Potential is a dangerous word.
The 2013 NFL draft is filled with defensive linemen that are loaded with raw abilities, but they have just as much of a chance to bust as they do to become the next Aldon Smith.
Last year, the Seattle Seahawks hit a home run with defensive end Bruce Irvin, the No. 15 overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft. Irvin wasn't considered by most experts to be worthy of a first-round pick, but his raw abilities were good enough to generate eight sacks and one forced fumble in limited action.
The Kansas City Chiefs took an equal gamble on defensive tackle Dontari Poe—a universally regarded workout warrior who many experts thought could be a high pick—selecting him with the No. 11 overall pick in last year's draft.
Poe struggled mightily in his rookie season, and the jury is still out on whether or not he'll end up being worth the high pick Kansas City spent on him.
This year, Dion Jordan, Barkevious Mingo and Ezekiel Ansah are being viewed as the biggest boom-or-bust pass-rushers in the 2013 draft class. With this in mind, we'll take a look at which teams give these potential game-changing defenders the best chance to succeed.
Dion Jordan, 3-4 OLB
If I had to pick Jordan or Mingo to fill one roster spot, I'd choose Jordan.
He may not be quite as fast as Mingo, but he shoots off the line like a rocket and he has more strength and moves to get to passers.
At 6'7" and 243 pounds, Jordan began his career at Oregon as a tight end before being moved to the defensive side of the ball. He struggled through a painful shoulder injury in 2012 but still managed to get five sacks and 10.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Jordan's frame could easily hold another 15-20 pounds of muscle, and he has the size and athleticism to become a dominant pass-rusher in the NFL.
He could be drafted early in Round 1.
- Cleveland Browns (No. 6): The Browns will be switching to a 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Ray Horton. He'll need another pass-rusher to play opposite Jabaal Sheard, and Jordan could challenge for that spot from Day 1.
- New York Jets (No. 9): With Calvin Pace reportedly leaving as a cap casualty (h/t Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News), the Jets will need to bring in pass-rushers that can play in space.
Barkevious Mingo, 3-4 OLB
If you're like me and you read every mock draft you come across, then you've seen Mingo mocked anywhere from a top-five pick to someone not even mentioned in the first round.
There's no doubt Mingo has the athleticism and speed NFL teams covet on the edge. I'll be shocked if he doesn't register somewhere around a 4.50-second 40-yard-dash time when the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off later in February.
The biggest problem I have with Mingo is that he is a one-trick pony at this point in his career. He can get around big, slow tackles on the outside, but he'll be stymied by the left tackles the NFL has to offer—guys who will simply run him out of the play and allow their quarterbacks to step up into the pocket.
That said, his raw athleticism and speed will likely land him in the middle of the first round.
- New Orleans Saints (No. 15): Mingo would be able to fight for a starting role in Rob Ryan's 3-4 scheme with the Saints in 2013. The roster isn't currently stacked with players who can play in space.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 17): James Harrison might not be back with the Steelers in 2013, and even if he is, the Steelers desperately need to add young pass-rushers.
Ezekiel Ansah, 4-3 DE
A lot of folks have tried to compare Ansah to Jason Pierre-Paul, but the only real truth to this comparison is that both players have raw skills. Pierre-Paul is much more of an athletic freak than Ansah, but that doesn't mean Ansah can't get to the passer at the next level.
The hype surrounding this young man before the Senior Bowl was getting out of control. Then, he really struggled all week long in practice before busting out with one of the most impressive performances of any player during the game on Saturday.
Ansah only logged 4.5 sacks in three years with BYU. To say he's raw doesn't really explain what teams are faced with when thinking about drafting him. Not only is he a raw prospect who needs to be trained from the ground up, but he also doesn't have much experience, either.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. The team that drafts him will be able to mold him like a piece of clay, and if he comes out of the fire without any cracks, Ansah will be a dominant player in the NFL.
- Tennessee Titans (No. 10): The Titans struggled against the pass last year, and adding a pass-rusher to the mix would greatly increase the team's chances of playing well on the back end.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 13): The Bucs only managed to sack opposing quarterbacks 27 times in 2012, which was one of the worst marks in the NFL. Adding a pass-rusher is a necessity in 2013.
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