Who the hell will they draft 2008: Purdue DE Cliff Avril

Don't let the number fool you. Cliff Avril is not a running back.

The sight of a Purdue players getting taken with this high a pick might make MasterRWayne's brain explode! But, it is very possible the Colts could use their second round pick of Purdue Cliff Avril, especially if teams who run a 3-4 defense, like Miami and Jets, pass on him. Though I'm sure it pains MasterRWayne to acknowledge this, the fact of the matter is Purdue produces better football players than IU, and Avril is one in a long line of excellent Purdue pass rushers to hit the NFL.

First and foremost, should the Colts draft Avril they would do so with the notion he will play DE, not outside LBer. At first glance, Avril looks like only a situational pass rusher as a DE. Then again, so did Robert Mathis. Avril, like Mathis, is undersized at about 250 pounds, but Avril has a very strong upper body and long arms. This means he plays bigger than he actually is. If you go to NFL.com's Combine report of Avril, the Positives section is a mile long. Avril had a very impressive NFL Combine to go with his outstanding Senior season at Purdue.

Can impact the pocket coming off the edge, using his sudden burst to slip past a lethargic blocker, but needs to add some more pass rush moves and keep his hands more active when attempting counter moves...Has the agility to bend down the line and cover ground well, showing good urgency closing on the pocket... Gives total effort in his chase and plays with his head up, showing good instincts to find the ball, especially vs. naked bootlegs...

The last part gave me a bit of a smile, especially when I think of Vince Young. Avril's talents are in harassing the QB and creating turnovers. He does an excellent job stripping the football from ball carriers, and shows exceptional speed off the edge. His footwork and initial step off the snap are scary good, and if not for his 250 pound frame, Avril would be a first rounder. Most scouts think he'd translate best as a 3-4 outside LBer, and by this they mean he'd be on the field for most downs. In a 4-3, he'd see the field on 3rd downs mostly. This is especially true in Indy where he will not start. However, Robert Mathis started out as a situational 4-3 rusher and developed into an every down player. Avril could have a similar development, and if we can learn anything from the Chris Clemons deal with Philly, teams will throw a ton of money at pass rushers, be they LBers or situational DEs.

Among Avril's other positives (and there are a great many) are his non-stop motor, intelligence, and desire to improve as a person and player:

Smart player who will have no problem digesting a playbook at multiple positions (down lineman/strong-side linebacker/rush end)...Plays with good aggression and determination, despite being outweighed vs. every opponent...Plays until the whistle and builds acceleration nicely when attacking downfield...Puts in extra hours studying tape of the upcoming opponent and, while a leader by example, he will not hesitate to get vocal in the huddle...
Again, in most draft scouting sites I've read, the write-ups on Avril absolutely gush over the guy. Scouts cannot say enough about how smart and tough-minded this kid is. His willingness to be coached could help him overcome one of his weaknesses:
Heavily reliant on the speed rush and needs to develop additional moves.
Avril started 23 of his 49 games at Purdue at DE. So, he's not stranger to playing down in a stance. With a coach like John Teerlick guiding him, Avril could become a real force along the Colts defensive line. And, with Dwight Freeney still recovering from lis franc surgery, if the Colts take Avril it is very likely he will start in pre-season and see a lot of early playing time.
MasterRWayne's head just imploded.

The other element of Avril's game is his solid tackling. Though he seemed to have trouble wrapping up RBs Chris Wells and P.J. Hill, Avril is not known as a crappy tackler. He closes well at the point of attack, and when it comes to bringing the ball carrier down, Avril has shown excellent improvement throughout his college career:

Will flow too fast and overrun a few plays, but is quick to redirect...Keeps his feet and will sell out to get wide on a play (runs long distances to deliver the hit)...Not a hammer-type of hitter, but can run the field, hit and sell out, showing the body control to break down and wrap up (gets lazy at times and tries to take a side, but showed improvement in rectifying this as a senior)...You won't see too many misses or leaks when tackling, if he keeps his hands inside and pad level true...
When I've done mock drafts, I've assumed a guy like Avril has already been taken. It's why I think the Colts will take someone like Marcus Howard or maybe a LBer like Virginia Tech's Xavier Adibi. However, is Avril is still on the board in late round two, and according to Coltpower he will, the Colts will not hesitate to pick him. Avril has the potential to become a difference maker as a pass rusher, and you just don't pass up on players like that.  

For more on Cliff Avril, check out Off The Tracks.

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