NFL draft preview: Defensive line
10:41 AM CDT on Thursday, April 16, 2009
By RICK GOSSELIN / The Dallas Morning News
There is size and there is speed on this draft board with very little crossover. I'm not sure I've ever seen so many 6-2, 4.80 pass rushers in one draft. The quantity far exceeds the quality.
THE TOP 15
Rk., Pos., Player School Ht. Wt. Noteworthy
1. T B.J. Raji BC 6-1 ½ 337 Biggest DT in the draft
2. E Tyson Jackson LSU 6-4 296 Best 3-4 DE in the draft
3. E Aaron Maybin Penn St. 6-3 ½ 249 12 sacks in 2008
4. E Brian Orakpo Texas 6-3 249 4.63 speed in the 40
5. T Peria Jerry Ole Miss 6-1 ½ 299 18 tackles for losses led SEC
6. T Ziggy Hood Missouri 6-2 ½ 300 170 career tackles
7. E Robert Ayers Tenn. 6-3 272 Senior Bowl defensive MVP
8. E Connor Barwin Cinn. 6-3 ½ 256 4.59 speed in the 40
9. T Jarron Gilbert San Jose 6-5 288 4.81 speed in the 40
10. E Everette Brown Fla. St. 6-1 ½ 256 13 ½ sacks in 2008
11. E Larry English No. Ill. 6-2 255 Four-year starter
12. E Paul Kruger Utah 6-4 263 Former high school QB
13. E Michael Johnson Ga. Tech 6-6 ½ 266 38 ½-inch vertical jump
14. T Alex Magee Purdue 6-2 ½ 298 Also played DE in 2007
15. E Cody Brown Conn 6-2 244 11 sacks in 2008
Potential first-round picks in bold
Spotlight on: Connor Barwin, Cincinnati
If Connor Barwin wasn't already high on draft boards as a defensive end, he'd be high on those same boards at tight end.
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Barwin started at tight end for Cincinnati in 2007 and caught 31 passes. But last spring, Bearcats coach Brian Kelly approached him about moving across the line to defensive end – and that's where he started in 2008.
"Throughout college, I thought tight end was the position for me because I had that special skill set – that toughness, that ability to play in space and beat safeties and linebackers," Barwin said. "I still think I have those abilities, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I really found a passion for playing defense and being in an attack mode. I really enjoyed playing defensive end."
Not only did he enjoy it, Barwin excelled at it. He led the Big East in sacks with 11.
"I was excited about having a big senior year playing tight end," Barwin said. "But when Coach talked to me about it, I bought in pretty quickly. He told me it was going to help my versatility and help me get into the NFL the next year. ... It seemed to work out."
The best: B.J. Raji, Boston College
Raji is both the best tackle and best nose tackle in the draft. With the NFL pendulum swinging back toward the 3-4 defensive scheme, Raji should be a hot commodity on draft day. He gives a team 337 pounds of run-stuffing efficiency in the middle of its defense. Boston College ranked seventh in the NCAA in run defense last season with averages of 2.8 yards per carry and 91.2 yards per game. Raji also had eight sacks last season in earning All-Atlantic Coast Conference acclaim.
Sleeper: Vaughn Martin, Western Ontario
Most underclassmen who declare for the draft leave a year of eligibility on the table. Some leave two. Martin is leaving three. But Martin plays in Canada, where players have five years of eligibility. He has NFL size (6-3, 328) on a draft board that lacks size. Martin posted 20 ½ tackles for losses in 2008, plus an interception return for a touchdown.
Best of Texas: Brian Orakpo, Texas
The defensive end from Houston finished second in the Big 12 with 11 ½ sacks on his way to conference Defensive Player of the Year honors. That was the least of his postseason honors. He also won the Lombardi, Nagurski and Hendricks national awards.
Draft projection: First round
All in the family: Texas A&M DE Michael Bennett is the older brother of Aggies TE Marcellus Bennett, a second-round draft pick by the Cowboys in 2008. San Jose State DT Jarron Gilbert is the son of Daren Gilbert, who played offensive line for the New Orleans Saints in the 1980s. Also, Texas DE Henry Melton is the nephew of former NFL CB Ray Crockett.
Diversification: Michigan NT Terrance Taylor and Maryland DE Jeremy Navarre were state wrestling champions in high school. Boston College DT Ron Brace was a two-time state shot put champion. DE Connor Barwin played two years of basketball at Cincinnati in addition to four years of football.
Long on effort: What Iowa DT Mitch King lacks in size (6-1 ½, 280 pounds) he makes up in effort. The two-time All-Big Ten choice had 17 ½ sacks and 55 tackles for losses in his career. "I just keep moving," King said. "That's the best thing about pass rushers. You have one goal: get to the quarterback. My motor is always running, and I have violent hands. That helps me."
Walking on: Slade Norris (6-2, 232) missed most of his senior season in high school with a broken leg, so he didn't receive any scholarship offers. He walked on at Oregon State as a wide receiver but moved to linebacker in 2005 and on to defensive end in 2007. He collected nine sacks that season and 10 in his first year as a starter in 2008.
Legends: Phillip Hunt of Houston was second in the NCAA with 14 sacks this season and set a school record with 34 for his career. Others in this draft who set school records for career sacks are Larry English of Northern Illinois and Nick Reed of Oregon. Here are the top career sackers on this draft board:
Player School Sacks
Phillip Hunt Houston 34
Larry English No. Ill. 31 ½
Nick Reed Oregon 29 ½
Victor Butler Ore. St. 25 ½
Cody Brown Conn. 24
Everette Brown Fla. St. 23
Stryker Suylak Missouri 22 ½
Brian Orakpo Texas 22
Brandon Williams Texas Tech 21 ½
Ian Campbell Kan. St. 20 ½