NFL Prospects: Defensive Line

Plenty of deep talent to go around in this year's draft

April 22, 2007

By Rob Rang

Special to CSTV.com from NFLDraftScout.com

 

Historically, teams are more likely to reach for defensive linemen during the draft and free agency than any other position.

 

The free-agent market this offseason qualifies as Exhibit A. Defensive ends Patrick Kerney and Dewayne White, with one Pro Bowl appearance between them, signed contracts with a total value of nearly $70 million. These days, pass rushers are nearly as valued as the passers themselves.

 

Teams unwilling to overpay by the million for veteran help can take some solace in knowing the 2007 draft offers both talent and depth at defensive end. NFLDraftScout.com lists 14 defensive ends considered possible first-day selections. Depth at the position can be found even later, with quality prospects likely to last until the draft's second day.

 

The same cannot be said for this year's class of defensive tackles. While Amobi Okoye and Alan Branch could be picked in the first half of the first round, only five defensive tackles are considered worthy of first- or second-round picks. Troubling off-field concerns will surely drop a few players with first-round talent lower than their grade might warrant. Even typically cautious teams may be forced to consider such players, as help at defensive tackle is unlikely to be found beyond the third round.  

 

An in-depth look at the best defensive ends and defensive tackles available in the 2007 draft:

 

 

DEFENSIVE ENDS:

1.       Gaines Adams, Clemson, 6-5, 258, SR:

 

Adams lacks the prototypical size of an elite-level defensive end, but he makes up for it with his speed off the edge and overall upside. He registered 45 tackles, including 15 1/2 tackles for loss, and 9 1/2 sacks in 2005, his first season as a full-time starter. Adams improved as a senior, posting 62 tackles, 17 1/2 tackles for loss, and 11 1/2 sacks. He has great speed off the edge and has the agility to change directions and pursue laterally, leading some evaluators to believe he could make the adjustment to outside linebacker. While he lacks strength at the point of attack, Adams uses his hands well and has developed into a cognitive defender who plays the run more effectively than most defensive ends his size. Adams has good awareness and is effective knocking down passes. He led passes Clemson with nine passes broken up in 2005, the first time a defensive end led the team in pass breakups in 30 years.

 

2.       Adam Carriker, Nebraska, 6-6, 296, SR:

 

He might lack the flashy sack totals, but Carriker's size and strength at the point of attack make him the draft's most versatile defensive lineman. A veteran of 34 starts, Carriker had 134 career stops, including 41 tackles for loss, and 20 1/2 sacks. Carriker has surprising initial quickness off the snap and combines rare strength and good technique to defeat blockers. At nearly 300 pounds, Carriker can hold up at the line of scrimmage -- even against double teams -- drawing interest from 3-4 teams looking for help at defensive end. Carriker helped himself immeasurably with a dominant performance at the Senior Bowl. Lining up both at defensive end and defensive tackle, Carriker proved to be too strong and his technique too refined for most offensive linemen to stalemate him in one-on-one situations.

 

3.       Jamaal Anderson, Arkansas, 6-6, 288, JR:

 

Anderson may have as much upside as any defensive end in this draft, though his first professional employer will have to be patient. Anderson is gifted but he remains on the raw side.   He came to Arkansas as a wide receiver and moved to defensive end three years ago. Anderson rotated at defensive end for much of his sophomore campaign before injuries forced him Anderson into the starting lineup. In five games, Anderson showed off his big-play ability by registering 34 of his 47 tackles (28 solos), 8 1/2 of his 10 1/2 tackles for negative yardage and three of his four sacks in those five starts. Based on his production in 2005 and continued growth, scouts expected 2006 to be a potential breakout campaign for Anderson. No one could have expected he'd finish second in the SEC with 19 1/2 tackles for loss and lead the conference with 13 1/2 sacks. His production was partially aided by lining up at left end (opposite the weaker pass-blocking right tackle) throughout his junior season and was often the beneficiary of stunts designed to free him from blockers. Though his statistics may be a bit inflated, Anderson has exciting potential. At his size, Anderson shows rare burst off the snap and impressive lateral agility. He needs to improve his overall strength and hand play, but he has undeniable tools. 

