Preston's 2011 NFL Draft Rankings: The Ferocious Defensive Lineman
If there are any Cardinal Rules of the NFL Draft, this has to be one; to win in the NFL, you need your quarterback, you need to protect your quarterback, and you need to demolish the opponents quarterback. If you're looking for a man to get to the other quarterback, 2011 might be the year. This is a great class, with some dominating interior rush men, plenty of physical freaks and some ferocious edge rushers.
Allen Bailey, DT, Miami (Senior)
An explosive, pass-rushing tackle in the Tommie Harris or Gerald McCoy mold, Bailey will generate interest come draft day for his versatility; he can play in any scheme and at countless positions. In a 4-3, he'll be a 3-technique but also has the potential, with his explosive nose for the football, to be an edge-rusher. He played the position a few times this season for the Hurricanes, but struggled. It'll be interesting to see if he gets anymore playing time there. In a 3-4, he'll man the five technique and eat up exterior blockers. The biggest concern with Bailey is that he struggles in the run game and often contributes to the opposing offense gaining big yardage on the ground.
Projected Round: Top 20 Picks
Marcell Dareus, DE, Alabama (Junior)
Dareus etched himself into Crimson Tide lore when he returned a Garrett Gilbert interception for a TD in the Tide's 37-21 National Championship. Next season, Dareus should add onto his 'legacy'. As a rotational pass rusher, he notched 6 sacks. At 6'4, 296 pounds, he's got a big body and may end up as a defensive tackle in the league. He uses his size to his advantage and uses his strength to push offensive lineman around. I'd like to see him develop a further repertoire of pass rush moves if he plans on making it at the next level.
I'm tentatively going to slap a borderline 1st round grade on him, just because how Nick Saban chooses to rotate the defensive line to keep their rush men fresh. If Dareus receives a boost in playing time and ends up impressing, he might move into a firm first round grade a potential top 15 pick.
Projected Round: 1st-2nd
Jerrell Powe, NT, Mississippi (Senior)
As the only true nose tackle worth spending a high pick on, Powe will likely be a hot commodity, especially if he tears up the Senior Bowl, like we've seen defensive tackles do in the past (i.e., Sedrick Ellis, Amobi Okoye and BJ Raji; all ended up top 10 picks). Powe is a bit quicker then you might think a 6'2, 345 pound man would be.
The biggest worry about Powe will be his intelligence. A report claimed that he couldn't read, and his enrollment at Ole Miss was delayed by two years because his grades weren't good enough. However, much like former Boston College nose tackle BJ Raji, teams are willing to overlook academic issues if the talent's there. Powe will have a lot to prove this season on an Ole Miss team that has lost so much talent over the past two years, but I have no doubt Powe will do so.
Projected Round: 2nd
DaQuan Bowers, DE, Clemson (Junior)
If you put DaQuan Bowers in Gator blue, and you could hardly tell the difference between him and 2010 prospect Carlos Dunlap. Back in 2007, ESPN rated Bowers as the #1 high school recruit; what happened? At 6'5, 280 pounds and running a 4.6 40 yard dash, you'd expect him to dominate like no other has. Unfortunately, the light hasn't gone off in Bowers head. In two seasons, he has 4 sacks.
At this point, he's almost an exact clone of Carlos Dunlap; a physical freak who can't produce on the field. If Bowers puts together a solid junior season, he can come out and be a first rounder. For now, I'm gonna put a borderline second round grade on him.
Projected Round: 2nd-3rd
Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina (Junior)
From one ACC physical freak to another, Robert Quinn is just one of the countless North Carolina defensive standouts. USC's defense of the past few years has produced high draft picks like Keith Rivers, Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson, Terrell Thomas, Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews and Fili Moala, North Carolina might produce six first-rounders in one draft.
Robert Quinn is definitely one of them. Like Bowers, Quinn has all the physical tools; he's 6'5, 270 pounds and runs a 4.5 40. However, unlike Bowers, Quinn has translated it to on the field success. After a relatively nondescript freshman season (34 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles), Quinn followed it up with an 11 sack, 52 tackle year. If Quinn manages to have another double-digit sack season, he'll have a great shot at becoming the next North Carolina defensive end to go in the top 5.
Projected Round: Top 15 Picks
Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina (Senior)
Marvin Austin is yet another first round defensive Tarheel to keep your eye out for. Much like fellow teammate Robert Quinn, Austin has prototypical size; he's a stout 6'3 and 310 pounds with some room to add bulk. After a disappointing sophomore season, his first as a full-time starter, he rebounded and put together solid junior tape for scouts. Austin moves extremely well and is quick enough to penetrate in the backfield.
An all-around solid player, Austin is a solid run defender, pass-rusher and all around tackle. He's not the flashiest guy around which might cause him to drift towards the middle of round 1, but he will make some team very happy.
Projected Round: Top 25 Picks
Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska (Junior)
Move over Ndamukong Suh. While losing Suh will hurt the Husker defense immensely, Crick is a more than willing replacement. After a 9.5 sack season, teams will be immensely interested in whether or not the redshirt junior will be able to produce without Suh eating up blocker.
Physically, Crick is much different from Suh. Whereas Suh is a bit more compact and stout, Crick's taller and has room to add plenty of bulk (and will need to). At 6'6 and 280 pounds, he's got decent size for a college athlete but will need to add about 30 pounds of muscle to be taken seriously. He's a bit more well-rounded as a pass-rusher then Suh is.
Projected Round: 3rd
Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue (Senior)
I have no issue saying that Ryan Kerrigan was a major reason for Purdue's 5-2 finish to the season, uncluding upset wins vs. Ohio State and at Michigan. In those final seven games, Kerrigan notched 7 sacks. Last season, his 12 sacks tied for fourth most in the NCAA and tied with O'Brien Schofield for the most in the Big Ten.
Kerrigan's a by-the-books rusher with a relentless motor and fight. He really started to pick up production in the final few games of the season, so I'll be interested to see if he can carry that momentum into his final season at Purdue.
Project Round: 2nd
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa (Senior)
The 6'3, 280 pound Hawkeye really put together something impressive over the last six games of the season. It can be described as nothing but dominating. In those six games, he racked up seven sacks and 35 tackles.
Some concerns may arise about the Orange Bowl MVP's speed; reports have had him running the 40 yard dash from anywhere between 4.7 or 4.95. The Combine will be huge for Clayborn. Considering the questions about the Big 10's speed that are always floating around, he may be required to move inside at the next level.
Projected Round: 1st-2nd
Cameron Heyward, DT, Ohio State (Senior)
I was a bit shocked to see Cameron Heyward go back to Ohio State. I really thought he would go to the Denver Broncos at the 10 slot. However, upon coming back, he now has time to improve as a pass-rusher and go through the off-season bowl games to build a hype for himself.
Heyward is a pretty standard run stuffer at the defensive tackle positions; he understands the game extremely well and will finish his career as a four year starter. He's an underrated pass-rusher, but I think his best fit may end up being as an elite five technique.
Projected Round: Top 15
Greg Romeus, DE, Pittsburgh (Senior)
Despite a very robust group of pass-rushers listed so far, Greg Romeus is the best. A quick, strong player who stands at 6'6, 270 pounds, he has continually stepped up his production, getting better and better every season. With long arms and the versatility to play both a 4-3 rusher and a 3-4 rush 'backer, Romeus should find himself as one of the first few names called come draft day.
Romeus, while physically impressive, isn't as ridiculous as Robert Quinn or DaQuan Bowers. That may cause one of those players to eventually surpass Romeus, maybe causing him to fall to the mid-first round.
Projected Round: Top 10 Pick