Packers draft preview: Top defensive ends

May 2, 2014
Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald (97) is the top defensive end in the draft.
Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald (97) is the top defensive end in the draft. / Getty Images


1. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh 6-0¾, 285, Round 1

Short but explosive and disruptive. “I was naïve enough to think when I first watched him, ‘Here’s a guy we can get in the second round,’ ” said a long-time scout. “Not so fast. He had the quadrifecta: The season, the Senior Bowl, the (NFL scouting) combine, the Pro Day. He knocked them all out of the park. He got it all. He’s a heck of a player. He’s only 6-feet and 288, but you make the exception for the exception. He has a little John Randle in him. He doesn’t play that hard but has the ability.” True senior missed only one game because of injury in four years. In past three seasons, had 27½ sacks and 63 tackles for a loss, both excellent for an interior lineman. Last season, had 11 sacks and 29½ tackles for loss. “He has the ability to be special as an interior pass rusher,” a second scout said. “He matches up well against the guards and centers because of his exceptional quickness. His lack of size and length hurts him in every-down situations, but when he can rush the passer, he has a chance to be pretty good.” At the combine, ran an exceptional 40 (4.67 seconds) for a 285-pound player, had a 32-inch vertical jump and 9-8 broad jump. Did 35 bench reps. “He’s as similar as you can get to (Cincinnati’s) Geno Atkins, but not as much man as (the 300-pound) Geno Atkins,” a third scout said. “But he’s along those lines.”

2. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame 6-5½, 304, Round 1/2

True junior entry has great length (34¾-inch arms, 10-inch hands) and size for a 3-4 lineman, but effort was spotty last season. “I think Tuitt would be a matchup nightmare for guards,” a scout said. “He’s really talented, I really liked him. His Pro Day (position workout) was off the charts. I don’t know (if he’s a top-20 pick). He’s got some problems, and people don’t know if he fits inside or outside.” Potential medical risk after doctors at the scouting combine found a fracture in his right foot that required surgery March 1. The day before the procedure, he worked out for scouts and ran the 40 in 5.00 seconds. “He has good size, he can run, he has good length,” a second scout said. “The thing that worries me is he has a tendency to get heavy, and I wish he didn’t. He at times has gotten too big. If he keeps himself in shape, he probably can play left end as well (in a 4-3 scheme).” Also had sports hernia surgery in 2013. Had huge sophomore season with 12 sacks and 13 tackles for loss, then slipped to 7½ and nine last season. Did 31 bench reps. “You would have liked to see something special, somebody who can light it up at will,” said a scout who didn’t like Tuitt. “He didn’t do that. Average athlete.”

3. Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota 6-578, 310, Round 1/2

Converted from tight end as a freshman, has prototypical height, length (34¼-inch arms, 10¼-inch hands) and weight for a 3-4 defensive lineman. “Michigan State has this little badass center, tough, that (reach blocked) him one play and made him look like a fool,” a scout said. “The next play, Hageman just knocked him into the backfield and made a tackle for a loss. That describes who he is. He let the guy kick his butt, then gets (ticked) off and makes an incredible play. He should be the best tackle in the draft, but he’s not.” Two-year starter had eight sacks and 11 tackles for loss in ’12 and ’13 combined. Ran the 40 in 5.00 seconds, had an excellent 35½-inch vertical and did 32 bench reps despite his long arms. “His size and speed make him real attractive,” a second scout said. “But if you watch the tape only, he’s a fourth-round pick. If you factor in that the guy is 6-6 and 315 pounds and a vertical of 35 inches and he can run 4.98 — all coaches and scouts think they can fix somebody. He’s strong, he’s big, he’s long. Then you wonder why he’s playing outside shade on a guard and he’s getting reached by centers. That bothers me. It was upsetting.” Had extremely difficult early childhood. His mother was a drug addict, and by age 7 he’d lived in in a dozen foster homes before being adopted by two attorneys. Was benched for final three games of 2010 because of poor academic performance and arrested for disorderly conduct for an incident at a bar in May 2012. Was named team MVP last year. “The thing I saw in him, early in the year he was better, and when Minnesota starts being Minnesota late in the year, and later in games, you can’t find him,” a third scout said. “They were a pretty good team halfway through the year, and you’d think the kid would really get into those Big Ten games and turn it on. It was more the opposite, he kind of turned it off as the game went on is what I saw. He’s got all the potential in the world, but can you fix him?”

4. Timmy Jernigan, Florida State 6-158, 299, Round 1/2

True junior entry is a shorter, thick interior lineman who probably fits best as a three-technique in a 4-3 scheme. “I like him a lot, but I’m tired of 6-1 defensive tackles,” a personnel director for an AFC team said. “He doesn’t pass rush well but he’s a great run player. He has tools to (rush). Do you take Tuitt? Do you want Tuitt over Jernigan? Or Hageman over Jernigan? I don’t know. I like Jernigan but he shouldn’t be talked about in the top 15. I don’t think he should. I’d take him with the 25th pick, something like that.” Played in 39 of 40 games in three seasons but didn’t become a full-time starter until last year and was one of the best defensive players for the national champions with 4½ sacks and 11 tackles for a loss. “He’s exceptionally quick with his first step,” another scout said. “But I just don’t see him being — he’s a first- and second-down player. Third down, you’re taking him out of the game because he isn’t getting by the guards in the (NFL), he’s not beating anybody. And he’s not going to get in the throwing lanes because he’s too short. To me he’s a (nose tackle) in a 3-4.” Had MCL and meniscus injury in spring of 2012. Plays more athletically than his 5.10-second 40 at the combine suggests. Also had 29½-inch vertical and did 27 bench reps.

