Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy's name regularly pops in the first-round of mock drafts these days, which is impressive considering he was hardly the most acclaimed and talked-about defensive end on his own team.
Michael Sam, a likely mid-round pick who was the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year, stole headlines from Ealy all season, and things didn't change at the NFL Combine this weekend. When both spoke to the media on Saturday, Sam ―who announced he is gay two weeks ago ― easily had the most well-attended session of the week, while Ealy's was just solidly attended.
“He's got his own thing going, I got my own thing going,” Ealy said, when asked how it felt to get less attention than Sam. “We're focused, we're gonna come out here and compete. That's the only thing that matters right now.”
So the 6-foot-4, 273-pounder, who racked up 43 tackles and 9 1/2 sacks in 2013, absolutely entered the testing portion of the combine Monday for defensive linemen with plenty to prove.
Ealy didn't totally ace the exam; his 22 reps on the bench press ranked 31st out of 40 defensive linemen while his 40-yard dash time of 4.92 seconds ranked 20th out of 42. But he absolutely shined in the very important three-cone drill, which displays a lineman's hip flexibility and acceleration in the pass rush.
Ealy's blistering time of 6.83 not only ranked first among 36 defensive linemen, it was faster than all but two of the 33 running backs who ran and 13 of the 38 receivers, including potential first-round picks like Clemson's Sammy Watkins (6.95), Texas A&M's Mike Evans (7.08) and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin (7.33).
His results seemed to back up NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock's evaluation of Ealy, who Mayock recently said will likely be a first-round pick.
“I ended up liking him more than I expected to,” Mayock said. “I think to compare him to, say, (Aldon) Smith, who came out a couple years ago. He's not quite as athletic as Aldon Smith, but he's a little more physical, a little better against the run.
“He hustles, plays hard, has some natural edge ability and in today's NFL, that all adds up to a first‑round pick for me.”
Not that the first-round talk takes Ealy by surprise. He said he even considered going pro after the 2012 season, but decided against it when he received a fourth-round grade from the NFL draft advisory board.
"To be honest with you, and it might sound a little cocky, but I believed that I could be a first-round pick when I first got to Mizzou,” Ealy said.
Ealy played all over the defensive line when Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel mixed in some exotic looks, but Mayock still doesn't see him as an outside linebacker. If true, this would make him a bad fit on a team that runs a 3-4 defense like the Chiefs.
But when asked if he is purely a 4-3 defensive end, Ealy quickly touted the same athleticism he showed Monday ― and all season, really, despite being somewhat overshadowed ― calling himself “a hybrid.”
“I'm an athlete,” Ealy said. “I've been able to move around. Fortunately Coach Stec at Missouri put me in good situations, and I think I did a good job of showing my athleticism."