NFL Draft: Scouting The Top Defensive Linemen

With their move to a 3-4 defensive set, the 49ers are in need of players that are better fits for that system, which means getting bigger at both tackle (with a beefy noseguard prospect) and end. The question is how high in the draft the team will go to find such players.

Here's a detailed look at the top 10 defensive line prospects in this year's draft:

Travis Johnson School: Florida State
Ht: 6-3.5 Wt: 305 40: 5.08 Year: 5Sr

Bio: All-Conference selection as a senior after posting career numbers of 50/18/2.5. Played in thirteen games as a junior totaling 36 tackles. Charged with a felony count of assault in April of 2003 but the case was quickly dismissed. Started eight games as a sophomore posting 50/10/2.5.

Positives: Explosive run-stuffing defensive lineman with good upside for the next level. Bends his knees getting leverage on opponents, quick off the snap and stout at the point. Immediately reads or diagnoses the action, displays solid hand technique getting off blocks and redirects to the ball carrier. Gets a good amount of momentum going up the field and tough to slow down. Slides off opponents to the inside, has the ability to immediately alter his angle of attack and wraps up tackling. Works hard to make a play.

Negatives: Lacks top bulk and upper body strength for the inside. Marginal skills as a pass rusher.

Analysis: Rebounding off a poor junior campaign, Johnson got his game back on track last season and progressed off of what was a terrific sophomore year. The court case of ‘03 seemed to drag on him as a junior and was not as highly ranked as he should have been coming into the season. Stands to add bulk and strength to his frame yet a solid tackle for a conventional defense and a legitimate first round choice.
Shaun Cody School: USC
Ht: 6-4 Wt: 293 40: 4.95 Year: 4Sr

Bio: Moved into the starting lineup as a freshman, winning both All-Conference and All- American honors the past two seasons. Finished his senior year with 45/13/10 after a junior campaign of 26/10.5/6.

Positives: Athletic defensive lineman who forces the action from either the end or tackle position. Quick off the ball, has the ability to change direction at full speed and displays a closing burst to the play. Gets leverage on opponents, quick with his hands and works to protect himself throughout the action. Strings plays out to the flanks and shows speed off the edge. Tenacious, chases hard and takes it to the ball handler. Outstanding techniques and moves. Stout at the point and effective defending the run or rushing the edge.

Negatives: At times easily wired in blocks or handled by a single opponent. Gets straight legged and stood up at the line.

Analysis: A super athletic prospect that can be used in a variety of defensive systems as well as a number of spots on the line, Cody possesses good upside for the next level. Offers growth potential which will only make him better as he physically matures. Should be a solid yet unspectacular player in the NFL.
Mike Patterson School: USC
Ht: 5-11.5 Wt: 292 40: 5.09 Year: 4Sr

Bio: Three year starter awarded both All- Conference and All-American honors as a senior after totaling 45/16/6. Junior numbers included 55/13.5/7, when he originally won All- Conference honors.

Positives: Explosive interior lineman limited only by a lack of height. Gets off the snap with a great first step, plays with leverage and outstanding balance. Immediately changes direction, rarely off his feet and makes plays laterally, displaying good range. Consistently doubled in the middle of the line yet stout and holds the point. Possesses a burst of closing speed, flashes on the scene and very sudden. Excellent hand technician who displays an array of moves to stay off blocks. Tenacious and goes hard until the whistle blows.

Negatives: Has difficulty pitted against large blockers and swallowed up by opposing linemen.

Analysis: A forceful defender who controls the line of scrimmage and disrupts the offense, Patterson offers an array of skills which project well to the next level. Comes off a terrific Senior Bowl in which he was unblockable most of the week and is rising up draft boards. Measurables will keep him out of the top forty yet a prospect who will quickly earn playing time as a rookie in the NFL and go on to have a long and productive career.
Anttaj Hawthorne School: Wisconsin
Ht: 6-3.5 Wt: 321 40: 5.29 Year: 4Sr

Bio: All-Conference selection who started the past three seasons. Coming off a disappointing senior campaign in which he totaled 42/12/6. Posted career numbers of 75/20/4 as a junior.

