*Note: Gaines Adams isn't included because we're focusing on 3-4 DE/OLB hybrids that the Patriots might be interested in. Adams is clearly the top rated defensive end in this class but he could go as early as No. 2 to the Lions and probably no further than No. 6 to the Redskins, so the chances of him coming to New England are extremely remote. Also, defensive ends like Florida's Ray McDonald and Georgia's Charles Johnson are both good players but strictly 4-3 ends in our opinion. For that reason, we didn't include them in this group either, so we could spend more time focusing on guys that are more likely to wind up as Patriots on draft day. *
Best of the Bunch
LaMarr Woodley, Michigan (6-1, 268)
Strengths:Woodley has tremendous quickness off the ball. He has experience standing up as an outside linebacker but was more productive as a senior playing with his hand down at defensive end. Woodley is relentless when it comes to getting to the quarterback. He looks like he's shot out of a cannon when the ball is snapped and doesn't give up until the play is over. Woodley blows by bigger tackles with his speed off the edge but he also has good power on inside pass rushing moves. He has a motor that never stop and keeps fighting even when double-teamed. Woodley sets the edge well against the run, ending his career at Michigan with 48.5 tackles for a loss. There's no question that Woodley is one of the best pure pass rushers available in this draft.
Weaknesses: Some question where Woodley will play in the NFL, Regardless of where he lines up, Woodley showed that he's an animal getting after the quarterback in college. While he has experience playing linebacker, Woodley was much more productive as a defensive end. The people I've talked to say Woodley doesn't have the instincts or coverage ability to play linebacker in the 3-4. There are some concerns about his size but it didn't effective him much last year at Michigan. Also, how many times does Rosevelt Colvin drop back in coverage? I know he's asked to do it sometimes but during the course of a game, his primary job is to rush the passer. In my opinion, Woodley isn't as versatile as Mike Vrabel (few players are) but he certainly can come in and do everything Colvin does on the Patriots defense.
Overall: I think Woodley is one of the best "football players" in the draft and will be a future stud at the pro level. I keep hearing about his size and questions about where he's going to play in the NFL but when you watch him on tape, he's a monster that does a lot of things well. Both Mike Mayock and Mel Kiper told us emphatically that Woodley can't play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. However, his style of play is very similar to a guy the Patriots just paid a lot of money to acquire this offseason. Woodley is a tremendous athlete, versatile, extremely quick and works his tail off. When you're talking about value at the end of Round 1, there will be very few, if any, players left on the board more talented than Woodley. Whether or not he's a good fit for the Patriots is up to Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli. If they decide he is, Woodley could be a pass rushing terror on New England's defense for years to come.
Draft Projection: Late-first round
Adam Carriker, Nebraska (6-6, 296)
Strengths: A big, strong end who is quick for his size. Carriker is a powerful player and he uses that strength to push offensive linemen into the backfield. He's probably the best run-stuffing end in this draft. Carriker is really good at shedding blockers and making a play on the ball carrier. He's a versatile guy who can play both end and tackle, especially in a 3-4 defense. Carriker is a leader on the field and possesses all the intangibles to succeed at the next level.
Weaknesses: Carriker is probably best suited as a 3-4 defensive end because he's so stout against the run. He did have 20.5 sacks during his career at Nebraska, so he's no slouch at sacking the quarterback either. However, Carriker doesn't have the blazing speed off the edge like Woodley or Jarvis Moss, players who are natural pass rushers. He'll need to develop some more pass rushing moves in the NFL because he won't be able to just use his strength to overpower linemen like he did in college.
Overall: Carriker is a very solid pro prospect. He has very few holes in his game and was a steady performer throughout his collegiate career. He's probably not going to come in and register double-digit sacks every year, but then again neither does Richard Seymour. Actually, Carriker resembles Seymour in a lot of ways. He won't get to the quarterback all the time but Carriker holds up very well against the run and does a lot of little things to make the defense he's on better. I don't think Carriker can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 because he doesn't have the speed to be effective in space, but his overall skills are impressive.
Draft Projection: First round
Anthony Spencer, Purdue (6-3, 264)
Strengths: Spencer is a physical end who really holds up well against the run. He has a lot of power in his legs and is able to drive blockers back, discard them and make a play on the ball carrier. Spencer had 26.5 tackles for a loss last year, so he makes a lot of plays in the opponent's backfield. He's extremely quick off the ball and is a polished pass rusher. Spencer has a lot of different moves that allows him to put heat on the quarterback. He has some experience dropping back into coverage, something not all the defensive ends in this class can say.
