Plenty of ta­lent to make ma­jor im­pact

Ver­sa­tile play­ers about to rush in at OLB, off edge

Packer Plus - - NFL Draft Preview: Edge Rushers - By MICHAEL CO­HEN

Green Bay — In Novem­ber 2014, prior to a home game against the Chicago Bears, the de­ci­sion was made to shift line­backer Clay Matthews away from the edge, where he es­tab­lished him­self as one of the premier pass rush­ers in the NFL, to the in­te­rior, a point of weak­ness for the Green Bay Pack­ers.

The move was born of ne­ces­sity, pre­cip­i­tated by a rash of in­juries, ag­ing and late-round draft picks in aus­pi­cious sit­u­a­tions. In­sert­ing Matthews, it was pre­sumed, would shore up the run de­fense and en­hance the unit over­all, even if it meant less per­sonal suc­cess — and fewer sacks — for the ca­reer out­side line­backer.

The du­ra­tion of his stint in­side seemed up for in­ter­pre­ta­tion, es­pe­cially when Matthews re­turned to the mid­dle at the start of 2015. He spent the ma­jor­ity of last sea­son as a true mid­dle line­backer, pair­ing with Sam Bar­ring­ton, Nate Palmer and Jake Ryan over the course of 18 games, and du­ti­fully em­braced a less-than-de­sir­able role.

When the year ended, de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dom Capers praised the ver­sa­til­ity of Matthews and re­mained non­com­mit­tal about the fu­ture of his 29-year-old star.

Roughly one month later, how­ever, Mike McCarthy of­fered a more de­fin­i­tive out­line for Matthews’ forth­com­ing role.

“Clay is an im­pact player,” McCarthy said at the NFL scout­ing com­bine. “His start­ing po­si­tion will be out­side line­backer. It’s im­por­tant for us as a coach­ing staff to make sure we’re giv­ing him op­por­tu­ni­ties to make an im­pact. How much he’ll go in there, time will tell.”

With Matthews en­trenched on one side of the for­ma­tion and vet­eran Julius Pep­pers on the other, the Pack­ers en­ter 2016 with two qual­ity pieces atop their depth chart. Nick Perry, Jay­rone El­liott and Da­tone Jones, who is con­vert­ing from de­fen­sive end dur­ing the off-sea­son, pro­vide ser­vice­able back­ups.

But an over­sat­u­ra­tion of pass rush­ers is im­pos­si­ble in to­day’s NFL, and some of the best de­fenses in the league bring waves of re­plen­ished pres­sure. With Pep­pers on the tail end of his ca­reer and only flashes from El­liott and Perry, gen­eral man­ager Ted Thomp­son is likely to be tempted by a draft class plump with po­ten­tial out­side lineback­ers.

“We’re al­ways try­ing to make sure we’re solid at as many po­si­tions as we can be,” Thomp­son said at the com­bine. “I don’t know that you ever get to the point where you feel like per­fectly set on a ros­ter, though, be­cause you’re al­ways look­ing.”

1. JOEY BOSA Ohio State, 6-foot-5, 269 pounds, 4.86 Low­down: Bosa proved to be a force al­most im­me­di­ately at Ohio State. He started 10 of 14 games as a fresh­man and posted im­pres­sive to­tals of 7½ sacks and 13½ tack­les for loss. From there, Bosa’s rise con­tin­ued. He earned unan­i­mous All-Amer­i­can hon­ors in con­sec­u­tive sea­sons as a sopho­more and ju­nior, fin­ish­ing his ca­reer with 26 sacks in 41 ca­reer games. Ex­cel­lent frame and mus­cle def­i­ni­tion. Moves flu­idly as both a pass rusher and in cov­er­age. Shoots his hands quickly. Forced five fum­bles in the last two sea­sons alone. Strug­gles to fight back if he doesn’t get his hands on the op­po­nent first. Gives up ex­tra yards on tack­les. Thinks rather than re­acts. Pro­duc­tion dipped in 2015. “I do be­lieve I’m the best player in the draft,” Bosa said at the com­bine.

Pro­jec­tion: First round

2. MYLES JACK UCLA, 6-1, 245, NA Low­down: There’s a good chance you’ve heard Jack’s name through­out the buildup to the draft. There’s a much smaller chance you’ve ac­tu­ally seen him play. Jack in­jured his knee in prac­tice just three games into the 2015 sea­son. Al­ready la­beled a firstround pick, Jack opted to leave the team and be­gin a mix­ture of re­hab and prepa­ra­tion for the NFL. Prior to his de­par­ture, Jack was a stud line­backer known for pro­duc­tion (88 tack­les in 2014, 77 in 2013) and a propen­sity to chip in on of­fense. He made cameos as a run­ning back for the Bru­ins as well: 38 car­ries, 267 yards, seven touch­downs in 2013; 28 car­ries, 113 yards, three touch­downs in 2014. Terrific vi­sion on ac­count of run­ning back in­stincts. Freak­ish ath­lete who can cover tight ends and run­ning backs well. Frame is more like a run­ning back than a line­backer. Com­ing off torn menis­cus. “I feel like I can play any po­si­tion,” Jack said at the com­bine. “Me per­son­ally, I like be­ing off the ball as a Mike, Will, Sam. I think I could play strong safety as kind of a Kam Chan­cel­lor type of role.”

