The 2012 NFL draft will be riddled with defensive line prospects, but the first day will feature an above average amount taken because of all the talent coming out at that position.
As of this moment, I have three D-linemen going in the top 16 of the draft with plenty of time for a few more to leapfrog into the top half of the first round.
All of the following college stars will have heavy burdens on their shoulders being picked this high, but they have the potential to be NFL stars. Let’s just hope that potential turns to results.
Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama
While it’s obvious that Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw is one of the best players at the college level, finding a spot in the NFL won’t be as easy.
Upshaw is a pure football player, but his smaller frame (6’2”) will have him in limbo between an NFL outside linebacker or a defensive end. With a lack of open space speed, I would leave Upshaw on the defensive line to be the dual-threat end that can stop the run and disrupt the pass game.
With unfathomable upside and clear questions about his transition to the NFL, Upshaw is the kind of wildcard that a team like the Miami Dolphins would take at No. 9 overall.
As good as Upshaw is, he will never live up to the hype of the ninth overall pick.
Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
The easiest way to explain what kind of player Melvin Ingram is would be to compare him to the NFL player he reminds me of most; Dwight Freeney.
Ingram is on the smaller size in terms of height at just 6’2”, but just like the 6’1” Freeney, it is the 276 pounds of pure power and unequaled finesse that has teams ready to jump on the young prospect.
As steep of a comparison it is to make for Ingram to Freeney, the glimpses of spectacular that were strewn through Ingram’s South Carolina Gamecocks career warrant such a big statement.
If a team can draft the star and hone in on his natural skills, Ingram could be a top-10 defensive lineman by the end of his rookie season.
Look for a team like the Arizona Cardinals that is desperate for a pass-rusher to reach at No. 13 in the draft for the South Carolina star.
Quinton Coples, DE/DT, UNC
When the hype around the 2012 draft started at the end of the 2011 draft, one of the biggest names mentioned on the defensive side of the ball was versatile defensive lineman Quinton Coples from North Carolina.
At a fit 6’6”, 285 pounds, Coples has the physical tools and ability to continue to grow into a star player that any team will be looking for. Especially teams that run the 3-4 defensive schemes, Coples can slide from tackle to defensive end with little-to-no loss of potency.
If Coples falls to the New York Jets and Rex Ryan at No. 16, there is no way they can pass on him. Ryan has shown his love for the defensive line over the years, but it was the poor play of his current players that will lead him to draft Coples.
That’s the worst case scenario, as many teams before the Jets will also be considering the star as well.
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