Positives: Explosive interior defender who attracts double teams in the middle of the field. Gets off the ball with a quick first step, keeps his pads low and effectively uses hand technique to get around blocks. Jolts blockers displaying power and pushes them off the ball. Drives up the field and quickly locates the action. Immediately changes direction and wraps up tackling.

Negatives: Lacks top pursuit skills from the backside. Over-pursues the action in his attempt to get up the field. Improved his hand technique as a senior, yet still stands to protect himself better.

Analysis: A nasty defender who creates a lot of havoc up the field when on his game, Hawthorne can be a dominant force that overpowers one-on-one blockers. Offers size and plays with leverage, which gives him possibilities in a variety of systems. Lack of speed and inability to pursue is a negative, but a late first-round pick who can produce in a conventional defensive scheme.
Luis Castillo School: Northwestern
Ht: 6-3.5 Wt: 303 40: 4.86 Year: 4Sr

Bio: Three-year starter and All-Conference selection as a senior after posting 75/8.5/2. Posted a career-high 84 tackles as a sophomore.

Positives: Explosive interior lineman who can be used at tackle or on the nose. Leverage lineman who keeps his pads low to the ground, possesses a powerful lower body and displays the ability to bull-rush double teams off the ball. Jolts opponents with his hands, wedges through blocks and a smart ball player that immediately locates the action. Works to get involved in the action and consistently focused on by opponents.

Negatives: Possesses more of a short burst of speed and not fast to the flanks or outstanding in pursuit.

Analysis: An active lineman who makes a lot of plays against the run, Castillo comes off a terrific combine and is moving up draft boards. Explosive, with the ability to dominate opponents, he consistently stands out on film as he is almost always around the action. Could play in a variety of schemes at the next level and offers a good upside.

Top 5 Defensive Ends


Dan Cody School: Oklahoma
Ht: 6-5.5 Wt: 254 40: 4.68 Year: 5Sr

Bio: Two-year starter who posted 38/16/8 as a senior after 63/17/10 the prior year. All- Conference player the past two years and an All-American as a senior.

Positives: Outstanding athlete best characterized as a high-motor player. Explosive off the snap, displaying great first-step quickness, possesses an array of moves to beat blockers, and jumps inside of opponents or wedges between linemen to get penetration. Comes off the edge with force, pursues from the backside with speed, and makes plays in every direction. Alert, quickly locates the ball and has the ability to immediately alter his angle of attack. Deceptively strong and tough to move off the point. Plays with great balance, body control and rarely off his feet. Effective dropped off the line of scrimmage and makes plays in space.

Negatives: Lacks top size and has difficulty against bigger linemen. Must improve his play against the run.

Analysis: A defender who combines outstanding playing speed with tenacity and football intellect, Cody has the abilities to be a productive pass-rushing end at the next level that could eventually develop into an every-down lineman in a conventional defense.
Marcus Spears School: LSU
Ht: 6-4 Wt: 307 40: 5.01 Year: 4Sr

Bio: Three-year starter voted All-American as a senior after winning All-Conference honors the past two seasons. Totaled 49/17/9 last year after 49/13/6 the previous campaign. Has intercepted four passes since his sophomore season.

Positives: Well-sized, athletic defensive lineman who offers a good degree of upside potential. Forceful up the field, plays through blocks and quick changing direction to pursue the action laterally. Plays low with leverage, balance and body control. Easily moves to the sidelines, can drop off the line of scrimmage and make plays in space or in any direction of the field. Displays an explosive inside move, reads the action and quick locating the ball.

Negatives: Must improve his tackling technique. Rather easily held up at the point by ordinary opponents. Does not always seem in a hurry to get involved in the action or pursue the play if it's not in his immediate vicinity.

