The Panther’s second round pick last year struggled at times last year, no one is disputing that. However, it seems that most writers are using adjectives such as: “disastrous, nightmare, disappointing, and even bust” to describe his rookie season. This has all come somewhat surprising to me, especially considering how strong he finished the season (3 sacks in the last 3 games). I’m a Panthers optimist, and can only take a few negative comments before I reach a breaking point. I reached that breaking point after reading an article by Bryan Knowles (Panther’s featured columnist on Bleacher Report); his article covered the Panthers remaining offseason priorities. In the “Who Provides the Pass Rush?” section, he mulled over who would step up in Hardy’s place. He mentioned Ealy only when saying he and Wes Horton didn't notably step up the pass rush, and to finally say Kony had something of a nightmare season.
Nightmare season? I beg to differ. Though Ealy didn't meet expectations of a second round pick in year one, he hardly had a season that makes you lose sleep at night. His four sacks tied him for fifth in the 2014 rookie class in that department. It is true that he wasn't very good against the run, actually pretty bad, but definitely showed some improvement as the season wore on. It just so happens that Ealy was one of the rawest and untapped players in his draft class. Nolan Nawrocki echoed this in Kony’s NFL Draft Profile, when writing: Is not a finished product, particularly as a run defender, but should only become more disruptive as his strength, technique and savvy catch up with his natural physical ability. Clearly we saw him get stronger and more disruptive as the season progressed.
The defensive end position is one of the hardest positions to adjust to from college to the pros, if not the hardest. We should remember that Mario Williams, Charles Johnson, Robert Quinn, Greg Hardy, and Michael Strahan each had 5 or less sacks in their rookie year (Hardy and Strahan failed to reach 5 sacks in their sophomore year too). This is why the three year rule is often the standard for most defensive ends, this being mediocre first and second seasons and then blowing up in year three. Ealy seems like the perfect candidate to follow this rule, but I expect a solid sophomore year from him as well.
Most writers, especially for Bleacher Report, only look at things skin deep. Knowles probably didn't take into consideration the path for most young defensive ends, and came to the ludicrous conclusion of Ealy’s rookie season being that of a nightmare. I personally would find it hard to label any injury free season a nightmare, definitely one which showed immense promise. Knowles should probably lay off the adjectives and stick to the facts. Because even though Kony Ealy didn't have a dream rookie season, it is unfair and wrong to call it a nightmare.
By Grant Hughes
Follow Grant on Twitter @KenjonVander