Weaknesses: Spencer really only had one great season at Purdue. That's kind of a good news bad news thing for the team that drafts him. Either Spencer is just peaking and will only get better in the NFL or he had one fluke season and could be a bust. I'm on the side that says he's just peaking because he appears to have the total package on the field. While he did drop back in coverage at times in college, that's obviously an area he'll need to improve on if he plays outside linebacker in the 3-4. Still, there is a lot to like about this kid.
Overall: I really like Spencer's game and have him right there in the mix with the other top defensive ends in this class. I also think he could be the best fit as a 3-4 linebacker for the Patriots out of this group. Spencer plays the run well, can get after the quarterback and has the ability to drop in coverage. He brings a lot to the table and can do many different things for a defense. Spencer is a very impressive prospect who can play either defensive end or linebacker in the NFL and it appears that he has yet to reach his potential. All those factors will likely land Spencer in the first round of this year's draft.
Draft Projection: Late-first round
Jarvis Moss, Florida (6-6, 250)
Strengths: Moss is lightning fast off the edge and probably has the best straight-line speed of any end in this draft. He has good pass rushing skills and once he gets by a tackle the quarterback has no chance because of Moss' speed. He also has great leaping ability, which makes him a kick-blocking threat on field goal attempts. Moss hasn't reached his full potential yet, so he has a lot of upside and could become one of the best pass rushers in the NFL with the proper coaching.
Weaknesses: While Moss has a lot of physical ability, there are also some red flags with him. Everyone remembers Moss terrorizing Troy Smith in the National Championship Game but he only had 7.5 sacks on the season. That's a low number for a player with his talent. Moss missed two years with a pelvic injury that turned into a staph infection. While he's fully recovered know, it was a very serious injury that almost forced him to quit the game. Moss has trouble with bigger blockers who get their hands on him before he can beat them with his quickness. He also doesn't provide much versus the run.
Overall: Moss doesn't have the overall game that Woodley, Carriker and Spencer do but he does have upside. He's a little thin and needs to get stronger because he won't be able to just rely on speed at the next level. In my opinion, Moss is a 4-3 defensive end. People say Woodley can't cover but he's very stout against the run. Moss can't cover and is a liability against the run, so I don't see him being a great fit for the Patriots. At worst, Moss will be a situational pass rusher in the NFL with the upside to become a Dwight Freeney-kind of player if he gets stronger and adds some weight. However, that will most likely be with a team that runs a 4-3 defense, not a 3-4 in my opinion.
Draft Projection: First round
Quentin Moses, Georgia (6-5, 262) – Remember when Moses was considered a possible first round draft choice? That seems like a long time ago. After watching Moses on tape, he'll be lucky to get drafted on the first day. Other than his quickness off the edge, there isn't anything I like about Moses. He gets manhandled by bigger tackles and doesn't show a lot of pass rushing skills. Moses is in trouble if he doesn't beat his man off the ball with his initial burst. He needs to get a lot stronger if he wants to succeed in the NFL because right now Moses is finished once a lineman engages him.
I really enjoyed talking with Moses at the Combine and he seems like a nice kid. However, he's extremely raw right now and has a long way to go before becoming a factor in the NFL. Technique and strength are the two things Moses really needs to work on once he gets to the pros. He'll probably get selected in Round 2 but don't be surprised if Moses drops into the third round on draft day. He's basically a poor man's Jarvis Moss.
Victor Abiamiri, Notre Dame (6-4, 268) – Abiamiri is more of an athlete than a football player right now. He does have potential and physical ability but he's far from a polished player at this point in his career. A physical specimen, Abiamiri isn't as dominating on the field as his measurables suggest he should be. He struggles to get off blocks and isn't that explosive off the edge.
The biggest problem I have with Abiamiri is that he gets blocked way too easily. Once an offensive lineman gets their hands on Abiamiri, they have very little trouble moving him out of the play. Abiamiri does have potential to get better in the future but I don't see him ever being a dominant player in the NFL. Currently, he just has too many holes in his game.
Dan Bazuin, Central Michigan (6-3, 266) – Bazuin is a smart player who possesses a nice swim move but I'm concerned about his overall quickness and athleticism. He doesn't have a great burst coming off the edge and looked a little slow in pursuit. Keep in mind that was primarily against players from the MAC too. I think Bazuin could end up being a productive pro player in the NFL, just not in a 3-4 scheme like some people are suggesting. He doesn't change direction well in space and has trouble getting off blocks away from the line of scrimmage.
