POSITION ANALYSIS – This year's class is loaded at the top, headed by Nick Fairley and Marcell Dareus, both of whom have been mentioned as likely prospects to go to Denver with the second overall pick. Neither of them will likely make it out of the top six or seven picks. But there are some other players that are graded out as first-round prospects, including fast-rising Corey Liuget, Stephen Paea and nose tackle Phil Taylor. This is a deep class that will produce a bunch of NFL starters. The drop-off is pretty pronounced after the top five or six, but there will be DTs plucked off the board throughout, even though the influx of 3-4 defenses will reduce the sheer numbers of DTs needed on NFL rosters.
VIKINGS DEFENSIVE TACKLES – Kevin Williams, Pat Williams (FA), Letroy Guion, Jimmy Kennedy, Fred Evans (FA), Tremaine Johnson.
VIKINGS NEED – Depending on who you ask (including us), there's little to no chance Pat Williams is coming back to the Vikings. He wants to keep playing, but he has said he believes the Vikings aren't in his plans. Combine that with the very real potential that Kevin Williams will face a four-game suspension after giving up his court battle over the StarCaps fiasco to start the season, suddenly the need to address this position has climbed up the depth chart. The combination of Guion and Kennedy can do a solid job in tandem, but the Vikings run a rotation and, while Big Pat wasn't the ace, he was the right-hand man. Don't be stunned if the Vikings address this position at some point early in their picks – as it stands, they don't have a third-round pick. If that changes, defensive tackle may well be a landing spot for a pick in the first three rounds.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Marcell Dareus, Alabama, 6-4, 306 – Third-year junior…Only a one-year full-time starter, he started just 15 of 33 career games – 11 of those in 2010 when he had 34 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and four passes batted down…Defensive MVP of the BSC Championship Game following the 2009 season…Suspended two games in 2010 after an NCAA investigation found he took gifts from an agent…Has good initial quickness off the line and gets into offensive linemen quickly in run protection…Has excellent upper- and lower-body strength…Plays with good leverage and has good anchor strength…A big hitter who has excellent closing pop when he gets near the ball…Has good read-and-react skills…Has position versatility, having played NT in a 3-4, as well as DT and DE in a 4-3…Chases plays down well and makes plays on the outside…Doesn't have great burst or quickness…Inexperienced, just 15 career starts…Doesn't have elite production from game to game…Doesn't use his hands as well as he should and gets his leg cut out from under him too often…Has some character questions…Ran a 4.84 40 at the Combine with 24 reps of 225 pounds and a 27-inch vertical jump.
PROJECTION: A dual threat in the middle of the D-line that can create a pass rush and disrupt the pocket as well as being a strong run-stuffer capable of holding his ground against double teams. He may end up being the first DT to come off the board with an outside chance of the being the pick the Carolina Panthers use at No. 1.
Nick Fairley, Auburn, 6-5, 314 – Fourth-year junior who spent two years (playing one of them) at Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College…Didn't become a full-time starter until 2010, recording 60 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…One of 10 children in his family…2010 winner of the Lombardi Award, given annually to the lineman who exemplifies not only outstanding performance, but the discipline of Vince Lombardi…As dominating a tackle as 2010 NFL Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowler Ndamukong Suh was a year earlier with Nebraska…Explodes off the snap and beats double-teams to blow up plays, whether he gets to the quarterback or not…Has such quick movements, his biggest asset as a run stopper is the same reason it is in pass rush…Chases plays to the sideline…Incredible production in 2010, despite earning more attention as the season progressed…Usually first man moving on the snap…Has good instincts and doesn't get out of position by fakes…Can hit top gear quickly and closes with violence…Has good, but not elite, upper-body strength and is leaner than most NFL DTs…His lower-body strength isn't what many think it should be and beating an NFL double-team is going to be a lot more difficult…Only 16 career starts, he carries the Scarlet Letter of One-Year Wonder…Tries to make the big play constantly and takes himself out of plays…Has a history of taking "punk shots" at the end of plays and has earned a reputation as being a dirty player…Doesn't put in a lot of effort outside of games – has the buzz of a "last to arrive and first to leave" types that has gotten by on natural gifts rather than working to improve…Did not work out at the Combine because of a shoulder sprain.
PROJECTION: One of the bigger "boom-bust" prospects in the draft, which is scary since a case can be made that he should be the first overall pick. There is an axiom in the coaching/scouting fraternity that says "the eye in the sky (cameras) doesn't lie." Fairley has just one year of full-time play, which can often overwhelm a player who goes from college to the NFL and will be a roll of the dice. He could go first. He could slide, but reality dictates he likely can't be past pick No. 6 or 7 without coming off the board.
