MOBILE, Ala. -- Half of the defenses in the NFL today play a 3-4 front, and just about every team in the league employs some type of hybrid defense to disturb protection calls and get free rushers on the QB. Consequently, many of the NFL coaches and scouts at the 2012 Senior Bowl are looking for those DE/OLB tweeners who give a defensive coordinator the flexibility to create different looks. (Of course, the 3-4 teams have always looked at the undersized college defensive ends as candidates to play the outside linebacker position.)
There's a solid group of players who fit the bill in Mobile. As Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff told me on Tuesday, "It's important to scout these kind of players very closely during this week."
Here's a quick look at the best hybrid pass rushers at the Senior Bowl. The top two will almost certainly be taken in the first round, and the rest of them will be gone by the fourth.
1. Melvin Ingram, South Carolina (6-1 7/8, 276 pounds)
Ingram couldn't be blocked in the Tuesday practice, as he showcased a complete arsenal of pass rush moves. He reminds me a lot of Pittsburgh Steelers star LaMarr Woodley, and is stout against the run. I see him as more of a 3-4 outside linebacker than a 4-3 defensive end.
2. Courtney Upshaw, Alabama (6-1 1/2, 273)
Upshaw is another ideal 3-4 OLB in the mold of Woodley, but he can come out of a three-point stance with explosiveness as an open-side end if a 4-3 team is interested. Upshaw does not have as much quick-twitch ability as Ingram, but he makes up for it in pure strength and football speed.
3. Shea McClellin, Boise State (6-3 1/4, 248)
McClellin was with the defensive ends in the 4-3 scheme on Monday. By Tuesday, he was working with the linebackers. McClellin was a tight end in high school and has plenty of skill to drop in coverage. When he rushes the passer from a two-point stance, like a 3-4 outside linebacker, he has a solid arsenal of moves to get to the quarterback. He reminds me of the Houston Texans' Connor Barwin when he was at the 2009 Senior Bowl. I heard one head coach say McClellin reminds him of Mike Vrabel, which is pretty high praise in my book.
4. Cam Johnson, Virginia (6-3 3/4, 267)
Johnson is a guy that was a high school wide receiver and defensive back. He played linebacker at Virginia and wound up as a defensive end. He is one of the most intriguing hybrid players in Mobile. I watched him line up with his hand on the ground and he blew up a pulling guard on a trap scheme his way. I observed him in a two-point stance and he easily beat a running back and also bull rushed a tackle. Johnson is athletic enough to line up on a flexed tight end and cover him. One NFL scout called him an enigma, but another scout said he's exactly what his team looks for in a 3-4 scheme.
5. Jake Bequette, Arkansas (6-4 1/2, 264)
Bequette can play with his hand on the ground -- like he did in college -- but he also has the athletic ability to play standing up, dropping in zone coverage as well as rushing the passer. He had 30 tackles for loss and 22 sacks in college, and he's on the radar for a number of teams. He can run for a big man and could be a steal in the middle rounds.
6. Audie Cole, North Carolina State (6-4 1/8, 258)
Cole is a little different than the players mentioned above. He is an inside linebacker who can also go outside and play. A 4-3 team may see him as a Mike or Sam 'backer. A 3-4 team may see him as a strong inside linebacker or a left outside backer. I watched him practice twice and he is versatile enough for a team seeking a guy to train at multiple spots. I'm waiting to see how he plays in the game on Saturday to finish up my Senior Bowl evaluation.