Everyone knows South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney will be the first defensive end off the board in the 2014 NFL Draft. If he’s not, it could be Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan all over again, and no I’m not saying Clowney will be to the NFL what Jordan was to the NBA. But who’s the second defensive end off the board?
The most popular pick is Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt. He’s an absolute monster at 6-foot 7, 322-pounds, and he plays like he’s 50 pounds lighter. 4-3 or 3-4, it doesn’t matter, he can play in any defense. I’ve always been a big fan of Tuitt, and still am. But I think I might have him as the third best DE prospect in the class of ’14 behind Missouri’s Kony Ealy (6-foot 5, 275-pounds).
The primary reason for thus is pass rushing ability. Yes, Tuitt’s sack numbers over the past two seasons are better, 19.5 to 12.5, but that’s not totally indicative of true pass rushing skills. If you’re strictly basing it on numbers, Clowney and his 3 sacks this past season would make you think he’s hardly got a chance to make it in the NFL.
Make no mistake, Ealy is a more natural fit on the edge and getting to the QB than Tuitt. He’s got better explosion off the snap and has natural quick-twitch fibers. His repertoire of pass rushing moves is greater than Tuitt and gets good bend off the edge. He’s got quick and violent hands to go along with a tremendous motor. Tuitt is a little more sluggish off the snap, has better upper body strength, but primarily and predictably uses the bull rush most often. You can’t just outmuscle anyone in the NFL like you can in college, so Tuitt will have more trouble matching his prodigious collegiate sack numbers.
Stuffing the run they’re almost a wash. Tuitt can control the gap better due to his immense size and greater strength, but Ealy might be a tad better at shedding blocks. Both give a good punch at the point of attack.
Versatility is great on both ends, but probably leans to Ealy. Tuitt is best suited as a 5-tech in a 3-4, but would also be effective inside at 3-tech in a 4-3. Ealy can play DE in either 3-4 or 4-3, 3-tech in a 4-3 and potentially even play some OLB in a 3-4.
There’s a long way to go until May 8th, the first day of the 2014 NFL Draft, and much can and will happen. But at this still early stage of the process, I’d put Ealy a notch ahead of Tuitt.