Last week I highlighted my all-offense team for rookie diamonds in the rough to watch for in 2009. This week it's the defenders.
Lions pass rusher Cliff Avril tied for the rookie lead in sacks (five) and led all first-year players with four forced fumbles last season, but was only a third-round pick. The two defensive linemen who tied Avril with five sacks were drafted in the second (Tennessee's Jason Jones) and sixth rounds (Oakland's Trevor Scott).
|Pass-rush specialist Everette Brown is only short on height. (AP)|
DE Everette Brown, Carolina (second round; 43rd overall): Some will argue that I'm not taking much of a gamble by having Brown, the first defensive end drafted in the second round, leading off my defense. Based on the fact that Brown was the sixth defensive end drafted from a supposedly weak year for pass rushers, however, the selection is justified. Say what you will about the upside of the pass rushers selected ahead of him -- Brown was the most consistently explosive and fundamentally sound sack artist from the 2008 class. Had he been 2 inches taller, he would have been a top-15 pick. Carolina got a steal in Brown at No. 43, and it won't take the former ACC star long to prove it.
DT Terrance Knighton, Jacksonville (third; 72nd): The Jaguars clearly missed the presence of Marcus Stroud last year, and with John Henderson in Jack Del Rio's doghouse, the opportunity is there for Knighton to capture early playing time. The 6-3, 321-pounder was viewed as a significant reach by some scouts, but sources inside the Jacksonville organization tell me Knighton has been as impressive as any of the team's rookies thus far.
DT Fili Moala, Indianapolis, (second; 56th): Ironically, I've never been as high on Moala as many others, but there is no denying that he has a great opportunity for early playing time with a Colts defense needing an infusion of size and athleticism up front. Drafted earlier than any defensive tackle for the Colts since 2002, the 6-4, 305-pound Moala lacks the athleticism to collapse the pocket as the three-technique defensive tackle the Tampa-2 scheme calls for, but he's big, strong and plays hard on every snap. Flanked by pass rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, that should be enough for a significant improvement by the Colts' defensive line in 2009.
DE Alex Magee, Kansas City (third; 67th): Though the roster I've created here is based out of the 4-3 alignment, Magee will be operating as a defensive end in Kansas City's version of the 3-4 scheme. At 6-3, 298 pounds, Magee is well suited to this position. One shouldn't expect much in terms of gaudy tackle or sack numbers out of Magee, or any 3-4 defensive end for that matter, based on their responsibility to eat up blocks and allow the linebackers to make the flashy plays. But don't be surprised if Magee is every bit as successful as former top five picks Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson along the Chiefs' front line.
OLB Gerald McRath, Tennessee (fourth; 130th): Listing McRath here is admittedly a bit premature, as it will be difficult for him to see much playing time with Pro Bowler Keith Bulluck and steady veteran David Thornton securely ahead of him. With the 32-year-old Bullock entering the final year of his contract, however, McRath is in perfect position to learn for a season and take over in 2010. I loved his aggression and production at Southern Miss and thought he was one of the more underrated defenders in the draft. Give him three years. By that time, McRath will not only be a starter, but a standout for the Titans. ILB Scott McKillop, San Francisco (fifth; 146th): James Laurinaitis (Rams) and Rey Maualuga (Bengals) will have more immediate impacts in the NFL, but as two of the first players selected in the second round, that shouldn't come as a surprise. McKillop, however, could prove to be quite a find for the 49ers in the fifth round. Pro Bowler Patrick Willis will continue to be the headliner of the San Francisco linebacking corps, but don't be surprised if the heady, fundamentally sound McKillop eventually secures a starting position alongside him and gives the club a formidable interior duo.
OLB Jason Williams, Dallas (third; 69th): Despite not being invited to the Combine, Williams was the first of Dallas' 12 draft picks and could be the rookie likeliest to make an immediate impact for the Cowboys. His initial impact may be felt only on special teams; he boasts 4.49-second speed in 40 yards at 6-1, 240 pounds. But don't be surprised if Williams earns playing time as the nickel linebacker on obvious passing downs. He is undeniably raw, but his athleticism turned heads during early practices and the Cowboys aren't yet sure what they have in veteran Keith Brooking and perpetual disappointment Bobby Carpenter.
|Playmaker Alphonso Smith could become prominent opposite star Champ Bailey. (Getty Images)|
CB Christopher Owens, Atlanta (third; 90th): Though few outside of the WAC know it, San Jose State has featured several NFL-caliber defensive backs over the past few seasons, including Dwight Lowery, a part-time rookie starter last year for the Jets after being drafted in the fourth round, and Coye Francies, a sixth-round pick of the Browns this year. The most consistent of the bunch, however, has been "Peanut" Owens, a 5-9, 180-pound mighty-mite whose toughness, competitiveness and overall athleticism will make him a legitimate contender to start for the Falcons as a rookie.
FS Glover Quin, Houston (fourth; 112th): OK, I'll be the first to admit that I'm cheating a bit with Quin, as the Texans had him operating at cornerback throughout minicamps and OTAs. However, when Dunta Robinson returns from his holdout, Quin could be asked to move to free safety, where his instincts, straight-line speed and reliable tackling would fit nicely. If the Texans are like most teams, they'll sacrifice Quin's lack of experience at the position to get their best players on the field. Had Quin played in the ACC or SEC instead of the Mountain West, he might have been a second-round pick.
SS Patrick Chung, New England (second; 34th): I considered taking Chung off this list, as the second pick of the second round is hardly what most consider a "diamond in the rough." That said, there isn't a single player on this list (or the offensive list, for that matter) that I have more confidence in developing into a true standout than Chung. I tagged him as the most reliable open-field tackler in the 2009 draft and see no reason to back off that assessment now that he'll be playing for a defensive genius like Bill Belichick.
Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.