5. Kareem Martin, North Carolina 6-578, 272, Round 2/3

Best suited as a 4-3 left end, probably doesn’t have the feet to play as a 3-4 outside linebacker so would have to add weight and move inside in that scheme. “Sort of an underachiever, but I like him,” a scout said. “He’s 6-6, 270-something, can run. Doesn’t have much of a pulse sometimes, but they run a (crappy) system there. On third downs (moving to inside rusher) probably is where he’s best.” Had 19½ sacks and 44 tackles for a loss in his three seasons as a starter, including 11½ and 21½ last year. Showed good straight-line speed and explosion at the combine for a player his size (4.73-second 40, 35½-inch vertical and 10-9 broad jump). “He’s smart, they say he’s a great spokesman for the university, and he tests well and all that,” another scout said. “But on the tape, he’s a one-speed guy. He had some (sack) numbers, but I expected more from him. Maybe I’m being real picky, but he’s more fast than he’s quick, he’s a long strider. I wish he were a little more sudden.”

6. Will Sutton, Arizona State 6-0½, 303 Round 2/3

Son of Mickey Sutton, an NFL defensive back and punt returner from 1986-90, including three games with the Packers in 1989. Had an outstanding junior season (13 sacks and 23½ tackles for loss) but added weight before his senior year and wasn’t nearly as good (four sacks, 13½ tackles for loss). “He just got too big,” one scout said. “He agreed, just said, ‘People told me I was too small and I needed to gain weight.’ It was unfortunate, because he was cat quick and he should have kept his weight down.” Weighed 315 at the Senior Bowl but was down to 297 at his campus workout. Played his junior year in the 280s. “He’s definitely an inside rusher,” another scout said. “He’s a good player, he’s just not going to be a guy that runs like Aaron Donald. There’s guys like him playing, he’ll play in the league and be an effective player. He’s got great quickness. He’s on the shorter end, and he’s one of those guys people have played with for years in this league. He just might not be a high-round draft pick. Maybe that will keep a chip on his shoulder.” Ran the 40 poorly — 5.42 seconds at the combine and 5.31 at his campus workout — and turned off some teams with what they saw as general indifference. “The coaches there said if they had anybody else who could play in his place (last year), they’d have gotten rid of him,” a third scout said. “Just bad.”

7. Brent Urban, Virginia 6-658, 295, Round 2/3

Grew up in suburban Toronto and chose football over hockey in high school. Has prototypical size and length (34½-inch arms) for a 3-4 end. “Tough,” said a scout who works for a team that plays a 4-3 defense. “I really like him. But he’s for a 3-4.” Has had lower-leg injury issues throughout his career. Missed four games last season because of a knee and ankle injuries, and left the Senior Bowl early when the ankle flared up. Eventually had surgery and hasn’t worked out for scouts but should be ready for some or all of OTAs. “You’re going to have to roll the dice on him because of the injury,” a second scout said. “Everything we’ve heard from the surgeons is the foot has been repaired.” Two-year starter had only moderate production — three sacks and 14 tackles for a loss in 20 games in ’12 and ’13. But knocked down nine passes last season. “When you stand him up at 6-6, he tipped more balls last year because he’s in the throwing lanes,” a third scout said. “He’s not a great pass rusher. He’s OK, not great, but he’s got a wingspan and gets in lanes.”

8. Dominique Easley, Florida 6-1¾, 288, Round 2/3

Impressive talent who had reconstruction surgery on each knee during his college career, in 2011 and then Oct. 17 last year. “He’s got two blown ACLs,” a scout said. “He was very explosive (before the injuries). It’s a gamble (to take him). You just don’t know. That’s tough to come back from. Tough.” Marginal size for a 3-4 defensive lineman, but has inside-rush potential. In ’12, had four sacks and 8½ tackles for a loss, and last season no sacks and two tackles for a loss before his ACL tear in the fourth game. Did 26 bench reps at the combine. Won’t be fully cleared until June, but did position workout for scouts April 17. “I don’t like him,” another scout said. “He’s sort of a showoff. I don’t know where he plays either. He gets knocked around inside, and he’s not fast enough outside. A ’tweener-type guy. He makes plays by moving, but playing it straight, he’ll get killed in the NFL.”

9. Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina 6-3¾, 297, Round 2/3

True junior entry has size and OK length (33¼-inch arms) to fit a 3-4 scheme as an end and inside rusher. Full-time starter the past two years, broke out last season with 9½ sacks and 13½ tackles for a loss. “He made plays because he was playing next to (possible No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney),” one scout said. “I worked him out, he’s not very athletic.” At the combine, ran the 40 in 4.98 seconds, had a terrible 23½-inch vertical and 8-6 broad jump. Did 27 bench reps. “He’s stiff,” another scout said. “In the drill (at his Pro Day) where he jumps over these dummies and picks up a tennis ball, Quarles about broke his legs.”

10. Taylor Hart, Oregon 6-618, 281, Round 3/4

Decent athlete for a man his size. “Good guy for 3-4 teams,” a scout said. “Tough, all that stuff. Not real talented but a third-rounder.” Couldn’t work out at the combine because of a broken bone in his foot sustained training in the offseason. Then at his Pro Day, ran the 40 in a reported 4.86 seconds, had a 30-inch vertical, 8-0 broad jump and 23 bench reps. Three-year starter had 11½ sacks and 17½ tackles for loss the past two seasons combined. “I think he’s a good value later in the draft,” a second scout said. “He reminds me of (former Steelers ends Brett) Keisel or Aaron Smith that could grow into — he’s got a great motor, plays with good technique. People will look at him and say he’s not developed, but maybe he can. He’s got the frame, and he runs pretty good.” and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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