2008 NFL draft/positional analysis: DT

The 49ers start Aubrayo Franklin at nose tackle in their 3-4 system, but their next-best player at the position, Isaac Sopoaga, is now slated to start at left end. So the team is in need of another DT since Ronnie Fields and Joe Cohen are the only other NT types on the roster. We offer in-depth reviews of the top 10 prospects at defensive tackle, with analysis, stats, measurables and projections.

POSITION ANALYSIS: The 49ers probably will add a player at this position somewhere in the draft, hoping to have a good value pick fall to them in the middle rounds. The problem with that is the rookie Class of 2008. It has two blue-chip talents in Glenn Dorsey and Sedrick Ellis, but beyond them, there could be a lot of hits and misses. Defensive tackle is always one of the most difficult positions to draft early for success. Many try and more fail than succeed – remember Johnathan Sullivan and Jimmy Kennedy? Yikes! Don't look for the 49ers to be active as the DT bone is picked clean in the early rounds, but perhaps trying to unearth a hidden gem in the later rounds is a possibility.


THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Glenn Dorsey, LSU, 6-1½, 297:
Fourth-year senior … A Parade All-American and Louisiana Class 4A Defensive Player of the Year as a high school senior … A two-year starter who had 27 starts his final two seasons – recording 111 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, four passes batted down and one forced fumble … Had a great senior season (69 tackles and seven sacks) and won a slew of postseason awards – the Bronko Nagurski Award (given to the best defensive player), The Lombardi Award (best lineman or linebacker), the Outland Trophy (best interior lineman) and the Lott Trophy (best character and athletics) … Has outstanding size and upper-body strength and is a wall vs. the run … Has good burst and agility to make plays and collapse the pocket … Excellent base strength and demands double-teams … Is a strong pass rusher who has the initial quickness to get on top of a QB immediately ...Very good footwork … Smart … A good finisher when he gets his hands on the man with the ball … Team leader who coaches and teammates loved … Works hard at all times and plays through pain … His pain is his biggest downside – he had a stress fracture in his right tibia as a junior and a severe right knee sprain that he injured twice, a tailbone injury and lower back pain as a senior … Is shorter than the prototype NFL DT … Has short arms and will allow NFL offensive linemen into his body too easily … Doesn't have ideal bulk … Doesn't use his hands as much as he could … Didn't work out at the Combine (or work at the Senior Bowl) because of a knee injury.
Projection: He could be the first overall pick if had had a better health record, but teams at the top may be worried at making the massive investment required with the blue-chip draft picks on a player whose knees could be an issue his entire career. He wore metal knee braces as a child because he was bowlegged and has suffered severe leg and knee injuries the last two years. When healthy, he could be the equivalent to a young Warren Sapp. That's why we like his chances going to the Raiders at No. 4. But if teams are too concerned about his injury history, he could do a mini-slide down the top 10 on draft day.

