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2016 NFL Draft Profiles: OLB/DE/DT Caleb Azubike

Despite four years of work at Vanderbilt, defensive end Caleb Azubike is still a work in progress on the football field. Here's why betting low on him could pay off big in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Weatherly may have been the only Vanderbilt representative at the Combine, but that doesn't mean he'll be the only Commodore selected at the 2016 NFL Draft. One man he used to share defensive end with, Caleb Azubike, could join him.

Azubike developed into a force on the defensive line and one of the program's most vocal supporters during a four year career in Nashville. He signed with the program back in 2012 and made an immediate impact as a four-star true freshman, but playing three different positions under three different defensive coordinators failed to help him develop a consistent presence at Vanderbilt. He never finished a season as a proper All-SEC honoree, but with his blend of size and quick-trigger speed, he's an intriguing NFL prospect.

Caleb Azubike is a coiled ball of athleticism and strength on the defensive line

Azubike made an immediate impact for the Commodores and spent four years as a starter in the Southeastern Conference. He broke into the defensive end rotation in 2012 for a nine-win program and notched four sacks to set a program record for true freshmen. Commodore coaches tried to find the best way to maximize his talent and 6'4, 260 lb size. In his final three seasons at Vanderbilt, he'd play as an outside linebacker, defensive end, and defensive tackle -- learning several different roles but never really mastering a single one.

When he gets low, Azubike has the drive to push blockers back and blow up plays. Here he is forcing a turnover on downs against Kentucky, one play after stuffing the Wildcats on third-and-1. Look how he finds the point of weakness on the UK line and how the entire Vandy defensive front collapses around him.


Here he is, one year later, shedding a Wildcat block and creating chaos in the Kentucky backfield.


And here he is later in the game, spinning to his left and bursting up the middle to flush Patrick Towles, then chasing him down to record a game-ending sack.


Azubike did more in his career than just make Kentucky look bad, but each of these examples shows his ability to beat blockers at the point of contact and create problems. He has the power to push tackles off their blocks, the speed to split blockers inside, and the agility to spin and shake his way through other protection schemes. His explosiveness makes in a candidate to rush quarterbacks with his hand on the ground as a defensive end or coming out of the second level as an outside linebacker.

But gambling on Caleb Azubike is still a risk

Azubike's talent promised a breakout year after his strong freshman campaign in 2012, but that explosion never came. Despite his athleticism and strength, the Nigerian never dialed in the consistency needed to be a true difference maker in the SEC. He never recorded more than four sacks in a single season for Vanderbilt.

Instead, Azubike was an interchangeable piece on an effective defensive line under Derek Mason. He filled his role well and did everything the team asked, but he never met the trajectory a breakout true freshman campaign placed on him. If the Vandy DE/OLB is still a project, then many NFL teams will consider that lack of growth before investing draft capital in him.

Caleb Azubike still has a long way to go, but he has the raw talent to get there. He'll need a stable landing spot and the right coaching to develop into the block-shedding, quarterback-mangling monster he can become.

I guess what I'm saying is, please, not the Browns.