 

4.       Jarvis Moss, Florida, 6-7, 250, JR:

 

Moss has been compared to Jevon Kearse since signing with the Gators. He had to overcome medical questions before gaining the opportunity to display his rare combination of height, long arms and explosiveness. Hip problems and an infection in his pelvic bone dogged Moss for nearly three years. The injuries were so frustrating that Moss nearly quit the team before coach Urban Meyer was able to convince him to stick it out. Finally healthy in 2006, Moss enjoyed a breakout campaign.

 

Florida had arguably the nation's top defensive line last year and Moss was the unit's most productive member. After a 2005 season in which Moss only registered 25 total tackles as a rotational defender, Moss started 13 games in '06, posting 56 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and finishing fifth in the SEC with 7 1/2 sacks. In addition, he blocked two kicks in Florida's 17-16 victory over South Carolina. Moss' speed off the edge and height make him one of the intriguing pass rushers in this draft. He lacks strength at the point of attack, however, and while athletic, is not viewed as a natural candidate to move to linebacker. While he has great upside, scouts remain concerned that he left after one standout season and has only started 13 games over his career.

 

5.       Anthony Spencer, Purdue, 6-3, 261, SR:

 

Scouts are all over the board with Spencer. Fans of Spencer will readily admit that there are more talented pass rushers in this draft -- bigger, stronger, faster athletes who have greater upside. Spencer's burst off the edge, strong, quick hands and relentlessness make him a surer prospect in the eyes of many. Others, however, question how Spencer went on to post 26 1/2 tackles for loss as a senior after only registering 7 1/2 as a junior. While Spencer posted tackles for loss in 11 consecutive games to start his senior campaign -- including a combined 3 1/2 against likely top-10 picks Joe Thomas and Levi Brown -- Spencer failed to register one in any of his final three games. A strong performance at the Senior Bowl boosted Spencer's stock in the minds of most scouts. Some believe Spencer, despite a fairly pedestrian 4.70 40-yard dash, has the lateral quickness, instincts, and agility to play linebacker at the next level.

 

6.       Ray McDonald, Florida, 6-4, 276, SR:

 

Capable of helping at both defensive tackle and defensive end, McDonald can credit his versatility and big-game experience for his lofty draft stock. McDonald, a 36-game starter for the Gators, may lack the pass-rush skills of others on this list, but he has good quickness and plays with strength and technique. The concern with McDonald is his history of significant injuries. McDonald suffered two knee injuries in 2005, each requiring surgery, and an elbow injury in the SEC championship game.

 

McDonald helped himself with a strong performance at the Senior Bowl. Though hampered by unsightly knee and elbow braces, McDonald was consistently able to use his quickness off the snap to gain an advantage against offensive tackles. He lacks the closing speed, as evidenced by his career sack total (11), but should prove to be a legitimate starting defensive end early in his career.

 

   7. Charles Johnson, Georgia, 6-2, 270, JR:

 

With opponents focusing blocking assignments toward senior Quentin Moses, Charles Johnson often faced one-on-one blocking in 2006. As a sophomore in 2005, Johnson had only registered 23 tackles, but showed a flair for the big play with 8 1/2 tackles for loss and four sacks, both good for third on the team. Using those flashes as a basis, some felt Johnson might enjoy a breakout campaign in 2006. He did just that with a conference-leading 19 tackles for loss and 9 1/2 sacks (third in SEC). Scouts are trying to determine whether Johnson is an ascending player or if he simply took advantage the attention focused on Moses.

 

   8. LaMarr Woodley, Michigan, 6-2, 266, SR:

 

Blame an injury suffered at the Senior Bowl and the strength of this year's defensive end class for pushing Woodley, one of the nation's feared pass rushers as a senior, into the middle of the second round. Woodley started 33 games at Michigan and his career numbers are as impressive as any player on this list: 177 tackles, 50 1/2 tackles for loss, and 25 sacks. A defensive end as a freshman, Woodley was moved to outside linebacker as a sophomore and junior before switching back to defensive end in 2006. Woodley's experience at linebacker could come in handy. There are scouts who view linebacker as his best fit in the NFL. Woodley, while not particularly fast or agile, possesses fine instincts and is among the most consistent tacklers on this list.

