Corey Lemonier could be this year’s Bruce Irvin

Corey Lemonier stood out at the combine

The Auburn Tigers had a wretched 2012 season, going 3-9 (wins vs LA-Monroe, New Mexico State and Alabama A&M) while being outscored 150-21 in their final three defeats. It was ugly.

It’s easy to forget they started the year with some close defeats — 26-19 against Clemson, 12-10 versus LSU. Within that not-too-horrendous start, Corey Lemonier made an impression. He stood out and was universally ranked among the top 2012 draft prospects. As Auburn’s season imploded, so did Lemonier’s stock. It was quite dramatic. Suddenly, nobody was talking about him any more. He had five sacks in his first four games, then 0.5 sacks in the final eight. I watched his team get taken apart by Georgia (38-0) and Alabama (49-0). Unsurprisingly, he was anonymous in both games.

When you’re getting your ass kicked by the best the SEC has to offer, you can’t expect a pure pass rusher to be churning out production.

I’ll admit that I got a little sidetracked. Like everyone else, I lost interest. This guy wasn’t getting it done. Where was the fire and brimstone from earlier in the season? With hindsight I needed to appreciate just how bad things had become at Auburn. They’d lost their heart, their hope. The atmosphere wasn’t ripe for a productive speed rusher. I started to think of him as a middle round prospect, as did many others. I think that was a mistake.

A good performance at the combine has helped to put his name back out there. He ran a 1.57 ten-yard split and a 4.60 forty (unofficially he was originally credited with a 4.53). This despite the fact he gained 10lbs for the combine to get up to 255lbs. None of it was fat or excess, he looked compact and muscular (see the image above). He had 27 reps on the bench press — only three less than Jesse Williams.

Pat Kirwan wrote a review of his time at the combine for CBS and quoted an unnamed defensive coordinator in the piece: “We’re all looking for the Bruce Irvin in this draft.”

Well, Corey Lemonier is the closest thing to Bruce Irvin this year.

Considering 2012 was so bad for Auburn in general, I wanted to go back to 2011 and get a look at Lemonier playing for a competitive outfit. He had 9.5 sacks that year. So I searched out the tape and realised just how effective he can be.

Here’s what I like about him. For an undersized player, it was refreshing to see how many snaps he took as a pure edge rusher. Bruce Irvin was used creatively by West Virginia but made most of his round one money on third downs. Lemonier might be a more natural LEO ‘starter’, in that he often engages blockers at the line of scrimmage and is able to set an edge against the run. He’s stronger than you think in the upper body despite his size — and I guess that’s emphasised by his bench press tally. You can be as explosive as you like as a speed rusher, but to start in a four man front you can’t afford to be hopeless against the run. My biggest concern with Irvin is whether he can cope in a role that asks him to do more than pin his ears back, which kind of limits his ability to be anything more than a specialist.

Chris Clemons isn’t an amazing run stopper, but he kind of holds his own. Irvin struggles to get off even a tight end to make a play against the run. Lemonier plays with great pad level, he can disengage and break on the ball. I love his hand use. The guy can play above his size. There are times when he puts his hands on a blocker and drives them into the backfield. I love to see that from a player who featured at just over 240lbs in college.

He also has that relentless motor you crave from an edge rusher, with a real edge to his play. He’s driven in the way Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo clearly aren’t at LSU. He’s got the speed to beat his man on the edge and I like the way he sets blockers up over time. Aside from a naturally quick burst off the snap, he also flashes a decent repertoire (spin move is evident, rip move is effective too). Quite often he turns a sack into a sack-fumble, something that’ll go down well in Seattle’s front office. He had five forced fumbles in 2011 alone.

One thing that the Irvin and Russell Wilson picks from last year taught me was to keep your options open. Don’t write guys off. I wrote an article twelve months before the 2012 draft saying Bruce Irvin was set to gate crash the top of round one. Had I stuck by that initial assessment, I’d look pretty smart right now. Then he got bogged down in West Virginia’s odd 3-5 scheme and I let it impact my opinion too much.