Corey Liuget, Illinois, 6-2½, 300 – Third-year junior…Started 19 of 36 career games – 13 of them coming last year when he tallied 63 tackles 12.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and three passes batted down…Excellent combination of power and quickness…A big hitter who consistently delivers the big shot…Requires double teams because he routinely beats single coverage…Strong run defender who shoots his hands with a ferocity to freeze linemen in their tracks…Has good footwork and rarely gets his legs chopped out…Has good lateral agility…Has good range and can make plays to the sideline…Doesn't have elite upper-body strength and needs to spend more time in the weight room…Doesn't have a variety of pass-rush moves and needs to add to his repertoire…Has had problems controlling his weight…Can be too aggressive at times and takes himself out of plays…Ran a 4.97 40 at the Combine with 27 reps, a 27½-inch vertical jump and a 9-6 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A fast-rising prospect who seemed like he would be a late-first round pick, but in recent weeks has got himself in the conversation to come off the board in the first half of the first round.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Stephen Paea, Oregon State, 6-1¼, 295 – Fifth-year senior who spent two years (playing one) at Snow College in Utah…Started 36 of 37 career games…Posted 126 tackles, 29.5 tackles for a loss, 14 sacks and nine forced fumbles…Suffered a torn meniscus at the Senior Bowl that required surgery…Grew up in Tonga and didn't come to the United State until he was 16…Two-time Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year…Incredible upper-body and lower-body strength…Bench presses 500 pounds, squats 600 pounds and has a personal best of 44 reps of 225 pounds…An elite run stopper…Can bull rush up the middle and requires double-teams…Plays with good balance and leverage and rarely gets caught out of position…A physical wrap-up tackler…Not a consistent threat to be a sack artist…Doesn't have great run-pass recognition and loses sight of the ball too often…Production and effort aren't consistent…Shorter than scouts like…Doesn't have great change of direction skills…Didn't run or jump at the Combine but broke the all-time bench press record with 49 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: A run-stuffing tackle that won't bring a ton of pass-rush skill to the next level, his calling card will be his ability to play a nose tackle in a 3-4 system or a big DT in a 4-3 scheme. His lack of elite versatility may drop him out of the first round, but, if he makes to the second round, he won't last long.
Christian Ballard, Iowa, 6-4¼, 288 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who made starts in his final 39 games…In that span, he had 137 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks…Very good speed…Versatile and can play both DT or DE…Has a good swim move that consistently gets him in between double-teams…Holds his ground well at the point of attack…Has good lateral speed and makes plays outside the hashes…Has a variety of pass-rush moves…Uses his hands well and has a strong hand punch…Has never been a sack producer – had just 12.5 sacks in 49 career games…Inconsistent intensity and doesn't always appear to give the same effort on every play…Not a top wrap-up tackler and will allow players to get away too often when he should have them stopped…Gets his legs cut out from under him too often when on the move…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a position-best 4.75 40 with a 31½-inch vertical jump and a 9-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Showed steady improvement in his three years as a starter to solidify his spot in the draft, but it's unlikely he will come off the board prior to the start of the second round.
Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple, 6-4¾, 305 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who, in 25 games, had 131 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks, seven passes batted down, three forced fumbles and three fumbles recoveries…Failed to qualify academically and spent 2007 at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy…Named team defensive MVP in 2010…Has a quick first step and is consistently off the ball quickly and getting into his pass rush…Consistent tackle and sack production…Good upper-body strength…Was a three-down player in college…Has the versatility to play tackle or end…Has good closing speed on the ball…Has good play instincts…Doesn't have great sustained burst…Gets sealed off too easily on running plays…Comes out of his stance high and NFL O-linemen will take advantage of that…Played sub-par competition, which inflated his numbers somewhat…Doesn't use his hands as well as he should…Worked out with defensive ends at the Combine, running a 4.96 40 with 27 reps of 225 pounds, a 26-inch vertical jump and a 8-10 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player who dominated inferior competition and will have a learning curve in front of him. His ability to play both DE and DT will be a plus and will likely have him coming off the board late in the first or early in the second round.
Phil Taylor, Baylor, 6-3½, 337 – Fifth-year senior…Spent his first two seasons at Penn State, starting five of 19 games and had to sit out the 2008 season due to transfer rules…Was suspended by the team, which sparked his transfer after being charged with assault in a fight on campus…Started 22 of 25 games at Baylor, making 87 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks…Had his right knee scoped in June 2010 to clean out some loose cartilage…A huge player and best pure nose tackle in the draft…An intense run defender…Has surprising quickness and burst off the snap…Very good upper- and lower-body strength…Has excellent hand punch…Drives blockers backward…Must be double-teamed because he can routinely beat man coverage…Had a big week at the Senior Bowl…Doesn't play with consistent intensity…Doesn't have good instincts and will lose sight of the ball and bite on fakes…Was never asked to be a pass rusher and only had 2.5 sacks in 22 starts at Baylor…Was dismissed from Penn State for off-field issues, so his character can be brought into question…Wears down and may have to be part of a rotation…Ran a 5.09 40 at the Combine with 31 reps of 225 pounds, a 29½-inch vertical jump and an 8-4 broad jump.