Sedrick Ellis, USC, 6-0½, 309: Fifth-year senior … Played as a true freshman in 2003, but broke his left ankle and redshirted … A three-year starter who started 36 of 39 games his final three seasons … In that span, he had 142 tackles, 28½ tackles for a loss, 17½ sacks, 13 passes batted down, two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries … Missed three games in 2006 after having surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee … As a senior, he was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and won the Morris Trophy – given to the best Pac-10 defensive lineman and voted on by the conference's offensive linemen … Has an ideal base and is a brick wall vs. the run … Is very instinctive and consistently the first player moving at the snap … Has good upper-body strength and can out-muscle blockers to get to the ball … Has good closing speed for a player his size … Has very good run/pass recognition … Doesn't give up on plays and will chase runners down from the back side … Has good feet and is rarely knocked off-balance … Is not extremely adept at pass rushing – despite having 8.5 sacks last year, all came on straight bull rushes and he doesn't have a secondary rush move … Will run himself out of plays by getting too keyed on getting to the QB … Has had some issues with controlling his weight in the offseason and between camps … Doesn't have the frame to add bulk and is about as big as he is going to get … Is short by NFL standards … Struggles when consistently facing double-teams … Ran a 5.33 40 at the Combine with 34 reps of 225 pounds, a 26-inch vertical jump and an 8-8 broad jump.
Projection: Ellis made himself millions of dollars after the season. He dominated the Senior Bowl at his position and had a very strong showing at the Combine. While he has a history leg injuries, he has cemented a place in the top 10. In a worst-case-scenario, he will go to the Bengals at No. 9 or the Saints at No. 10 – but could slip ahead of Dorsey if Dorsey's injury concerns scare off a team in need of a big man in the middle.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Kentwan Balmer, North Carolina, 6-4¾, 309:
Fourth-year senior … Two-year starter who played his first two years at defensive end before moving to tackle as a junior … In his final two seasons, he started 19 of the 22 games he played … Came on strong as a senior with 59 tackles, 9½ tackles for a loss and 3½ sacks … Missed two games as a junior and one as a senior with foot/ankle injuries … Extremely good upper-body strength (see below) … Can blow up plays in both the run and pass games … Has a quick first step and uses his hands to drive offensive linemen backward … Played a lot of two-gap defense and is quick to recognize and react to the type of play and its direction … Made a good impression at the Senior Bowl before being sidelined with a muscle pull mid-week … Has a big frame that could hold a little more weight if needed … Viewed by many as simply a one-year wonder – prior to his senior year, he had just 34 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 30 games (11 of those as a starter) … Seen as an underachiever who has never consistently played to the level of his pure physical ability … Plays too high and can be directed by good offensive linemen … Will go for long periods of time without being noticed and disappears when facing a double-team … Not viewed as a player with much pass-rush potential … Doesn't play with passion or fire … Ran a 5.36 40 at the Combine with 34 reps, a 28½-inch vertical jump and an 8-6 broad jump.
Projection: A converted defensive end that added 20 pounds to play tackle, he is an intriguing prospect around the league because he could play defensive end in a 3-4 system or nose tackle in a 4-3 alignment. The problem is that he is still learning the inside game and, despite some clear athletic gifts, he has been an underachiever that has never lived up to his potential. But, like so many other players, coming off a strong Combine performance and some strong moments at Senior Bowl practices, his potential should be enough to keep him in strong consideration for coming off the board in the final third of the first round.

Marcus Harrison, Arkansas, 6-2¾, 317: Fourth-year senior who spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia before playing for the Razorbacks … In his four years, he started 34 of the 46 games he played … Became the first Arkansas player since 1982 to start his first game as a true freshman … Played his first year at defensive end before moving to tackle … In his four-year career, he had 186 tackles, 17½ tackles for a loss, four sacks, 12 passes batted down and three fumble recoveries … Missed time as a junior after having his right knee scoped and tore his left ACL during spring practice in 2007 … Was suspended for last year's season-opener after being arrested and charged with felony and misdemeanor drug possession. He was pulled over by police in possession of an Ecstasy pill and two "blunts" – cigar casings filled with marijuana … Has ideal size for a defensive tackle … Came on strong as a senior, finding a niche for batting down passes (he led Division I-A with 10 in 2007) … Has a very good first step off the snap and usually is the first player moving … Has a good hand punch in run defense … Has good swim move to split double-teams and get into the backfield … Holds his ground well on runs up the middle … Doesn't have the burst to finish in pass-rush situations – he had just four sacks in 46 college games … Has missed time in three of his four seasons with injuries … Is inconsistent in both production and effort … Character has to be a concern given the gravity of the charges he faced last year … Is susceptible to chop blocks … Didn't jump at the Combine, but ran a 5.07 40 with 27 reps of 225 pounds.
Projection: Raised a lot of eyebrows at both the Senior Bowl and the Combine with his agility, size and strength. He has a lot of positive attributes, but he also has some red flags that will worry some organizations. He could become a star or become a complete flop if he isn't harnessed and put in the right system. His question marks are big, which should drop him out of first-round consideration. But his talent should take him off the board somewhere in the second round.