I feel like history is repeating itself here. Hey, maybe Lemonier doesn’t go in round one? But Auburn’s implosion shouldn’t impact his stock too much. He could go in round one. Technically he’s up their with Bjoern Werner as one of the better edge rushers in this class. Unlike Dion Jordan and Ziggy Ansah, he’s shown a degree of technical quality and readiness. Unlike Damontre Moore and Tank Carradine, he doesn’t look cumbersome getting off the snap. There aren’t any long term injury concerns like we see with Jarvis Jones. And unlike Mingo and Montgomery, he doesn’t take whole games off.

It won’t just be the teams looking for the ‘next Bruce Irvin’ that consider Lemonier. The 3-4 teams could show interest in moving him to outside linebacker. He has to be an option for New Orleans to improve their impotent pass rush. Pittsburgh at #17 need another edge rusher. What about Minnesota at #23? People will ultimately say this is too early, or too reactionary to the combine. They also would’ve said the same about Bruce Irvin a year ago.

“We’re all looking for the Bruce Irvin in this draft.”

Hey, I’m not saying this will definitely happen. Lemonier didn’t run a 4.4 after all. The one team who definitely will be using the LEO pass rusher in 2013 is Jacksonville and they’re not likely to take him with the #2 pick. Seattle already has Irvin. And if the 3-4 teams don’t bite after all, he could still last into the second round. I think that’s his floor though — round two.

I wouldn’t rule him out at #25. Not at all. Pete Carroll will probably take the best pass rusher in round one, whether that’s a tackle or a LEO. I think they’d rather bring in an interior rusher than another LEO, unless they have really serious reservations over Chris Clemons. You’d have to be pretty convinced about a particular prospect to take back-to-back first round LEO’s. What if neither player can act as a full time rusher? You’ve drafted two undersized defensive ends who can’t start. Even so, they might feel that the best value at #25 is to grab another LEO. And that could put Lemonier on the radar if he’s still on the board.

Keep an eye on his stock over the next few weeks. He could be one to watch. The Auburn pro-day takes place on Tuesday.

2011 tape vs Florida, Arkansas and Georgia:

2012 tape vs Clemson & LSU:


  1. Nolan

    SSSSSSHHHHHHHH……… keep it quiet Rob we don’t know who is listening I like this dude don’t blow his cover.

  2. Geoff

    Man, he does play a lot like Chris Clemons. Could use some work diagnosing the run/pass, but that can come with coaching and experience. Even if Clemons does return at full strength, he’ll be 32 years old by then. They’re thinking ahead.

    They have Irvin and they’re looking for a LEO, I think that tells us they’re not sold on Irvin being that guy just yet.

  3. Belgaron

    I would put him second most like Irvin after Mingo.

    • Belgaron

      I should have actually defended this statement. The first reason is LSU has been a dominant defense and in some games Mingo just took over and made a serious impact on what the opponent offense was trying to do. As you stated, Lemonier also disappeared in some games. Great players sometimes take different routes to becoming All Pros, one route is go from inconsistency to consistency. But not all guys have the talent to even show streaks of dominance the way Mingo has.

      The second reason is that he will be inserted into an extremely good defense with strong and vocal leadership that is still getting better. It will be hard for some of that not to rub off on whomever they draft to come in on the D-Line or WOLB or nickel corner. If “effort” concerns drop Mingo to 25, it would be interesting to see what a change of location and teammates could do for a guy with those raw abilities. He had guys encouraging slacking at LSU while the ‘Hawks have guys like ET, Wagner, and Sherman flirting with greatness and that’s just the defense. A sophomore Irvin will take strides this year and that will also rub off on whomever comes in as the other LEO. Anywho, this is a long winded way of saying that effort concerns should be wiped out by the Legion of Boom’s peer pressure.

  4. Christon

    I think it was Kip that brought up the point something to the effect of – How is Mingo a consensus top 15 pick while Lemonier is a consensus mid-round pick? Aren’t they roughly the same player? I think they are.

