Combine Recap - DEs, and How it Might Shape the Panthers' Draft

Melvin Ingram is all smiles after his impressive showing at the Combine. Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

In what might be considered the 'underdog' position when the Panthers first-round pick rolls around in late April, this group of defensive ends was still very impressive, but ultimately may have been overshadowed by several spectacular performances by LBs and DTs.

The DEs were not without their stand-outs however, and the Panthers will have a hard time ignoring the pass rushing potential in guys like Quinton Coples, Melvin Ingram, Cam Johnson and Nick Perry.

There is no denying that the Panthers need to improve their pass rush. Sure, there are some intriguing prospects who will be available later in the draft, but if the Panthers are considering taking a defensive end with their ninth overall pick, we need not look any further than Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram.

In an attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff: let's take a deeper look at Coples and Ingram by comparing their Combine performances, their on-the-field performance and finally we'll examine a couple of credible scouting reports...after the jump...

The Combine

Quinton Coples, 6-foot-6, 285lbs.

4.78 40-yard dash, 25 reps at 225lbs, 31.5" vertical leap, 7.57 three-cone, 4.78 shuttle and a 9'1" broad-jump.

Melvin Ingram, 6-foot-1, 264:

4.79 40-yard dash, 28 reps at 225lbs, 34.5" vertical leap, 6.83 three cone, 4.18 shuttle and a 9'1" broad-jump.

After comparing the numbers, it would be hard to argue that Ingram isn't the better athlete. He at least has the better fast-twitch explosion that is coveted in a pass rusher. Ingram toasted Coples in the vertical, three-cone and the shuttle, and did three more reps on the bench press, despite being 20 pounds lighter.

Seven-tenths of a second on the three-cone drill is huge, and six-tenths of a second on the shuttle is an even wider gap, percentage-wise. Was Coples not going full speed (such has been his biggest 'knock'), or is Ingram simply a superior athlete? Ingram is more compact, being four-plus inches shorter than Coples. That helps him get through the agility drills faster, but does not explain his superior leaping ability or his extra reps on the bench.

It's one thing to look at the measurables, but after watching both players go through the bag drills, it's clear that Ingram was indeed quicker, stronger, and more agile. Although his choice of footwear was questionable, it was easy to see that Ingram had tremendous footwork and change of direction ability. Now, if you only evaluate the Combine results while assembling your draft boards, from the sound of it, Ingram would be a top-5 pick and Coples might slide into the second round...But be cautious, as Combine stand-outs with a mixed bag of tape have cost many NFL general managers their jobs.

On-field Production:

Coples, in 2010, recorded 59 tackles, including 15.5 for a loss and 10.0 sacks. In 2011, Coples stats were not quite as impressive, recording 51 tackles, 13 for a loss with 7.5 sacks. 4.0 of those 7.5 sacks came against James Madison and Duke, but it also must be noted that he spent much of the season playing DT.

In watching the tape, you can see that Coples has some natural pass rushing ability. He also has excellent height and weight for a DE. Combine that with his production (17.5 sacks the last two seasons) and you can see why he is tabbed as a top-10 pick. The questions he has to answer are about his work ethic and his motor. And he'd be wise to address those during his March and April visits with teams, because we have seen players take a monumental nose-dive if questions remain about effort, work ethic, motor, etc.

As Panthers fans, we should look no further than to Julius Peppers for a cautionary tale about a lack of effort.

Ingram, in 2010, only made 28 tackles, but racked up 9.0 sacks and 11 tackles for loss despite only starting one game. As a full-time starter in 2011, Ingram recorded 48 tackles, 15 of those for a loss, and 10.0 sacks.

After watching a bit more of Ingram, his quickness, agility and power really show through. He understands how to stack and shed a block to make tackles in the running game. He has a good rip move and can counter if he is initially stymied. But after watching as much as I could, I'm left wanting more because some of the time, he completely disappears. There were entire games where you'd not hear his name or see him make a tackle. It was no coincidence that in those games the opponent had an elite tackle. At other times, Ingram was making plays all over the place, lining up at OLB, DE and DT. There are people, especially after the Combine, who will be drawn to Ingram, but questions about his ability to consistently beat NFL tackles remain.

As Panthers fans, we should look no further than to Eric Norwood for a cautionary tale about an undersized DE from USC. (Yes, Ingram has 10-12 pounds on Norwood.)

