The Ivy League manages to find a way to get some of its players into the NFL. From Chuck Bednarik out of Penn to Steve Jordan out of Brown to Marcellus Wiley out of Columbia to Matt Birk out of Harvard, the Ivy League has impressive finger prints on NFL history. There are a few prospects coming from the Ivy League this year including Kyle Juszczyk, the tight end/fullback from Harvard, but the most impressive of the group is Mike Catapano, defensive end from Princeton. Catapano racked up 12 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss, 6 pass break ups, and 3 forced fumbles in a 10 game schedule for the Tigers. While there will be scrutiny about the level of competition Catapano played against, he has skills that can translate to the NFL provided he continues working to correct some fundamental flaws and combined with his physical potential, he warrants a pick on day three of the draft, possibly as high as the fourth round, but he could sneak into the third.
Catapano is listed at 6’4” 280bs. He looks impressive physically with impressive strength, but as strong as he is, his movement skills are what stand out. He has good acceleration and quickness. Catapano also demonstrates impressive change of direction skill s and body control with enough speed to be a threat. His motor and relentlessness as a pass rusher also stand out. The tests should bear out that Catapano is simply an impressive athlete and if that happens, he could force teams to take another look at his tape, which is all anyone can ask. Catapano does have the potential to add both strength and bulk if teams feel it necessary. He appears like someone who could get close to 300lbs without too much of a problem. Unfortunately, Catapano was left off the combine invite list so he will have to wait for his pro day and private workouts for his opportunity to impress.
Princeton’s defense has 3-man and 4-man fronts and Catapano played both end spots as a 5-technique, played as a 3-tech defensive tackle, and played both end spots in a 4-man front. Catapano looks more comfortable playing the end spots, but he was able to play well at all of them at different times. He did not appear out of place at any of them and that could prove a valuable trait for NFL teams looking at him, allowing him to be a factor at multiple positions and reducing the overall need of the roster along the defensive line.
Catapano demonstrates a quick first step off the snap as well as anticipation and gets a good jump. He can use his arms effectively to keep opponents out of his body and control them to allow teammates to make tackles or shed them to make the tackle himself, although he needs to continue working to be more consistent when it comes to shedding blocks. He got stuck on blocks longer than he should too often and the NFL is obviously a big step up from the Ivy League. Catapano demonstrates good power and the ability to bull rush, but needs to get behind his pads to do it, so he can do it on a regular basis. The biggest problem Catapano has is his inability to use leverage outside of some flashes. Almost every play sees Catapano fire up instead of out. He does it quickly and shows good speed, but if he could fire up, get under his opponents’ pads, and come with a rising blow, his success and effectiveness will go up exponentially and in order for him to be successful in the NFL, it is an absolute must. If that means bear crawling and chutes from now until he gets to camp, yoga, or whatever else to get him to bend better at his waist and get behind his pads, that should be his main focus as soon as the combine ends.
Specifically as it relates to rushing the passer, Catapano has demonstrated the ability to perform a number of different moves. He has flashed an effective spin move as well as an outside speed rush with an impressive ability to run the arc and bend inside to get the quarterback; better than some pass rushers that weigh 30-40lbs more than he does. In addition to a relentless effort as a pass rusher, Catapano has great closing speed and he is tremendous as far as closing the deal on the sack, hitting the quarterbacks with power while making sure he does not miss. He also has the ability to change directions quickly and is able to keep offensive linemen off balance and surprising a few quarterbacks with his quickness. Again, Catapano needs to be a more consistent player shedding blocks. As it relates to playing a 3-technique defensive tackle, Catapano demonstrates quickness and the ability to shoot the gap on blocks. Catapano’s production will be put under a microscope, but he demonstrated at the Shrine Game it was not simply a fluke at Princeton. He has genuine ability but needs to correct his flaws, especially when it comes to leverage.
In terms of fit, Catapano is probably best suited to play in a 4-3 where he can conceivably contribute as depth at three different spots. He might be suited to play power end on a regular basis but his athleticism and speed makes him look the part when he is playing as a rush end as well as a pass rushing defensive tackle in spots. At the same time, Catapano could also be attractive to 3-4 teams as a 5-technique defensive end and a situational rush tackle. Wherever he goes, his initial value will be as a pass rushing prospect and if he can add strength and become a consistent force against the run, he becomes more valuable and competes for a starting job.
If Catapano can become consistent with leverage and as a player who can shed blocks, his game could resemble that of former Northwestern Wildcat and current Chicago Bear Corey Wootton. Wootton had a rough entrance into the league being drafted later than he was projected due to an injury, but got healthy and worked his way into becoming a versatile part of the Bears rotation and is improving quickly, having an impact as a pass rusher. Catapano could follow a similar path as he and Wootton have very similar measurable and projected styles of play. If he is unable to tap into all of that potential, his career arc could look more like former USC Trojan and current Detroit Lion Lawrence Jackson. Jackson came out highly touted but he has had trouble adjusting to the league and finding a real home in a rotation to this point. Like Jackson, Catapano’s physical ability and potential will probably afford him multiple opportunities in the league if he struggles.
Mike Catapano has an NFL body and skills that are special enough to not only be a decent NFL player, but he could develop into an impact player with time. If he delivers in workouts, since he was a huge snub from the combine, he could be a name that gets more buzz as the draft nears. The NFL is certainly already well aware of what he can do and are deciding how long they can wait before they have to take him. While a ton of attention is on Margus Hunt coming out of SMU because of his size and speed, Catapano deserves attention in his own right and unlike Hunt, will only turn 23 during the upcoming season while having the exact same basic flaw in his game. Because of his impressive athleticism, potential, and the tape he has put together, Catapano warrants a third day pick around the fourth or fifth round, but it should not come as a huge shock if he sneaks into the third round with impressive workout numbers.
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