Defensive Line: Best, Sleeper, Overrated

Scouts tell you about the cream-of-the-crop, under-the-radar and overhyped players among the 3-4 defensive linemen.

Here is a closer look at the defensive linemen, compiled from conversations with scouts and the NFL's longtime lead scout, Dave-Te' Thomas.

Best in class

DE Star Lotulelei, Utah (6-3, 311): First-team All-America after producing 42 tackles, five sacks and a team-high 11 tackles for losses. He forced three fumbles and tied for No. 1 in the nation with four recoveries. As a junior, he won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's top defensive lineman. Lotulelei was torn in Tonga and moved ot the States when he was 9. After high school, he spent a year moving furniture before enrolling at Snow junior college to restart his football career and get his grades in order. "Lotulelei is a disruptive force that commands constant double teams," reads the scouting part of his official league bio. "He can be sudden charging from the backside and shocks blockers back on their heels with his quickness and strength. He has valid foot speed to play defensive end in a 3-4 defensive alignment, but with his raw power, he is best served playing in-line, where he can handle multiple blockers to free up his edge rushers and blitzers." The heart issue that cropped up at the Combine turned out to be a non-issue, though scouts are concerned about his football intelligence. "He needs to find the Wizard of Oz," one scout said. Another scout said that would be more of an issue as a 3-4 defensive end than as a 4-3 tackle, which would be his best position. "Hey, go get 'em, Star."


DE Sheldon Richardson, Missouri (6-3, 294): Led the team or was among the leaders with four sacks, 10.5 tackles for losses, three forced fumbles and one blocked kick. His 75 tackles led all SEC defensive tackles. He was suspended for one game for a violation of team rules. A five-star recruit but had academic issues and shoulder problems and didn't do a thing until his senior season. Thomas called him the best talent in the defensive line class but a "locker room lawyer" who has "a lot of growing up to do off the field." If not for those issues, he'd be no worse than a top-10 pick. "Richardson, a lot of people are high on him but I'm kind of the low guy," a scout said. "I have some issues with his his play. He does some amazing things chasing plays down in space. I honestly thought he was going to run a 4.70 but he ran a 4.95. That surprised me. When a guy gets a hand on him, he's not very strong. I didn't like him but there are a lot of guys that have a lot of love for him." Measured in at 6-2 5/8, to be exact, and projects more to a 4-3 tackle.


NT Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern (6-1, 335): Three-time Division II All-American and considered D-II's best defensive line prospect since John Randle almost a quarter-century ago. The MIAA Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, Williams finished with 68 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for losses and five forced fumbles. Of his 180 career tackles against the run, ball-carriers averaged minus-0.32 yards — the only defender in the draft with a subzero number. He's the school's career sacks leader with 27. He parlayed a strong senior season into a strong week at the Senior Bowl. "If I'm looking for a plugger in the middle of the field, I'm going small college and I'm getting the Missouri Southern kid, Brandon Williams, who I think is the best nose guard in this draft," Thomas said. Tied SMU's Margus Hunt for position lead with 38 reps on the bench at the Combine.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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