NFL Prospects: Defensive Line
Plenty of deep talent to go around in this year's draft
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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:
1. Gaines Adams, Clemson, 6-5, 258, SR:
2. Adam Carriker,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
-- Baraka Atkins, Miami, 6-5, 271, SR: An enigma. Has the size and athletic ability but never turned potential into production.
1. Amobi Okoye, Louisville, 6-2, 302, SR:
A native of
He played four years at
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
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.
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
4. DeMarcus "Tank"
Nicknamed "Tank" for a reason,
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
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,
-- 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.
-- 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,
-- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.