Defensive lineman are extremely valuable on draft day, and difference makers usually hear their name called very early. In the last two drafts alone, 19 defensive lineman have been selected in the first round, with ten of them coming last year. The 2012 NFL Draft is unlikely to see that many taken, but there are definitely some names to know.
North Carolina's Quinton Coples may be the headliner on the defensive line. He is a versatile athlete that has played both end and tackle at the college level, and should be able to play with his hand down in any front. At 6'6 275lbs, Coples has great size for the defensive end position, and brings excellent athleticism along with it. He is the type of player you have to keep an eye on every snap. Coples is still developing and with his combination of physical tools, could be a better pro than college player.
- Quentin Coples, North Carolina
- Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
- Nick Perry, USC
- Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
- Chandler Jones, Syracuse
- Andre Branch, Clemson
- Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
- Vinny Curry, Marshall
- Cam Johnson, Virginia
- Jared Crick, Nebraska
Nick Perry of USC is one of the better pure pass rushers available for this year's draft. He is a very good athlete that has surprising power in his game. He may only be in the 255lb range, but he is very hard to block with his combination of power and speed. He has shown the ability to bull rush tackles and push them into the backfield, but he also possesses the burst off the line and speed to hit the edge, and close on the QB. As a junior, he continued to emerge as the season went on, and should he declare, will be an attractive name on draft day 2012.
The other USC, the University of South Carolina, also has a talented DE prospect. Melvin Ingram won't wow anyone with his physical tools, but he just makes plays. He is a bit short for a DE, but his low center of gravity makes him hard to block. He is a good athlete with some punch at the point of attack, which could actually allow him to move inside to defensive tackle for some teams, if he can gain a few pounds.
Andre Branch of Clemson is a solid all around end prospect, that could also stand up in some schemes. He is very active off the edge in both run support and getting after the QB, but has experience standing up, which would help with the transition. He isn't an athletic freak, but he has solid physical tools and the toughness to contribute early in the NFL.
NCAA sack leader, Whitney Mercilus of Illinois is likely to declare off of his big season. He won't blow you away physically, but his combination of tools and motor allow him to wreak havoc off the edge consistently. He only has one year of experience producing, but he was dominant this season.
Florida State's Brandon Jenkins is one of the top 3-4 conversion guys in the draft. He has the quick first step, standout athleticism and speed to be a factor as a pass rusher off the edge. Whether he lines up in a 4-3 with his hand down or stands up, he will need to work on getting off blocks and holding up at the point of attack.
Courtney Upshaw of Alabama will profile as a 3-4 linebacker for many teams because he has had success in that role, but his body type(6'1 265) may also suit him well with his hand down in a 4-3 alignment. He's not going to blow by anybody with his raw speed, but he's hard to block because of his stocky build and power/speed combo.
Other players to keep an eye on early at the defensive end position are Jared Crick(Nebraska), Cam Johnson(Virginia), Vinny Curry(Marshall), and Devin Taylor(South Carolina).
- Fletcher Cox, Mississippi St.
- Dontari Poe, Memphis
- Michael Brockers, LSU
- Jerel Worthy, Michigan St.
- Devon Still, Penn St.
- Kendall Reyes, UConn
- Brandon Thompson, Clemson
- Alameda TaĠamu, Washington
- Billy Winn, Boise St.
- Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati
At the tackle position, there may not be one headliner, but Devon Still of Penn State probably heads the group at this point, A big senior season has moved the 6'5 310lber into the first round territory with his ability to make plays in the backfield and clog running lanes. He could project to a 5 technique in 3-4 alignment as well.
Clemson's Brandon Thompson is a force against the run, but has surprising agility for a run stopper. He isn't as big of a factor in terms of getting penetration, but the ability is there to make a difference. He makes his name as a run stopper, and could provide a lot of value to a 3-4 team with his ability to play on the edge or potentially on the nose.
The top pure nose tackle in the draft may be Dontari Poe of Memphis. He has the classic wide body at 6'3 330, but some athleticism and agility rarely seen in a player that size. Alameda Ta'amu of Washington ranks just below Poe as a nose tackle prospect, but isn't quite the natural athlete Poe is.
Jerel Worthy of Michigan State has the ability to make an impact as a penetrator and run stopper, but doesn't always live up to his ability level. Teams covet players with his natural size, ability to hold up at the point and stop the run, but he will need to put forth more effort on a consistent basis to reach his potential.
Kendall Reyes of UConn is another player with some all around skills. He has a burst off the line to get some initial penetration and the ability to keep defenders off his body, but will need to get stronger to hold up at the point of attack. Some more weight would help him project better in a 3-4 alignment as a defensive end.
Miami's Marcus Fortson is an impressive athlete for a 300lb interior lineman. He has as much natural ability as any tackle in this draft, but his performance on the field hasn't matched his talent level and he will have injury questions to prove in the post season. He has already declared his intention to enter the draft, so the knee injury that ended his season prematurely must not be that bad.
USC's DaJohn Harris is the ultimate sleeper. He didn't really get a chance to showcase his ability until his senior season, for a variety of reasons. A sleeping disorder slowed him down on the field and in the class room early in his career, but once it was diagnosed, he began to blossom. He has the quickness and power to be dominant at times, but has to get more consistent. He's the type of player that could rise in the post season, or truly surprise as a mid round pick once in camp.
There are a couple more interior lineman to keep an eye on that could hear their names called in the first three rounds: Kheeston Randall(Texas), Josh Chapman(Alabama), Fletcher Cox(Mississippi State), and Billy Winn(Boise State).
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