Draft Profile: Missouri DE Kony Ealy

Moments before the media made a mad rush towards the podium to listen to Michael Sam speak, Missouri teammate Kony Ealy took to the same mic and addressed a much more modest gathering of reporters.

“I mean, I’m fine,” said Ealy of the spotlight shining elsewhere. “The whole decision with Mike Sam, he’s got his own thing going, I got my own thing going.”

Sam has garnered most of the media attention for obvious reasons, but it’s Ealy — who played right defensive end opposite Sam at Mizzou — that is largely considered the better pro prospect.

Ealy (6-4, 273) declared for the draft following his junior year. He racked up eight sacks, 14 tackles for a loss and six passes defensed for the Tigers this season. The bulk of his production came over the last five games, including a two-sack performance in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma State.

He really showed off his athleticism for one of those takedowns, as he was able to beat his man on the outside before tracking down the quarterback (around the 2:50 mark).

“I compare myself to [fellow Missouri product] Aldon [Smith]. He’s a freak athlete. He gets off the ball,” said Ealy. “And J.J. Watt when it comes to pass deflections.”

The bar is set quite high, then. Opinions vary on where Ealy will be selected in this draft. Some view him as a top-15 player. Others have him out of the first round altogether. Mike Mayock could see him going between picks No. 20-23. The Eagles have the 22nd overall pick.

Is he a fit for the Eagles’ 3-4 defense? Opinions differ on that as well. Ealy played defensive end in a 4-3 at Missouri and would flip inside sometimes on passing downs to provide an interior rush. He dropped on occasion. Some believe that he can make a successful transition to 3-4 outside linebacker on the next level. Others feel he is a pure 4-3 end.

Ealy was expecting to meet with the Eagles brass on Saturday night. He said that other 3-4 teams he talked with thought there was a place for him in their scheme, though not necessarily at linebacker.

“They love the way I move. They see me as a hybrid,” said Ealy. “Mainly a hand-in-the-dirt kinda guy, a five-tech. They love my body type, that I can move at my weight, quick, and I’m agile.”

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert mentioned that most of the OLBs that have played in their system were 4-3 defensive ends in college. There is not a wealth of natural, high-end 3-4 outside linebackers in this draft. In many cases, teams have to look at a player’s skill set and try and project how they will fare at the position on this level.

“Certainly you’re looking for athletic ability,” said Howie Roseman. “You look for people who can play on their feet, who can move, who can play in space, who are strong enough to set the edge. Obviously you’re looking for a pass-rusher. Guys who can win, who have multiple moves.

“When you’re making the transition (from defensive end to outside linebacker), intelligence is also a big factor. Their ability to think on their feet and being multiple. Throughout our football team we’re looking for smart guys who are versatile.”

The interview and workout process will be big for teams like the Eagles to help figure out exactly what the 22-year-old is capable of.

Ealy ran a 40-time of 4.91 seconds at the combine . Aldon Smith (6-4, 265), by comparison, clocked in at 4.74 back in 2011.

“He’s not quite as athletic as Aldon Smith,” said Mayock. “But I think he’s a little more physical. A little better against the run.”

Smith made the transition from Mizzou defensive end to NFL outside linebacker just fine. Ealy’s  position and fate have yet to be determined. Sounds to me like a defensive line role is most likely in the pros, but time will tell.