For any football team, at any level the most important spot has got to be up front in the trenches. On the defensive front key guys in the NFL today like: Mario Williams, Jared Allen and Justin Tuck are constantly effecting the results of plays and forcing bad passes , plays with negative yardage , and yes even sacks. So what does it take to be a solid defensive lineman in the National Football League ? For starters the player must have size. If you look at the 3 examples I just gave (Mario Williams , Jared Allen and Justin Tuck) average a 6’5 height and 280 lbs in weight. Another big part of any successful defensive lineman or any defensive player for that matter is his speed. Although these players are huge and heavy they can all really move, Justin Tuck for example ran a 4.6 40 yard dash time… Thats faster than most QB’s entering the draft ! Another key part of a great defensive lineman is the system that he plays in. In the NFL there are two different defensive schemes , The 4-3 and the 3-4. Each system has its pros and cons. For the 4-3 you get more power on the inside with powerful tackles and size while lacking some speed. Some teams that use this system are the Giants , Saints , and Cardinals who all have big time guys up front but lack some speed when getting to the QB. On the flip side the 3-4 defense provides a different look with 3 down linemen and 4 linebackers, 2 being “Hybrid ” types who get double-digit sacks, guys like Clay Matthews and DeMarcus Ware show why this system can be so effective. Here are my top 5 Defensive Linemen and some others to keep your eyes on :
1. DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama 6’3 319 lbs: By far the most dominant player in this years draft. Posses the size, speed (4.9 40-yd dash) and the key awareness to succeed in both a 4-3 or 3-4 system at the next level. Dareus will be gone early in the top 3 picks overall. My perfect fit for Marcell Dareus is with the Panthers at the 1st overall pick. I say this because the Panthers need another defensive monster up front and also Dareus is just too good of a prospect and talent to pass up ; Lets be honest here Cam Newton is not ready to be an NFL Franchise QB, in my mind Newton will be a big BUST while Dareus will be a monster as soon as he steps on the field. Just like in 2006 when DE Mario Williams went 1st overall to the Texans and QB Vince Young went 3rd to the Titans… And just look how that turned out.
Projection: top 3
Comparison: DE Richard Seymour
2.DT Nick Fairley, Auburn 6’3 291 lbs: Not nearly as flexible or durable as Dareus but still extremely explosive. Fairly won the Lombardi Trophy for most outstanding interior lineman for the year. What Fairley brings to the table is strength and an amazing ability to plug up wholes in the running game. He will be good in a 3-4 but GREAT in a 4-3 role. However I don’t think he will make an immediate impact in the NFL. I see Fairly falling to the Tennessee Titans at 11. For me he’s the best player on the board at that point and won’t be passed up.
Comparison: DT Pat Williams
3. DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina 6’4 265 lbs : In one word Robert Quinn can be described as “EXPLOSIVE”. With a 40 yard dash clocking in at 4.6 seconds (The fastest of all d-linemen) and great size Quinn would have been my number 2 lineman had he not been suspended at UNC. Quinn has all the makings of an elite outside rusher in a 3-4 system. But he could also be an effective down lineman similar to a Justin Tuck or Julius Peppers. My pick for Robert Quinn is Dallas Cowboys at number 9 to complement DeMarcus Ware as an outside rusher.
Comparison:DE/OLB Brian Orakpo
4. DE Da’Quan Bowers,Clemson 6’4 280 lbs : Basically just another version of Robert Quinn but a little bit slower (4.7 second 40) and heavier by 15 lbs which categorizes him as more of a down lineman then Quinn. He fits in a 4-3 scheme as an outside guy that will contain the outside and stop most pitch or stretch plays to his side. He will be picked in the 1st round but not until at least the New England Patriots 1st of 8 picks at 17th overall. And will be a monster under the New England system, even though they run a 3-4.
Projection: mid to late 1st round
Comparison: DE Tyson Jackson
5. DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin 6’6 290 lbs: Part of the best defensive line in college football last year, JJ Watt standing at a towering 6’6 , 290 lbs represents the old school, smashmouth football world of the Big 10. Watt has all the intangibles and size to be a star in the NFL and have longevity. The only thing lacking is that breakout and explosive speed that Bowers and Quinn above him have. I see Watt going the Indianapolis Colts at 22nd overall.
Projection: late 1st round
Comparison: DE Jared Allen
Other Guys to Watch
- DE Aldon Smith, Missouri
- DT Corey Liuget, Illinois
- DE Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple
- DT Stephen Paea , UCLA
- DE Cameron Jordan, California