2006 Draft Preview: Defensive Tackle

One defensive area that has taken on greater priority in the draft recently is tackle. From 1996 to 2000, a total of five defensive tackles were selected in the first round. That number increased to 20 during the drafts of 2001-2005. In fact, on a pair of occasions during that time('01 & '03), five defensive tackles were selected during the initial round alone. The 49ers' highest recent choice was second-rounder Anthony Adams in 2003, but they could be searching to replace Bryant Young in 2006.

The number of defensive tackles selected during the first round averages just over three since 2001 and next April will run along those same lines. Though the class looks deep, right now there are no knockout prospects that will broach the very early selections of the top 32 picks.

Michigan's Gabe Watson seriously considered entering last April's draft but made the right choice and returns for a final year of college ball. A king-sized tackle at 6-4 and 330 pounds, Watson is a load in the middle of the line and commands double teams by opponents. A powerful lineman who collapses the pocket, he gets a lot of push up the field. Watson is sloppy on occasion and does not seem to be properly conditioned. He does possess the skills and abilities to make a big leap up draft boards with a productive senior season followed up with quality interviews before the draft.

Another Big Ten tackle, Anthony Montgomery of Minnesota, is also a skilled player who could be headed into the first round.  Explosive in all actions, Montgomery displays a good head for the ball and is consistently making positive plays.  Sized well, he must learn to better protect himself and become quicker shedding blocks at the point of attack.  The combination of athleticism, growth potential and the position he plays makes Montgomery a prime candidate to move up draft boards with a big senior campaign.

The Big 12 offers four solid prospects, with a pair coming from the Texas Longhorns.

Rodrique Wright is a terrific athlete who makes plays in all directions of the field, defending the run as well as rushing the passer.  Wright easily moves his 6-4, 320-pound frame around the field and can be tough to stop.  Teammate Larry Dribbles is just as athletic and makes a good amount of positive plays, yet he is much smaller and has growth limitations.  Wright has top-32 potential while Dribbles presently carries a late first-day grade.

Nebraska's Le Kevin Smith is built more for the nose tackle spot at 6-2/320 pounds and his explosive playing style is eye-catching.  Quickness off the snap gives Smith a decided advantage against opponents, as does the ability to make plays laterally. Smith seriously considered entering last April's draft and did not make his final decision until the final moments.  While his skills warrant top-75 consideration, Smith has a history of knee injuries and must be given a clean bill of health before any team expends an early draft pick for his services.  

Johnny Jolley of Texas A&M has wreaked havoc from both tackle and end positions the previous three years and is another top prospect from this league.  An explosive player with good athleticism, Jolley quickly gets off the snap and makes plays laterally.  A big senior season could push him into the second round.  

The Miami Hurricanes football program has a long tradition of placing top defensive tackles into the NFL and Orien Harris will try to be the next in line.  Yet another solid athlete with good size, Harris looked like a star in the making as a sophomore before suffering through a mediocre junior campaign last year.   Still graded highly, NFL scouts are expecting a lot from Harris this season. 

Washington's Manase Hopoi has been a disruptive force at several positions and a player that's exceeded expectations.   Tremendously quick, Hopoi has a great first step off the snap and makes plays in all directions of the field.  Needing to add both bulk and playing strength, he is a lineman that must beat opponents with a first move as Hopoi has trouble shedding blocks at the point.  Already highly graded by scouts, he will flourish in the right NFL system.

The senior class offers several prospects who are on the fringe of breaking into the early part of the draft, including two from the SEC.

Tennessee's Jesse Mahelona is built like a bowling ball and plays with the tenacity of a warrior.  Continually driving up the field, Mahelona is tough to stop once he gets momentum and consistently disrupts the opposition's game plan.  Best defending the run, Mahelona is more of a straight-line defender who struggles rushing the passer.

Claude Wroten of LSU stands out on film with his quickness and ability to make plays up the field.  A terrific athlete, Wroten effectively pursues the action laterally or makes plays in the opposition's backfield.  

Northwestern's Barry Coefield is a physically impressive specimen and a solid athlete.  A good technician, Coefield possesses solid growth potential and offers a good amount of upside for the next level.

Babatunde Oshinowo of Stanford is an explosive player in the middle of the field who must improve his playing strength.  Oshinowo consistently penetrates to make plays in the backfield and offers good upside for the NFL.

Dusty Dvoracek of Oklahoma is one of the more intriguing prospects.  Highly rated coming into last season, Dvorak was dismissed from the program by Bob Stoops for violating team rules.  After being reinstated, Dvorak tore a biceps muscle during spring practice.  The heart of Oklahoma's defensive line and a probable first-day draft pick, the team hopes Dvorak will return by the end of September.

The junior class could add several talented prospects to this positionm starting with Haloti Ngata from Oregon.  A lineman with great size, Ngata easily overwhelms double teams, getting penetration up the field and collapsing the pocket.  Too large for a single blocker to handle, he possesses outstanding power to go with his natural size.  Ngata has been on the radar screen since his sophomore campaign and has first-round potential if he enters the draft after his junior season.

Tennessee's Justin Harrell offers athleticism and the ability to make plays sideline-to-sideline.  A potential star in the making, Harrell needs a little more experience as well as added bulk to complete the deal.

Much the same can be said about Aaron Johnson of Washington State.  A tall lineman who stands out on film, Johnson possesses growth potential and the ability to  dominate at the next level.

Top 30 Defensive Tackle Prospects

Name School
Gabe Watson Michigan
Rodrique Wright Texas
Haloti Ngata* Oregon
Anthony Montgomery Minnesota
Manase Hopoi Washington
Orien Harris Miami-Fl
Claude Wroten LSU
Jesse Mahelona Tennessee
Aaron Johnson* Washington State
Le Kevin Smith Nebraska
Justin Harrell* Tennessee
Larry Dibbles Texas
Barry Cofield Northwestern
Babatunde Oshinowo Stanford
Marcus Thomas* Florida
Kedric Golston Georgia
Dusty Dvoracek Oklahoma
Mark Losli Minnesota
Henry Anderson Oregon State
Boykin McKinley Mississippi
Lamar Mills* Kentucky
Kevin Brown* UCLA
Gerald Anderson Georgia
Alvin Smith Oregon State
Montavious Stanley Louisville
C.J. Niusulu UCLA
Melvin Oliver LSU
Kyle Williams LSU
Adam Roberts Cincinnati
Brandon McKinney Michigan State

*denotes underclassmen

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