|Tony Ding / Associated Press|
|Michigan's Brandon Graham is one of the more highly regarded DE/LB prospects at the combine.|
INDIANAPOLIS -- In a year when the college crop is considered to be overflowing with defensive line talent, it stands to reason that there's going to be an abundance of good pass-rushing ends and/or outside linebackers in the 2010 NFL Draft.
As many as a half-dozen ends and outside linebackers could be taken in the first round, and upwards of 10 could go off the board in the first two rounds.
The many highly-athletic players at the positions are expected to turn plenty of heads during workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine.
The following is a breakdown of the defensive ends and outside linebackers widely considered at the top of their position in the 2010 draft class:
Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech (6-3, 266)
Scouts love the endless effort that Morgan gives on every snap. Much of his production comes from sheer hustle. He is an explosive pass-rusher with enough quickness to consistently beat a tackle inside or around the corner. While Morgan already has developed some impressive moves to get around blockers, he isn't merely a speed/finesse player. He does an excellent job against the run, with the strength to knock back blockers and the techniques to avoid being entangled by them. An NFL team will consider using him from a standup position, although he seems to have the makings of a pure end at the next level.
Brandon Graham, Michigan (6-1, 268)
Graham enters the combine riding a wave of high marks from scouts after an impressive showing in practices before the Senior Bowl. He has exceptional quickness and agility that, along with the effective use of his hands, allows him to consistently beat double-team blocks. He consistently played well against the better offensive tackles in the Big Ten and showed an uncanny knack for making plays behind the line. He played end in college, but because of his shorter frame, he's likely to play mostly outside linebacker in the NFL. Graham sees himself as being similar to Denver outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil.
Carlos Dunlap, Florida (6-6, 277)
Dunlap is easily one of the most talented players in the draft. His considerable athleticism could very well make it impossible for him not to be selected in the first round, although some personnel-evaluators have enough questions about him as a football player that he could end up being closer to a middle-round pick. Everyone can see the obvious: Someone who is tall, solidly built, quick, and strong. Yet scouts have expressed concern over his lack of consistency, too often seeing him follow an impressive play with two or three where he seemingly disappears. Dunlap needs to develop more pass-rushing moves to be successful in the NFL.
Everson Griffen, USC (6-3, 273)
Griffen is yet another highly gifted athlete in this group and, perhaps, the most versatile. The way he is built and can move, he is capable of playing any of the linebacker spots in a 3-4 scheme. He frequently dropped into coverage last season, but Griffen does a superb job of rushing the passer. In college, he relied heavily on his ability to beat offensive tackles around the corner. In the NFL, he will need to develop more moves. Griffen also must get stronger at the point of attack, but could be a highly productive pass-rushing outside linebacker in the NFL.
Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida (6-5, 270)
Although he has only started for half of a season at Division IA, Pierre-Paul has impressed scouts with his explosiveness and consistently strong effort. Some evaluators say they haven't seen a better speed rusher in more than a decade. With his long legs and considerable athletic skills, Pierre-Paul was able to blow past collegiate offensive tackles, sometimes before they could even get out of their stances. That will be harder to do in the NFL, where he will need to work more on the mental aspect of his game and realize the benefits of studying opponents.