NFL draft position preview: DE

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NFL draft position preview: DE
April 3, 2013, 11:00 am
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Sylvester Williams of UNC and Ezekial Ansah of BYU are two of the top DEs in this year's draft. (USA Today Images)

Going into draft, there is still some uncertainty about what the scheme the Eagles' defense is going to use. Coordinator Billy Davis has been pegged as a 3-4 guy, and there's been plenty of speculation that defensive ends Brandon Graham and Trent Cole are going to standing up as outside linebackers in 2013. But is Davis really a 3-4 guy? Or is he going to play the 4-3 Under that Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley had so much success with in Seattle?

I'm leaning toward the latter.

With that in mind, what kind of DE would the Eagles be seeking in the draft? The 4-3 Under usually calls for a DE whose primary role is run-stopping (the five-technique), and a DE or OLB whose primary role is rushing the passer (Davis called this the Predator in Arizona).

The Eagles already seem to have the personnel to fill the Predator role in Graham, Cole and possibly Connor Barwin. This player will be lining up a yard or two off the right tackle's outside shoulder and almost exclusively rush the passer. Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons filled that role in Seattle last season, and combined for 19 1/2 sacks.

The five-technique DE is another story though, as the Eagles may be searching for more options here. Cedric Thornton might be a solution, but he ultimately may be best suited as a backup to Fletcher Cox at the three-technique DT position (the interior pass rusher). Red Bryant plays the five-technique in Seattle, is exceptional at reading the run and, despite his enormous size, getting up the field as a pass rusher. I just don't see anyone on the Eagles roster who fits the bill at this position. Fortunately, the 2013 draft has a several players who could be available in the second round that the Eagles could tab as their five-technique DE.

Top five-technique defensive ends:

1. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
Williams is a big man (6-3/313) who played DT for the Tar Heels. While he's most likely slated for playing inside in the NFL, Williams has the explosion, strength and eyes to be an effective run-stuffing DE. He'll probably end up near the bottom of the first round but could slip into the top of the second.

2. Jesse Williams, Alabama
A native of Brisbane, Australia, Williams played both five-technique DE and NT for the Tide. He has the size (6-3/323), strength and athletic ability to play outside in this kind of alignment, with the versatility to slide to the nose. Nick Saban also used him as a lead blocker on short-yardage situations. With such a deep pool of defensive linemen in the draft, Williams may slide to the Eagles at No. 35.

3. Datone Jones, UCLA
Jones came on as a senior after a middling three seasons for the Bruins. He has the size (6-4/283) and strength to hold the edge but will need to work on getting off blocks more efficiently. He's quick enough to get some pressure as a pass rusher too. Jones fits the role to a tee, but picking him at No. 35 seems like a reach to me since his upside is a bit limited.

4. Margus Hunt, SMU
The former track star and Estonian national is a physical marvel. Despite his size (6-8/277), Hunt ran a 4.60-second 40 and benched 225 pounds 38 times at the NFL Combine. That's just scary. Having played football since only 2007, he is still raw, but the athleticism and size can't be taught, making him an intriguing prospect. This makes him a viable pick at No. 35.

5. William Gholston, Michigan State
After coming to Michigan State as a highly touted recruit, Gholston has shown flashes of being a star, but he too often disappears for long stretches. Can move fluidly, and uses his long arms to keep blockers off of him, but there's just something lacking there. If an NFL team thinks it can keep Gholston's pilot light on, his impressive build (6-6/281) and athletic ability make him an ideal five-technique DE. I wouldn't touch him until the third round though.

Top Predator defensive ends:

Like I said above, the Eagles seem set at this position, but depth never hurts.

1. Ezekial "Ziggy" Ansah, BYU
After giving track and basketball a try in Provo, Ansah, a native of Ghana, joined the football team in 2010. After two middling seasons learning the game, Ansah (6-5/271) broke out as a non-scholarship senior. Few players have more upside than Ansah, who is about as raw as they get. I wouldn't touch him in the top five, but some team is going fall in love with the athleticism and dream that it's drafting the next Jason Pierre-Paul.

2. Dion Jordan, Oregon
The only reason I don't have him at No. 1 is because I see him more as an OLB in this system, lined up over the TE. Jordan is exceptional in coverage but is just as dangerous rushing the passer. He'll need to bulk up a bit to hold up against the run, but he's the total package. I wouldn't be surprised if Kelly grabbed Jordan at No. 4.

3. Bjoern Werner, Florida State
Werner (6-3/266) doesn't wow me in any one facet of his game, but the German-born 2012 ACC Defensive Player of the Year is relentless in all facets of the game. Isn't the explosive athlete that Jordan or Ansah is, but he holds up better against the run and still has good bend and body control to turn the corner. Might be best suited as a traditional 4-3 end.

4. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
Like Jordan, I think Moore makes the most sense as an OLB lined up over the TE, but he could be a difference-maker if you just let him put his hand on the ground and tell him to get up the field. Moore had a rough postseason but probably not rough enough to slip to the second round.

5. Barkevious Mingo, LSU
There are few players who flash more athleticism than Mingo, but there are many who are more productive. That's the rub with the LSU star -- he looks great in everything he does from an athletic perspective, but the production just isn't there. Still, "KeKe" may have been misused at LSU as a down lineman. He could thrive in the NFL as a stand up OLB or designated pass rusher (Predator) in a 4-3 Under scheme. He'll be gone somewhere in the top 15.

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