by Dan Pompei
March 25, 02012
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This draft class features a healthy group of players who could be considered as 4-3 defensive ends or 3-4 outside linebackers. The tricky part is identifying which players suit which defenses best. I asked several front office men about the players who are strong possibilities for both positions. Here are some of their thoughts.
ICONAlabama's Courtney Upshaw.
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama: Multiple scouts said they believe the 6-1, 272 pounder can play outside linebacker or defensive end. Upshaw plays with fine power and leverage. One scout said you wouldn’t want to make a living dropping him, however.
Andre Branch, Clemson: At 6-4, 259, Branch has the athleticism to stand up. He can bend, turn and burst to get to the passer. He is similar to Whitney Mercilus, except not quite as dynamic. However, instincts could hold him back at OLB, according to one front office man.
Vinny Curry, Marshall: Physically, there is no doubt the 6-3, 266 pounder can play linebacker in a 3-4. He explodes off the edge and can get under blocks. Curry has speed and is a natural pass rusher. The only issue, according to multiple scouts, is whether or not he can learn a new position and master it.
Melvin Ingram, South Carolina: He moved around a lot in college and has experience playing OLB, but NFL teams have struggled finding a position for him in the pros. At 6-1, 264, Ingram may be too short and compact for outside linebacker. He has 31 ½ inch arms. That’s trouble. “Big tackles and tight ends will be able to get their hands on him, and then he’s done,” one personnel man said.
Bruce Irvin, West Virginia: The fear is that at 245 pounds, Irvin isn’t big enough to put his hand in the dirt, and he doesn’t have the understanding of the game to play outside linebacker. Coaches will have a hard time trusting him as an outside linebacker, but it may be the only thing he can do.
Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma: He played some outside linebacker in college, but he didn’t do it well. Some NFL teams believe the 6-2, 253 pound Lewis is best suited to play defensive end, where his athleticism, quickness and explosion is more evident.
Brandon Lindsey, Pittsburgh: One veteran front office man said he believes his best position would be defensive end, but there is a chance the 6-1, 254 pounder could play outside linebacker. He lacks ideal length for the position.
Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy: At 6-2, 254, he has everything physically to play outside linebacker. Massaquoi knows how to use leverage and strength. There is a question on whether or not he has the instincts to play off the line, however.
Shea McClellin, Boise State: He is one of the best 3-4 outside linebacker prospects in the draft. He played all over in college, but he can definitely rush the passer standing up, and drop when necessary. He has drawn comparisons to Mike Vrabel.
Whitney Mercilus, Illinois: He has looked outstanding in outside linebacker positional drills and is a special athlete. Mercilus is a complete package who can play either outside linebacker or defensive end, assuming he can hold his weight.
Nick Perry, Southern Cal: He showed his athleticism at the combine. This is a pure pass rusher from a three point stance or two point stance. At 6-3, 271, he is built more like a defensive end, however.
Jacquies Smith, Missouri: At 6-2, 253, Smith may be too small and not powerful enough for defensive end according to some teams. He has some experience standing up, but he is not the most explosive pass rusher.
Dan Pompei covers pro football for the Chicago Tribune
Follow Pompei on Twitter: @danpompei