This is the seventh of an eight-part series previewing the NFL Draft April 25-27. Today’s installment: defensive linemen.
By Jay Skurski
News sports reporter
The strength of the 2013 NFL Draft is found along the defensive line.
It’s likely that at least seven, and possibly as many as 10, defensive linemen will hear their names called Thursday night during the first round at Radio City Music Hall. If 10 are selected, it would match the total in 2011.
The last time 11 defensive linemen went in the first round was 2003.
Slotting in which order they’ll go this year is the challenge.
Take Utah’s Star Lotulelei, for example. The 6-foot-2, 311-pounder was thought to be a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick a few months ago. But during a routine physical at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, a heart ailment was discovered. His left ventricle was pumping at 44 percent, below the normal rate of 55 to 70 percent.
Lotulelei didn’t work out at the combine, but last month received a clean bill of health - doctors suggested a virus might have cause the irregularity – and participated in Utah’s pro day. He put up numbers comparable to the rest of the defensive tackle class, and could go anywhere from No. 3 (Oakland) to No. 23 (Minnesota).
“I see a guy that can play multiple places along a front. And in today’s NFL, you’re not really a 3-4 team or a 4-3 team. Everybody’s playing multiple fronts. That’s part of the appeal of Star,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. “Star can play nose tackle. He can play the three technique in a 4-3. He can play the five technique in a 3-4. He can pressure the quarterback on third down, which is unique. Most big players can’t. They have to come off the field.”
Florida’s Sharrif Floyd is another player with similar versatility. The 6-3, 297-pounder is the second-ranked player in the draft, according to Mayock, behind Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher.
“What I love about the kid is he’s a prototypical three technique, which is the defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense. His quickness and ability to get off the field and disrupt the pass game is unique for a defensive tackle,” Mayock said. “If you can get a defensive tackle that can affect the pass game, you’ve got something special. And he’s also stout enough to play the run.”
With Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Alan Branch and Torell Troup on the roster, the Buffalo Bills wouldn’t seem to have a pressing need for an interior defensive lineman at No. 8 overall, but with a new defensive scheme, it can’t be ruled out.
The top-ranked defensive end available is BYU’s Ziggy Ansah (6-5, 271). The native of Ghana didn’t play football until 2010, and wasn’t considered a draft prospect just a year ago, but is loaded with potential.
“You’re not sure what you’re going to get, but you know there is a potential for this huge upside. I think it’s the best story in the draft,” Mayock said. “It scares me, and it scares teams how little he has played. Senior Bowl practices, very average. ... In the game, he was the best player in the game. So there is this tantalizing upside that’s going to push him up pretty high.”
Another defensive end blessed with all the physical tools, but lacking experience is SMU’s Margus Hunt. He’s 6-8, 277 pounds with 33¾-inch arms. He moved to the United States in 2007 from his native Estonia not to play football, but to work with SMU track and field coach Dave Wollman. Hunt won gold medals in the shot put and discus in the World Junior Track and Field Championships.
Hunt started playing football on Wollman’s suggestion and last season was an All-Conference USA first-team selection after racking up eight sacks.
“He’s a great athlete, has the right attitude, said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. “He’s raw. I think the ball location skills, you question him when you watch him. Obviously he needs to improve his technique. You think about where Margus Hunt can be in two or three years with pro coaching, that’s what you’re drafting him on.
“Physically, he’s a top-10 pick, but he’s going to be a late one, early to mid two because of the fact there is a bit of a roll of the dice whether it will all come together for him at the pro level.”
Other defensive ends who carry first-round grades, according to Scouts, Inc., are Florida State’s Bjoern Werner (6-3, 266) and UCLA’s Datone Jones (6-4, 283).
Defensive tackles like Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson (6-2, 294), North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams (6-3, 313), Georgia’s John Jenkins (6-4, 346) and Purdue’s Kawann Short (6-3, 299) are also first-round prospects.
Given the depth of the class, some of the talent will fall to the second or third round, along with players like Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins (6-3, 320), Alabama’s Jesse Williams (6-3, 323) and Florida State’s Tank Carradine (6-4, 276).
Next: Running backs.