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Top 5 DE Prospects - PFW

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Scouting reports on top five defensive ends

By Nolan Nawrocki

April 19, 2009

This article is the eighth in a 14-part series in which we feature scouting reports on the top five draft prospects at each position, as published in the 2009 Draft Preview book. The order in which the prospects are ranked is based on Nolan Nawrocki's rankings as of the start of the series. If you'd like to read reports on more than 400 prospects, you can order the 2009 Draft Preview book today at the PFW Store.

1. DLE-DT Tyson Jackson, #93

(6-41⁄8, 296, 4.98), LSU

Notes: Full name is Anthony Tyson Jackson. Also lettered in basketball as a prep. Redshirted in 2004. Appeared in 13 games in ’05, making 13 tackles, one tackle for loss and two sacks. Started 12-of-13 games in ’06 (yielded a start on Senior Day) at left end and recorded 37-10-8½ with four passes batted down, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Started all 14 games in ’07, registering 36-4½-3½ with 10 passes batted down and one forced fumble. Started all 13 games at left end in ’08, recording 36-10½-4½ with four passes batted down and one fumble recovery. Chose not to lift at the Combine.

Positives: Possesses natural strength to set the edge and handle the double-team. Excellent size to leverage the run and stack the corner. Does not give ground often. Athletic for a big man and moves well for his size. Plays with good balance and does not spend much time on the ground. Rips off blocks with strong, active hands and demonstrates good coordination with his feet. Uses his long arms to disrupt a quarterback’s vision and has a knack for batting down balls. Durable.

Negatives: Motor runs hot and cold. Instincts are off and does not always find the ball or shed quickly enough to make plays. Lacks explosion and is by no means an upfield, speed rusher off the edge. Struggles to recover when out of position or off balance. Finishing ability leaves something to be desired. Was used primarily to occupy blocks and did not make an abundance of plays. Played on one of the most talented defensive lines in college football, and action was funneled to him. Legs appear thin and needs to spend more time in the weight room and get stronger.

Summary: Rebounded from a disappointing junior season to prove his worth as a versatile lineman at the next level. Not flashy but can be very efficient doing the dirty work. Is more versatile than extraordinarily talented or creative and warrants interest from a variety of teams — capable of playing the five-technique in a 3-4 front or serving as a base left end in a 4-3 front. Could bring the most value as a nickel rusher from the inside.

Grade: First-round talent.

2. DRE-OLB Aaron Maybin, #59 (third-year sophomore)

(6-3¾, 249, 4.79) Penn State

Notes: Mother died from complications after giving birth to his younger sister on Jan. 2, 1995 when Aaron was a 6-year-old. Redshirted in 2006. Played in 13 games in 2007, recording 12 tackles, 4½ tackles for loss and four sacks with one pass batted down and one forced fumble. Emerged in ’08 following the suspension of Maurice Evans. Played in all 13 games at left end in ’08, starting 10, and registered 49-20-12 with three passes batted down and three forced fumbles. Led the Big Ten in sacks.

Penn State DE Aaron Maybin

Aaron Maybin

Positives: Explosive, quick-twitch edge rusher with elite first-step quickness and upfield burst. Has rare, 35¼-inch arms. Routinely bent the corner as a sophomore and made impact plays for loss. Boasts natural pass-rush ability and exceptional athleticism off the edge to run the arc with speed. Posted a 38-inch vertical jump at the Combine. Can get extension, rip off blocks and close on the quarterback in a hurry. Chiseled physique. Has a good frame to bulk up and get stronger. Very good motor. Has been very durable. Plays hard and is loaded with upside.

Negatives: One-year starter. Nowhere near a finished product. Needs to get significantly stronger and is one-dimensional at this point in his development. Cannot anchor vs. the run. Lacks functional strength to disengage blocks and is too easily erased from the line of scrimmage. Gets knocked around too easily in the trenches. Instincts are nowhere near the level of his physical traits. Undisciplined. Inexperience shows when he guesses and loses positioning. Needs to mature physically and emotionally. Would have greatly benefited from not stacking on 23 pounds in less than two months and struggling to carry the weight naturally. Comes from a program known for producing too many pass-rushing busts.

Summary: Lined up at 226 pounds in the Rose Bowl and put on too much weight too quickly and speed was clearly affected at the Combine, when he timed in the 4.9s on some clocks on the 40-yard dash and did not look as athletic as he did during the season. However, he is a major-league pass-rushing talent with natural ability that cannot be taught. An unrefined talent in the early stages of maturation with a very high ceiling, Maybin showed the most pure upfield burst of any pass rusher in this draft and possesses immense natural athletic ability to line up in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 front. Might not provide instant returns, but if he learns to handle the extra weight, picks up on the mental aspects of the game and refines his pass-rush ability, he could be a force.

Grade: First-round talent.

3. DRE-OLB Everette Brown, #99 (junior)

(6-1½, 256, 4.66) Florida State

Notes: Redshirted in 2005. Appeared in 13 games in ’06, starting three (Rice, North Carolina State, Duke) because of an injury to another lineman. Made 27 tackles, 13½ for loss and three sacks. Also blocked a FG attempt. Started 9-of-13 games at left end in ’07, registering 37-11½-6½. Also had three passes batted down and one forced fumble. Led the ACC in sacks and tackles for loss in ’08, starting all 13 games at right end and notching 36-21½-13½ with two passes batted down and four forced fumbles.

Positives: Explosive off the ball. Times up the snap, has a long first step and can overwhelm blockers with his initial burst. Very athletic and displays flexibility and body control to execute a variety of pass-rush moves proficiently. Wields a devastating spin move. Is effective looping and stunting and has too much speed for guards. Uses his hands well to push, pull, tug and club past defenders. Showed nice agility in LB drills at the Combine. Strong work ethic and solid character. Excellent production. Big upside.

