Positional Analysis: Defensive Tackles

The Vikings could be looking for a young nose tackle to develop behind veteran Pat Williams, but many of the most talented rookie prospects have question marks associated with their draft status. We examine the assets and liabilities of the top-10 defensive tackle prospects in this draft.

Vikings' Defensive Tackles — Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, Spencer Johnson, Steve Martin.

Vikings' Needs — The signing of Pat Williams eliminates any immediate need at defensive tackle. However, finding a young prospect who can develop into the next Pat Williams — a classic run-stuffing nose tackle — isn't out of the realm of possibility.

Class of 2005 — In a typical season, defensive linemen are always a draft-day premium. But, with so many NFL teams either operating or planning to install a 3-4 defense — more than half at last count — the role of the defensive tackle has become much more specialized. While this year's crop isn't bad, there will likely only be two or three at most that go off the board in the first round and perhaps just seven or eight in the first day. One sure-thing player appeared to be Northwestern's Castillo, who looked surprisingly stronger at the Combine than many anticipated. There was a reason. He was taking steroids and admitted it to NFL teams — turning a potential late first- or early second-round pick into a guy who may drop into the second day.

CREAM OF THE CROP

Travis Johnson, Florida State, 6-4, 296 — Fifth-year senior who was a high school All-American ... Two-year starter who registered 100 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss and five sacks ... First-team All-ACC as a senior ... Third on the Florida State all-time list for tackles for a loss ... Has a long injury history including a neck injury as a freshman that force him to redshirt, left ankle surgery following the 2001 season and right shoulder surgery after the 2002 season ... Very fast off the snap ... Very good agility for his size ... An excellent one-gap DT ... Has good closing speed ... Had his way with a couple of the top guard prospects — Adam Terry and Elton Brown — last season ... Had a tremendous workout at the Seminoles pro day ... Doesn't have ideal lower-body strength ... An inconsistent player ... Better run defender than pass rusher ... Was charged but later acquitted of sexual assault, but is still dogged by character issues ... Durability is a huge concern ... Didn't run or lift at the Combine, but at his pro day he ran a 4.0 40 with 23 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump, a 8-7 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 25.

PROJECTION: A player who reminds some scouts of the Vikings' Kevin Williams, he should go in the middle of the first round, with a likely landing spot in Cincinnati, where they are desperate for DT help.

Shaun Cody, USC, 6-4, 292 — Fourth-year senior who began as a starter as a true freshman ... A high school All-American who had 22 sacks on defense and scored 25 touchdowns on offense as a tight end/fullback workhorse ... Suffered a torn right ACL in his sophomore season ... Was slated to move to DE last year to replace Kenechi Udeze ... Two-time first-team All-Pac 10 ... In the last two years, he had 71 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss and 10-1/2 sacks — 10 of those coming last year ... Pac 10 co-Defensive Player of the Year in '04 ... Good height and upper body strength ... Has good mobility for a man his size ... Has good jump off the snap and good closing speed ... Doesn't give up on plays and will run down plays on the other side of the field ... Played DT in college, but some think he translates better to DE in the pros, even though he doesn't have great edge speed ... Plays upright and will have to improve on that in the pros ... Doesn't have great speed after his initial burst ... Ran a 5.03 40 at the Combine with an impressive 34 reps of 225 pounds, a 30-inch vertical jump, a 8-1 broad jump and a 29 on the Wonderlic test.

PROJECTION: A winner with two national championships behind him, Cody has the ability to have a long and productive NFL career, but his new team will likely force him to settle on one spot — whether tackle or end — and stick with it.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Mike Patterson, USC, 6-0, 291 — Fourth-year senior ... Three-year started who posted 137 tackles, 41 tackles for a loss and 18-1/2 sacks in that span ... Two-time All-Pac 10 first-team selection ... Has a wide body and an excellent burst off the snap ... Can break up or alter plays a second after the snap ... Has good hand punch ... Started every game the last three years, so durability is not a concern ... Is very short for an NFL tackle at under 6 feet ... Better as a push rusher than a run stopper ... Ran a 4.9 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, a 32-1/2 inch vertical jump a 9-0 broad jump and a woeful Wonderlic score of 9.

PROJECTION: While some teams might think he's too small to be an every-down DT in the NFL, he has a lot of athletic ability and is perhaps the hardest worker in this class. That will count for something and likely be enough to have him off the board in the second round.

Luis Castillo, Northwestern, 6-3, 305 — Fourth-year senior who created a furor last week when it was announced that he sent a letter to all 32 NFL teams explaining that he had taken steroids after last season — a claim confirmed in Combine-mandated drug tests ... Three-year starter who had 229 tackles, 15-1/2 tackles for a loss and 6-1/2 sacks in that span ... Has excellent lower-body strength ... Hard worker who never lets up ... Very good occupying two blockers and stuffing the run ... Plays a little too upright and can be neutralized by top interior linemen ... Doesn't have great speed ... Isn't an adept pass defender ... His steroid use will be his biggest downfall and might have some teams remove him completely from their draft boards ... Ran a 4.79 40 at the Combine with 32 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 9-4 broad jump and an impressive Wonderlic score of 37.

PROJECTION: After his Combine performance, some observers thought he might have worked his way into the first round. After testing positive for steroids, however, he could drop into the second or third round and actually be drafted after some prospects rated behind him.