 

   9. Ikaika Alama-Francis, Hawai'i, 6-5, 280, SR:

 

June Jones and Jerry Glanville, Alama-Francis' head coach and defensive coordinator, respectively, characterize the 6-5, 280-pound senior as the best end they've ever coached, college or pro. Scouts are particularly excited about Alama-Francis because he has significant upside. His father, former Green Bay Packers quarterback Joe Francis, played in the NFL but Alama-Francis did not play football until his freshman season at Hawai'i. Walking on the field for the first time at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Alama-Francis put on 60 pounds in four years and has quietly developed into one of the draft's most intriguing defenders.

 

He doesn't have the burst off the edge to ever be a dominant pass rusher, but his strength at the point of attack indicate he could fit as a 3-4 defensive end (as he played at Hawai'i) or perhaps even as a 4-3 defensive tackle. It's safe to say versatility works in his favor. Teams are intrigued by his athleticism -- several teams are grading him as an outside linebacker -- and a few like him as a tight end.

 

   10. Tim Crowder, Texas, 6-4, 272, SR:

 

A veteran of 47 career starts with the Longhorns, Crowder is one of the draft's most underrated defenders. He has good size, speed and strength and is a versatile defender capable of making an impact against both the pass and run. A team leader who let his actions do the talking, Crowder's statistics improved each season of his career, culminating in a senior campaign that saw him post 59 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and 10 1/2 sacks, earning first-team All-Big-12 honors. For his career, Crowder recorded 191 tackles (118 solos) with 19 sacks for minus-120 yards and 40 stops for loss. Considered by some to be a jack-of-all-trades but master of none, Crowder lacks the explosive first step of the NFL's elite pass rushers.

 

Other Potential Impact Defensive Ends:

   -- Victor Abiamiri, Notre Dame, 6-4, 267, SR:

   A classic example of a player who took advantage of the weak competition but struggled when pitted against the nation's elite.

   -- Quentin Moses, Georgia, 6-5, 261, SR: Entered the season ranked as the top senior prospect in the country by some. Moses struggled against double-team blocks and is no longer a first-day lock.

   -- Dan Bazuin, Central Michigan, 6-3, 266, SR: Fiery pass rusher who could surprise at the next level. Level of competition (he practiced opposite Joe Staley every day) is better than some have acknowledged.

   -- Baraka Atkins, Miami, 6-5, 271, SR: An enigma. Has the size and athletic ability but never turned potential into production.

   -- Jay Moore, Nebraska, 6-5, 274, SR: Productive pass rusher who toiled in Adam Carriker's shadow throughout his career.

   -- Ryan McBean, Oklahoma State, 6-5, 286, SR: A "tweener" who shuffled between defensive end and defensive tackle throughout the week of practice at the Senior Bowl.

 

 

DEFENSIVE TACKLES:

   1. Amobi Okoye, Louisville, 6-2, 302, SR:

 

A native of Nigeria, Okoye began his education there when he was two years old, skipped sixth grade and tested into high school after moving to Alabama at age 12.

 

He played four years at Louisville, earning a bachelor's degree in psychology, and at only 19 years old will be the youngest player ever drafted into the NFL. A backup each of his first two seasons at Louisville, Okoye started 19 games as a junior, registering 23 tackles, four tackles for loss, and a sack while facing constant double-team blocking. There are few defenders who improved as much in one year as Okoye did this past season. Okoye was a unanimous All-Big East Conference first-team choice. He recorded a career-high 58 tackles (38 solos) with eight sacks and 15 stops for losses. He also forced three fumbles. Okoye helped his cause with a strong performance at the Senior Bowl. While in Mobile, he showed not only the quickness to continue to improve as a pass rusher, but natural leadership abilities. A malleable prospect capable of adding size, strength, and speed as he grows into the position, some scouts feel Okoye could develop into the best defensive player taken in the 2007 draft.  

 

   2. Alan Branch, Michigan, 6-6, 324, JR:

 

A mountain of a man, Branch is the draft's top run-stuffer. His worth is in his ability to tie up multiple blockers, an unenviable task that rarely brings accolades or overwhelming statistics. Branch left a year early for the NFL after helping Michigan rank as the elite run-defending unit in college football last year. In noting the Wolverines allowed opponents only 43.38 rushing yards per contest, Branch's value is evident.

