending sack.
Fit in Denver's new 3-4 defense
In four straight plays, as a pass rusher Mauldin has a direct impact on the outcome of those plays. This film clip shows his ability to rush from a 5-tech position, but Mauldin also possesses the skills and traits to get after the quarterback from a 3-4 outside linebacker position. As a versatile player who can play both positions, Mauldin would be an excellent fit in the 3-4 system that Wade Phillips plans to establish in Denver.
As a 5-tech player, which is what he played in 2013 for the Cardinals, Mauldin beats blockers with quickness and strong hands. He gets after the quarterback well from the 5-tech position and can attack runs in the backfield.
But he is not a player who is going to stand up and eat up two gaps in the run game. Because of this, Mauldin probably projects more as an OLB in the NFL, a position that he played for Louisville in 2014.
DeMarcus Ware is aging, and Quanterus Smith and Lerentee McCray are still unknown commodities. Mauldin could spell off Ware, playing complementary to Von Miller, and could also contribute in a rotation at 5-tech with Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe in Wade Phillips' new defense.
As a player who possesses the ability and potential to play both positions at the NFL level, Mauldin is worth consideration for the Broncos in the top two rounds of the upcoming draft.