PROJECTION: The best pure nose tackle in the draft, he will be of interest to all teams that run a 3-4 defense. While he has holes in his game, he could be a first-rounder to a 3-4 team with a need for a run-stuffer in the middle (a team like the Jets could make him a late-first round pick).
THE BEST OF THE REST
Drake Nevis, LSU, 6-0¾, 285 – Fourth-year senior…One-year full-time starter who made starts in just four of his first 32 games and all 13 as a senior…Part of a rotation his last two years, recording 106 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks and three forced fumbles…Team Defensive Most Valuable Player in 2010…Very strong against the run…Has excellent anchor strength and requires double-teams…Has good jump off the snap and can knife through blockers to make plays…Has good lateral movement to slide down the line to make plays…Makes plays in the backfield consistently…Has good read-and-react skills…A team leader who is a vocal on-field general…Is shorter than most scouts like and has short arms, which allows O-linemen to get into his body…Will come out of his stance high and needs some refining of his technique…Will struggle to maintain anchor strength at the next level…Likely limited to teams that run a 4-3 defense because of his lack of pure size to be a 3-4 nose tackle…Ran a 5.06 40 at the Combine with 31 reps of 225 pounds, a 30½-inch vertical jump and a 9-4 broad jump.
PROJECTION: If he was three inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, with his skill set, he would be a first-rounder. As it stands, he will likely drop into the third round, but could still become a long-term NFL starter.
Marvin Austin, North Carolina, 6-3, 305 – Fourth-year junior who was permanently dismissed from the team for alleged dealings with a sports agent and didn't play in 2010…Prior to his dismissal, he was a two-year starter who had 80 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks and four passes batted down…Was a high school All-American…Has good speed and quickness in the middle…Rarely gets his legs cut out from under him and plays with good agility and leverage…Is able to break down the pocket with his power rush…Has good closing speed and can chase down the ball effectively…Has the versatility to fit in a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme…Doesn't have good field vision and gets walled off and cut blocked too often…Doesn't play with the same intensity and will take plays off…Doesn't have the bulk or power to handle NFL double-teams…Character concerns are huge after being thrown off team for accepting benefits from an agent while in college…Doesn't always play at full speed and has inconsistent pass-rush skills…Ran a 4.84 40 at the Combine with 38 reps, a 30½-inch vertical jump and a 9-4 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Has a lot of potential, but, in an era where character is almost as important as talent, getting thrown off your college team in your senior year isn't the kind of thing that engenders a prospect to scouts. He will likely fall well into the third round before a team is willing to take a chance on his upside.
Jurrell Casey, USC, 6-2, 282 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 126 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, nine sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries…Good burst and quickness off the snap…Doesn't let up and chases down plays until the ball carrier is brought down…Was consistently disruptive in the backfield…Has good closing speed…Has a strong hand punch and will drive blockers backward more often than most of this year's draft class…Played top competition…A big hitter who holds nothing back…Doesn't look overly athletic, is round and pudgy…Is shorter than most DTs in the NFL and doesn't have the kind of body that can add 20 pounds of bulk, it will be fat…Doesn't protect his legs well and spends a lot of time on the ground…Is too easily redirected by double teams in the run game…Needs to improve his technique…Ran a 5.04 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, a 27½-inch vertical jump and an 8-5 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He doesn't look like a dominant pro prospect and would have helped his draft stock by returning for his senior season. As it stands, he will likely be a third-round prospect with the outside chance of still being on the board in Day Three.
Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson, 6-4, 309 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who recorded 144 tackles, 29 tackles for a loss and four sacks in that span…Started 37 of 48 career games…Dropped 25 pounds between his freshman and sophomore years…Team captain in 2010…Excellent size and girth…Near-dominant in run defense…Has good anchor strength and consistently holds his spot of turf vs. the run…Has quick jump off the snap and gets into the backfield quickly…Good upper- and lower-body strength…Has good chase-down and closing speed…Has very little pass rush ability and had just five sacks in 48 career games…Had a better season in 2009 than he did last year…Has trouble working through traffic and gets sealed off often…Does not have a violent hand punch and doesn't keep blockers away from himself easily…Doesn't time his jump at all – batted down just one pass in his college career…Ran a 5.03 40 at the Combine with 17 reps of 225 pounds, a 26½-inch vertical jump and an 8-2 broad jump.
