Name: Kony Ealy
Stats: 43 tackles, 9 sacks
Projected Round: 1st
Before I move on, I think it's quite notable that Ealy had 9 sacks, but registered them all in 5 of his 14 games. That kind of production sends the red flags shooting up.
Name: Michael Sam
Position: OLB (played 4-3 DE in college but is too small)
Stats: 48 tackles, 11.5 sacks
Again, before I move on, it is notable that Sam registered all 11.5 sacks in only 6 games. If you look at the games that either Sam or Ealy got sacks in, you'll find that 3/5 games that Ealy registered a sack in Sam did as well. The reason I bring that up, is because red flags go off saying that these kids were just good college players, and could beat inferior offensive lines. But let's take a look.
The first game I'm going to look at is Missouri versus Florida. In this game Sam had 4 tackles and 3 sacks. Ealy had 4 tackles and 1 sack.
The absolute first thing I noticed was that Ealy seems very slow off the snap. He doesn't seem to be that athletic either. He doesn't have any real burst. As a result, he doesn't get consistent pressure. To me, it seemed like the majority of pressure he generated was when he was coming in untouched, or the quarterback held onto the ball too long. His only sack was when he was untouched. He also makes a dumb move by hitting the QB when the whistle blew for a false start. In the NFL that's going to be a 15 yard penalty. He got lucky it wasn't called here. He also seems to give up on plays that get beyond him.
Michael Sam on the other hand looked to have good burst. He was very fast coming around the edge, and was able to generate consistent pressure. He was able to keep his pads low, and beat the blocker at a odd angles, which indicates good balance. His closing speed was great as well. He plays athletic and active. However, he only seems to rely on his speed in order to generate pressure. It doesn't look like he's got any secondary moves. He needs to develop those in order to be an effective 3-4 LB in the NFL.
The next game I'm going to look at is Missouri against Vanderbilt. This game took place on October 5, 2013. In this game, Sam had 5 tackles and 3 sacks. Ealy had 2 tackles and 2 sacks.
In this game, Ealy displays a lot more. He gets consistent pressure. In doing so, he relies on his strength, speed, and quickness. He bowls over the tackle to get to the quarterback, he also comes around the edge, and shoots the gaps. He does display a tendency to rely too much on his power and to shoot gaps though. He also inflates his stats by getting another sack where he was untouched. However, he does display good pass rushing ability, and a solid burst. Despite this, he still doesn't have a great burst, and isn't an elite level pass rusher. He just doesn't get off the ball quick enough and he doesn't seem to flash the elite level athleticism. He is an okay athlete, for an NFL prospect, not an incredible athlete, like Clowney.
Michael Sam again displays a very good burst. He does a good job allowing plays flow to him and beating his blockers to stop ball carriers in the backfield. Despite his size, Missouri seems to favor Sam on running downs. He flashes the ability to take on and beat double teams. And again, he shows good closing speed. However, he doesn't seem to get consistent pressure, nor does he show the ability to consistently beat double teams, let alone single teams. He again, seems to rely on his speed too much. If a tackle or guard catches up to him, it's almost as if he's done.
The next game I'm going to look at is the bowl game this year against Oklahoma State. This game took place on January 3, 2014. Ealy had 6 tackles 2 sacks. Sam had 3 tackles 1 sack.
Again, Ealy plays much better than the first game. He flashes good speed. He can beat the tackle off the edge, he can use his quickness to beat the tackle inside. He can also use his strength to push past the tackle and disrupt the passing game. He seems to be very aware. He sniffs out draw plays at times, and is patient on plays that could be runs or passes. He doesn't overcommit himself all the time. However, he is still very aggressive, and does a little bit too much to try to generate pressure. Sometimes, he sacrifices in the run game to get pressure, allowing the running back to get free. He also needs to display better balance. He doesn't show an ability to beat an offensive lineman if he's contorted in an awkward position, which happens a lot in the NFL. Instead, he often finds himself on his back.
Michael Sam, on the other hand, continues to rely only on his speed. He still flashes great closing speed, and a solid burst. However, he is ultra aggressive. Every play he is trying to get to the Quarterback. Sometimes it helps in the run game, but more often than not, he will find himself out of position in the NFL. Nearly all of his sacks come off a speed rush. Sam needs to work on reading and reacting to plays, instead of just committing right away. He also needs to develop some secondary moves to be successful in the NFL.
The final game I'm going to look at is against Florida from 2012.
Through out all of the games, the one thing that is very clear about Ealy is that he plays smart. He reads plays and reacts. While he isn't an elite pass rusher, he does an incredible job of getting his hands up if he's not going to get to the QB. You'll notice he tips like 4 or 5 passes in this game, and he does so in a lot of other games. I don't think Ealy will ever have the burst to consistently win at the NFL level and he needs to use his pads better. But I think he will do a lot of things well. I think he can read and react well, hold his own in the running game, and generate alright pressure. He has an array of moves, and doesn't just rely on beating the offensive linemen around the edge. Instead, he relies on a rip move, a swim move, he shoots gaps, he bull rushes, he comes off the edge. I think there is enough there to be a good pro.
Michael Sam, on the other, has only one real move, which is his speed. He's got great closing speed, and is able to get solid pressure on QBs. He's a bit over aggressive, and needs to learn to read plays as they come at him. If Michael Sam gets beat on a play, he isn't going to recover, the play is over for him. I attribute that to his lack of a secondary move. If he cannot out run you, he's dead in the water.
Overall, I'm not sure how Sam translates to the NFL. He's projected as an OLB, and he does display really good closing speed. He keeps his pad level lower than the offensive lineman, and seems to have a really good burst at the line of scrimmage. I think he could be an effective 3-4 OLB. If I'm a 3-4 team I'm looking at Sam as a 4-5th round pick.
Kony Ealy, on the other hand, does almost everything you want pretty well. He's not an elite athlete, but he does have a great head on him. To me, he seems like he'll translate as a solid Defensive End in the NFL. To be honest, the way he plays, reminds me a lot of a 6 to 7 sack guy. Really, if I'm comparing him to anyone, I would easily say Alex Brown. Now, I'm unsure of who will be there in the second round, but I think you can get great play makers in the second round. I would say any pick of Ealy until the 3rd. But the second would be fine too.