1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina 6-5¼, 266, Round 1
Junior entry is a premier athlete and could be top pick in the draft by Houston. “When he wants to play, nobody can block him,” one scout said, “but when he doesn’t want to play, he’s just another guy. That’s the decision the Houston Texans have to make. If I’m making that decision, it’s hard to turn that kid down, based on his physical skills and what he did in his workout. Everybody tells me he’s a great kid. But you’ve got to play. Based on what he did at his Pro Day, if they don’t take him, they’re nuts. Put him and J.J. Watt together on different sides, that’s pretty good.” Showed exceptional athleticism at the scouting combine with a 4.52-second 40 and 37½-inch vertical. “The one thing they said about him: If he ever was challenged, then the kid played well,” another scout said. “Or like the year before, they played somebody and the guy did well against him, he annihilated the guy the next year. He’s the best player in the draft.” Blew away the football world when as a true sophomore he had 13 sacks and 23½ tackles for a loss. However, those numbers dipped to three and 11½ last season, when he was frequently double- and even triple-teamed. Either way, his 2013 play caused many scouts to question his work ethic and love for football, especially after South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier’s lukewarm endorsement of his practice and workout habits. “I’d put him below Mario Williams, if he were out in the same draft as Mario Williams,” another scout said. “He’s not close to Julius Peppers (coming out of college) in my mind. He’s a good player, but if those three were in the same draft, he’d be the third guy you’d be talking about. I think the kid’s motor is fine. His technique’s not real clean, they just kind of let him play. He needs to do some things differently.”
2. Khalil Mack, Buffalo 6-25⁄8, 251, Round 1
In the running with Clowney for the first defensive player off the board and maybe even the top pick overall. “He’s not an end, he’s a (3-4 outside) linebacker,” one scout said. “I like him a lot. Anybody who watched him play Ohio State loves him. He’s a good one.” Ready made for the 3-4 after playing in that scheme at Buffalo and setting an FBS career record with 16 forced fumbles. Also tied Jason Babin’s record for tackles for a loss (75), plus had 28½ career sacks. Last season, had 10½ sacks and three interceptions. “You like the natural strength,” another scout said, “but he’s going to see some things in the NFL even during the preseason he didn’t see in the (Mid-American Conference). He’s got some room (for growth).” At the combine, ran the 40 in 4.61 seconds, had a 40-inch vertical jump and 10-8 broad jump, and did the short shuttle in 4.18 seconds, all exceptional for a defensive end/outside linebacker. Also did 23 bench reps. Four-year starter who didn’t miss a game because of injury after redshirting as a freshman. “He has a plan for how to try and rush the passer,” a third scout said. “He got caught on too many blocks against Baylor, but overall he can quickly get up the field. He plays with some initial quickness and gets penetration, spins out of trouble. Has some bend and strength to him as a rusher. Doesn’t move badly in space, either.” Missed 2012 opener for violating team rules.
3. Anthony Barr, UCLA 6-47⁄8, 255, Round 1
Still is raw after moving from running back to outside linebacker for his last two seasons but is a possible top-10 pick because of his upside. “I don’t think he’s very tough,” one personnel director said. “I think he’ll go high, I’d take him pretty high. He’s just not very tough.” In two seasons on defense, had 23½ sacks and 41½ tackles for a loss. Fits best as a 3-4 outside linebacker, his scheme at UCLA, but could play end or linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. “I see a guy that hadn’t played with his hand on the ground a whole lot, but I think he could if he got in that system,” said a scout for a 4-3 team. “I see Derrick Thomas, who at times played 4-3 end and at times 3-4 outside linebacker, he did all kinds of stuff. I think he has the potential to (put up big sack numbers).” Had a good combine workout and bettered that at his Pro Day. Improved his 40 time from 4.60 seconds to a reported 4.45 seconds, and his bench reps from 15 to 19. He stayed with his combine vertical jump of 34½ inches. “Little bit of a freak of an athlete,” a third scout said. “Not a physical guy. Should get better, shows good hand use and I think he’ll get better because he’s a coachable guy. I think he’ll be a good finesse pass rusher. People were enamored with his size and ability to rush the passer, but they saw he was more casual or finesse than kick your butt. But when it comes down to it, he has the ability to rush the passer.”
