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Defensive line class highlighted by versatility

1/16/2007

There wasn't much of a middle class when it came to defensive line talent in the 2006 NFL draft. After eight came off the board in the first round, we saw just one defensive lineman (Darryl Tapp, Seahawks) selected in the first two rounds. It seems that next year's crop will provide more depth, but not quite as much elite talent at the top.

Defensive ends Quentin Moses (Georgia) and Gaines Adams (Clemson) are atop most boards at this point. Moses is faster and projects as a better pass-rusher in the NFL, while Adams offers a more complete package due to his superior size and strength. Neither would have been a first-round pick in this year's draft but expectations are high after Moses' breakout campaign (20.5 tackles-for-loss and 11.5 sacks) and Adams' torrid finish in 2005 (16 quarterback pressures in final six games).

As is the case with Moses and Adams at defensive end, there is little doubt that Marcus Thomas (Florida) and Quinn Pitcock (Ohio State) are the premier senior defensive tackle prospects so far. Ironically, Thomas and Pitcock share very few similarities in terms of style of play. Thomas is a disruptive force with 18 tackles-for-loss the past two seasons, while Pitcock is valued more for his ability to occupy blockers and free up linebackers to make the big play. Pitcock is more consistent at this point but Thomas has greater upside.

As for the aforementioned depth, there are 11 others who project as possible first-day draft picks from this year's senior class, including Nebraska DE Adam Carriker, Texas DE Tim Crowder, Michigan DE LaMarr Woodley, Notre Dame DE Victor Abiamiri, Miami (Fla.) DL Baraka Atkins, Tennessee DT Justin Harrell, Miami (Fla.) DT Kareem Brown, Arizona State DE Loren Howard, California DT Brandon Mebane, Central Michigan DE Dan Bazuin and Penn State DT Jay Alford. And that's not including the potential early entries like USC DE Lawrence Jackson, Texas DT Frank Okam, Michigan DT Alan Branch and Georgia DE Charles Johnson.

One developing trend to monitor in this year's group is versatility. Atkins, Brown, Howard, Alford, Ray McDonald (Florida) and Derek Landri (Notre Dame) are some of the more talented linemen who can play end and/or tackle, while Moses, Woodley, Bazuin and Larry McSwain (UAB) are among the top hybrid end/outside linebacker types.

Defensive ends Noland Burchette (Virginia Tech) and Anthony Spencer (Purdue) are two physically gifted players who could skyrocket up the draft board with breakout seasons. The same can be said for defensive tackles Brown and Alford. There are also a few talented defensive line prospects attempting to make comebacks in 2006, including Howard, DE Larry Birdine (Oklahoma), and DE Jason Trusnik (Ohio Northern).

Finally, Trusnik and Maine DT Mike DeVito are the most promising small-school defensive line prospects to monitor heading into the 2006 college football season. Trusnik has been a vicious pass-rusher when healthy (18 sacks in 2004), while DeVito displays a promising blend of size, potential and quickness as a one-gap penetrating type.

Three-Year Tally

The following is a graphic representation of the number of defensive linemen (tackles and ends) selected in each round of the previous three NFL drafts. Most NFL teams use this type of chart to study position trends when setting up their respective draft boards each year.