Monday, March 30, 2009

Feeling the Draft '09: Defensive Line

Just admit: you’ve had it up to here with expert analysis of the upcoming NFL draft.

With Adam Schefter breaking down Combine numbers. With Todd McShay’s smirk and Mel Kiper’s hair-helmet. You want an idea of who the Broncos might take on April 25th and 26th, but you want it to come from a guy with no more access to the team’s war room than the dudes who clean the Dove Valley toilets or paint stripes on the practice field.

Well, search no more. I’m here for you. Today, I'm taking a gander at potential defensive line prospects that might—or mightn’t, let’s be honest—fit in the hybrid 3-4/4-3 that new D-coordinator Mike Nolan promises to install in 2009.

1. Jarron Gilbert, DE, San Jose State. 6’5”, 287 lbs.

A month or so ago, most football fans outside of San Jose State’s Athletic Department couldn’t have identified this young man if they’d interviewed his relatives first and been prepped with a series of flash cards. But then a video surfaced on YouTube featuring Gilbert leaping out of the shallow end of a swimming pool in one motion and landing, flat-footed, on the deck. Go ahead and give that a try sometime. Couple that natural explosiveness with 35-inch arms and he’s got exactly the body type that coaches who run 3-4 schemes look for in the “five technique” end position. Nor is he a mere workout warrior; he made 22 tackles for a loss in ’08. But that YouTube video might have made him millions.

Projection: 2nd round

2. Sammie Lee Hill, DT, Stillman College. 6’4”, 329 lbs.

How does a kid Hill’s size grow up in Alabama, who was 270 lbs. leaving high school, not get a scholarship invite to play for the Crimson Tide? These mysteries of life, ever do they vex us. Hill is surprisingly athletic, considering his massive frame--he even played defensive end as a senior--but most likely projects to nose tackle in the NFL. A developmental prospect to be sure, since Stillman is a Division II school, but worth a look in the middle rounds.

Projection: 4th round

3. Terrance Taylor, DT, Michigan. 6’1”, 314 lbs.

Seems like Michigan puts a coke machine-sized tackle or two into the league every year—see the Arizona Cardinals Alan Branch and Gabe Watson—and Taylor is just the latest in line. Although perhaps a tad more squatty than some coaches like in a 3-4 nose tackle, that same “deficiency” also provides Taylor with natural leverage. By the by, the Steelers’ Casey Hampton is about the same height. How’s that been working out for Pittsburgh?

Projection: 4th round

4. Dorell Scott, DT, Clemson. 6’4, 310 lbs.

Clemson has a history of putting fine defensive linemen into the league—the Broncos had a pretty nice example for a few years, guy named Trevor Pryce—and Scott, while some analysts rip him for inconsistency, still managed to average more than 50 tackles as a sophomore and junior before dropping in status (along with the rest of the Tigers) during last season’s forgettable campaign. Can actually provide some pass rush, too, which makes him a potential fit at a variety of positions in a 3-4/4-3 hybrid.

Projection: 3d round

5. Fili Moala, DT, USC. 6’4, 303 lbs.

Moala probably has a tad more name recognition than the other dudes, having played for Will Ferrell’s favorite team, but opinions vary wildly on his future prospects. Some think he’d be better playing inside on a four-man line, some think he’d be an excellent 3-4 end, some people think he’s lazy and unpolished, some people think he’s a grinder who gives great effort and doesn’t mind the dirty work. When confronted by such conflicting information, we always go back to what we witnessed on the couch whilst drinking Old Milwaukee: a guy who started all or part of his every year on a USC defense that ate six-penny nails for breakfast and once blocked two kicks in a quarter last season against Arizona State. His cousin is Baltimore Ravens tackle Haloti Ngata, for those who put stock in “bloodlines.” (Which we don’t, really, but still worth mentioning, especially since some of the same criticisms were leveled at Ngata when he left Oregon.)

Projection: 2nd round

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