Pro­jec­tion: First round

3. SHAQ LAW­SON Clem­son, 6-3, 269, 4.70 Low­down: Law­son, the for­mer No. 1 ju­nior col­lege player in the country, is a rare one-year starter among play­ers pro­jected to be taken early in the draft. Mired in a loaded de­fen­sive line room at Clem­son, Law­son was a ro­ta­tion player in 2013 and 2014. Fi­nally given an op­por­tu­nity to start last sea­son, he did not dis­ap­point: 25½ tack- les for loss, 12½ sacks, con­sen­sus All-Amer­i­can. Thick legs and broad chest form a solid frame. Played both stand­ing up and with a hand in the dirt. Pow­er­ful player who can ram of­fen­sive line­man. Ran fourth-fastest 40yard dash time among de­fen­sive ends, tied for sec­ond-fastest 20-yard shut­tle. Flex­i­bil­ity and bend­ing re­main an is­sue. Ef­fort varies from snap to snap. Loves in­side spin move. “Peo­ple say I’m mostly a power guy,” Law­son said at the com­bine. “I don’t see my­self as just a power guy, I can spin, beat you off the edge, run past you, every­thing.”

Pro­jec­tion: First round

4. JAY­LON SMITH Notre Dame, 6-2, 223, NA Low­down: On ta­lent alone, Smith might have ranked even higher on this list, but a dev­as­tat­ing knee in­jury in early Jan­uary — torn ACL, torn

LCL — makes him one of the draft’s enig­mas. Ques­tions popped up at the com­bine about po­ten­tial nerve dam­age in his leg af­ter he went through med­i­cal eval­u­a­tions. There is spec­u­la­tion that he will miss the en­tire 2016 sea­son. Won the Butkus Award given to the na­tion’s top line­backer. Mas­sively pro­duc­tive with 113 tack­les and 9 tack­les for loss last year. Terrific ath­lete with good length and ex­cel­lent speed. Showed strong abil­ity in man cov­er­age, es­pe­cially against run­ning backs. Needs to add strength. Should have been more dis­rup­tive in the back­field. Smith is an ul­ti­mate buyer­be­ware prospect. “I’m hop­ing to go top 10,” Smith said at the com­bine. “I view my­self as the best player in the draft, you know? It’s just a mat­ter of wait­ing and en­joy­ing the process and con­trol­ling what I can con­trol.”

Pro­jec­tion: First or sec­ond round

5. LEONARD FLOYD Ge­or­gia, 6-6, 244, 4.60 Low­down: Floyd spent one year at Har­grave Mil­i­tary Academy be­fore en­rolling at Ge­or­gia, where he started 32 of the 38 games he played. Longlimbed ath­lete who per­formed con­sis­tently all three years. Fin­ished with ca­reer to­tals of 28½ tack­les for loss and 17 sacks. Tremen­dous burst ev­i­denced by fifth-fastest 40-yard dash time among out­side lineback­ers, sec­ond-best ver­ti­cal leap (39½ inches), third-best broad jump (127 inches). Ex­cel­lent speed af­fords him great range on the field, in­clud­ing chase­down abil­ity. Loves to rush up­field be­fore mak­ing a jump cut to the in­side. Rail-thin frame that needs mus­cle badly. Strug­gles to set the edge against stronger play­ers. “A big strength of my game would be my speed,” Floyd said at the com­bine. “A weak­ness would prob­a­bly be (not) hav­ing more than one pass rush move.”

Pro­jec­tion: First round

6. NOAH SPENCE East­ern Ken­tucky, 6-2, 251, 4.80 Low­down: Spence is a big-time ta­lent who wound up at East­ern Ken­tucky by way of failed drug tests. A five-star prospect and Pa­rade Mag­a­zine All-Amer­i­can out of Penn­syl­va­nia, Spence be­gan his ca­reer at Ohio State. He was banned from the school for fail­ing mul­ti­ple drug tests (ec­stasy) and wound up at East­ern Ken­tucky. Dom­i­nated in 2015 with 22½ tack­les for loss and 13½ sacks en route to All-Amer­ica sta­tus at the FCS level. Great en­durance through­out the course of a game. Plays fast for four quar­ters. Good speed and lat­eral quick­ness to avoid block­ers. Lacks height for an edge rusher. Arms are a touch short. Could add some strength. Spent time in re­hab for ec­stasy ad­dic­tion. “There’s a group of peo­ple I can’t hang with,” Spence said at the com­bine. “I have to be more my­self and stay away from that party scene. It was more like par­ty­ing and go­ing out. Ev­ery time I did it, it was me go­ing out and par­ty­ing.”