4. Kony Ealy, Missouri 6-4, 273, Round 1
Junior entry fits best as a 4-3 defensive end but probably can function as a 3-4 outside linebacker, especially if allowed to line up occasionally with his hand on the ground. “He’s immature, talented. Ran terrible at the combine, but he’s got some real stuff,” one scout said. “Everybody’s trying to compare him with (San Francisco’s) Aldon Smith — it’s a bad comparison — just because they played at Missouri. But (Ealy) has some special qualities.” At the combine, ran the 40 in 4.88 seconds, which is slow for a 3-4 outside linebacker, but reportedly improved that to 4.70 at his campus workout. Had a mediocre 31-inch vertical jump and did 22 bench reps. “At the right price, I like him,” a second scout said. “Not as a one, but somebody might. Two, three, right in there. He’s young. Probably should have stayed in school is what I saw. Has some talent, but I wished he would have run a little faster. I know he did at his Pro Day, at the combine he didn’t run great. He’s kind of a ’tweener end-tackle, would have to be an inside rusher on third downs probably.” Last season, had career highs with 9½ sacks, 14½ tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. In two seasons as a starter, had 13 passes batted down. “You can move him inside and rush over the guard in passing situations,” a third scout said, “or you could stand him up sometimes and rush him from the outside. Very versatile but more 4-3 type guy.”
5. Dee Ford, Auburn 6-21⁄8, 252, Round 1/2
Doesn’t have the length 3-4 teams prefer in outside linebackers, but he’s an athlete with upside. “He’s a playmaker,” said a personnel director. “He freelances, and he’ll do (things) where you’re, ‘Where’s he going?’ But he’ll make a play. He’s a pretty good edge rusher, good at the point of attack. The guy isn’t bad. Still very raw. Has a lot of football in front of him.” Two-year starter who last season had 8½ sacks and 12½ tackles for loss. “I think he’s maxed out,” a second scout said. “I don’t think he’s going to get much bigger than 250 pounds. People are going to see him as more as a rush 3-4 outside linebacker. As a 4-3 guy, he’s going to have issues against the run or be a rush specialist. He’s all speed as a rusher, and if you can stop that you can stop him. If you can get your hands on him, you’ll throw his (butt) out of the bar.” Didn’t work out at the combine because of a lumbar-disk injury, but at his campus work out tested like an explosive athlete with a 4.59-second 40, 35½-inch vertical, 10-4 broad jump and 29 bench reps. “At the Senior Bowl, I was impressed with how he handled blockers,” a third scout said. “He’s not the biggest guy but he had toughness and the ability to extend blockers with his arm length. Stood in there and held his ground. Didn’t see many plays where he was washed out. He’s a guy (offenses) have to account for.”
6. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech 6-3¼, 252, Round 2
Born in Nigeria and didn’t start playing football until high school while growing up in the Washington, D.C. area. Was a standup, pass-rushing outside linebacker in college so ready to play in a 3-4 scheme. Lacks ideal length for the position though he compensates with broad shoulders and a huge wingspan (81¼ inches, second-best among 35 linebackers at the combine). “He can bend and lean and all that stuff (rushing the passer),” a high-ranking scout said. “But he’s not an end. He’s a guy the Packers would like, they could probably get him in the second round. That would be a good pick for them.” School’s all-time sacks leader (31½), in his last two seasons combined had 22 sacks and 27½ tackles for a loss. Didn’t work out at the combine because of a hamstring injury, then at his campus workout showed excellent speed (reported 4.57-second 40) and good explosion (37½-inch vertical and 9-3 broad jump). Didn’t bench. “He’s able to get the corner and force pressure,” another scout said. “Has some initial quickness off his first step, and he tries to stay active and use pass-rush move. When he gets locked up, has a really hard time getting off blocks, and he can be a step late on his pressure. His effort is outstanding.”