Analysis: An outstanding athlete who, when on his game, can be a difference maker, Spears offers early first round physical skills yet has late first day motivation. A tough lineman to block, he is a disruptive force rushing the passer, defending the run or even playing in space. Could be a perfect fit at left end in a conventional defense or as a two-gap lineman, but must start to apply himself on a consistent basis to ever reach the potential he possesses.
Shawne Merriman School: Maryland
Ht: 6-4.5 Wt: 272 40: 4.65 Year: 3Jr

Bio: All-Conference selection as a junior after posting 85/17/8.5. Battled injuries much of his sophomore campaign and finished with 55/9.5/ 8.5.

Positives: Athletic defender who displays great suddenness to his game. Explosive up the field, redirects to ball carriers and fast moving laterally. Pursues to the flanks with speed, displays outstanding range and the ability to defeat blocks. Breaks down well, tough to knock off his feet and strong at the point of attack. Possesses a closing burst of speed and flashes on the scene. Disciplined in pass coverage, effective in space and fast off the edge when lined up in a three point stance.

Negatives: Must develop more moves with his hands to get off blocks rather than just relying on brute force. Much better making plays up the field than in reverse.

Analysis: A difference maker and disruptive force, Merriman is an outstanding athlete with top measurables for the next level. Best suited to play over tight end in a 34 defense and has the potential to develop into an impact defender at the next level.
Erasmus James School: Wisconsin
Ht: 6-4 Wt: 266 40: 4.85 Year: 5Sr

Bio: Three-year starter coming off a breakout senior campaign. Big-Ten Defensive Player of the Year after posting 36/11.5/8. Sat out the 2003 campaign with a hip injury after posting 57/8/4 the prior year.

Positives: Excellent athlete making a big move up draft boards. Quick off the snap, plays low with leverage and immediately alters his angle of attack. Fluid moving up and down the line of scrimmage, redirects to the action and displays great range. Rarely off his feet and collapses outside-in to defend the run. Plays with excellent balance, fast off the edge and effective dropped off the line of scrimmage. Good speed to the sidelines and always working to get involved in the action. Solid hand technique fighting blocks.

Negatives: Handled at the point by a single blocker and has difficulty if opponents run straight at him.

Analysis: A disruptive force who opponents game-plan around, James combines athletic skills with intensity to force the action up the field. Answered a lot of questions last year and has gone from a possible first day pick to a potential top-15 selection.
David Pollack School: Georgia
Ht: 6-2 Wt: 265 40: 4.84 Year: 4Sr

Bio: Three-year starter that's been an All- American and All-Conference player every season since his sophomore campaign. Winner of the Lombardi Award given to the nation's outstanding lineman, the Bednarik Award as the nation's most outstanding defensive player, the Hendricks Award, handed to the nation's top defensive end. Also recipient of the Lott Trophy for being defensive impact player of the year in ‘04. Totaled 52/17.5/12.5 as a senior after 92/13.5/7.5 the prior year, with career numbers of 102/23.5/14 coming as a sophomore.

Positives: Relentless, high-revving player effective in a variety of ways. Bends his knees playing with leverage, balance and body control. Ferocious, works very hard to get involved in the action and rarely off his feet. Explosive off the snap with a good first step, relentless in his pursuit of the ball carrier and displays excellent lateral movement skills. Quickly changes direction, can drop off the line and play in space and intelligent in all aspects of his game. Quick to diagnose the action or locate the ball. Fast off the edge or out to the flanks.

Negatives: Engulfed by larger linemen, handled at the point and has difficulty getting off blocks. Lacks the big frame and wears down, as he is consistently double-teamed by opponents.

Analysis: Consistently a disruptive force throughout his college career, Pollack combines athleticism and intelligence to get the job done. Lacks the great size as well as growth potential, yet an outstanding prospect in a conventional defense that employs the zone blitz and asks him to move around the field. Will not be drafted as high as he should due to a lack of size, yet an early first-round pick who will be productive at the next level.

Complete Defensive Tackle Rankings - Complete Defensive End Rankings - Complete NFL Draft Rankings


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