With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
38: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
We continue this year's series with LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery, who made some waves when he was asked at the scouting combine about the consistency of his effort.
"You know, some weeks when we didn't have to play the harder teams, there were some times when effort was not needed," he said. "But when we had the big boys coming in, the Bamas or the South Carolinas, I grabbed close to those guys and went all out. Of course, this is a new league, the NFL and there are no small teams, small divisions, it is all Alabamas and LSUs every week. It's definitely something I have to get adjusted to, but I'm sure with the right coaching I will be fine."
Ouch. Montgomery may need some PR coaching, but when it comes to the game tape, he's showed a relatively consistent level of play, and he will occasionally ramp that up to "dominant." The 6-foot-3, 262-pound South Carolina native redshirted in 2009, and then started to impress with two sacks in just five games in his sophomore year. That season was marred by an ACL injury, but Montgomery came back very impressively in 2011, amassing nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. He added 30 pounds of muscle to his frame in time for last season, but lost little of his athleticism, finishing his collegiate career with eight sacks and 13 tackles for loss in 2012.
These numbers were especially impressive given Montgomery's frequent battles against the more physical offensive lines of the SEC, his relative lack of straight-line speed, and the fact that he was most often going up against his opponent's left tackle -- when he wasn't flipping inside to make plays at multiple positions.
Pros: Outstanding upper-body strength shows up over and over when he gets off the snap and engages with blockers -- consistently rocks even the best offensive linemen back. Big and strong enough to move inside to tackle on pass-rushing downs and make plays -- has done well everywhere from end to three-tech to one-tech shade. Good at assessing and moving through double-teams and late blocks. Moves his feet pretty well through trash.
Has a nice spin move that could be even more highly-developed with time. Persistent pass-rusher who will keep moving to the quarterback, and will get sacks and pressures when other defenders would be blocked out. Extremely physical player who loves to mix it up in the backfield -- NFL blocking backs beware. Has a good sense for when to get his hand up, and is big enough to deflect passes at the line. Doesn't have sideline-to-sideline speed, but will occasionally make plays against backs outside through sheer persistence. For all his talk about gearing up for more important opponents, performed consistently game to game.
Cons: Decent straight-ahead speed, but doesn't display elite side-to-side burst, especially in short spaces. After he's beaten a blocker, he'll struggle to adjust to plays that are going past him. Though Montgomery is very strong, he doesn't yet have the array of hand moves with will allow him to take advantage of that first strike. Would like to see more pure bull-rushes; at times, Montgomery will stab and then retreat. That's more a function of scheme than talent (LSU played a lot of "mush-rush" in 2012), but it bears watching at the next level -- he needs to engage and push back more often. Tends to get re-blocked out of plays as a result.
Doesn't re-direct well in space, and running backs with more agility clearly exploit this on tape. Draws and traps will be a problem as a result. Occasionally comes out of his stance too high and gets stood up by players he should be demolishing. Not a pure "dip-and-rip" guy, but could develop that in a more aggressive scheme.
Conclusion: Montgomery is more of an effort and multi-position cog in a defensive front than a transcendent pass-rusher, but I think he has the attributes that will lead to a relatively seamless level of production at the NFL level ... as long as his NFL team understands what he is and what he is not. His overall physical strength will allow him to exploit the league's trend to the every-gap player, and once he develops more consistent hand techniques, he'll be even better when it comes to extending his bull-rush. In addition, LSU's tendency to use its line to read and react gave a muddied picture of Montgomery's potential as an every-down pass-rusher -- but a far better window into his potential as the kind of defensive player who will do everything well.