The NFL finally has found the answer to the question, where's the beef?
It's at the top of this year's college player draft, where huge, talented defensive linemen dominate the list, including two of the first three prospects overall and nine of the top 32, according to ratings by NFLDraftScout.com.
|Ndamukong Suh: Too good for the Rams to pass at No. 1 overall? (US Presswire)|
The last time two interior defensive linemen went in the first three picks was in 1992, when Steve Emtman was selected No. 1 overall by Indianapolis and Sean Gilbert went third to St. Louis. Defensive tackles have never occupied the top two spots in a draft, but that could change this year considering the needs of St. Louis and Detroit, which hold the top two selections.
While Suh can play any spot along the line and McCoy is capable of generating an upfield push, Tennessee's Dan Williams is the most coveted target for 3-4 defenses seeking a massive presence to command double-teams.
At least four defensive ends have been selected in the first round in each of the past five drafts, and NFLDraftScout.com has five rated as worthy of top 32 consideration this year.
The group is dominated by bigger ends and undersized 'tweeners, who will both be looked at closely by teams running 3-4 schemes. Washington's Brian Orakpo led all rookies with 11 sacks for Washington last season, making the smooth transition to outside linebacker that prospects such as TCU's Jerry Hughes will likely be asked to do.
The top pure 4-3 end is Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan, a top 10 talent with a prototypical frame and explosiveness to develop into a game-changing presence in the NFL. Here is a closer look at this year's top defensive line prospects:
Rank/Player/School/Height/Weight/Projected Round (*Underclassman)
1. *Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech, 6-3, 266, 1
As evidenced by 10 fumble recoveries the past two seasons, Morgan has rare awareness and instincts that set him apart from others even more than his strength and athleticism. He has an explosive first step, yet plays with discipline and understands how to maintain leverage. He was surrounded by a group of talented teammates in 2008, and as the only returning starter last year he stepped up to become ACC Defensive Player of the Year with 55 tackles, including 18.5 for a loss and 12.5 sacks. But he was held to only three tackles in an important matchup against Iowa's NFL-caliber offensive tackles in the Orange Bowl.
2. *Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida, 6-5, 270, 1
Pierre-Paul is a well-traveled work in progress and the jury is out as to whether he can become something special when he settles into a full-time job in the NFL. He focused on basketball in high school until his junior season and his learning curve in college was challenged because he has been to three schools, including two junior colleges, in three years due to academic challenges. But his freakish pass rush ability is amazing, especially if he lines up in space. His first step is more of a blink-quick long jump and keeping up with him is a major challenge for tackles. But he lacks instinct and doesn't use his hands well to shed blockers. Last season he collected 45 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
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3. *Everson Griffen, Southern Cal, 6-4, 273, 1
Scouts are most curious what will happen with Griffen when they show him the money. If a big paycheck motivates him, then he can be a very productive pro. However, based on his inconsistency in college, that is a considerable if. Scouts question his work ethic off the field and the consistency of his competitive fire on it. Griffen's athleticism is most obvious when he is turned loose as a pass rusher; he is a constant challenge to block due to an array of dazzling athletic moves and great closing speed. Griffen finished the 2009 season with 45 tackles, including 9.5 for a loss, and 8.0 sacks. He totaled 18 sacks in his USC career.
4. *Carlos Dunlap, Florida, 6-6, 270, 1
Dunlap gives scouts plenty to ponder -- that's both the good and the bad news. There is little doubt he has exceptional size, strength, speed and pass rushing ability. That was conspicuous in Florida's 2009 BCS championship victory over Oklahoma when Dunlap was named Defensive MVP with four tackles, including 1.5 for a loss, a blocked field goal and a sack. He also had two sacks in this year's Sugar Bowl rout of Cincinnati. But he doesn't always play up to his physical potential, and gives scouts reason for lingering concerns about his maturity and intensity. He was arrested on a DUI after officers found him passed out in his car last Dec. 1, four days before the SEC Championship Game against Alabama. He was suspended for the game and the Gators' defense was shredded for 390 totals yards in a 32-13 loss.
5. Jerry Hughes, TCU, 6-2, 255, 1-2
This celebrated high school running back moved to defensive end as a freshman. After a few seasons getting acclimated to the other side of the ball, he blossomed with 15 sacks in 2008. For an encore, he posted 58 tackles, 16.5 for loss, and 11.5 sacks as a senior -- despite facing near constant double teams -- to win the Lott Trophy as the nation's top defender and Ted Hendricks Award as the top defensive end. Size is an obvious concern, making Hughes a bit of a 'tweener who will be scrutinized closely by NFL teams running a 3-4 scheme for a potential move to outside linebacker. But this is a raw talent capable of finding whoever has the ball in his hands and making big plays.