Pat Sims, Auburn, 6-2¼, 310: Fourth-year junior … Played in one game as a true freshman before redshirting and quit the team in 2005 … Came back in 2006 as a reserve and didn't become a full-time starter until last year … In his only year as a starter, he had 37 tackles, 11½ tackles for a loss, 4½ sacks, three passes batted down, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery … Has good quickness to collapse the pocket … Uses his hands well as a run-stuffer … Has solid bulk to anchor on run defense and could get much bigger … Can shoot gaps as a pass rusher and deliver a big blow … Anticipates the snap count very well and is often a step ahead of everyone else on the line … Has multiple pass-rush moves … Has good pass/run recognition skills … Does not have good upper-body strength (see below) … Will disappear for stretches when faced with trying to break double-teams … Only a one-year starter who has some questioning his passion after quitting the team in 2005 … Wears down late in too many games … Has a cocky attitude and rubs some people the wrong way … Doesn't protect himself well from chop blocks and will get cut too often … Is not in shape, looks doughy and has ballooned in the offseason a couple of times already … Ran a 5.10 40 at the Combine with just 21 reps of 225 pounds and a 27½-inch vertical jump.
Projection: If Sims was as good as he thinks he is, he would go first overall. But he has a bad combination of limited playing experience and an inflated opinion of himself. He has the chance to be a solid pro, but carries the "boom-bust" tag with him that will get a lot of teams to lower his draft value. He could turn out to be a steal as a mid-to-late second-round pick if he commits to improving his game. He could add another 20-30 pounds and be a premier nose tackle, but he provides too many questions and not enough answers at this point. He would have benefited by returning to Auburn for his senior season.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Dre Moore, Maryland, 6-4¼, 305:
Fifth-year senior … Didn't start playing organized football until his junior year of high school … A two-year starter who had 23 starts in the final 26 games of his college career … Blossomed as a senior, recording 63 tackles, 8½ tackles for a loss, six sacks and two forced fumbles … Good size and very good upper-body strength (see below) … Can hold his ground as a two-gap run defender … Utilizes good footwork and can make plays from side to side … Very difficult to run up the middle against … Is a hard worker in practice and in the weight room … Is good at backside pursuit and will chase down running backs … Takes plays off at times and his effort is inconsistent … Plays too high off the snap and can be leveraged by O-linemen … Does not have good run/pass recognition skills … Will be late finding the ball when fooled on play action or misdirection … Does not use his hands consistently and allows blockers into his body … Has an awful-looking body and gives off the appearance of someone who doesn't take care of himself … Only a one-year full-time starter who never had consistent production until his senior season … Ran an impressive 4.85 40 at the Combine with 31 reps, a 28½-inch vertical jump and an 8-7 broad jump.
Projection: Moore is an extremely raw prospect that tested well at the Combine, but has a long learning curve ahead of him. He was never a consistent producer at the college level and is viewed as someone who may never live up to his athletic abilities. Similar to Michigan's Alan Branch, who some had graded as a mid-first round pick that fell to the second round. Moore could go as early as the beginning of the second round or be on the board into the third. However, his ability to be a two-gap DT in a 4-3 or a nose tackle in a 3-4 should help his case.

Ahtyba Rubin, Iowa State, 6-2¾, 316: Fourth-year senior … Spent two years at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, playing defensive line as a freshman and offensive line as a sophomore … Started 20 of the 24 games he played at Iowa State … In two years at ISU, recorded 76 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, 2½ sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery … Has very good size and bulk … Uses his hands well to keep blockers away and can make plays in the run game … Consistently stands up well to double-teams … Has a burst off the snap and can collapse the middle of the pocket … Has the agility to drop into coverage on zone blitzes … While he can handle double-teams in the run game, he isn't nearly as effective as a pass rusher and makes very few plays behind the line of scrimmage … Undersized and has short arms, which allows blockers to lock on to him … Doesn't have sustained explosion after his first couple of steps … Plays too high and can be leveraged by offensive linemen … Not a fiery competitor … Still has limited experience at the big-time college level … Ran a 5.21 40 at the Combine with 35 reps of 225 pounds, a 27½-inch vertical jump and an 8-9 broad jump.
Projection: Defensive tackles that don't rush the passer usually slip much further in the draft than those that can bring the heat, but Rubin is so good against the run that somebody will ignore his lack of production behind the line of scrimmage. Because he looks best suited for a 3-4 defense, he likely will last longer – perhaps out of the second round and into the third.

