Kony Ealy waited much longer than expected (and surely longer than he would have liked), but the former Missouri defensive end eventually was selected Friday in the second round of the NFL Draft.
Ealy was invited to Radio City Music Hall in New York for the NFL’s annual draft spectacle and emerged from the green room to pull on a Carolina Panthers hat as he breathed a huge sigh of relief.
“It was long and it was hard, but I had a support staff around me,” Ealy told Panthers.com, the team’s official website. “Everybody did a great job of making sure I’d be able to withstand it.”
Many NFL observers pegged Ealy as a possible first-round pick, but he wasn’t among the five pass rushers selected during Thursday’s first round.
Houston selected South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney No. 1 overall, while the Raiders went with outside linebacker Khalil Mack fifth overall and the Vikings snapped up UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr ninth.
Those three players were projected ahead of Ealy, but the Chiefs’ passed on Missouri’s versatile pass-rush specialist for Auburn’s Dee Ford late in the first round and the Eagles opted for Louisville’s Marcus Smith at No. 26.
Ealy’s slide continued during the second round when the Cowboys traded up to select Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence at No. 34 with the second pick of the round.
Six picks later, the Lions selected BYU’s Kyle Van Noy before two other outside linebackers with a pass-rushing pedigree — Stanford’s Trent Murphy to Washington 47th overall and Georgia Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu to the Chargers 50th overall — were chosen before Ealy.
Now, Ealy joins one of the NFL’s best front sevens with the Panthers.
“It’s a special group, and I’m going to try to learn as much as I can,” Ealy said. “I had a great workout with (defensive line) coach Eric Washington and got a good feel for what the things they like to do with their defensive line. I can’t wait to be a part of that.”
Ealy racked up eight sacks and 14 tackles for a loss last season at Missouri, which went 12-2 overall and won the SEC East division.
He also racked up 42 tackles and six passes defended with one interception, which Ealy returned 49 yards for a touchdown against Indiana.
Ealy, who declared for the NFL Draft after his junior year, finished his Tigers’ career with 12 1/2 sacks and 27 tackles for a loss.Defensive end Kony Ealy
Round two (No. 60 overall)
Ealy has a tendency to take plays off and doesn’t fight through double teams well. He also needs to get stronger at the point of attack generally and hone his instincts, but he’s a long and athletic playmaker with incredible versatility. His 6.83-second three-cone drill was the best among defensive linemen at the NFL Combine.
• Where he fits in: Ealy joins a talented front seven that includes nose tackle Star Lotulelei and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. Ealy probably won’t be asked to step in and start right away with Greg Hardy already in place at right defensive end and Charles Johnson set at left defensive end. However, Ealy provides insurance if either becomes a cap casualty and also has the versatility to sub in at defensive tackle for Dwan Edwards on obvious passing downs.