Also, his production dropped after an amazing junior year. Watching games from last season, he just didn't look as explosive and didn't dominate to the level he did the year before. Bazuin is a solid mid-round prospect but not every single 'tweener has the ability to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. In my opinion, Bazuin is one of those players.
Jay Moore, Nebraska (6-4, 274) – Moore is an intriguing prospect because he's expected to go in the fourth or fifth round area. If the Patriots don't select an outside linebacker early in the draft, that's a spot where they could be looking to pick up a project that they can develop over the next couple of years. Moore isn't a premier player by any means but he's a hard worker who is coachable.
On tape, Moore was very active and always seemed to be around the football. He's good in pursuit and shedding blockers. Moore is quick getting to the quarterback off the edge and his versatility to play different positions on defense adds to his value. The other thing I like about Moore is his toughness. He's a physical player who doesn't mind mixing it up in the trenches.
Moore wasn't overly productive at Nebraska (12 sacks in three years) but he does show potential to make the switch to outside linebacker in the 3-4 because of his intelligence and feel for the game. If he's still on the board in Round 5, I think Moore would be a nice pick for the Patriots because as he can become a solid player down the road.
Victor DeGrate, Oklahoma State (6-2, 250) – If you're looking for a late-round project along the lines of Tully Banta-Cain, keep an eye on DeGrate. After a slow start to his college career, DeGrate recorded 24.5 tackles for a loss and 14.5 sacks over his final two seasons with the Cowboys. Because of his size, DeGrate will almost certainly have to make the transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker in the pros, much like Banta-Cain did. DeGrate is extremely quick and has the speed to chase ball carriers down in the open field. However, he's raw, needs to get stronger and put on more weight. There's no question DeGrate is a project but that's what a team is getting in the seventh round or as an undrafted free agent.
Woodley – A tremendous football player with a motor that never stops. No one really thinks Woodley would be a good fit in New England but a coach like Belichick could do wonders with a player of his ability. If the Patriots do decide to select Woodley in the first round, I not only think it would be a tremendous steal, but they would also be getting one of the best defensive football players in this draft. With Woodley, Colvin and Adalius Thomas rushing from the edge, Peyton Manning would have a lot of sleepless nights.
Spencer – Spencer is a very good all-around player who is probably the best fit for a 3-4 defense out of all the highly regarded defensive ends. He's extremely strong and really plays the run well. Spencer is also a polished pass rusher who gets a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. A smart player, Spencer could come in right away and contribute on the Patriots defense.
Abiamiri – I don't love Abiamiri personally but if he falls to the third round, the Patriots could be a possibility. Right now Abiamiri is more of an athlete than a football player but if the right coach can hone his skills, he could become a productive NFL pass rusher. There's no better coach to take a tremendous athlete and get the most out of him than the one who roams the sidelines in New England.
Moore – A solid mid-round prospect, Moore appears to have the ability to play outside linebacker in the 3-4. He'll probably never be a Pro Bowler but Moore has the intelligence and instincts on the field to be a solid pro player. If the Patriots don't take an outside linebacker early on, Moore could be a target on Day 2.
DeGrate – A late-round project, DeGrate isn't going to come in and contribute right away. However, he does have the physical skills to get to the quarterback and make plays. You can't teach speed and quickness and DeGrate has plenty of that. Although, he needs to get better at defending the run before he's ready to contribute in the NFL.
Overall Position Analysis
This is an extremely deep and talented group of defensive ends. Gaines Adams (Clemson), Jamaal Anderson (Arkansas), Carriker, Woodley, Spencer and Moss could all wind up going in the first round. I'm not as high on Anderson as some people and think he's a bit overrated but nonetheless, that's an impressive list of playmaking ends. This class has depth after the first level of players as well. Abiamiri, Georgia's Charles Johnson and Quentin Moses, Florida's Ray McDonald, Hawaii's Ikaika Alama-Francis and Texas' Tim Crowder should al hear their names called on Day 1 of the draft. Bazuin, Moore, Baraka Atkins (Miami) and Justin Hickman (UCLA) are solid second day selections, while DeGrate and Missouri's Xzavie Jackson are attractive late-round projects. Overall, this is a talented class of defensive ends with quality prospects who can be productive in multiple defensive schemes.
For other position breakdowns go to:
Inside Linebackers: /search/index.cfm?ac=searchdetail&pid=24583&pcid=46&special_section=draft2007
Outside Linebackers: /search/index.cfm?ac=searchdetail&pid=24639&pcid=46&special_section=draft2007