    And I do see quite a bit Chris Clemons in Lemonier’s body type and play. Clem has been arguably our defensive MVP over the passed few seasons (without his ability to generate a pass rush on his own – this wouldn’t be top 10 defense) so if the they think Lemonier could be Chris Clemons 2.0 he would definitely be worth the #25 overall pick. I expect Clem to start the year on the PUP list and he is 33 years old so its definitely within the realm of possibility.

    • Rob Staton

      I think Lemonier is better personally. Mingo could and maybe should be superior, but he isn’t. For whatever reason.

      By the way, Clemons is only 31 and doesn’t turn 32 until the 30th October.

      • Christon

        Yeah, your right – my bad.

      • Belgaron

        Yeah, but players don’t remain static at the same point of development that they are showing at this snapshot in their life. Talent evaluation has to include the ceiling of what they can become with professional coaching, year-round training, a world class organization like the Seahawks, and teammates that are working their tails off. There are some stretches of games where Mingo was the man.

  5. Kenny Sloth

    How much may he have benefitted from the presence of Nick Fairley? Just food for thought.

    • Lou Thompson

      Kenny, Fairley wasn’t at Auburn during Lemonier’s break out 2011 Sophomore year. Plus, the Leo position doesn’t get too much benefit from an inside presence because the LEO goes 1 on 1 with the left tackle with an occasional chip from a back coming out of the backfield.

      What I like about Lemonier is that he makes those game changing plays as shown by Rob. There is so much crazy talent and unknowns on where all of the DT’s, potential Leo’s, WR’s, OLB, TE’s will be drafted.

      Last year’s draft was paramount in becoming that playoff team that can reach a NFCCG and possibly a SB. This is the draft that can take us over the top to becoming a SuperBowl championship team.

      I don’t think I’ve been more excited about a draft because this draft can take us to Mt. Everest.

      • Lou Thompson

        One more thing, had Fairley been at Auburn in 2011, Lemonier would likely had 12-14 sacks because in so much game tape, Qb’s were able to step up and take off because there was absolutely no inside push.

        With any inside push, Lemonier burning the edge would’ve had more sacks and forced fumbles. We find a 3 tech and add this type of LEO and our D will be dominating. Forced throws into our ballhawk secondary, QB’s holding that ball for that extra split second = Hawk domination.

  6. AB

    I really like Lemonier, been a fan of his for a while. Somewhere I recall either a quote or summarization where he said he was given a 3-4 round grade by the draft committee though. So he could be a steal in round 2.

  7. awm

    Like what I see from him. Good pass rusher, relentless effort and holds his own against the run. If the best DTs are gone would not mind one bit if we grabbed him at 25. I want Zavier Gooden too, be it in the 2nd or 3rd……

  8. Brian

    I really don’t want the team to target DE in the first round. Sure, if we had 3 first round picks it would be great to pick up a receiver and two D linemen. But since we have been able to manufacture production from our hybrid positions I don’t want to use our only first rounder on another Red Bryant or Clemons. (Clemons went undrafted and cost us a 4th rounder in the trade with the Eagles.)

    • Brian

      I should have also mentioned that Clemons played for five different teams before joining the ‘Hawks and putting up double digit sacks. He had a total of seven sacks in his two years (despite staying healthy) with Philly before coming here.

      The LEO is important precisely because it manufactures production; if we are planning on using top picks on defensive ends we would be better off with a vanilla 4-3 scheme like the Rams use.

    • Michael

      Clemons didn’t cost us a 4th rounder. Philly gave us Clem AND their 4th rounder in exchance for Darryl Tapp, who was himself a second round selection of the Ruskell regime.

  9. Connor

    Watched a few games of his about a week ago, My first thought was he’s definitely a underrated pass rusher but as far as holding his own in the run game I definitely did not see that. He would bring good mid round value to a team looking for a pure pass rusher.

    I still like Mingo more but with Mingo you kind of have to look at what he could be rather then what he was on tape. We’re talking about a gifted athlete with lots of speed who for some reason decided to bull rush a majority of the time and was actually pretty effective at collapsing the pocket. You see glimpses of his speed rush and he is lethal but you wonder why you barely see it. I think with him its a case of getting with the coaches working hard on his moves and you could see a dominate pass rusher.

