Summary: Wolfe was a late bloomer as a draft prospect, but enters the 2012 NFL Draft having played a dominant season. Wolfe was one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in college football in 2011. He was a violent, disruptive force for the Bearcats. He entered the season as a mid-round pick having flashed at times for Cincinnati, but he put it all together as a senior.
Wolfe was said to grow up a lot prior to his senior season and really dedicated himself to improving his game. The result was a phenomenal senior season with 70 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and 9.5 sacks. Wolfe routinely tossed guards aside and blasted into the backfield to blow up runs or pressure the quarterback.
Wolfe has a lot of power to his game. He is a good pass-rusher who closes on the quarterback quickly. Wolfe has a fantastic rip move. He gets under guard and uses the leverage to push by them towards the quarterback. He also has a powerful bull rush and can toss linemen to the side after collapsing the pocket. Wolfe has more speed than one would think and he closes on quarterbacks or running backs faster than they expect. Another skill of his is the ability to time snaps well to help him get a good get-off.
As a run defender, Wolfe is stout at the point of attack and holds his ground. He showed a good motor and pursued downfield. He found ways to impact the game. Against Rutgers, he didn’t get good pass-rushing opportunities, but he made 10 tackles in run defense. In the regular-season finale, Wolfe had a three-sack game against UConn. He also had a one-man goal line stand where he stuffed the running back on first and second down before sacking the quarterback with a left-handed rip move on third down.
Wolfe was a late invite to the Senior Bowl and he had a solid performance. He had a quality week with his share of wins in the pass rushing one-on-ones. He then ran well at the Combine with a 40 time at 4.94 and a respectable bench press total at 33.
Wolfe is a physical, powerful player and his skill set can be better seen in games as opposed to the track activities. He could be an excellent fit as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense. He really could be a stand out as an edge defender. He would help free up outside linebackers by battling the offensive tackle. He also could get his share of sacks going against tackles or guards in the NFL.
If Wolfe is drafted in a 4-3, he could be a versatile defender. He could add some weight and stay at defensive tackle, or he could be a power left defensive end on running downs who moves inside to rush the passer at tackle on passing downs. Wolfe could thrive in either system. He may take a little more development time, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Wolfe turns into rock solid pro; a blue-collar defender who does the dirty work to make his defense successful.
Wolfe shouldn’t get out of the second round. Mel Kiper recently had him in the first round of a mock draft, while the consensus view has him as a third- or fourth-rounder. Part of that could just be Wolfe being underrated as a sleeper prospect. It wouldn’t be surprising if he goes sooner than most pundits project.
Player Comparison: Aaron Smith. Wolfe’s game as a senior was just like Smith’s at his peak for the Steelers. Pittsburgh got a lot of good play out of Smith over his career. He used power and length to set the edge. He also provided some disruption and pass rush. Smith was a fourth-round pick of the Steelers in the 1999 NFL Draft out of Northern Colorado. Wolfe is nearly identical in size to Smith (6-5, 298). Smith had a good pro career and became a Pro Bowler for Pittsbugh. It wouldn’t be surprising if Wolfe becomes a similar player to Smith. Wolfe could go in the second through fourth round.
NFL Matches: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Green Bay, San Francisco, New England
The Steelers need some youth for their defensive line and front seven. Wolfe would be a fabulous fit and Pittsburgh is bringing him in for a pre-draft visit. Wolfe could pair with Cameron Hayward to give the Steelers some long-term five techinques to take the place of Smith and Brett Keisel.
Baltimore needs depth up front and Wolfe would be a nice player for the Ravens to develop. The Patriots could really use help along the defensive line. Wolfe could fit as a tackle in their 4-3 set and an end in a 3-4. He may be a little undersized for what New England typically looks for, however.
The 49ers could use some youth on their line with an aging front seven. Wolfe might be a nice understudy behind Justin Smith. He would also be a great fit for the Packers. They could use a five-technique for their defense. Green Bay would improve their pass rush by adding Wolfe.
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