Defensive Line Prospects and the 49ers

No position in the NFL - not even quarterback - is harder to project from college to the pros than defensive linemen. So many guys who were absolute studs on Saturdays turn into duds on Sunday. The ends who blew by cement-footed tackles in their conference find themselves enveloped by the behemoths with ballerina feet at the next level. The burly, penetrating tackles get pushed around by guards.

It's one of those spots where you either have "it" or don't. Guys who are explosive, have desire and who build on their technique and develop counter-moves survive. The ones who are more fast than quick, who don't work to get better and who stand pat with their one or two rudimentary moves quickly wash out of the league.

Top Defensive Line Prospects

DT Ndamukong Suh • 6-4 • 300 • Nebraska

Suh (below) is an explosive interior lineman who plays with a relentless motor and dominates in the trenches. He's quick off the snap, uses his hands to his advantage, possesses a wide-array of moves and is able to bull rush opponents off the line. He's a player that has very few weaknesses, but he tends to read the action rather than react. Projection: First Round

DT Gerald McCoy (JR) • 6-4 • 289 • Oklahoma

McCoy is an explosive, productive interior presence who can be used at defensive tackle in a 4-3 or defensive end in a 3-4. He possesses a tremendous first-step, uses his hands very well while delivering a devastating punch. He tends to play too high and can be handled by a large interior blocker. Projection: First Round

DE Derrick Morgan (JR) • 6-4 • 275 • Georgia Tech

Morgan is a relentless defender who possesses a solid all around game. He's quick off the snap, has an explosive first step and displays a dynamic inside spin move. He's strong against the run and uses his reach to his advantage. He's still developing as a pass rusher, and there are times where he disappears in this area. Projection: First Round

DE Jason Pierre-Paul (JR) • 6-5 • 265 • South Florida

Pierre-Paul is an intriguing, raw pass rushing prospect who has tremendous athleticism and upside. He's versatile and can play with his hand in the dirt or standing up. He has an elite frame, long reach and natural physical gifts. He has to improve his overall technique, especially the use of his hands; he doesn't shed blocks consistently. Projection: First Round

DE Everson Griffen (JR) • 6-3 • 265 • USC

Griffen is an emerging pass rusher who has a rare combination of size and speed. He generates a burst off the line, displays balance and body control. He plays with an inconsistent motor and doesn't give maximum effort on every down. Projection: First Round

DT Dan Williams • 6-2 • 329 • Tennessee

Williams is a powerful player who can control the flow in the trenches. He's a premier interior force that displays explosion off the snap, plays with leverage and bull rushes opponents up the field. He has to use his hands better and can't always rely on his strength. Projection: First Round

DT Jared Odrick • 6-5 • 301 • Penn State

Odrick is athletic and versatile; he can line up inside or outside, depending on the defensive scheme. He has a great frame and a strong upper-body. He doesn't track the ballcarrier well in space and will miss tackles on the perimeter. Projection: First Round

DE Carlos Dunlap (JR) • 6-6 • 290 • Florida

Dunlap displays good burst , uses his size to his advantage to deliver a devastating initial jolt and has the strength to take on double teams off the edge. He uses a dynamic inside spin move. He relies on his strength, not his technique. Projection: Second Round

DE Corey Wootton • 6-6 • 275 • Northwestern

Wootton is an explosive pass rusher who possesses an elite frame, long wingspan and quick first step. He's has played inside and outside. He has to sink his hips better when tackling in space. Projection: Second Round


49ers Needs At Position: 6

Current Players: Aubrayo Franklin (NT), Justin Smith (DE), Isaac Sopoaga (DE), Ray McDonald (DL), Kentwan Balmer (DL), Ricky Jean-Francois (DT), Demetric Evans (DE), Khalif Mitchell (DT), Derek Walker (DL)

Positional Overview: Franklin finally received some long-deserved recognition last year and the 49ers used the franchise tag to keep him around for 2010. Smith, meanwhile, is one of the most underrated players in the league. Sopoaga is a two-down run stuffer only, while McDonald plays tackle in the nickel defense. Balmer, a former 1st-round pick, has been a major disappointment. Jean-Francois will push for playing time this year. Evans is a veteran who gets the occasional snap when Smith needs a blow. Mitchell impressed in camp last year.

When to Address: Sixth round.

Who's There: As usual the best defensive end prospects, such as Morgan and Pierre-Paul, are guys suited for a 4-3 defense. The best ends sturdy enough to play in a 3-4 are Dunlap from Florida or Alex Carrington of Arkansas State and they're both guys to think about in the second round. Odrick from Penn State is a ‘tweener who'll likely play tackle for a 4-3 team or end for a 3-4 squad, but he figures to go late in round one. There are a couple of sensational tackle prospects in Nebraska's Suh and Oklahoma's McCoy, but they'll both top five picks. Vince Oghobaase from Duke is a great athlete for a late-round prospect.

SFI's Pick: Vince Oghobaase, Defensive Tackle, Duke, 6'6" 310 lbs. It's awfully tempting to take an end to start opposite Smith and replace Sopoaga, and maybe that's what the 49ers will do. With their second sixth round pick though, they need to pick up a "Plan B" in case they can't sign Franklin to a long term contract. Oghobaase is raw, but he held up well last year playing in the SEC without much help around him.

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