Johnson top draw of lean DT group

Updated: April 14, 2005, 1:16 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Here is how ESPN.com rates the top seven defensive tackle prospects in the draft:

Travis Johnson
Former FSU standout Travis Johnson recorded 18 tackles for losses last season.

Travis Johnson (Florida State)
Vital statistics: 6 foot 3 5/8, 298 pounds, 4.87 in the 40, 23 bench press reps.
Numbers game: In high school, was a Parade Magazine All-American and also a USA Today All-American, recruited by all the West Coast schools but opted to test himself at FSU. Only started one full season, in 2004, after spending much of career in Seminoles' tackle rotation. Played in 51 games with 21 starts and had 175 tackles, 43½ tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 31 pressures, six forced fumbles and three recoveries. His 18 tackles for loss in '04 represented the third-best single season in school history. Gained a medical redshirt in 2000 because of a neck injury, then had shoulder surgery after the '02 campaign. An all-ACC selection as a senior and the defensive team captain.
Upside: Compelling size-speed-quickness combination. Exceptional athlete with quick, active hands and nifty feet. When he's on his game, explodes off blocks, finds the ball and makes the play. Enough movement skill to get wide. Enough power to compact the pocket and chase down the quarterback. Like several of the top tackles in this draft, very nice pass-rush acumen. Can be a disruptive, dominant player when his motor is revved. Knows how to slip the double-team block and how to make himself narrow enough to get through small spaces. Aspires to be more than just another player.
Downside: Good but not great size and could use a little more strength. Probably has to play the three-technique spot. Will have to use his hands a little better and learn to shed quicker. Has a tendency to mope. Only started one full year as he had to wait his turn behind some of the Seminoles' big-time tackles. Has had some injuries.
The dish: A pure one-gap player who, based on athleticism and potential, should be the first tackle off the board.

Position-by-position schedule
In preparation for the NFL draft (April 23-24, ESPN), Len Pasquarelli and John Clayton will roll out a position-by-position look at draft prospects, along with a breakdown for each position. Click here to see the complete schedule.
Luis Castillo (Northwestern)
Vital statistics: 6 foot 2¾, 305 pounds, 4.79 in the 40, 32 bench press reps.
Numbers game: Raised in the Dominican Republic and learned English as a second language. Appeared in 42 games and started 34 times, registering 251 tackles, 19½ tackles for loss, 4½ sacks, 11 pressures, one forced fumble and one recovery. Over his three years as a starter, averaged 76.3 tackles, including career-best 84 stops in '02. Had 51 solo tackles as a senior, when he played the entire season with a severely sprained left elbow that required postseason surgery. In 2004, became only the fourth player in school history to earn All-American and all-academic honors in the same season.
Upside: Really improved his speed and quickness in the past year, a motivated player, aspires to be more than just another guy and willing to pay the price. Powerful build, especially strong in the lower body, can sink down and grow roots on the interior. Moves well for such a big man and will make stops outside the box. Gets up and down the line of scrimmage, reacts well to the flow, a very aware player. Knows the leverage game and uses his hands well to get position. Stout enough to absorb initial contact and to counter with power. Can split the double-team block.
Downside: Doesn't always play up to his size. Could be more physical and needs to add a little more functional strength. Will never be nifty enough to penetrate regularly into the backfield and, as a pass-rusher, won't crush the pocket. Has had injury problems, and battled asthma, in the past.
The dish: One of the draft's fastest-rising prospects in the past month, and we're not sure whether it's because he is so good or the tackle position is so lean. Some teams feel that he will be the first tackle selected. Others grade him a high second-round pick. Wednesday's revelation that he took steroids following the 2004 season apparently won't hurt his stock much.