7. Marcus Smith, Louisville 6-33⁄8, 251, Round 2/3
Went to Louisville as a quarterback, but moved to defense after a week of practice. True senior played all along the defensive line and at outside linebacker as a 2½-year starter. “He can go anywhere he wants,” a personnel director said. “If you watched his Pro Day, you’d be shocked. His Pro Day was unbelievable. The way he moved, he caught the ball, it was almost freakish. He’s a fit for everybody.” Broke out last year with 14½ sacks (second in the nation in FBS) and 19 tackles for a loss. Has OK length and good athleticism — at the combine ran a 4.68-second 40 and had a good vertical jump of 35 inches. Did 23 bench reps. “He has some start-stop quickness,” another scout said. “Athletic enough to carry a receiver out of the slot and up the field. Has some awareness (in coverage) and will find the ball. He can get off the block and chase the play. Long arms (341⁄8 inches), rangy, gets hands up in throwing lane. He gets up the field and knows how to get home.”
8. Trent Murphy, Stanford 6-53⁄8, 250, Round 2/3
Three-year starter has great length, instincts and toughness but lacks pure explosiveness. “He’s not very tough, but he’s a real good technique rusher,” one scout said. “It’s not just raw talent and speed, but good hands and all that. But I like him. He’s a smart guy, good player. He’s not Dick Butkus or Ray Nitschke or anything.” Played on his feet in a 3-4 system in college, projects to that position or 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL. In his final three seasons, had 31½ sacks and 41½ tackles for a loss, including 15 and 23½, respectively, last year. “I don’t know if he’s dynamic enough, I don’t know if he’s got enough juice (to be great),” another scout said. “But he’s a good player, make no mistake. Anybody would like to have him on their team.” At the combine, ran the 40 in a slowish 4.87 seconds but had a good vertical (35½ inches) and long jump (9-10). Did 19 bench reps. “Not explosive but very steady in the way he plays,” a third scout said. “Doesn’t make a ton of those wow plays, but he’s good enough.”
9. Kyle Van Noy, Brigham Young 6-31⁄8, 242, Round 2
Versatile enough to be a 4-3 strong-side linebacker or 3-4 outside linebacker Started 36 games after redshirting as a freshman, had 13 sacks as a junior but only four last year. Also had 39½ tackles for loss his last two years combined, and for his career forced 11 fumbles and had seven interceptions. “Has some real ability,” one scout said. “They didn’t rush him a lot, but I like him. If you’re 3-4 (defense), you have a lot more options than a 4-3 right now with guys like him.” At the combine, ran the 40 in 4.66 seconds, had a 32½ inch vertical, 9-4 broad jump and did 21 bench reps. Turns 24 in June, so age is a minus. Had alcohol issues before entering high school but sought help and had no publicized incidents during his college career.
10. Scott Crighton, Oregon State 6-27⁄8, 273, Round 2/3
Last name pronounced CRY-ton. Redshirt junior entry has great motor and is good rusher who projects better to a 4-3 defensive end than 3-4 outside linebacker. Several scouts said he’d drop weight and play linebacker to play in a 3-4 scheme, though he also could bulk up and play defensive line. Scouts were split on whether he or Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence is the better prospect. “(Lawrence) will be a good player in the long run,” one scout said. “(Crighton) is a wood chopper, he’s just not fast or quick twitch. He’ll just get six or seven (sacks a season). But he’s tougher than you-know-what. I’d love to have the guy, but he’s not the answer. He’s just tough. At the combine, they asked him why he came out early, what if you don’t make it? He said, ‘There are no options in my life. My family’s poor and we’re going through tough times. There are no options. I have to make it. My back’s against the wall.’ You’d love to have him but you wonder how fast he is.” Three-year starter had 22½ sacks and 51 tackles for a loss in his career. Physical testing was shaky for a 3-4 outside linebacker — 4.85 seconds in the 40, 31½-inch vertical, 9-0 broad jump. But some scouts love his intangibles, production and effort. “He’s a tough kid and all that, but people that are saying this guy is a second-round guy, oooff,” another scout said.
— Pdougher@pressgazettemedia.com and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.