Scouting the Draft: Defensive Line

Of the defensive linemen geared for a 3-4 scheme, perhaps five will go in the first round, led by Leonard Williams and Danny Shelton. In Part 1, we have a look at the Packers' needs and the first three rounds.

In Part 10 of our Green Bay Packers draft preview, we examine the defensive linemen projected to go in the first three rounds of the draft

PACKERS AREA OF NEED (1 TO 10)

Five: It’s not a pressing need, especially with B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion re-signed. The Packers have plenty of depth. What they need is star power. It could be argued that if general Ted Thompson doesn’t strike in the first or second round, there’s really no point in adding just another body. After all, depth wasn’t an issue last year — and that was without Raji and 2014 third-rounder Khyri Thornton, who both spent the entire season on injured reserve. The state of this unit would look much brighter if Datone Jones, the 2013 first-rounder, had emerged or Thornton had done anything at all as a rookie

IT’S WORTH NOTING

Thompson has drafted at least one defensive lineman every year. Of the 12 selected by Thompson, all of them were at the Scouting Combine. Other than the 337-pound Raji, Thompson hasn’t gone after any of the giants. Josh Boyd, at “just” 310 pounds, is the second-biggest defensive lineman grabbed by Thompson.

As a whole, this is a solid group — even though it’s relatively slim pickings on those 6-foot-4, 300-pound guys that are seen as ideal candidates to play 3-4 end. The top two players in our rankings form the best one-two defensive line punch seen in years, and perhaps three more will go in the first round.

THOMPSON’S SUCCESS RATE

This has been Thompson’s worst position by far.


CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SCOUTING REPORTS on the 3-4 linemen from the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas.


ROUND 1

DE Leonard Williams, USC (6-5, 302): Williams started as a true freshman and earned All-American honors as a sophomore and junior. As a junior, he tallied 80 tackles, including 9.5 for losses and seven sacks. He is the No. 1-ranked player in the draft by the league’s own scouting department, which is headed by Packer Report contributor Dave-Te’ Thomas. He likened him to former Patriots standout Richard Seymour, as did NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock.

“I compare him to Richard Seymour, who’s one of my favorite five-techniques of all-time,” Mayock said. “Richard Seymour could play up and down the line of scrimmage in any front — three-man front, four-man front, it didn’t matter. That’s who I think Leonard Williams is: a guy with versatility. He can play outside, he can play inside. It doesn’t matter. He’s scheme-diverse, so every team at the top will be looking at him.”

In three seasons, he recorded 21 sacks and had a hand in 11 turnovers, intercepting two passes while causing five fumbles and causing four others

“Williams has the speed to penetrate coming off the edge and with a 500-pound bench press, big hands and long arms, he is a nightmare for offensive tackles in one-on-one confrontations. He generates very good quickness and explosion off the ball, along with active hands to consistently gain block separation.”

NT Danny Shelton, Washington (6-2, 339): Shelton is the best nose tackle prospect seen in years. Just how rare is he? He was the only player in the nation to be named a first-team All-American and first-team Academic All-American. He is a rarity in the middle of a defense as a playmaker, not just a two-gapping behemoth to keep the linebackers’ jerseys clean.

“Shelton is simply a strong inside run defender who can make plays up and down the line of scrimmage, showing in 2014 that he has the long speed to chase in space (11 touchdown-saving tackles at the opposite side of the field),” reads his scouting report. “He is often matched against double teams and when this happens, he can hold ground at the point of attack, thanks to his refined hand shed ability.”

As a senior, he led the nation in fumble recoveries with five, ranked 14th with 16.5 tackles for losses and 19th with 9.0 sacks. Since the NCAA began to record quarterback sacks as official statistics in 2000, no nose guard had recorded at least nine sacks in a season until Shelton. He ranked second among nose tackles in tackles.

