USA Today/NFL Draft Scout rank 2009 DL Prospects
Versatility at end position: Rating the D-linemen in NFL draft class
By Frank Cooney, Special to USA TODAY
There is more mobility than muscle available among top defensive linemen in this year's NFL draft, which should work just fine with the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers joining the league's trend toward versatile 3-4 alignments.
According to ratings by NFLDraftScout.com, two of the top 10 overall players are defensive ends and up to five might be taken in the first round. That is opposed to only two first-round prospects at defensive tackle and only four expected to be called on the first day of the draft.
Teams are obviously in tune with the versatility of this year's defensive ends, as 18 were asked to go through drills as linebackers during the scouting combine. That included five of the top-10 defensive ends, led by top-rated Brian Orakpo of Texas and second-ranked Everette Brown, the athletic underclassman from Florida State.
Last year, LSU's Glenn Dorsey was supposed to be the very best of a talented group of defensive tackles, but he didn't make much of an impact as a rookie after being drafted No. 5 overall by the Kansas City Chiefs.
This year, B.J. Raji, a 6-2, 337-pound Boston College behemoth, is the best of a less-than-average group of defensive tackles and the only one from his position expected to be selected in the top 20.
Here is a closer look at this year's top defensive line prospects (school, height and weight listed; *indicates underclassman):
1. Brian Orakpo, Texas, 6-3, 263: Concerns over his durability surfaced again at the combine when Orakpo pulled a hamstring during workouts. He bench pressed 225 pounds 31 times and hopes to impress in other events at his March 25 pro day. Orakpo doesn't have a great burst off the line but manages to bully his way into leverage position and collected 11˝ sacks in 2008. He won the Lombardi, Hendricks and Nagurski awards, but scouts are not convinced his many awards are a measure of his production or that he has played up to his abilities. Even before the combine injury, they were taking a close look at medical reports because he missed time each of the past two seasons with knee issues.
2. * Everette Brown, Florida State, 6-2, 256: He was moved all over the front seven in college to create mismatches. He might become a 3-4 rush linebacker in the NFL, especially after measuring only 6-2 at the combine after being listed at 6-4 during his college career. Brown is an explosive pass rusher who had 21˝ tackles for a loss and 13˝ sacks last season. Beyond pure speed, Brown knows how to use his hands and arms. His quick footwork and excellent balance frustrated college blockers. Assessing himself in Indianapolis, Brown said: "I feel I am the best pass rusher to use my speed, quickness and strength to get to the quarterback and create constant pressure all game."
3. Tyson Jackson, LSU, 6-4, 296: A fan of Rocky movies, Jackson plays with tremendous hustle that often compensates for his marginal athleticism and agility. In 2007, he played alongside star defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, creating perhaps the most formidable defensive line duo in the nation. Jackson is a versatile defender who operated as an end in LSU's base 4-3 alignment, but he could be moved inside as a 4-3 tackle or as an end in a 3-4 system. He has excellent size and strength to make a pile at the point of attack and can be disruptive with his initial quickness and ability to shed blocks.
4. Robert Ayers, Tennessee, 6-3, 272: Just when scouts were wondering if he would ever play up to his potential, Ayers posted career highs in tackles (49) and tackles for loss (15˝) in 2008. That earned him first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors from conference coaches, a measure of how far he has come since getting arrested in April 2005 on an aggravated assault charge. He lacks great pass rush speed but has the overall ability to be a consistent force. His improved work ethic resulted in a senior season that lifted his draft ratings, as did an impressive week at the Senior Bowl.
5. Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech, 6-7, 266: He has unusual height, long arms and the burst off the snap that can generate an instant pass rush. Johnson was selected first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference as a senior after collecting 17˝ tackles for loss and nine sacks. But his play was inconsistent and undisciplined, and many of his stats came against poor competition. At the combine, he acknowledged that scouts are questioning his consistency and responded by saying, "Any negative energy is motivation and fuel." Johnson might need to bulk up to fend off NFL blockers.
6. Connor Barwin, Cincinnati, 6-4, 256: Although Barwin became a respectable pro prospect only after being switched from tight end to defensive end last year, there are some teams wondering about his potential at tight end. He's up for anything. "I came here as a D-lineman," he said at the combine, where he had an exceptional workout. "If anybody wants to see me as a tight end, (at) my pro day, I'll do whatever they want me to do — tight end, D-end (or) linebacker." His stats for 2008 included 15˝ tackles for loss, 11 sacks and seven pass breakups. He still has a lot of tricks to learn as a pass rusher, but he already shows the basic skills and instincts necessary to be a force.
7. Jarron Gilbert, San Jose State, 6-5, 288: He has gained an odd claim to fame for a YouTube video in which he showcases his athleticism by jumping out of the shallow end of a swimming pool in one motion. He was the 2008 Western Athletic Conference co-defensive player of the year after making 22 tackles for loss. The question isn't whether Gilbert can play, but at which position to utilize his unique combination of size and athletic ability. He is the son of former New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Daren Gilbert.
8. * Paul Kruger, Utah, 6-4, 263: His road toward the NFL has been an interesting one, including having his kidney removed as a child following a car accident, a two-year Mormon mission and being severely stabbed outside a party in January 2008 when he came to the aid of a friend. But he is all business on the field, where he made All-Mountain West in 2008 with 61 tackles, 16˝ tackles for a loss, 7˝ sacks and seven pass breakups. A hustler who is very consistent, Kruger has the ability to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 and could probably handle a little more weight on his frame.
9. Mitch King, Iowa, 6-2, 280: Here is a picture of consistency. A four-year starter and two-time All-Big Ten first-team selection, King averaged 57 tackles, 13˝ tackles for loss and 4˝ sacks a season. His lack of height belies his strength and refined technique at the point of attack. King is a passionate player whose style can be described as violent. He has excellent field instincts and an advanced feel for the game.
