Markus Golden's draft stock is a curious thing to analyze. Some are quick to cast the former Missouri defensive end's lot into the "2 Small 2 Slow" pile, while others are so high on him that they think he could possibly be the better of the two Tiger defensive linemen in this year's draft. I'll do my best to flesh out the general consensus on Golden. From the perspective of an NFL scout, of course.
What ever they're putting in the water over there in Columbia, MO hasn't stopped working yet. Golden is another great defensive line prospect in a long line of them to have donned the Black and Gold during their collegiate tenure; and much like the some of the more recent Mizzou DEs to turn pro, he's a bit on the small side. Even so, he had quite the successful career at Missouri. He earned second-team All-SEC honors after a 2014 campaign in which he tallied 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss; an impressive stat-line that only becomes more eye-popping when you realize that he racked those big numbers up in spite of an injury that sidelined him for a game and some change. Golden is a natural leader, and an A+ teammate. He's a player that you want to have in your locker room.
No one is going to work harder on any given play than Markus Golden. He can consistently be seen tracking down ball-carriers 10, 15, and sometimes 20 yards downfield, after many defensive linemen had already given up on the play. There's even a few rare, beautiful occasions where he can be seen tackling a receiver just after they've caught a short hitch, which is more wondrous than seeing a unicorn playing checkers with a leprechaun.
In addition to his unrivaled jet engine of a motor, Golden possesses a keen awareness for the ball that has benefits in both the running and the passing game. This vision allows him to quickly discern where the offense is aiming the current running play, he then does a good job of using his hands – a staple of Missouri defense ends – to shed blocks and put himself in a position to make the tackle. He plays disciplined in the running game, and is diligent about maintaining his assignment. Whether that means stuffing a runner trying to burst through the edge of the line or setting the edge on a swing play so that a linebacker can come clean things up, Golden can be counted on to take care of business.
Where Markus' ball-awareness really shines though, is in the passing game. He has the unique ability to recognize when he would be better served to purposefully enter into a stalemate with a blocker so that, instead of trying to pressure the quarterback and possibly arriving too late to disrupt anything, he can attempt to bat down the pass. He times his jumps well, and has the hand-eye coordination to make this sort of play. His awareness also shines when he chooses to rush the QB. He's one of the smartest pass-rushers I've seen. In a very specific example highlighted by Yahoo Sports and 120 Sports' Eric Edholm, Golden was able to both apply pressure to Johnny Manziel and keep him squarely in the pocket. Not an easy feat, to say the least.
He also made a play that turned into one of my favorite GIFs I've ever made.
Much like his defensive line partner-in-crime Shane Ray, Markus Golden gets knocked for his size, or lack thereof. Unfortunately for Golden, he doesn't possess the speed that's propelled Ray into the first round. He's not the freakishly athletic type with a ceiling well above the clouds, which means that he'll have to prove that his high-effort style of play will be able to translate to the next level. His frame may warrant a move to linebacker, but it remains to be seen whether he'll be athletic enough to handle that switch. He has played that position quite a bit during his football career, so it's not impossible. Teams will want to see proof before they buy in completely, though.
Here's where things get murky. Some folks seem grounded in their belief that Golden's potential is hindered too much by his size to warrant a pick in a round higher than six, while others are so high on him that they think he may be better than Shane Ray.
It sure is. Lets all become Markus Golden fans. https://t.co/MWycvQhedz— Dan Kadar (@MockingTheDraft) April 28, 2015
Personally, I agree with the latter to an extent. I was of the opinion throughout Mizzou's 2014 season that Golden was the Tigers' best defensive end, though Ray was certainly the more athletic of the two, and I do believe that this dynamic could continue in the NFL. Golden possesses a knack for making plays that I don't see in Shane. It's one of those voodoo-y, unquantifiable things that Jon Gruden likes to trumpet in his broadcasts, but it's there. Given the same amount of playing time, I would put my money on Markus.
That said, Golden is going to have to be given the opportunity to prove me right. He'll have to go to a team that possesses a defense capable of maximizing his potential, and then see enough playing time to back me up. Most pundits have him going in the fourth or fifth round, but I don't think I'm the only one with such high esteem for Markus. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he snuck into the third round.