More on DTs
  • Others: Lynn McGruder (Oklahoma), C.J. Mosley (Missouri), Darrell Shropshire (South Carolina), Anthony Bryant (Alabama), Eric Coleman (Clemson), Lorenzo Alexander (California), Matt McChesney (Colorado), Chris Barry (Nevada), Tim Bulman (Boston College), Mike Wright (Cincinnati), Vince Crochunis (Pittsburgh), Derreck Robinson (Iowa), Larry Burt (Miami, Ohio), Jonas Seawright (North Carolina), Tom Sverchek (California), Chris Van Hoy (Louisiana Tech).
  • Rising: He didn't log a lot of starts and had a slew of injury problems, but Santonio Thomas (Miami) definitely has some game, and teams are warming to him. Thomas is a nose tackle with good size (6 foot 3 and 303 pounds) and, if he's healthy, is going to be a solid middle-round selection. Keyonta Marshall (Grand Valley State) comes from a small program but is a guy getting talked up right now. Marshall had 26 career sacks and an eye-opening 69 tackles for loss. At 333 pounds, he needs to shed some tonnage but, if he can get into the 290- or 300-pound range, he might be a steal.
  • Declining: It seems like only a few months ago that Anttaj Hawthorne (Wisconsin) was viewed by some pundits as the top tackle prospect in the draft. For whatever reason, and despite 41 career starts, Hawthorne has slipped precipitously on most boards. He has great size (6 foot 3 3/8 and 321 pounds) but doesn't play with much passion. He'll still get drafted, probably on the first day, but there isn't much buzz about him. Another former big-time recruit, Albert Means (Memphis), is probably little more now than a late-round selection after a college career that didn't live up to the high school hype.
  • Intriguing: Sione Pouha (Utah) is already 26 years old, having taken time off from the game to serve his Mormon mission, so he's definitely getting a late start to his career. A lot of teams, however, have brought him in for visits in recent weeks. He is 6 foot 3 3/8 and 325 pounds, ran 5.02 and did 32 bench press reps in a recent workout, and he looks like a player. Pouha is a brute-strength kind of guy with some upside. It will be interesting to see whether someone takes a chance on this late bloomer.
  • Sleepers: Alfred Malone (Troy) could be the second prospect from the small school in this draft, with end/linebacker Demarcus Ware projected as a first-round pick. Malone has good size and good-enough speed. Kendrick Haynes (Louisiana-Lafayette) has a good body and can stop the run. Brian Godfrey (Slippery Rock) has demonstrated some pass-rush skills and might be a good free agent addition.
  • Notable: Greg Pauly (Notre Dame) has an older brother, Eric, who played at Wisconsin. … Albert Means (Memphis) was a high school teammate of current New York Jets star defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson's. … Jason Jefferson (Wisconsin) was a three-time offensive lineman of the year in high school, and some teams project him as a guard. … Ronald Fields (Mississippi State) is the cousin of New York Giants defensive lineman Kendrick Allen.
  • Shaun Cody (Southern California)
    Vital statistics: 6 foot 4, 293 pounds, 5.03 in the 40, 34 bench press reps.
    Numbers game: Was a Parade Magazine pick in high school and one of the country's most heavily recruited players. Targeted by Southern California to serve as cornerstone of the school's rebuilding program. Started in 38 of 44 appearances despite missing seven contests in 2002 because of a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. Finished with 130 tackles, 31½ tackles for loss, 21 sacks, three forced fumbles and four recoveries. Also blocked five kicks. A consensus All-American choice in 2004 and a finalist for the Lombardi Award.
    Upside: Very productive, complete and explosive athlete who seems to rise to the occasion at big times and in big games. Maybe the best overall body control of any of the defensive linemen in the draft. Possesses an innate ability to get off blocks, with spin or counter moves or by using his hands, and to get into the play. Never quits on a play, even one away from him, and will chase people down the line and to the sideline. Enough upper-body strength to defeat double-team blocks, but, as a three-technique guy, his forte remains penetrating through the gaps. Nice change of direction and good closing ability. Won't crush the pocket, but he's so quick, and has such a keen sense of the pass-rush, that he can get to the quarterback and wreak havoc. Big-time character guy.
    Downside: His game is quickness, not strength, and some personnel evaluators feel that his best position might be strong-side end. The problem there is that he lacks quickness to play the edge. Not very bulky and will get washed out of some plays. Not an anchor-type defender. A tad too much finesse.
    The dish: Even the scouts who like him a lot aren't certain whether he's an end or a tackle. His versatility offers a lot of possibilities, though, and he's almost certainly a first-rounder.

