2011 NFL Combine: The Most Important Defensive Linemen To Watch on Day 5

Danny Flynn@FlynnceptionSenior Analyst IFebruary 28, 2011

2011 NFL Combine: The Most Important Defensive Linemen To Watch on Day 5

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    Alabama DT Marcell Dareus
    Alabama DT Marcell DareusKevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Can someone tell me why Da’Quan Bowers decided not to work out tomorrow?

    I know he had a recent surgery, but if Bowers thinks he can breeze over the combine because he already solidified himself as the clear top defensive line prospect in this class, he might be mistaken.

    This is one of the deepest defensive line classes we’ve seen in years, and while there’s still a good chance Bowers will end up going No. 2 to the Broncos, nothing is a sure thing yet.

    There's a lot of very talented prospects prepared to show off their skills to the scouts.

    Here’s a look at the defensive linemen you need to focus in on tomorrow.

DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama

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    Alabama DT Marcell Dareus
    Alabama DT Marcell DareusAl Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Height: 6'3''

    Weight: 319

    You won’t find many defensive line prospects as explosive as Marcell Dareus.

    Dareus is a disruptive force that plays both the run and the pass equally effective. He has the strength and the quickness to excel as either a 3-4 defensive end or a 4-3 under tackle at the NFL level.

    Right now, it’s hard to imagine Dareus falling out of the Top 10. And if he can perform at a high level tomorrow, Dareus could even put himself in a position to be the first defensive lineman off the board.

DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina

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    North Carolina DE Robert Quinn
    North Carolina DE Robert QuinnStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Height: 6'4''

    Weight: 265

    Hey—look who’s back in town. It’s Robert Quinn.

    Quinn was one of the hottest NFL Draft prospects last summer, but an ill-timed suspension robbed the pass-rushing demon of his entire junior season.

    The former Tar Heel hasn’t played in an actual game since December 2009, so it should be interesting to see what kind of shape he’s in. Judging from the 22 reps he did on the bench today, Quinn seems to be in reasonably ready shape.

    If Quinn can test well, his tape from his first two years in Chapel Hill is good enough to get him drafted somewhere within the first 15 picks.

DE Aldon Smith, Missouri

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    Missouri DE Aldon Smith
    Missouri DE Aldon SmithDilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Height: 6'4''

    Weight: 261

    I recently made a list ranking my favorite 2011 Draft prospects on a long car ride down to Delaware and Aldon Smith ended up coming in at No. 2 (Cam Newton was one, Julio Jones was three).

    Smith is one of my favorite players in this class—no doubt—but even I can't say definitively that he’ll be a success in the pros, mainly because I’m not really sure what he actually is at this point

    Is Aldon Smith a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 rush linebacker?

    All we know right now is that Smith is still a wild card at this point.

    It’s a question scouts probably won’t all agree on, but if the super-athletic Smith can really dominate the workouts and time well, most will probably put him in the 3-4 OLB category.

DT Nick Fairley, Auburn

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    Auburn DT Nick Fairley
    Auburn DT Nick FairleyMike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Height: 6'4''

    Weight: 291

    After concluding a dream junior season at Auburn, Nick Fairley has now started to gain some serious No. 1 pick-type buzz over the last month or so.

    Fairley is already being thrown in with the likes of Warren Sapp and other top defensive tackle prospects of the past, but scouts still have a lot to figure out about the one-season superstar.

    Fairley has had his work ethic questioned by some, but if he can come out tomorrow in shape and firing on all cylinders, he’s got a good chance to prove that he’s worthy.

DT Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple

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    Temple DT Muhammad Wilkerson
    Temple DT Muhammad Wilkerson

    Height: 6'4''

    Weight: 315

    Temple hasn’t exactly been a hotbed for NFL talent in recent years, but Muhammad Wilkerson is ready to change that.

    Wilkerson, who finished the 2010 season with 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss, has the look of a late first-round prospect going into tomorrow’s workout, but 3-4 teams could look at him and fall in love with his potential as a defensive end in that type of system.

    Wilkerson could become a big riser over the next two months.

DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin

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    Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt
    Wisconsin DE J.J. WattStephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Height: 6'5''

    Weight: 290

    This year’s premier 3-4 defensive end prospect, J.J. Watt, really took the Big Ten by storm as a junior.

    Watt—who plays the game like a player straight out of the 50s—can overwhelm any blocker put in front of him and has the brute strength to dominate against the run.

    Watt finished with seven sacks and 20.5 tackles for a loss in 2010 and with a strong workout, he could position himself to be taken somewhere in the Top 15.

DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State

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    Oregon State DT Stephen Paea
    Oregon State DT Stephen PaeaHarry How/Getty Images

    Height: 6'1''

    Weight: 303

    Stephen Paea already has the NFL scouting community in an uproar after he put up a record-shattering 49 reps in the bench press test earlier today.

    There’s no doubting Paea’s strength; now we just have to see how well he runs in the drills.

    Even though he’s as strong as an ox, Paea’s lack of size may be somewhat concerning to scouts.

DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue

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    Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan
    Purdue DE Ryan KerriganRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    Height: 6'4''

    Weight: 267

    It should be interesting to see how well Ryan Kerrigan performs in the athletic tests tomorrow. Up until this point, Kerrigan has been typecast as a great on-the-field player who makes up for his lack of natural ability with a motor that never stops.

    Kerrigan is the type of player who probably won’t wow anyone running around in shorts, but he’s a guy who teams that value character and effort will really fall for.

    He never stops.

DT Phil Taylor, Baylor

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    Baylor DT Phil Taylor
    Baylor DT Phil TaylorJamie Squire/Getty Images

    Height: 6'3''

    Weight: 331

    Phil Taylor is simply going to be referred to as Big Phil from here on out.

    Taylor has a gigantic, Hulk-like presence that’s intimidating to say the least.

    The big Baylor defender shed his label as an underachiever this past season with a breakout showing as a senior.

    Taylor finally became the type of impact player that his talent warranted, causing headaches for countless Big 12 offensive linemen.

DT Terrell McClain, South Florida

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    South Florida DT Terrell McClain
    South Florida DT Terrell McClain

    Height: 6'2''

    Weight: 297

    Shh, don’t tell anyone that the Big East has some talent.

    It’s a big misconception around college football that the talent in the Big East is inferior to the other five BCS conferences.

    While the Big East will never equal the SEC or the Big 12 in numbers of pros produced in a given year, that doesn’t mean that the conference isn’t sending talent to the NFL.

    A perfect example is DT Terrell McClain of South Florida.

    McClain was overlooked on the national scene all season long, but he has the type of talent to be selected somewhere in the second to third-round range.

DE Dontay Moch, Nevada

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    Nevada DE Dontay Moch
    Nevada DE Dontay MochEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    Height: 6'1''

    Weight: 248

    If the rumors are true, Dontay Moch is about to bring the entire Combine to its knees.

    Moch—who will be making the switch to 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL—was rumored to have run a sub-4.2 40-yard dash at the Nevada Junior Day last Spring.

    If he can do that in Indianapolis, you’re going to be hearing a lot more about Dontay Moch over the next two months.

DT Corey Liuget, Illinois

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    Illinois DT Corey Liuget
    Illinois DT Corey Liuget

    Height: 6'2''

    Weight: 298

    Where the heck did Illinois get all this talent from all of a sudden?

    Is this the same team that went 3-9 in 2009?

    Ron Zook is sending three notable prospects to the NFL this year. RB Mikel Leshoure and LB Martez Wilson are two highly athletic players who should both hear their names called before Round 3. But as for the third member of that group, DT Corey Liuget, the story is still unwritten.

    Liuget has top 15 talent and played well as a junior, but we’re going to have to see how he tests before we can make a final judgment.

DT Marvin Austin, North Carolina

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    North Carolina DT Marvin Austin
    North Carolina DT Marvin AustinStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Height: 6'2''

    Weight: 309

    I was really looking forward to watching North Carolina dominate the ACC this year—but the silly NCAA had to ruin all my fun.

    The Tar Heels defense had the look of an NFL JV team and was shaping up to be one of the most dominant units we’ve seen in quite a while, but the suspensions of Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin completely altered things.

    Austin, a former No.1 high school recruit, showed flashes of greatness during his three years in Chapel Hill but we never got to see it all culminate.

    Let’s see what Austin has to offer after having months to prepare and ready himself for these workouts.

    The 38 reps on the bench was a good start.

DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa

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    Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn
    Iowa DE Adrian ClaybornChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Height: 6'3''

    Weight: 281

    It’s always easy to say, "I told you so" in hindsight, but I think we can all agree that Adrian Clayborn made a mistake coming back for his senior season.

    Clayborn saw his numbers take a dramatic hit and Iowa completely dissolved as a team down the stretch and finished the regular season at a mediocre 7-5.

    One can only wonder what would have happened if Clayborn dived into the 2010 pool after a terrific performance in the Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech.

DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State

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    Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward
    Ohio State DE Cameron HeywardJamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Height: 6'5''

    Weight: 294

    If this were any other year, Cameron Heyward would be one of the biggest names in the draft. However, because there’s so much talent at the defensive end position this year, Heyward has been getting overlooked a bit.

    Heyward might get pushed down the board, but whatever team picks him up is going to get a good value on their investment.

    Heyward, son of the late Ironhead Heyward, lacks speed off the edge but has the skill set that would fit in perfectly as a 3-4 DE.

10 Others To Keep an Eye on

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    Mississippi State DE Pernell McPhee
    Mississippi State DE Pernell McPheeAl Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    DE Pernell McPhee, Mississippi State

    DE Cameron Jordan, Cal

    DT Drake Nevis, LSU

    DE Allen Bailey, Miami

    DT Christian Ballard, Iowa

    DT Jurrell Casey, USC

    DE Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma

    DE Sam Acho, Texas

    DT Sione Fua, Stanford

    DT Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson

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