“There are very few guys that play that position at 350 pounds that can play plus or minus 80 percent of the snaps,” Mayock said. “You can't run against them, and he gets them pushing the pocket. So, I think he's a really intriguing guy.”

DT Malcom Brown, Texas (6-2, 319): Brown was a consensus first team All-American, one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy (best interior lineman) and one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (top defensive player). Brown led the team in sacks (6.5), tackles for losses (15) and forced fumbles (two), and tied for first in quarterback pressures (eight).

“Malcom Brown to me is a first-round guy all day long,” Mayock said. “Love his size. He's stout versus the run. He can push the edge, push the pocket. I think he'll go somewhere in the 20s, between 20 and 32. Started his final 27 games, I believe. Married with two kids. It's just everything kind of fits. He's a low-risk investment and a really good football player.”

If he’s somehow on the board at No. 30, he could be the Packers’ man.

“Regarded as the most tenacious defender in the Big 12 Conference, Brown has an incredibly low pad level that constantly gets him under the bigger blockers to push his opponent back into the pocket. His lower-body strength is excellent. He is slightly undersized to play in a two-gap system, but has more than enough strength, low center of gravity, long arms and redirection ability to be very effective at the nose.”

DE Arik Armstead, Oregon (6-7, 292): Armstead, an honorable mention on the all-Pac-12 team, entered the draft following a junior season of 46 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for losses. For such an imposing player, his production doesn’t exactly inspire thoughts of stardom.

“This is not to say that he lacks ability – just experience. He would be a better fit at five-technique, showing much better success there when the team went to the 3-4 base defense last season. While some teams still feel he is a nice fit as a strong-side end in a 4-3 base system, I cite his lack of ideal lateral agility, evident by his poor performances in the shuttle (4.53) and three-cone drills (7.57) at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine.”

A former personnel guru who’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame thought Armstead would be a better player at offensive right tackle. A brother, Armond Armstead, played with the Patriots before injuries forced him to retire. Armstead grew up playing basketball and even played both sports at Oregon for a brief time. He’s obviously tall but he’s not exactly long with 33-inch arms. For instance, Ohio State’s Bennett is 5 inches shorter but has 33 5/8-inch arms.

“Arik Armstead is an intriguing guy especially in the 3-4,” Mayock said. “He can play any one of the three positions. He's a baby right now. He's going to grow into something immense, and he's got great skills.”

NT Eddie Goldman, Florida State (6-4, 336): Goldman tallied 35 tackles, including four sacks and eight TFLs as a true junior in 2014 to earn first-team all-ACC honors and All-America accolades. “Stats nuts” might not be impressed when they see that Goldman has recorded only 62 tackles during those 37 games as a Seminole, but his ability to consistently dominate double team blocking has led to great success for other defenders feeding off the mayhem that Goldman creates in the trenches. He’s a student of the game, intelligent and engaging.

“Goldman has the functional quickness to gain penetration, showing good body control when running laterally. He demonstrates impressive agility in attempts to avoid cut blocks and stay up on his feet. His short area burst allows him to generate penetration, but it is his shake-and-shimmy that lets him avoid blockers at the point of attack.”


CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SCOUTING REPORTS on the nose tackles from the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas.


NOSE TACKLES: ROUND 2

Carl Davis, Iowa (6-5, 320): The senior was voted second-team all-Big Ten with his 36 tackles, which included nine tackles for losses and two sacks. It was so-so production, but he showed up ready to go at the Senior Bowl. “You watch the tape and you say, ‘Man, he’s around a lot of plays but he’s not making all the ones you want to see.’ He’s big, he’s got athletic movement skills. He ought to make more plays. Then he went to the Senior Bowl and in the one-on-one stuff he looked great. He was named the Senior Bowl Player of the Week. Carl Davis has first-round size and athletic ability. He’s just got to put it together more consistently.”

He’s got a tremendous combination of length (34 5/8-inch arms) and athleticism (5.07 40).