What they're saying about Coples:

Rob Rang, CBS Sports...

Pass rush: Good burst off the snap, but his speed and flexibility to dip and rip around the edge as a traditional right defensive end isn't certain. Powerful. Has an excellent bull rush and uses his long arms to keep offensive linemen away from his body to dictate the action. Doesn't possess elite lateral agility or closing speed, but gains ground quickly because of his length. Is a strong drag-down tackler capable of pulling down the quarterback while still engaged with a blocker. Uses his hands well. Features a strong rip move, good swim and anticipation of the cut block, showing the quick hands, feet and balance to sprawl. Alert defender who will get his hands up to cloud passing lanes.

Run defense: Lacks the bulk teams are looking for in a three-down defensive tackle. Comes off the snap high but has excellent strength to quickly stand up his opponent. Good hand placement and upper-body strength to stack and shed blocks. Can swim inside, get skinny and beat doubles. Has enough lateral agility and length that running backs can't escape when he's near. Funnels action to teammates. Good lateral agility and balance to play the keys and pursue laterally.

Scouts, Inc...

Pass Rush: Displays elite initial quickness and lateral agility for his size. Works versus some version of double team attention nearly every down and still very productive as a pass rusher. Shows very good awareness as a pass rusher. Also does a nice job of mixing up his pass rush moves to keep OL guessing. Still mastering his hand usage (especially as a first-year DT in 2010) but his hands are quick, powerful and violent (sack of former Florida State QB Christian Ponder in 2010 is a great example of his upside in that department).

Run defense: Still learning to play with more consistent leverage. But he has quick feet to establish initial positioning and he displays a powerful upper body. Uses long arms and upper body strength to keep blockers away from his pads. Does a great job shedding blocks and has adequate-to-good awareness when it comes to locating the ball at this point.

What they're saying about Ingram:

Chad Router, CBS Sports...

Pass rush: Flashes the closing speed, hustle, and quick hands to beat tackles on the edge. Also fakes outside rush, cuts to inside lane with hands and quickness for direct path. Lines up inside in passing situations, uses quickness to get under pads of guards. Spins off blocks to reach quarterbacks stepping up into the pocket or trying to run. Runs through tight ends with leverage and strength. Gets most sacks on secondary rushes, lacks elite quickness to win initial battle against better linemen. Occasionally displays flexibility to turn the corner. Flashes good agility and change of direction when staying in front of ballcarriers in space and dropping into zone coverage. Must prove he can stay with running backs in the flat when at linebacker.

Run defense: Uses low center of gravity and thick upper body to play with leverage against the run game. Holds his ground well whether lined up with his hand down or standing up. Can split double team to penetrate and make the tackle. Often spins off to reach ballcarriers running to either side instead of shock-and-shed on the edge. Most tight ends will not handle him one-on-one.

Scouts, Inc...

Pass rush: First-step quickness is a notch below elite. A bit inconsistent with snap awareness. Shows above average body control and torso flexibility. Good athletic ability and change-of-direction skills for his size (see double move for sack 6:22 remaining 4th QTR vs. ALA 2010). Displays excellent closing burst to the QB, particularly for a 270-pound athlete. Shows ability to turn speed into power. Still developing instincts as a pass rusher. Often times he will win with first-step quickness or knock OL back on heels with initial pop, but then fails to capitalize. Needs to become more decisive and confident with counter moves.

Run defense: Has more game experience on passing downs but flashes upside in this area. Uses his leverage effectively and is a bit stronger at the point of attack than expected. Flashes the ability to anchor versus the double team. Also does a nice job of keeping his feet moving versus the zone run. Shows above average discipline and works hard to maintain outside contain. Has very good range versus the run. Can really turn on the jets when pursuing from the backside. He can improve his tackling skills. Awareness is adequate but can still improve. Flashes some power at the point of attack but leaves his feet and will fall off too many attempted tackles.

In closing,even with the questions about these two players, most publications now have Coples and Ingram in the latter portion of the top-10--right where the Carolina Panthers find themselves. Everyone will have their own opinion about these two guys, but let's have a nice, civil discussion about the merits (or demerits) of drafting either Quinton Coples or Melvin Ingram with the 9th overall pick.

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