6. Corey Wootton, Northwestern, 6-6, 270, 2
Wootton is a comeback kid who enters the draft a year later than expected after a torn ACL in the 2008 season Alamo Bowl made it necessary to stay in college one more season. He improved each week in 2009 and eventually emerged as a potential first-round pick. He finished the season with 21 tackles, six for a loss, and four sacks. Wootton has a long torso and long arms and seems too lean to have the strength that he demonstrates with his surprising bull rush. He showed enough agility and athleticism to be used in short zone coverage and had four career interceptions. Wootton made an earlier comeback from a neck injury in 2005 to make the All Big-Ten team as a redshirt freshman in 2006. Coaches love his work ethic and teammates elected him Most Valuable Player in 2008.
7. Austen Lane, Murray State, 6-6, 276, 2-3
This small-school standout helped legitimize his draftability with a great week of practice and then a heads-up game at the Senior Bowl, where he recovered a fumble and took it 6 yards for a touchdown. Lane starred in football and basketball in high school and showed up in college at only 220 pounds. Now, about 50 pounds and four years later, his basketball background is still reflected in the impressive variety of quick moves and body control he shows as a pass rusher. Even with the added weight, and strength, he doesn't have enough ballast to be an every-down defensive end, but he certainly will be viewed as a pass-rush specialist and possible outside linebacker in the right 3-4 defense.
8. Alex Carrington, Arkansas State, 6-5, 285, 2-3
There's really nothing fancy about this big guy, but offensive linemen will need to show up ready for a brawl. Carrington is serious about football and about life, as evidence by his rugged play on the field and his strong personal focus. He chose Arkansas State over larger schools to be near his son, and already has a degree in clinical psychology. On the field, he ruined offenses in 2008 when he earned Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year with 53 tackles, 19 for a loss, and 10.5 sacks. He finished his career with 21.5 sacks and then really got the attention of scouts when he manhandled blockers at Senior Bowl practices.
9. Jermaine Cunningham, Florida, 6-4, 266, 2-3
Cunningham began terrifying quarterbacks as a high school linebacker, registering 45 sacks in his final two years, and just kept on going through college. He is good at all aspects of pass rushing without having eye-popping talent at any single act. He has excellent awareness and understands his role in a system. Cunningham started 38 of the 45 games he played at Florida and his career totals include 151 tackles, 33 for a loss, 18.5 sacks and five forced fumbles.
10. Greg Hardy, Mississippi, 6-4, 281, 3
Durability is as much in question as ability with Hardy. His combination of strength and athleticism has drawn comparisons to Julius Peppers and Mario Williams. However, he has undergone two surgeries on his right foot for stress fractures, the second requiring a screw to be inserted for stabilization. The injury was aggravated by an automobile accident suffered on July 11, 2009. Then he broke his wrist in the middle of last season. When healthy he is dominant, which was evident in his 10 games as a junior when he had 64 tackles, 18.5 for a loss and 10 sacks. He added about 15 pounds before the East-West Shrine Game, where he flashed some ability, but not consistently.
1. Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska, 6-4, 307, 1
In the classroom Suh majored in construction management, but on the field he starred in destruction and mayhem. He has everything necessary to become one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the NFL, where his rare combination of size, skills and competitiveness should earn him immediate respect. He can run around or through blockers faster than you can pronounce his name (En-dom-ah-ken Soo). Although best suited to play defensive tackle in a four-man line, Suh is tough enough to hold down the middle as a nose tackle yet has the agility and quickness to be a menace at defensive end. Suh's instincts are conspicuous and he even dropped into pass coverage at times in college. Last season, Suh finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting, won the Nagurski, Outland, Bednarik and Lombardi awards, and was All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year. He bypassed the Senior Bowl to focus on training for the Indianapolis Scouting Combine.
|Gerald McCoy accepts kudos after being Sun Bowl MVP on Dec. 31. (US Presswire)|
McCoy entered this draft as an underclassman after two years in which he totaled 26.5 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks. He is persistent, powerful and should be even more productive in the NFL than his college statistics indicate. In college he demanded the attention of multiple blockers, allowing teammates to make tackles. McCoy is best when he anticipates the snap count, fires off the ball quickly and gets into the blocker with momentum rather than being the counter puncher attempting to gain control. He has excellent feet, a good spin move and closing speed that makes him a constant pest in pursuit.
3. Dan Williams, Tennessee, 6-2, 327, 1
Williams was one of the biggest benefactors when Monte Kiffin was brought in to coach the defense in 2009. In one season Williams went from a mid-round prospect to a potential first- or second-rounder after he led all SEC defensive linemen with 61 tackles. This wide body is built for power and uses it effectively despite the fact he is still learning how to stay low and use leverage. Williams has excellent straight-ahead quickness and backs that up with sheer power to keep blockers going backward. He has awareness and reaction that help overcome a lack of elite lateral agility.
