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Defensive linemen: Come and get 'em


One of the most talented and deepest crops of defensive linemen in draft history awaits teams needing to deepen their own ranks of run-stuffers and pass-rushers. What teams don't want to do that, right?

Might the Packers be one of the teams interested in a defensive lineman? Given the potential loss in free agency of defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins and given the depth of this year's defensive line crop, it wouldn't be surprising for a defensive lineman to make his way down to the Packers and for the Packers to be interested in that player.

How good is this defensive line crop? It's good enough to possibly see 15 members of its ranks drafted in the first round.

"I think it's going to be remembered as one of the best defensive line drafts of all time," draft analyst Tony Pauline said.

It's not only a deep class, it's a class that could claim the number one overall pick in the draft and could claim as many as five of the top 10 picks.

Defensive tackles Marcell Dareus of Alabama and Nick Fairley of Auburn are thought to be leading the way, but this isn't just an SEC thing. The ACC has Da'Quan Bowers of Clemson and Robert Quinn of North Carolina, the Big Ten boasts J.J. Watt of Wisconsin, Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue, Adrian Clayborn of Iowa and Cameron Heyward of Ohio State, the PAC-10 gives the draft Cameron Jordan of Cal, the Big 12 is represented by Aldon Smith of Missouri and even the MAC gets into the act with Muhammad Wilkerson of Temple.

Let's break it down:

Want a defensive tackle?

Early in the first round, the candidates are Dareus and Fairley. The next wave would seem to be represented by Wilkerson, Phil Taylor of Baylor, Christian Ballard of Iowa, Corey Liuget of Illinois and Stephen Paea of Oregon State.

Defensive end is rife with prospects in every round.

Bowers was thought to be a candidate for the first overall pick until he ran poorly at his pro day and concerns developed from arthroscopic knee surgery he underwent in January. He could fall to some lucky team.

Quinn, Jordan and Smith are thought to represent the next wave of ends, followed by Kerrigan, Watt, Heyward, Clayborn and Georgia's Justin Houston, who is a bit of a tweener and projects to a run-backer role in a 3-4.

Don't want to invest a first-round pick? You're in luck because the depth of the class extends into the later rounds.

North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin is a big-time talent that has likely fallen as a result of his season-long suspension in 2010.

Clemson's Jarvis Jenkins offers big-time size-speed numbers and upside; the depth of the class has driven down his stock.

Toward the back of the draft, a team might find a steal in Notre Dame's Ian Williams, a one-gap lineman who does only one thing but does it pretty well; Williams penetrates and disrupts.

As late as the sixth and seventh rounds, you'll find prospects such as Penn State's Ollie Ogbu, who Pauline describes as a "short, explosive defensive tackle who easily moves about the field, is relentless in pursuit and fundamentally sound."

You don't often find those kinds of big guys late in the draft.

The defensive end crop is just as deep. The second round boasts a prospect such as Pitt's Jabaal Sheard, a high-motor guy Pauline says "plays with a nasty attitude and makes plays in every direction of the field."

Sheard's teammate, Greg Romeus, is a true diamond-in-the-rough type of prospect. Had Romeus declared eligibility for the draft last year, he might've been a first-round pick, but he stayed in school one more year with the idea he might move himself into the top 10. That all came crashing down when Romeus missed all but a few plays of the season due to back surgery and then knee reconstruction. Romeus might be a nice futures pick late in the draft.

You need something up front? This is the year to not only get your guy, but to get a lot of guys for a lot of years.

Vic Ketchman is a veteran of 39 NFL seasons and has covered the Steelers and Jaguars prior to coming to Green Bay.

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