Andre Fluellen, Florida State, 6-2, 296: Fourth-year senior … A three-year starter who made starts in 30 of his final 46 college games … Missed some time due to injuries in each of his last three seasons – a bicep injury in 2005, a broken rib in 2006, and hamstring, hand and elbow injuries last year … Played in a rotation last year with DT Letroy Guion (see below) … In three years as a starter, he had 75 tackles, 17½ tackles for a loss and 5½ sacks … Has good burst off the snap and can shoot gaps … Has both mental and physical toughness … Maintains good knee bend and plays with good leverage … Has solid upper-body strength … Holds his ground well against double teams vs. the run … Has the athletic ability to drop into coverage on zone blitzes … Is short and lacks top-end lower-body strength … Does not look to be a factor in the passing game as a bull-rusher … Durability has to be a concern with the long list of injuries he has sustained … Doesn't take care of his legs and is susceptible to chop blocks … Has trouble shedding blockers when they get locked on … Didn't jump at the Combine, but ran a 5.10 40 with 29 reps of 225 pounds.
Projection: Played through a series of injuries as a senior and made a strong impression at the Senior Bowl. However, he looks to be of value almost exclusively for teams that run a one-gap, 4-3 style because he is undersized and won't get much bigger. As a result, he will drop into the third round or beyond, but has the intangibles to be a quality starter or key backup in the right system.

Letroy Guion, Florida State, 6-3½, 302: Third-year junior … Never a full-time starter, having played in a rotation with Andre Fluellen (see above) and starting just 13 of the 24 games he played over the last two seasons … In two years as a part-time starter, he had 56 tackles, 10½ tackles for a loss, 1½ sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries … Was suspended from the 2007 Music City Bowl for academic reasons … Very good quickness and explosion … Has the type of body frame that could add 15-20 pounds … Has good lateral quickness to chase down plays … A good tackler who typically finishes … Uses his hands well in run defense … Is undersized and needs not only to add weight, but muscle and bulk as well … Limited experience because he played in a rotation … Consistently low production numbers – he had just 66 tackles in 34 career games and just 1½ sacks … Does not have good pursuit speed … Inconsistent technique and little in the way of pass-rushing skills … Didn't jump at the Combine, but ran a 5.33 40 with 27 reps.
Projection: The type of player who did himself a disservice by listening to those around him who told him to turn pro. With another year of experience, he could have been a second-rounder with a chance to slide into the first round. Now he looks like a third- or fourth-round pick because he will need a lot of time to make the transition to the pro game and most teams don't have a lot of use for undersized DTs that don't flash any pass-rushing ability.

DeMario Pressley, North Carolina State, 6-3¼, 301: Fourth-year senior … A decorated prep star who was named First-Team All-American by Parade and USA Today, as well as winning the North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior … Played behind NFL tackles John McCargo (Buffalo) and Tank Tyler (Kansas City) early in his college career … A three-year starter who started 31 of the final 33 games he played … In his final three seasons, he had 125 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss and 4½ sacks … Had numerous injuries the last two years, missing time with a cracked bone is his wrist, a broken big toe on his left foot and a torn right meniscus that required surgery … A very good athlete with quickness at the point of attack … Is very good in pursuit and rarely gives up on plays, making tackles from behind when running plays are strung out … Finishes almost all of his tackles … Has a good hand punch and can jolt offensive linemen backward … Is not well-defined or muscular … Plays too high and gets controlled much too easily … Is inconsistent in both production and effort … Durability is a big question mark … Tends to freelance too much and takes himself out of plays … Doesn't have great field awareness and will get cut by chop blocks, spending too much time on the ground … Ran a 5.10 40 at the Combine with 29 reps of 225 pounds, a 25-inch vertical jump and an 8-3 broad jump.
Projection: A difficult prospect to measure because he has many of the skills needed to be a good NFL player, but has never been able to produce on the field as most think he should. One of the most touted DTs entering college, he was viewed as a first- or second-round prospect heading into his senior season. But after a non-eventful final year and a poor showing at the Senior Bowl, he'll be fortunate to go before the third round and may have to wait a long time to hear his name called.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Barry Booker, Virginia Tech, 6-3¾, 287
Joseph "Red" Bryant, Texas A&M, 6-4¼, 313
Trevor Laws, Notre Dame, 6-0¾, 304
Frank Okam, Texas, 6-4½, 347
Carlton Powell, Virginia Tech, 6-2¼, 292


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