By: Derek Havens
With just a little over two months until the annual NFL draft, the college scouting and evaluation process is in full swing. The NFL combine event will be held Thursday, Feb. 24 through March 1st at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
More than 300 top prospects for the 2011 NFL Draft will be invited to participate at the event. Hopefully, these evaluations will give all fans some ideas of who to focus on at each position of need. Be sure to comment and let me know who you might be interested in.
Position: Defensive Line
Need Ranking: 3rd
Top 5 Prospects –
- Marcell Dareus: 6’3 – 306 (Alabama) – Dareus is widely considered the next best defensive lineman after Nick Fairley. Dareus has been slated from a top 10 to early second round selection, so the combine will play a large role in where he is taken. He is versatile enough to play all 3-4 line positions, very strong, and can take on double teams. In my opinion, he is even ore valuable because of his experience in an NFL style defense and coaching at Alabama University. A presence along the line could free up Vince Wilfork to make a play or vis-versa. He does have some off the field concerns though, but with Saban a pipeline for Bill Belichick, he will have the inside information on Dareus.
- Cameron Jordan: 6’4 – 290 (California) – Cameron Jordan is one of my favorite prospects in this unit. My only question mark with Jordan is his size; great height but he will need to gain some weight. I feel if the patriots want to take a defensive lineman with their first draft selection, number 17 overall, Jordan would be an ideal fit. He plays with an exceptional first step and pursuit of the ball carrier. He is an absolute force in the backfield and possesses elite tackling ability. Jordan is scheme diverse, plays well with his hands, and has a great motor. If the Patriots go this route, Jordan would be a fantastic fit.
- Adrian Clayborn: 6’3 – 285 (Iowa) – Similar to Jordan, Adrian Clayborn will need to add a few pounds in order to play the 3-4 defensive end position. Clayborn has several rush moves that can make him a force on the defensive line. With Vince Wilfork clogging up the middle, Clayborn could add some pass rush ability to the line. What i love about him, is his ability to play in the opposing teams backfield. He might have the best pursuit of any pure lineman in the draft, which helps him in run support. Clayborn could certainly help fill the void Richard Seymour left when he was traded.
- JJ Watt: 6’6 – 296 (Wisconsin) – There is an awful lot to love about JJ Watt. Even though this may seem a bit contradictory, I am not in love with the guy. He reminds me a lot of Mike Wright, a guy the Patriots already have. Even though he does not have a large number of rush moves, he does an excellent job of getting after the passer. In an attempt to prove myself wrong, Watt’s capability to hold stout against the run might be the difference in him coming in as a third down player or three down lineman. For a man his size, to move as fast as he does, should be illegal. He carries his weight well, has a great frame and also gets off the line very quickly. Watt could most definitely help the Patriots lackluster pass rush.
- Muhammad Wilkerson: 6’5 – 305 (Temple) – Wilkerson is a prospect quickly rising up teams draft boards. After the combine, he will widely be considered a late first round selection. The lack of competition he faced in college scared scouts away initially but, Wilkerson has all the skills teams look for in a 3-4 defensive end. While he is not the pass rush threat some of the previous prospects listed are, he is still a sturdy force to help anchor a defensive front. If he does get to the opposing QB, he has most of his success inside. Wilkerson can shed offensive lineman with ease, has elite type strength and also fights through double teams remarkably. Even though he has a tremendous frame, he still has enough agility to overwhelm lineman. Wilkerson could be an intriguing option for the Patriots later in the first round if they chose to go a different route earlier.
My Favorite Prospect: Cameron Jordan: 6’4 – 290 (California) – Like I previously mentioned, my only real knock on Jordan is his weight. He could show up too the combine with a thicker frame but until then, he will need to get up around 300 pounds. I believe Jordan could be an ideal fit for the Patriots system. While I do not believe defensive end is or should be the first priority for the pats this April, if Jordan is there the team could certainly improve with his addition.
Sleeper Prospect: Allen Bailey: 6’4 – 300 (Miami) – Okay, I admit Bailey is not a technical “sleeper”. But I like him too much to leave him off of this list. As of now, he is projected as a second round prospect. After the combine, however, he could rise up the draft boards. Bailey is a little small to play defensive tackle but, he could play the 5 – technique defensive end in he Patriots system. He is a very athletic and versatile prospect that could be qualified as a physical specimen. Bailey has a very strong bull rush and can get after the opposing QB. He could be a prospect that scouts will be drooling over after the pre – draft process is complete.
Analysis: Similar to the offensive line, the Patriots have a need on the defensive line as well. With Vince Wilfork being the only sure-thing along the defensive front, the team should look to add some new blood. With the return of Ty Warren next season, the unit should get a boost, but he is entering the final year of his contract. l am a big believer that in this years draft the Patriots should inject more youth and talent in the trenches. Fortunately, this is a very “deep” class for both, so the Pats could have an opportunity to add quality players.
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