Pro­jec­tion: First or sec­ond round

7. KEVIN DODD Clem­son, 6-5, 277, 4.86 Low­down: Like his team­mate Law­son, Dodd waited a long time for an op­por­tu­nity to start at Clem­son. Made the most of that chance in 2015 by tal­ly­ing 23½ tack­les for loss and 12 sacks. Amaz­ing per­for­mance in the na­tional cham­pi­onship game against Alabama — five tack­les for loss, three sacks — that likely boosted his draft stock con­sid­er­ably. Great frame for the next level. Checks boxes for height, weight, length and speed. Gen­er­ated 46 quar­ter­back pres­sures in 2015, up from just three the year prior. Plays smart foot­ball and minds his re­spon- sibilities. Just one year of sig­nif­i­cant play­ing time. Re­peats pass rush moves too of­ten. “I don’t re­ally know if there are any teams that are will­ing to put me up at stand­ing out­side line­backer, but I can do what­ever it takes,” Dodd said at the com­bine. “I did it at Clem­son. I feel com­fort­able drop­ping into space, cov­er­ing a tight end as well. I can do it.”

Pro­jec­tion: First or sec­ond round

8. EM­MANUEL OG­BAH Ok­la­homa State, 6-4, 273, 4.63 Low­down: Og­bah and his fam­ily moved from Nige­ria to Texas when he was 9 years old. He com­mit­ted to Ok­la­homa State in part be­cause of for­mer Cow­boy All-Amer­i­can Rus­sell Okung, now with the Den­ver Bron­cos, who is also Nige­rian. Og­bah turned in back-to-back mon­ster sea­sons at OSU and was named the Big 12 De­fen­sive Player of the Year in 2015. Fin­ished with 26½ ca­reer sacks in just 39 games, av­er­aged slightly less than one tackle for loss per game. Very thick frame that should match up well with of­fen­sive line­men. Plays through con­tact with­out much is­sue. Knows how to turn his speed into a bull rush. Posted sec­ond-fastest 40- yard dash time among de­fen­sive ends and tied for sec­ond-best ver­ti­cal leap with 35½ inches. Must get quicker at di­ag­nos­ing plays. Plays a bit stiff. “Just give me a chance to rush the quar­ter­back,” Og­bah said at the com­bine. “That’s one of my fa­vorite things to do, just rush­ing. It’d be a great thing for me if I could just do what­ever I want just to rush the quar­ter­back.” Pro­jec­tion: First or sec­ond round

9. JONATHAN BULLARD

Florida, 6-3, 285, 4.93 Low­down: Bullard floated be­tween de­fen­sive end and de­fen­sive tackle dur­ing a four-year ca­reer at Florida. A for­mer five-star re­cruit from North Carolina, he was a steady con­trib­u­tor be­fore bust­ing loose as a se­nior. He fin­ished with 66 tack­les, 17½ tack­les for loss (most at Florida since 1999) and led the team with 6½ sacks. Earned All-Amer­i­can hon­ors in 2015. Reads plays well off the snap, an­tic­i­pates di­rec­tion eas­ily. Plays with great ef­fort and changes di­rec­tion re­ally well for some­one his size. Phys­i­cal traits are some­where be­tween line­man and edge rusher. Av­er­age ath­lete. Might wind up play­ing de­fen­sive end with the abil­ity to step out­side, a la Da­tone Jones. “Julius Pep­pers is my fa­vorite player,” Bullard said at the com­bine. “My old­est brother ac­tu­ally wore No. 90 be­cause of Julius, and I wore No. 90 be­cause of my brother. But it was ac­tu­ally Julius. Don’t tell him that.”

Pro­jec­tion: Sec­ond round

10. KAMALEI COR­REA

Boise State, 6-3, 243, 4.69 Low­down: Cor­rea left early for the draft de­spite com­ing off a ju­nior sea­son that was sig­nif­i­cantly worse than his sopho­more year, at least sta­tis­ti­cally. He made 59 tack­les, 19 tack­les for loss and 12 sacks as a sopho­more en route to first-team all-con­fer­ence ac­co­lades. Those num­bers dipped to 39 tack­les, 11 tack­les for loss and seven sacks as a ju­nior. Built well for an edge rusher. Re­ally im­pres­sive speed, ev­i­denced by third-fastest 40-yard dash time among de­fen­sive ends. Terrific range that cov­ers the en­tire width of the field. Some­times he over­runs plays be­cause of his quick­ness. Needs to get stronger. Will be drafted based on po­ten­tial.

Pro­jec­tion: Sec­ond round

BEST OF THE REST

11. Shilique Cal­houn, Michi­gan State; 12. Kyler Fack­rell, Utah State; 13. Jor­dan Jenk­ins, Ge­or­gia; 14. Bron­son Kau­fusi, Brigham Young; 15. Ja­son Fanaika, Utah

MIKE DE SISTI / MDESISTI@JOUR­NALSEN­TINEL.COM

For­mer Wis­con­sin run­ning back Melvin Gor­don is wrapped up by Joey Bosa. Bosa was a force vs. the run and the pass at Ohio State. He had 26 sacks with the Buck­eyes.

GETTY IMAGES

De­fen­sive line­man Noah Spence of East­ern Ken­tucky clearly has first-round ta­lent, but failed drug tests may push him back to the sec­ond round of the draft.

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