Buyer Beware: Defensive Line

Some polarizing prospects can draw extreme reactions from scouts and coaches. NFL Scouting analyzes two defensive linemen, both of which are being highly debated in numerous NFL war rooms.

It happens every year The team scouts spend every waking minute evaluating talent, attending games, watching film and checking their lists twice, sort of like a football Santa Claus Then, the Combines roll around, coaches, scouting directors and general managers are out in full force with stopwatches in hand The three day "underwear workout" commences and those out of the scouting loop (coaches and GMs) become enamored with agility figures and march off en mass to pro days There, they continue their little "love fest" with a player's athletic ability, but along the way, seem to forget that victories are generated by production, by consistent performance and NOT how good a kid looks running 40 yards on the track

What all of this leads up to is a totally different draft board than the ones the scouts have prepared The general manager is the decision maker and all others are there to offer input Coaches have their "guy" they want the GM to take, despite claims from their scouting department that have spent the better part of the year finding the "warts" not shown on the player's professional resume With that in mind, here is a look at that one player at each position who will either make a general manager look like a genius, or have that guy on the unemployment line a year later

DEFENSIVE END
DA'QUAN BOWERS, Clemson (6-4, 277)

While many might be surprised to find Bowers as a member of this squad, there are very strong concerns from NFL teams about the condition of the defensive end's right knee after he underwent surgery to repair his meniscus Some reports claim that Bowers will eventually need microfracture surgery and several teams doubt that he will finish out his rookie contract, citing fears of arthritis settling into the knee area While the injury has certainly seen his draft stock drop, Bowers has also brought up concerns that he might be a "one-year wonder "

After registering just four sacks combined over his first two seasons, some began to question whether the defensive end would ever reach his potential Bowers silenced those critics in 2010, terrorizing opposing backfields on his way to winning the Bronko Nagurski and Ted Hendricks Awards

DE Da'Quan Bowers
Joe Robbins/Getty


Bowers rededicated himself to football after losing two people close to him in less than a year His mentor, former Clemson great Gaines Adams, passed away in January of 2010 after going into cardiac arrest Bowers' father, Dennis, died after suffering a seizure in the summer before the season

Bowers entered his junior year with a newfound devotion to the game He cleaned up his eating habits and managed to shed 20 pounds in the offseason, regaining the quickness and athleticism that made him a nightmare for opposing tackles The results were spectacular, as the defensive end led the NCAA in sacks (1 19 spg) and placed second in tackles for loss (2 00 tpg)

There are times that Bowers struggles to shed (see 2010 battle vs Boston College's Anthony Castonzo and Rich Lapham and vs South Carolina's Hutch Eckerson), but will try to work across the block to the ball When he is freed up, he shows good pursuit and effort to make plays He relies more on leverage to play off blocks, but in 2010, he showed marked improvement in using his hands to guard his legs vs the chop block

Bowers is a good tackler at the line, but will struggle more in space He plays with a lot of effort and can pursue He has improved his wrap-up tackling technique and makes every effort to arm tackle When he gets free in the backfield, he does not miss much in getting to and taking down the ball carrier

Overall, Bowers is a good athlete, who looks to be developing physically, but there are still lingering questions about the long-term condition of his right knee His production is just decent against the run, but much better against the pass He still needs to locate the ball better when working down the line, but when he gets into the backfield, he can zero in on his target He has improved his ability to sniff out the play, but struggles vs the larger blockers in running situations due to inconsistency in recognizing blocking schemes

Compares To: ERASMUS JAMES-ex Minnesota It seems like Bowers is in the "same boat" as James was coming out of college – fending off serious concerns about the health of his knee He had a banner junior campaign, but some question if that was just a "one year wonder " He looked lethargic during pro day agility tests and while he might have been shaking off rust from his surgery, his 40-yard dash time (4 95) would have ranked 21st among the 24 defensive ends that attended the NFL Scouting Combine His overall workout was called "sluggish" by some scouts and "average" by others, thus eliminating him from consideration to being the draft's top pick He could do a freefall and drop out of the top ten selections, if whispers coming from NFL teams hold true

DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Nick Fairley, Auburn (6-4, 298)

No player in this draft carries the "boom or bust" tag more than Fairley While he had a banner junior campaign, there are serious concerns about his dedication and work ethic There have been reports of tardiness to meetings, lack of work ethic, especially in the training room, penchant for getting flagged for flagrant fouls and a concern, like Bowers, that he might be a one-year wonder

When some "experts" compare him to Warren Sapp, it borders on the ridiculous – Sapp performed on every snap and every game throughout his Miami Hurricanes career and carried that over to a stellar NFL career The only similarities between the two was a "liking" for dirty play, as Fairley was constantly being called for late hits and there were instances when he has speared ball carriers with his helmet, banged into their lower legs purposely and pushed off downed players to lift himself up in 2010 That attitude in training camp could lead to retaliation by some agitated veteran

DT Nick Fairley
Joe Robbins/Getty


Still, Fairley earned consensus All-American recognition and was named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the year after placing third in the NCAA in tackles for loss (1 71 tpg) and 12th in sacks ( 82 spg) in 2010 The junior broke Auburn's single-season record with 11 5 sacks for minus 74 yards It was nearly impossible to keep the defensive tackle out of the backfield, as he posted an impressive 24 0 tackles for losses totaling 106 yards and 21 quarterback hurries

Fairley had a profound impact on the Tigers' front four Before his arrival, the Auburn run defense ranked 54th nationally, allowing 138 92 yards per game on the ground in 2008 He played in all 13 games in 2009 but started just two contests while his team finished a lowly 78th vs the run (156 08 ypg) He started all 14 games of the 2010 season and emerged as a dominant presence along the Tigers' front wall, leading a unit that boasted the NCAA's ninth-ranked rushing defense, allowing just 109 07 yards per game

Compares To: Tommie Harris-ex Chicago Harris has unquestioned talent, but he failed to put forth a consistent effort and his lack of work ethic finally saw him wear out his welcome in Chicago Fairley is in the same situation – a talent that could be on the cusp of greatness, but his flippant attitude towards training, dirty play and lack of great strength (more natural than weight room) have teams feeling he might be too big of a risk with an early first round draft pick


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