PROJECTION: An interesting prospect that could become a better pro than some of the guys ranked higher. But his downsides are significant – no pass rush, not a violent hand puncher and has trouble disengaging – three things that combine to make him a late Day 2 or early Day 3 prospect.
Kendrick Ellis, Hampton, 6-4¾, 339 – Fifth-year senior…Spent two years at South Carolina, redshirting in 2006 and starting one of 12 games in 2007…Was suspended from the team for reported failed drug tests – initially for three games, but was dismissed from the squad a month later…Didn't have to sit out a year to attend Hampton, where he started 27 of 32 games, recording 184 tackles, 37.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Was arrested in April 2010 for a fight in which he claimed a student swung a bat at him and he broke the man's nose and jaw…Has ideal size and strength and has long arms that can keep centers and guards away from his body…Has good anchor strength and holds up against double teams in the run game…Played all along the defensive line at different times…Relentless in pursuit and made plays downfield on runs to the outside…Has good spin move and can plant and take off in a flash…Very raw in terms of technique…Inconsistent effort and production…Isn't very instinctive, plays all-out, straight-ahead and will take himself out of plays…Never used his hands to fend off blockers…Played against far inferior competition and his learning curve will be pronounced…Didn't run or jump at the Combine, but did 26 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: A troubled player with an ongoing history of red flags – he was invited only to the Texas vs. the Nation all-star game. He has a ton of upside and somebody will take a chance on him before a couple of the guys we have ranked higher. He could be overwhelmed early and become a NFL casualty. However, if harnessed, he could be a starter where several taken above him never pan out. Boom-bust picks usually hang around until the third and fourth round.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Jerrell Powe, Mississippi, 6-2, 330 – Sixth-year senior…Attended Ole Miss in 2007, but didn't play football…A two-year starter who had 61 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks in that span…A high school All-American…Suffers from dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder…Was denied three times by the NCAA from 2005-07 for admittance due to poor grades…A team captain in 2010…An effective bull rusher who can split double teams…Has near-prototype size for a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense…Very good anchor strength vs. the run…Has an underneath move that is almost like an uppercut punch that gets him good separation…Can stonewall the middle and allow linebackers to converge on the ball, which is partly the reason his tackle production is low…Comes off the field on passing downs and multi-receiver packages…Not instinctive and will get rolled out of plays on his own…Gets chopped down a lot…Needs time to improve technique…He will be a project that could become a poor man's version of a Pat Williams-type run stuffer, but will take more time than some teams have, which will drop him to Day 3.
Ian Williams, Notre Dame, 6-1½, 311 – Fourth-year senior…Started 26 of 46 career games with 162 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks…Tore his left MCL in November 2010, but returned to play in the Sun Bowl at the end of the season…Played for three different defensive coordinators in four seasons…Has an ideal build for a 3-4 nose tackle with wide hips, a big butt and strong legs…Excellent anchor strength…An excellent wrap-up tackler who closes well on the ball…Has a low center of gravity and loses leverage well to collapse the middle of the pocket…Doesn't provide much of a pass rush…Is short and has short arms…Doesn't possess ideal speed…Has an injury history…Doesn't have the foot quickness to run stunts or twists…Comes off the field on passing downs…An undersized player who will likely be limited only to teams that run a 3-4, where nose tackle roster spots are at a premium. He has the talent to hook on with a team, but those limitations could drop him into the late rounds.
Lawrence Guy, Arizona State, 6-5, 300 – Third-year junior…Started 31 of 35 career games, recording 122 tackles, 23 tackles for a loss and eight sacks…Excellent size with a mean streak…Has a solid, jolting hand punch…A good finisher who closes and wraps up…Has good lateral movement and doesn't get his legs chopped out too often…Position flexibility…Doesn't have good technique and will get sealed off and moved…Doesn't have ideal lower-body strength and will have trouble anchoring against a double team…Doesn't have quick-twitch suddenness or burst…A football player more than an athlete, Guy certainly looks the part and will get a chance with a team, but his physical limitations have already been exposed, which leave it doubtful that he will be an NFL starter. He will be a late-round gamble with upside.
Terrell McClain, 6-1¾, 300 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 81 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks in that span…Has very good burst and first step…Has excellent lower-body strength and can squat 600 pounds…Has good agility and lateral movement to make plays outside the hashes or to perform stunts…Has a quick, violent hand punch…Good closer who hustles and makes plays he shouldn't…Good closer, but looks out of shape…Missed the Senior Bowl because of a hamstring injury suffered during the East-West Shrine Game…Not a natural leader and some have questioned his passion for the game and toughness…Has the attributes needed to hook on in the NFL, but has never consistently shown the ability to be dominant and, when facing top competition, was often neutralized. He will get drafted, but it won't be until late and he will find himself in a fight for a roster spot.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Position Analysis: Defensive tackles
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