Justin Ellis: The Small School Sleeper
By: Justin Partlow
While everyone has been clamoring at Louis Nix III, and rightfully so, there is another NT in this class that has star potential. His name is Justin Ellis and he’s a NT out of Louisiana Tech. Ellis wasn’t always well known to the masses, but he was someone that had been mentioned around as someone to watch. After putting on film of him, it’s not hard to love what he brings to the table and what he can project into becoming. What separates Ellis from some of the other NT’s in this class is his ability to make plays, and not just be someone who clogs up lanes for others to make plays. With all of that being said, it’s hard not to fall in love with a 350+ LB dancing bear right?
When I first sat down to watch Ellis, I expected his run defense to be on another level compared to the rest of his game. Surprisingly enough I didn’t see it, but I also saw the flashes that make him someone who can be electric. Ellis has a ridiculous motor and when he’s going 100%, you need to watch out because he will make plays immediately. The thing with Ellis is that he still struggles with location of the football, but in comparison from his junior year to his senior year, he’s improved tremendously and earned himself some rightful praise. Ellis as well has a little bit of a habit of guessing on the lane to attack instead of just reading the play and reacting. While it’s usually worked out for him and he’s made the play, he can’t just rely on that in the NFL and expect to get away with it. Ellis has some very impressive leg drive and it’s hard to believe that he’s around 350 LB’s because he doesn’t play like that.
When you combine the good and the bad, it’s not hard to see what makes him special, but also does cause a little bit of trepidation when you evaluate. The biggest question comes to “is his winning the battles now because of his size? Or is it because he’s got the ability to win and consistently win when he moves to the NFL?” Basing my film study on that, it’s apparent that Ellis has the ability to be a successful NT in the NFL if he can clean up some of the flaws mentioned earlier.
When you see someone of the ability of Ellis, you expect him to be a clogger and take on blocks the whole time. What I saw though was a guy who when he gets through and past his blocker, can make some devastating plays. Ellis is a power player, and not someone who has a wide array of moves, but he uses that raw strength and power to unload on his opponent and make a play on passing downs. One negative I’ve noticed with Ellis was that he wasn’t on the field a lot with passing downs, but it assumed it was due to the rotation of players. While not a huge issue there, it’s something to note because you’d like to have a 3 down NT if possible, and at times that question does arise. Ellis has better technique in passing downs because he’s allowed to use that raw power and make plays instead of having to read where the ball carrier is going. It’s impressive to watch at times, and it’s even led some scouts to wonder if Ellis could actually be a 4-3 fit as well as a NT there.
The heart of the matter with Ellis in pass rushing is this. When you let the horses go and Ellis is certainly one of them, he’s going to make plays for you. He also might get caught out of position and make a careless mistake, but he’ll traditionally make some same plays as well. Coaches are going to need to refine him and work with him, but in that 3rd tier of NT’s it’s hard not to love him and what he can do
So again now we have to ask, is he a fit in a 3-4 D or a 4-3 D? Well simply put, I find Ellis to be a scheme diverse player who can fit into any defense. This is mainly due to his natural ability to make plays in both run downs as well as passing downs. I think for long-term longevity that the 3-4 D would be a better fit for Ellis, but I can’t see why he would just be limited to it as well. As for round projection I’ve given Ellis is a pretty solid 4th round grade behind guys like Louis Nix and Daquan Jones. He’s got a lot to love, but as mentioned earlier there are warts that will need to be worked on.