The title seems like a no brainer, of course they develop. Defensive end is a position that requires adjustment to the size and speed of NFL offensive tackles and thus, sack numbers usually don't rise until a player's 2nd, 3rd or sometimes even 4th year in the league.
When the Jaguars drafted Central Arkansas DE Larry Hart and Murray State DE Austen Lane in the 5th round of the 2010 draft, most believed they were good prospects to develop and possibly turn into sack masters of the future. One season later it seems as if those hopes have dwindled to some degree and many Jaguars fans were disappointed to see the team not add a premium pass rusher in the 2011 draft.
But looking at the development of prior 5th round and late round defensive ends, who's to say they wont break out in the near future? Or even as soon as the 2011 season?
In the 10 drafts between the years 1999 and 2008, there were 27 defensive ends drafted in the 5th round. Out of the 27, 23 saw the field during their rookie year. Those 23 defensive ends averaged roughly 1.3 sacks during their rookie year.
That average is pretty close to the 1.5 sacks that Hart recorded during his rookie season. Lane didn't record a sack, although he did start nine games.
Following their rookie season, five of the 23 remaining players never saw an NFL field again. The 18 remaining players averaged 3.36 sacks in their sophomore campaign. That might not seem like much but that's well more than double the average of the rookie year.
Finally four more of those players never made to a third season. The 14 that did averaged 4.43 sacks. Obviously these numbers are nowhere near an exact science and the development of players has to be weighed on a case-by-case basis, but the numbers support the idea that defensive ends develop.
Even looking at some of the game's greatest players at the position, we can see that they didn't always dominate right away. In fact, few did:
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After one season, don't make the mistake of thinking Larry Hart, Austen Lane and the undrafted Aaron Morgan have shown themselves to be depth players. The potential for them to have breakout seasons in 2011 or beyond that is certainly there. Even better, the Jaguars have three of these prospects as "jars on the shelves."