Michigan State defensive end William Gholston still has some concerns with his game, but he also has as much upside as any potential prospect for the 2013 NFL draft. How is Gholston’s draft stock shaping up and where does he stand in regards to other pass rushers in the 2013 NFL Draft class?
Gholston has the size of a five-technique defensive end for a 3-4 defense, with listed measurables of 6’7’’ and 278 pounds, but he is a terrific pass-rusher with an explosive burst and the athleticism of an outside linebacker. That combination of size and athletic ability is rare, and gives Gholston the potential to be an elite player at the next level.
The most important trait for a top defensive end prospect is pass-rushing skill, and Gholston has that. As mentioned, he has a terrific get-off and acceleration for a defensive lineman of his size. He also does a very good job of integrating spin and swim moves into his game, and those techniques make him one of the toughest pass-rushers to block in all of college football.
Gholston has the speed, quickness and balance to beat offensive tackles around the edge. He also does a very good job of going to his inside and taking on multiple blockers, often splitting them to bring heavy pressure into the middle of the backfield. His length, strength and block-shedding ability are all major assets to his pass-rushing game, making him more than just a rusher who blitzes off the edge with speed and burst.
As a result, Gholston is also a very good run stopper. Gholston is very good at going from outside to inside to fill running lanes and stop runners, while he can also penetrate into the backfield from the edge and stop runners before they ever get started. Gholston’s physical measurables lend themselves well to him being a very good run-stopping defensive end going forward to the NFL.
The biggest question surrounding Gholston, however, is whether he can be a three-down lineman in the NFL. While he is a big playmaker when on the field, both in pass and run defense, he does not play every snap at Michigan State, which raises questions about his stamina, and if he is going to be a high first-round draft pick, a team will be expecting a player who can be in for nearly every snap.
The other issue around Gholston is figuring out where he fits best within a defense, especially in a 3-4 scheme. In some ways, this is a good problem to have: Gholston has all the athleticism necessary to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 and be a premier pass-rusher, but he also has the size and interior penetration ability to play inside as a defensive end in that scheme.
However, Gholston would be playing an entirely new position at linebacker, where he would have to learn how to stand up, drop and cover, which could very well cause him to bust like his cousin, Vernon Gholston, did with the New York Jets after being the No. 6 overall pick out of Ohio State. At defensive end, his point-of-attack strength would be called into question, although his blend of size, athleticism and interior pass-rush ability could, at best, make him a taller version of Justin Smith.
In truth, Gholston’s best fit would be in a 4-3 defensive scheme, where he can line up at his natural position of defensive end, but could also line up as a defensive tackle in pass-rushing situation to bring interior pressure. A big, athletic and block-shedding playmaker, Gholston’s game is reminiscent of that of New York Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck.
Overall, Gholston has the skill set to be a star in a defensive front seven, regardless of where he lines up, with skills he has played in a number of dominant performances. However, Gholston is not always dominant, and some inconsistency keeps him from currently being a top-5 overall prospect in the 2013 draft class.
Nonetheless, his rare measurables and skill set give him upside that makes him worthy of a top-10 draft choice. Florida State’s Bjoern Werner is the best defensive end eligible for the 2013 draft, but even with standout LSU defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery in the mix, Gholston currently ranks as my No. 2 defensive end in the class, right on the heels of Werner.
Gholston would be a great choice for a team with a 4-3 defensive scheme picking in the top half of the 2013 NFL draft, and for whom upgrading at defensive end is a top need. Potential fits for Gholston could be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers or Minnesota Vikings.