 

He lacks the quickness to ever be a pass-rush threat, registering only nine sacks in 37 career games. Branch registered 61 total tackles and 15 tackles for loss. As a junior, Branch was ineligible for senior all-star games and elected not to work out at the Scouting Combine. Perceived struggles at his Pro Day may have Branch dropping down the board slightly, but his ability to stop the run is too valuable for him to fall very far.

 

   3. Justin Harrell, Tennessee, 6-5, 300, SR:

 

Despite missing most of his senior campaign with a torn bicep, Harrell is expected to be the third defensive tackle selected and a possible first-round pick. The defensive captain started the first three games of the 2006 season at left tackle before missing the rest of the season. He posted seven tackles (three solos) with a pressure and a stop for a loss. More than his own statistics, the Vols' overall defensive numbers underline Harrell's worth. With Harrell in the lineup, the team averaged 2.33 sacks per game. With Harrell sidelined, the Vols managed an average of one per game.

 

Despite the injury, scouts have plenty of film on Harrell as the senior started 25 of the 35 games in which he appeared at Tennessee. Harrell has good quickness off the snap and is consistently able to disrupt plays in the backfield. His greatest asset, however, is his strength and size as a run-stuffer in the middle. The emotional team leader earned the respect of his teammates and NFL scouts when, after tearing his left bicep against Air Force in early September, Harrell gutted through one more game against rival and eventual national champion Florida before undergoing season-ending surgery.

 

   4. DeMarcus "Tank" Tyler, N.C. State, 6-2, 306, SR:

 

Nicknamed "Tank" for a reason, Tyler is a load in the middle. Operating without three defensive linemen selected in the first round of the 2006 draft, the Wolfpack needed a leader to emerge and Tyler responded with a career-high 49 tackles, 8 1/2 tackles for loss, and three sacks to earn All-ACC accolades.

 

Tyler's low center of gravity and strength allow him to hold up at the point of attack when defending the run and push his opponents into the backfield to disrupt the timing of the passing game. Tyler has good quickness off the snap but lacks the burst to ever be a legitimate interior rush threat. Voted team captain, Tyler has had a few incidents that draw red-flags with team's who closely evaluate character.

 

   5. Marcus Thomas, Florida, 6-3, 314, SR:

 

With the NFL's expanded focus on character, there is little chance that Thomas will be among the top defensive tackles drafted. He failed two drug tests and endured a team-levied suspension at Florida.

 

Based exclusively on his play, however, Thomas could rank at the top of the list and deserves mention with this group. A four-year starter for the Gators, Thomas averaged 45 tackles per season and increased his tackles for loss and sack totals each of his first three seasons.

 

Though he only played in five games in 2006, Thomas was dominant. Starting at nose tackle, a position that usually doesn't lend to players racking up gaudy individual statistics, Thomas recorded 26 tackles, 5 1/2 tackles for loss, and four sacks.

 

Other Potential Impact Defensive Tackles:

   -- Turk McBride, Tennessee, 6-3, 277, SR: A versatile defender with experience at both end and tackle, McBride came on strong when the Volunteers needed him most last year -- after the loss of star Justin Harrell.

   -- Brandon Mebane, California, 6-1, 309, SR: Built like a Coke machine, and at times, just as difficult to move, Mebane impressed during Senior Bowl practices but failed to make plays in that game.

   -- Antonio Johnson, Mississippi State, 6-3, 310, SR: JUCO prospect who showed enough improvement to warrant a mid-round selection despite never becoming a full-time starter at Mississippi State.

   -- Paul Soliai, Utah, 6-4, 344, SR: Monstrous defensive tackle and one of the few in this draft capable of handling a two-gap alignment.

   -- Quinn Pitcock, Ohio State, 6-3, 299, SR: Pitcock is a run-stuffing, high-energy defensive tackle whose stretch of big plays early in 2006 had some incorrectly labeling him as a first-round pick. 

   -- Jay Alford, Penn State, 6-4, 304, SR: "Tweener" capable of playing the three-gap technique as an interior pass rusher or sliding outside to play left defensive end.

   -- Kareem Brown, Miami, 6-4, 290, SR: Imposing player with natural talent who has struggled to put it all together.

   -- Derek Landri, Notre Dame, 6-3, 288, SR: Quick to slice through the gaps, Landri can help teams as a third-down pass rusher on the interior.

 

Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Email him at rrang@nfldraftscout.com.