Negatives: Lacks ideal height and does not play strong against the run. Lacks bulk strength and can do a better job consistently stacking the corner. Often times feasted on tackles in space and most of his production came against inferior competition. Ability to drop off the line into coverage is a bit of a question mark, as he was not asked to do so much in college.

Summary: Possesses a physical skill set to intrigue 4-3 teams as a right end or 3-4 teams as a rush linebacker. Showed up surprisingly shorter at the Combine than many teams expected and might not have the length desired in a prototypical rush linebacker but still boasts elite first step quickness, natural pass-rush ability and pure speed to consistently bend the edge at the next level.

Grade: First-round talent.

4. DE-DT-OLB Robert Ayers, #91

(6-3 1⁄8, 272, 4.82) Tennessee

Notes: Also ran track (100 meters, 4x100-meter relay) as a prep. Redshirted in 2004. Was arrested in April ’05 and charged with aggravated assault following an on-campus fight with fraternity members. Ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was placed on judicial diversion. Was suspended for the first two games of the season but saw action in nine contests and was credited with five tackles and a sack. Played in 13 games in ’06, starting the final two regular-season contests (Vanderbilt, Kentucky) at right end. Recorded 25 tackles, three for loss and a sack with a pass batted down on the season. Appeared in all 14 games in ’07, collecting 34-12-4 with a pair of batted passes. Ayers did not take well to coaching as a young player, according to former head coach Phillip Fulmer, who said, “When Robert got (to Tennessee), he thought he was God’s gift to football.” Reportedly matured as a veteran player and broke out in ’08, starting all 12 games at right end and amassing 49-15½-3 to go along with an interception. Team captain.

Positives: Has a frame to hold 290 pounds. Naturally athletic with natural raw strength to rush with power. Locks out and can control the edge. Crashes hard inside, runs to the ball and plays hard. Showed well against top competition — gave Alabama OT Andre Smith fits and got the better of Mississippi OT Michael Oher in one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl. Plays with balance and gives consistent effort pursuing the ball. Good short-area quickness and agility. Consistently plays behind the line of scrimmage. Great versatility — occasionally stood up and has lined up as a three-technique when not rushing from his customary DE position.

Negatives: Not an elite athlete. Average instincts — can be late to find the ball. Did not emerge until his senior season. Can be undisciplined and lose contain. Not an accomplished pass rusher or creative sack artist and only has eight career sacks. Only bench-pressed 225 pounds 18 times at the Combine.

Summary: Could be a solid base 4-3 left end or stand up as a 3-4 rush linebacker. Possesses a workable frame to bulk up and move inside or contribute as an inside nickel rusher, given his size, balance and short-area quickness. Tremendous versatility and ability to play anywhere along the line will push up his value, but Ayers is still raw and does not possess elite physical traits to plug in and play right away.

Grade: Borderline first-round talent.

5. DRE-OLB-PRS Michael Johnson, #93

(6-6 7⁄8, 266, 4.69) Georgia Tech

Notes: Also lettered in basketball as a prep. Appeared in 11 games as a true freshman in 2005, making six tackles, one for loss and a sack with a forced fumble. Missed the first two games in ’06 (hernia surgery) but played 12 games (one start), registering 34-6-5 to go along with two passes batted down and three forced fumbles. Had his left knee scoped in January ’07 before having arthroscopy performed on his left hip in April. Then underwent surgery to repair muscles torn from his pubic bone and was unable to work out during the summer leading up to ’07, a season in which he appeared in all 13 games, starting the Orange Bowl when Adamm Oliver was injured. Posted 21-6-4 with two passes batted down, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and two blocked kicks, including a potential game-winning FG attempt by North Carolina as time expired. Johnson yielded starts to Oliver and Darrell Robertson for two years, playing primarily in passing situations. In ’08, started all 13 games and amassed 46-17½-9 with seven passes batted down, one interception, three forced fumbles and one blocked kick.

Positives: Gains an advantage off the snap with tremendous burst off the edge and long first step. Has long arms with a wingspan like a condor. Is able to knock balls down and disrupt the quarterback’s vision. Very naturally athletic and looks and moves like a power forward. Has made an impact on special teams and possesses rare length and elevation to block kicks. Bench-pressed 225 pounds 28 times at the Combine and posted a 38½-inch vertical jump. Solid character.

Negatives: Too tall, struggles to sink his hips and hold his ground against the run. Does not show a desire to play the run and can be blown off the line. Packed it in against better competition. Not a finisher. Has an angular, elongated body and has had trouble gaining weight. Was used as a situational pass rusher his first three years and did not become a starter until his senior season. Suspect stamina — wore down from playing on special teams early in the season and may struggle to sustain a 16-game season. Has a soft football temperament. Durability is a big question given serious injury history and linear frame.

Summary: Johnson’s physical gifts and pass-rush ability never have been questioned, but huge questions remain about his desire, durability and inability to defend the run on every down. A team blinded by his natural pass-rush ability could pull the trigger in the first round with the intention of using him on third downs from Day One, but Johnson could struggle to be more than a situational pass rusher. Might warrant interest as a rush linebacker.

Grade: Second- to third-round talent.

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And that's why I love Aaron Maybin, or some parts of why I do.

I think he could be a DeMarcus Ware type of player in the 3-4 if he gets drafted into it, and if he doesn't land with us I hope he does.

However he could be a very, very good RDE in a 4-3 base. Very similar to a young John Abraham, but has the potential to be a 3 down DE since he is better against the run then Abraham.

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