“He is best served playing in-line, where he can handle multiple blockers to free up his edge rushers and blitzers. When he plays at a proper pad level, Davis shows excellent tools for the two-gap system. He uses his hands effectively, but needs to do a better job of protecting his legs from low blocks.”

Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma (6-5, 329): After missing most of 2013 with a back injury that required surgery, Phillips returned to earn second-team all-Big 12 honors. The redshirt sophomore tallied 39 tackles, including two sacks and seven for losses. He’s so athletic that he can do a standing backflip. The back problem is obviously a huge question, though Phillips swears the injury is behind him.

“Jordan Phillips is another one of those boom-or-bust guys from Oklahoma,” Mayock said. “He’s 6-6, 325 and he shuts the run game down. Plus, he's athletic enough to push the pocket. He started one year. He had back surgery two years ago. He's a little bit of a risk.”

Thomas’ scouting report compared Phillips to former Packers bust Justin Harrell.

“There is no questioning Phillips’ athletic ability – when healthy. He has that quick first step to penetrate when working the one-gap responsibility. Phillips’ trouble occur when he fails to play with a consistent pad level, as he will often just turn his back or stall when challenged by double teams.”

DEFENSIVE LINE: ROUNDS 2-3

Michael Bennett, Ohio State (6-2, 293): Bennett finished second on the Buckeyes with seven sacks, 14 tackles for losses and three forced fumbles to earn All-American accolades. That came on the heels of his seven sacks, 11.5 TFLs and three forced fumbles as a junior. He might not seem like a great fit for the Packers’ scheme but they’ve had varied success with Jerel Worthy (bust) and Mike Daniels (star) because, really, they don’t play much 3-4, anyway.

“Scouts see Bennett as a player similar to Rams rookie Pro Bowler, Aaron Donald — a player that has proven that power trumps size any day, especially for interior defenders with explosive feet and “cement” for hands. Bennett is a bit of an overachiever, but he is cat-quick when coming off the snap, and shows intelligence and a high motor to deliver steady production.”

Xavier Cooper, Washington State (6-3, 293): Cooper started 34 of his 36 games during his three years at WSU. Among his 37 tackles in 2014, when he played 3-4 end, were five sacks and a team-high 9.5 TFLs. He had 13 sacks and 31.5 TFLs in his career. He ran a blazing 4.93 at the Combine with 29 reps on the bench.

“Cooper has good initial quickness and can change direction effortlessly. He is a quick twitch type who is especially effective generating that burst coming around the corner on the pass rush. He has the hand movement and punch to shock and jolt a lethargic offensive lineman and thanks to his active hands, it makes it extremely difficult for a blocker to sustain him. His low pad level lets him get under a lineman’s pads and he attacks them with heavy hands and a high motor.”

Marcus Hardison, Arizona State (6-3, 307): Hardison went from nonfactor as a junior to a senior season with team-high figures of 10 sacks and 15 tackles for losses to earn all-Pac-12 second-team honors. He’s either an emerging talent or a one-year wonder. A 4.91 in the 40 at pro day didn’t hurt.

“Hardison is one of those players that appeals to teams using both types of base defenses. He has the size and gap skills to rush the passer from between the tackles, along with good range to chase down plays along the sidelines. He does a good job of shooting his hands and can quickly extend and maintain separation and while he's engaged maintain a good football position to hold his ground.”

Grady Jarrett, Clemson (6-1, 304): Jarrett started 37 games in his four seasons — 24 at nose guard and 13 at strong-side defensive tackle. He recorded 207 tackles, including 5.5 sacks and 29.5 for losses during his four years. Of that production, he had 10 TFLs as a senior.

“Jarrett is still not an imposing looking athlete, but he is capable of frustrating blockers with his tenacity. He has a shorter than ideal frame, but shows good thickness throughout his torso and hips. He is undersized for a 4-3 defensive tackle and “lacks sand in his pants” to play nose guard, but with his improved foot speed, he could be utilized as an under-tackle in sub packages.”

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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