    Mike Patterson (Southern California)
    Vital statistics: 5 foot 11 5/8, 292 pounds, 4.90 in the 40, 26 bench press reps.
    Numbers game: Moved from Sacramento to Orange County as high school sophomore because he wanted to play against top-tier competition. A prep wrestling champion. Started in 39 of 50 appearances, teaming with Shaun Cody to provide the Trojans one of the country's premier tackle tandems. Had 146 tackles, 46 tackles for loss, 21½ sacks, four forced fumbles and a school-record 13 recoveries. Had three or more recoveries in three seasons and scored two touchdowns on fumble returns. Was an all-Pac-10 choice as a senior.
    Upside: Explosive one-gap defender and can get up the field and disrupt flow. Super first step and knows how to naturally compact himself and use his innate leverage to squeeze through the creases and get into the backfield. Spatially aware, and has great feel for the game. Can anchor at the point of attack but also flashes lateral quickness, can move down the line to plug a hole, and will chase plays down from behind. Unusually long arms allow him to maintain separation. Strong enough to take the first impact and to redirect the blocker. Uses his hands really well. Plays the double-team pretty well for a one-gapper. Good pass-rusher and has nice inside closing speed. Durable and will play hurt. A big-time team leader.
    Downside: Lack of height will always be a concern for some teams. Lacks a little knee-bend and his body looks a tad soft. Will sometimes get stalled if he doesn't get through the gap with his initial surge. Might be limited to playing nose tackle on a one-gap team.
    The dish: Teams that play a one-gap defense absolutely love him. Second-rounder on a lot of boards but, with the right "system" team, could go in the bottom of first round.

    Jonathan Babineaux (Iowa)
    Vital statistics: 6 foot 2 1/8, 286 pounds, 4.87 in the 40, 21 bench press reps.
    Numbers game: Played fullback, linebacker and punter in high school and, as freshman at Iowa, actually started three games at fullback in 2000. Switched to defense in 2001 but was forced to take a medical redshirt when he suffered a broken leg in spring practices. Over next three seasons, started 31 games at tackle, recording 131 tackles, 39 tackles for loss, 19 sacks, 24 pressures, five forced fumbles and four recoveries. Had 11 sacks in 2003, when he earned all-Big Ten honors and was also named conference's Sportsman of the Year. Voted the team's defensive most valuable player in '04.
    Upside: Has played some at end and perhaps quick enough to move outside as a rusher in some situations. Very active and athletic, can play down the line and redirect back when the play goes away from him. A flexible athlete who bends his knees well. Good power in his initial surge and can break down the pocket from the inside. Quick to the ball but strong enough to stand up in the hole. Good motor and hustle. Plays with nice pad level and will win his share of hand-to-hand combat.
    Downside: Not bulky and might need more strength to be effective at the next level. Although quick, probably doesn't have the explosive twitch to beat NFL blockers right off the ball. Will get enveloped by the bigger guards and seems to get frustrated when he can't get off the double-team. Has had some injury problems.
    The dish: Solid defender who should move quickly into an NFL rotation. Ought to be drafted in the top half of the second round.

    Atiyyah Ellison (Missouri)
    Vital statistics: 6 foot 4¼, 305 pounds, 5.07 in the 40, 25 bench press reps.
    Numbers game: Began college career at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College and transferred to Missouri in 2002. Played in 36 games with 31 starts and had 171 tackles, 26½ tackles for loss, 6½ sacks, 11 pressures, two forced fumbles and a recovery. Was a team captain as a senior and made the all-Big 12 team.
    Upside: Naturally strong inside defender with a nasty streak. Occasionally can split the double-team block and collapse the interior. Good anchor against the run but a lot more athletic than most nose-tackle-type players. Will clog things up between the tackles and make lots of stops in a closed area. Can protect the linebackers and keep people away from the second-level tacklers. Hard worker and wants to be good.
    Downside: Lack of initial surge means he doesn't get much penetration, and he will never be a disruptive force. Not a very polished pass-rusher, from a technique or speed standpoint. Gets caught up too often in hand-fighting blockers. Plays too tall at times and loses momentum.
    The dish: Probably a two-down nose tackle in the NFL, and will probably be chosen sometime in the second round.

    Ronald Fields (Mississippi State)
    Vital statistics: 6 foot 2 3/8, 313 pounds, 5.07 in the 40, 22 bench press reps.
    Numbers game: Attended Hargrave Military Academy before transferring to Mississippi State in 2001. Finished his career with 46 appearances and 36 starts. Recorded 172 tackles, 16½ tackles for loss, one sack, six pressures, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Had a career-best 57 tackles in '04 and was named to the all-SEC squad.
    Upside: Nose-tackle-type player with a wide, girthy body and the ability to hang in and serve as a human speed bump inside. Plays tough, stout and nasty at the point of attack. Stays low and has a natural leverage to him. Good, active hands, can grab a blocker and move him around.
    Downside: Limited athlete, does not flow well to the action, often has problems locating the ball. Neither aware nor instinctive. Not going to make many plays outside the box. Keeps trying the same bull-rush move over and over and, with one career sack, it's pretty obvious he is not a threat to challenge the pocket. Plays with a high pad level and will get lazy when he gets frustrated. Needs a little more motivation.
    The dish: A two-gap tackle who has size-strength components and enough ability to be a first-day selection.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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