  10. Brian

    He’s an exciting prospect, but he seems to have trouble disengaging blockers once they get his hands on him, but that’s a rectifiable problem with nfl-caliber coaching. Otherwise he looks pretty good, and his run-stopping abilities are refreshingly effective for a smaller DE.

  11. Zach

    Remember he came into the combine with 10 more pounds of muscle. He’s 255lbs and ready to step in day 1 at LEO. I would say that’s worthy of a first round grade.

  12. Jerry Nice

    Uh, this guy is good..

    Entirely off my radar – the exact type of pick that nobody anticipates, but later pays dividends for this team in the long haul.

    Some say he’d be available w/ our round 2 pick. Do you think that could be possible? Seems like a team jumping on the Seahawk bandwagon may be looking for someone in the same vein as Irvin and go ahead of us.

    Great article.

  13. Jeremy

    I’m waiting for you guys to do a piece on Zaviar Gooden. I know you will, but I’m getting a little anxious. I’ve been googling the crap out of this guy, I think he’s going to be something fierce.

    • Rob Staton

      I have this week off, going away for a few days and I intend to watch a load of tape while I’m there. Gooden’s on the list.

      • Jeremy

        Sweet, can’t wait. I like this guy a lot. Thx.

  14. Stuart

    What does this say about Bruce Irvin if we draft another “LEO” in round 1? Dont take that to mean I care about Bruce’s feelings. Because of salary both Red and Clem could be gone next season so if we did draft a LEO in Round 1, what impact does this have on Irvin for 3rd downs?

    • Rob Staton

      Drafting another LEO in round one would not be the greatest review of Bruce’s future as a permanent starter. It would suggest he’d remain in a specialist role, which wouldn’t be a bad thing IMO. Personally, I think they’ll search to draft for the interior line first and foremost and only go for another LEO in R1 if the value is too good to pass.

    • Attyla the Hawk

      I’m not sure it says anything. Bruce was advertised as a raw but productive pass rusher. And he was as good as advertised.

      Clemons is out for some time. We need a DE to replace him. He’s also getting along in years. So even if he comes back, we need to replace him. Either way, DE is a short term and long term need. It doesn’t have to be addressed this draft, but it’s wise to take one that you like this year, because you may not have that opportunity next year.

      It’s got to be on the short list of needs based on Clemons’ injury and age. If Irvin does play LEO or doesn’t, we need to have 2 DEs, not just one.

  15. Leonard

    A player with a similar story is Michael Buchannon from Illinois. Very similar measurables. Two inches taller but a little less athletic. 10 yard split is only .02 slower though. Same weight and long arms. Had a pretty good junior year: 64 tackles, 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Much like Lemonier he was highly regarded pre season. Then he took a step back in his senior season: 57 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 7 tackles for loss. However, the 5 passes defended might point to a role change for him.
    If the board doesn’t fall the right way for a LEO in the early rounds, Buchannon might be an option in rounds 3-5. With some good coaching and the right attitude/character, he might be a better pro than he was in college.

    • Rob Staton

      There are two things I want to see with Buchanan going into the pro’s…. 1 – add some weight. He looks skinny and he showed little to no power at the senior bowl. He can get bigger. 2 – let’s see a bit more fire and brimstone. A bit more attitude. He plays soft at times.

      • Leonard

        One of the things I love about the new Seahawks is they seem to bring that nasty attitude out of each other.

  16. ivotuk

    I love Lemonier and would consider him at 25 if Kawaan Short was not available. Corey plays hard and hits hard. He runs down plays, fights through blocks and even if he isn’t the first guy there, gets in on the tackle. I think this guy LOVES to play football and could have immediate success in the NFL. Earlier I watched some of his tape then switched to Datone Jones, and there is a huge gap in in ferocity. I get the impression that Jones is not all about football while it’s probably all that Lemonier thinks about.

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