10. David Veikune, Hawaii, 6-3, 257: Veikune hopes his next stop is in the NFL. Born in Alaska, he went to high school in Hawaii, spent one year at Colorado and another at Fresno City College before finishing his college career back in Hawaii. He gained attention against Florida in the first week of last season when he had six tackles. Veikune finished the season with 73 tackles (16˝ for loss), nine sacks and four forced fumbles. He uses strength and determination to overcome a lack of elite athletic ability.
1. B.J. Raji, Boston College, 6-2, 337: Despite facing constant double teams, Raji might have been the most dominant defensive lineman in the nation last season as he totaled 42 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Scouts were extremely impressed at Senior Bowl practices, where Raji might have been the most consistently dominant player. He sat out the 2007 season because he didn't meet academic requirements, but he came back with a vengeance in 2008 and seemed unblockable at times.
2. Peria Jerry, Mississippi, 6-2, 299: Jerry explodes off the line and is sometimes impossible to handle even with two blockers when he is intent on collapsing the pocket. He led the Southeastern Conference with 18 tackles for loss in 2008 and was selected conference defender of the week four times. Scouts loved him in Senior Bowl workouts but are reviewing game tapes closely to validate his sudden burst to stardom. Over the previous two years, he was inconsistent and will turn 25 in August. Cousins Eddie Strong and Dwayne Rudd played linebacker in the NFL.
3. Evander Hood, Missouri, 6-3, 300: His size, technique and tenacity make him an intriguing prospect. A great week of practice at the Senior Bowl re-established faith in Hood's ability after scouts watched him become stymied in 2008 when offensive-line schemes keyed on stopping him. He managed 23 tackles — 2˝ for loss — and 11/2 sacks in 2008 after a 2007 campaign that included career highs in every category: 49 tackles, eight tackles for loss, five sacks and three forced fumbles.
4. Ron Brace, Boston College, 6-3, 334: After playing in 2007 without B.J. Raji by his side, Brace took advantage of playing alongside his talented teammate in 2008 and made marked improvement in most phases of his game. Brace shows the body control and acceleration to close on the ball. With added strength, combined with his explosion, he could develop into a very effective under tackle or nose tackle. He is quick in a small area, but he won't chase down many people from behind. He helps make plays more than he makes them himself, as evidenced by two-year stats that total only 54 tackles, 181/2 tackles for loss and 5˝ sacks.
5. * Sen'Derrick Marks, Auburn, 6-2, 306: Like his Auburn team, Marks disappointed in 2008. He enters the draft with a year of eligibility left, even as scouts wonder if he is ready for the NFL. An All-Southeastern Conference player in 2007, Marks was inconsistent and appeared to be out of shape and unable to perform at his best at times in 2008 despite the fact that he was rotated in and out of the lineup. His career stats show 114 tackles, including 30 for a loss. He has shown the ability to fire off the line, outmuscle blockers and run down plays away from him. But he just didn't do any of it consistently last year.
6. Fili Moala, Southern California, 6-4, 305: Moala has an imposing frame that is still developing. He shows excellent lateral agility in a small space — reminiscent of New England Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork— and an explosive burst off the snap. Before the 2008 season, he relied more on his natural ability than technique. Last season he showed instincts for the position, especially finding the football. Moala originally signed with USC out of high school, but had to rehabilitate his academics in junior college before rejoining the Trojans in 2004. His cousin is defensive lineman Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens.
7. Alex Magee, Purdue, 6-3, 298: After starting 22 games at defensive tackle for three seasons, Magee was moved to defensive end last year and had a rather mundane season statistically: 28 tackles and 3˝ sacks. But the move did allow him to show versatility, and scouts were impressed at the Senior Bowl practices by his combination of size, strength and hand technique. As the draft approaches, his stock continues to rise because he can find a place to fit in and help on any defense.
8. Ricky Jean Francois, LSU, 6-3, 295: He had an inconsistent but interesting college career. A strong run stuffer whose quick initial burst off the ball usually puts the blocker in a bad spot, Francois tends to get a little too high in his stance at times, a liability against double-teams, and lacks a great pass-rush move. Back injuries have robbed him of any lateral agility. He missed the first 12 games because of academic problems as a sophomore, then was defensive MVP in the national title game against Ohio State after making six tackles and blocking a field goal.
9. Dorrell Scott, Clemson, 6-3, 312: After averaging 50 tackles and four sacks in his previous two seasons, Scott entered last season as an Outland Trophy candidate. But he was hampered in his senior year by a strained knee and was not very productive until the last few games. Still, scouts like a lot of things about him. He is a determined athlete who takes great pride in his leadership role and is an emotional type who will not make the same mistake twice. Scott is a tireless worker in the training room and in practices and takes pride in mentoring younger players.
10. Vance Walker, Georgia Tech, 6-2, 304: He is an alert player who does a nice job of reading schemes and reacting in a 5-yard area. Walker has the quickness to gain penetration but is not the type who would cause a quarterback to lose sleep. He has decent initial moves off the ball and good lateral quickness but lacks a sudden closing burst to get more pressure. He has good upper-body bulk but does not generate enough force to own an area, so he likely can't play nose tackle in the NFL.
Re: USA Today/NFL Draft Scout rank 2009 DL Prospects
Evander Hood in the 2nd round is getting very intriging for me.
Re: USA Today/NFL Draft Scout rank 2009 DL Prospects
I've been saying E. Hood for a long time. Everybody still wants Brace , but not me.
Re: USA Today/NFL Draft Scout rank 2009 DL Prospects
I love seeing Michael Johnson slowly falling. He is an absolute freak, one of those guys that would be good at any sport.
I want him in the later rounds. Real bad.