Tuesday, April 17, 2007

NFL Draft Preview: Defensive End

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

After spending the past few seasons attempting to find a permanent starter to line up opposite Leonard Little, the Rams hope they found their answer in the offseason when they traded for Detroit’s James Hall.

When the Rams sent a fifth-round choice to the Lions for Hall, they immediately plugged him in as the possible starter next to Little. While Hall has battled injury issues, he has proved to be talented and capable when healthy.

If nothing else, Hall instantly improves the team’s depth at a position that has sorely needed it in the past few years. Of course, the Rams could have been in serious trouble at the position had they not made the move to re-sign Little to an extension in the middle of last season.

Little rewarded the team with one of his best seasons, racking up 12 sacks and continuing to be one of the league’s best pass rushers. But aside from Little’s performance, the team got little in the way of a pass rusher from the end spot.

In fact, the rest of the ends on the roster combined for just 2.5 sacks. Last year’s original starter Anthony Hargrove was shipped to Buffalo for a fifth-round pick early in the season. Rookie Victor Adeyanju showed promise, particularly against the run, but was slowed by an injury. And Brandon Green and Eric Moore were unable to provide a consistent pass rush.

For now, it appears Little, Adeyanju and Hall will definitely be in the mix next season, but the Rams would be well served to find another young, pass rusher for the rotation. When Little signed his contract extension, he made it clear he would likely be his final NFL contract.

So finding an end in the NFL Draft could serve the dual purpose of boosting the pass rush immediately and providing the Rams with a long term replacement for Little. Fortunately for the Rams, this year’s draft is loaded with talented pass rushers. There are as many as seven potential first round ends on the board and plenty more that should be available on the first day.

While the Rams need the most help at defensive tackle and would likely look to fill that void first, but if the top players there are gone, it’s conceivable the team could look to bolster the pass rush with the No. 13 overall pick.

Leading that group is Clemson’s Gaines Adams. Adams is a dominant pass rusher with tremendous speed and isn’t likely to make it out of the top 10. Behind Adams is a group that includes Arkansas’ Jamaal Anderson, Nebraska’s Adam Carriker, Florida’s Jarvis Moss, Purdue’s Anthony Spencer and Georgia’s Charles Johnson.

It’s possible that any or all of those names could be available to the Rams when they choose in the first round. The Rams have definite interest in Anderson and Carriker and either would make a lot of sense as a three-down end in the Rams’ 4-3 scheme.

Players such as Moss and Johnson are considered ‘tweeners, but Little was once a ‘tweener too and now he’s one of the league’s best pass rushers.

Should the team eschew grabbing an end in the first round, there are plenty of possibilities later in the draft. Texas’ Tim Crowder and Brian Robison along with Ikaika Alama-Francis would make sense late on the first day or early on the second.

One way or another, expect the Rams to bring on at least one more end to provide some depth and a future for the position.

The Top Defensive Ends

1. Gaines Adams, Clemson – The best pure pass rusher in the draft. Adams has speed to burn off the edge and all of the necessary moves to get by any tackle.

2. Jamaal Anderson, Arkansas – A better all-around end than Gaines, Anderson is bigger and stronger, but doesn’t rush the passer quite as well as Adams.

3. Adam Carriker, Nebraska – A huge, tough guy with the ability to play end or tackle in any defense. Carriker is terrific against the run and solid as a pass rusher.

4. Jarvis Moss, Florida – Another pure pass rusher in the mold of DeMarcus Ware. Could be a 3-4 linebacker or a speedy pass rusher who gets bigger in time a la Leonard Little.

5. Anthony Spencer, Purdue – Another strong pass rusher, who isn’t as bad against the run as some would like to believe.

Sleeper: Ikaika Alama-Francis, Hawaii – Maybe because he played at Hawaii, Alama-Francis was overlooked for most of his college career. But he has the ability to step in and make an impact sooner than later as a solid three-down end.

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