Jonathan Babineaux, Iowa, 6-2, 286 — Fifth-year senior who sat out sophomore season with a broken leg ... Three-year starter who was a defensive end starter as a sophomore and a defensive tackle starter the last two years ... Missed all of 2001 and part of 2003 with leg injuries ... First-team All-Big 10 as a senior ... In his only full year as a starting DT, he had 55 tackles, 25 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks — the final two of those were tops in the Big 10 ... Very good speed and quickness for his size ... Strong vs. the run, whether chasing them down or getting rid of blockers when plays come at him ... Non-stop motor and plays every play like the game is riding on it ... Strong tackler who rarely misses ... Doesn't have top-end lower-body strength and could get pushed around a little ... Needs to work in more different pass-rush moves ... Saw two seasons end with leg injuries, so durability is something of a concern ... Ran a 4.87 40 at the Combine with 21 reps of 225 pounds, a 29-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 9-1 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 13.

PROJECTION: An undersized DT, but he can do a lot of things well and is a tireless worker, which should put him into the first day and maybe even sneak him in at the end of the second round.

Anttaj Hawthorne, Wisconsin, 6-3, 321 — Fourth-year senior who was a high school All-American ... Three-year starter who had 185 tackles, 38-1/2 tackles for a loss and 14 sacks in that span ... Started 41 straight games to end his college career ... Two-time first-team All-Big 10 ... Very good size and upper body strength ... Can beat double teams on a regular basis and is hard to handle in one-on-one blocking schemes ... Has a great closing burst on the QB ... Comes out of his stance quickly and is a solid anticipator when the ball is going to be snapped ... Doesn't have great lower-body strength and has been known to wear down late in games in which the Badgers defense was on the field a lot ... Takes himself out of plays for not having great field awareness ... Put on extra weight for the Combine but it slowed down his 40 times ... Ran a 5.24 40 at the Combine, with 21 reps, a 27-inch vertical jump, a 8-4 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 25.

PROJECTION: Hawthorne is an ideal size for a big nose tackle in a 3-4, but has shown he can play in a 4-3 scheme as well. His ability to draw a double team and open things up for other linemen and blitzers should have seen him go off the board late in the first round or early into the second. But, after tests showed he failed the league's drug test at the Combine, his stock could plummet.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Atiyyah Ellison, Missouri, 6-4, 305 — Fifth-year senior ... Spent one season playing for Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College ... Three-year starter who amassed 132 tackles, 26-1/2 tackles for a loss and 6-1/2 sacks over the last two seasons ... First Team All-Big 12 in 2004 ... Good size and room to grow ... Has good burst off the snap and can beat the double team ... Finishes his tackles ... Doesn't have great lower-body strength and will get pushed around at times ... Plays a little too upright at times ... Doesn't have to speed to move to defensive end ... Is a one-trick pony with his pass-rush moves ... Ran a 4.95 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, a 27-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 8-7 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 26.

PROJECTION: A raw talent who has just two years experience at DT, but could develop into a longtime NFL starter if brought into the right system. As it stands, he should go off the board late on the first day or early on the second day.

C.J. Mosley, Missouri, 6-2, 312 — Fourth-year junior ... Two-year starter who had 128 tackles, 30 tackles for a loss and 12-1/2 sacks in that span ... Played alongside Atiyyah Ellison for the Tigers ... First Team All-Big 12 as a senior ... Explosive off the snap ... Has good power and gets into offensive linemen quickly ... Good closing speed ... Chases down plays to the outside ... Doesn't always play with good leverage and will get pushed backwards on occasion ... Is aggressive and will take himself out of plays ... Inconsistent effort ... Ran a 5.09 40 at the Combine with 27 reps of 225 pounds, a 27-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 8-6 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 19.

PROJECTION: Like his teammate Ellison, he has a chance to go late on the first day, but needs to work harder on his conditioning and dedication or he could be a third-round bust.

Ronald Fields, Mississippi State, 6-2, 298 — Fifth-year senior who spent a year at Hargrave (Miss.) Military Academy ... Three-year starter who had 150 tackles and 13-1/2 tackles for a loss in that span ... First Team All-SEC as a senior ... Excellent run stopper with a wide base ... Can handle double teams ... Excellent hand punch ... Good first step allows him to push offensive linemen backwards ... Doesn't have open-field speed and won't track down many plays ... A bit shorter than most scouts like ... Inconsistent effort from game to game ... Doesn't penetrate enough to be a consistent pass rush option — he had just one sack in three years as a starter ... Lazy at times ... Controlling his weight has been an issue ... Made a good impression at the Combine, running a 5.07 40 with 22 reps of 225 pounds, a 32-inch vertical jump, a 8-3 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 16.

PROJECTION: A solid two-gap tackle who has a good chance of going early on the second day to a team that runs a 4-3 defense. Will likely be a part-timer who is on the field for running downs.

Darrell Shropshire, South Carolina, 6-2, 301 — Fourth-year senior who spent two years at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College ... Two-year starter who had 63 tackles, 8-1/2 tackles for a loss and two sacks ... Good combination of size and power ... Good quickness to plug the holes on running plays ... Had a solid outing at the East-West Shrine Game ... Plays a little too upright at times and gets redirected by savvy offensive linemen ... Doesn't have a lot of Division I experience ... Doesn't chase down plays consistently ... Is viewed as a run-stopper only ... Ran a 4.87 40 at the Combine with 25 reps, a 34-inch vertical jump, a 9-6 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 15.

PROJECTION: He's a little one-dimensional and will only be used on running downs, but has the ability to develop into a solid nose tackle that should go off the board on the fourth or fifth round.

OTHERS TO WATCH
Anthony Bryant, Alabama (6-3, 332)
Jason Jefferson, Wisconsin (6-1, 310)
Tim Bulman, Boston College (6-3, 292)
Eric Coleman, Clemson (6-5, 288)
Lorenzo Alexander, California (6-2, 289)
Sione Pouha, Utah (6-3, 318)



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