4. *Brian Price, UCLA, 6-1, 303, 1-2
He earned Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2009 with 48 tackles and 23.5 tackles for a loss, including seven sacks. Price is a squat powerhouse who uses great explosion and short-area quickness to get an edge, but his top speed is only average. His toughness reflects growing up in the South Central Los Angeles area, and dealing with two of his brothers being killed. He is still a work in progress and does have some size/speed limitations, but there is no doubt he will give everything he has to make it in pro football.
5. Jared Odrick, Penn State, 6-5, 304, 1-2
Odrick is a tenacious team leader who was named 2009 Big Ten Defensive Player and Defensive Lineman of the Year. His strength is strength itself, which could serve him as a tackle in a four-man line or even at nose tackle in a 3-4. Over the past two seasons Odrick has steadily improved to the point where NFL teams now believe he has the potential to be an outstanding pro. He has the quickness that demands immediate attention from blockers and he can follow up with a persistent bull rush. He is not agile, but used his big, strong hands to control college blockers and may need to learn more tricks to remain consistently successful in the NFL.
6. Terrence Cody, Alabama, 6-4, 354, 2
Many scouts believe Cody is the single biggest -- and they do mean biggest -- reason that Alabama had the best defense in the country last season. He trimmed down to 354 pounds for the combine, but remains a mountain of a man who is almost impossible to move, even with two blockers. With Cody at nose tackle, no running back rushed for a 100 yards against Alabama. His two-year statistics are decent, with only 52 total tackles, including 10.5 for a loss, two blocked kicks and a sack. But he took on at least two blockers on every play, freeing teammates to clean up. His performance faded at the end of last season and NFL scouts are concerned about his weight and stamina. His performance clearly declined throughout the week of Senior Bowl practices, but dropping 16 pounds in less than a month was a strong step in the right direction.
7. Tyson Alualu, California, 6-3, 295, 2
Mature, high-intensity player who commands respect with his level of play and team attitude. He doesn't have elite strength or speed, but he has a combination of quickness, awareness and endless energy that wears down blockers. His style of reckless abandon earned him playing time beginning his freshman year and he went on to win several team awards for his courage and attitude, and was team captain in 2009. Played in 51 games with 39 starts, including a run of 38 consecutive starts. He made 188 tackles, 24.5 for a loss, 17 sacks, four forced and four recovered fumbles, a blocked kick and an interception
8. Cam Thomas, North Carolina, 6-4, 330, 2
Massive man who can control the line of scrimmage, as he demonstrated in Senior Bowl practices where he gave a significant boost to his draft stock. He was a three-year starter, but somewhat overlooked among the great talent surrounding him that also led to limited playing time in the Tar Heels' line rotation. Thomas finished last season with 23 tackles, 2.5 for a loss, three quarterback pressures and a blocked kick. He projects as a nose tackle in the pros.
9. Lamarr Houston, Texas, 6-3, 305, 32-3
Houston brings with him an interesting athletic history going back to his days at Doherty High School in Colorado Springs, where he was a star running back (3,325 yards, 49 touchdowns) and a Parade All American linebacker. He was also a three-year star in basketball as a power forward, ran the hurdles and threw the discus. Little wonder Texas took a while to figure out what to do with him. Originally a fullback prospect, he played in 50 career games, starting 20 at defensive tackle and 12 at defensive end. He totaled 136 tackles, 40 for a loss, 14 sacks and 65 pressures.
10. Mike Neal, Purdue, 6-3, 294, 3
Neal struggles to put together four good quarters of football, but he's also a former top in-state recruit who battled through injuries early in his career and enters the draft under the radar. The film shows he commands double-teams, and can penetrate the backfield when working one-on-one. As part of a rotation, Neal could make a few impact plays per game as his impressive weight room strength would translate best in limited snaps.
11. Geno Atkins, Georgia, 6-2, 293, 3
It's easy to see why Atkins was so highly recruited as the Florida Defensive Player of the Year. He has the build and athleticism to be an effective pro. The problem has been getting a consistent effort out of Atkins, who earned just three starts in 2009. Like many fringe interior defenders, his best chance to stick on an NFL roster and make an early impact is part of a rotation. Atkins is explosive and strong and will intrigue scouts in spurts, and if he matures he could develop into a far better pro than collegiate player.
12. Torell Troup, Central Florida, 6-3, 314, 3-4
Extremely hard working, dedicated huge player whose focus on becoming a pro became apparent when he shed 30 pounds heading into his senior season and was rewarded with more stamina. His strength at the point of attack indicates he is a potential nose tackle candidate. A two-time All-Conference USA, he started 39 of his 47 career games and finished with 105 tackles, 24 for a loss. Torell changed his last name from Johnson to Troup for his last two seasons at UCF to honor the re-emergence of his father into his family's life.
Frank Cooney is the Publisher of NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.