How important are defensive linemen? In the 2003 NFL Draft, 11 were selected in the first round, the most ever. In 2004, 23 defensive linemen were selected in the first four rounds.
To win games, teams must be able to stop the run and pressure the passer, which helps defensive backs play well. Defensive ends who approach the quarterback's blind side are especially important (Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney and Arizona's Bertrand Berry, who led their respective conferences in sacks last season, line up at this spot).
The two teams that played in Super Bowl XXXIX were considered to be very good defensive teams during the regular season. New England and Philadelphia allowed only 260 points in regular-season games. Only Pittsburgh (251) allowed fewer, and it finished 15-1. Atlanta (48), Philadelphia (47) and New England (45) had the most sacks in the league last season and all reached a conference championship game.
Thirteen of the 15 teams that had at least two more sacks than they gave up over the course of the 2004 season finished .500 or better.
Click here to see my rankings for defensive ends.
1. Luis Castillo, Northwestern (6-3 3/8, 303)
(Note - injuries might drop him down) He worked out at the combine, but did not do the shuttle and cone drills. He ran two 40s in 4.80 and 4.79. He had a 341/2-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-4 broad jump. At Northwestern's Pro Day, he ran the short shuttle in 4.26 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.28. He did not bench press at either workout. In high school, he played on the defensive line. He also ran track and was New Jersey's top-ranked heavyweight wrestler. At Northwestern, he played five games as a true freshman in 2001. He started seven games in 2002 and was a full-time starter the past two seasons. He had two sacks in 2004 and 41/2 in his career. He plays with great effort, has above-average athletic ability and has the quickness needed for his position. He has quick hands. His refusal to do bench presses might raise injury concerns.
2. Shawn Cody, Southern California (6-4, 293)
He did not work out at the combine, except for doing 34 bench presses. He worked out March 23 at USC's Pro Day. He ran two 40s in 5.03 and 5.05. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.43 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.75. He had a 301/2-inch vertical jump and an 8-foot broad jump. In high school, he played tight end, fullback and defensive end. He scored 25 touchdowns as a senior. He also played basketball. As a Trojan, he started eight games as a freshman in 2001. A knee injury limited him to six games in 2002. In the spring of 2004, he moved from tackle to end. He had 10 sacks in 2004 and 281/2 for his career. He plays with great desire and is very disciplined. He plays better with pads on than he works out in shorts. He's a good pass rusher with good quickness to penetrate upfield. He has good playing strength, knows how to use his hands and plays with good technique. He will start and play well for many years.
3. Travis Johnson, Florida State (6-3 5/8, 305)
He did not work out at the combine. He did everything March 15 at FSU's Pro Day. He ran two 40s in 4.87 and 4.90. He had a 34-inch vertical jump, an 8-foot-7 broad jump and 23 reps. He played high school football in California. He played defensive line and running back on short-yardage and goal-line situations (he scored six touchdowns). He blocked eight kicks in his senior season and wound up with 40 career sacks. Everyone wanted this player when he came out of high school. At Florida State, he took a medical redshirt his freshman year. He played the next three seasons mostly as a backup. He did start eight games in 2002. He had 21/2 sacks in 2004 and nine in his career. He's a big man with active hands and short-area quickness. He has ability, but he needs to improve his pass rush and get off blocks quicker. He doesn't always listen.
4a. Jonathan Babineaux, Iowa (6-2 1/8, 286)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran two 40s in 4.87 and 4.88. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.57 seconds the three-cone drill in 7.70. He had a 291/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-1 broad jump and 21 reps. In high school, he was a fullback and linebacker. He also played baseball and for the top-ranked basketball team in Texas. At Iowa, he started three games as a true freshman in 2000 as a fullback. He was redshirted in 2001 with a broken leg. He was moved to the defensive line in 2002 and had seven sacks. He also missed part of the 2003 season with a broken ankle. He played well in 2004 with 101/2 sacks. A talented player who is highly competitive and hustles all over the field. He looks heavy but plays with good speed. He makes a lot of tackles chasing down the ball carrier. He has good use of his hands, but needs to play lower. Not sure how much weight he can add.
4b. Antajj Hawthorne, Wisconsin (6-3 3/8, 321)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran two 40s in 5.25 and 5.24 (he ran faster at Wisconsin's Pro Day -- 5.1 and 5.1 on a fast surface). He also ran the short shuttle in 4.89 seconds and the three-cone drill in 8.00. He had a 27-inch vertical jump, an 8-foot-4 broad jump and 21 lifts. In high school, he was a three-time all-state selection in Connecticut. At Wisconsin, he played as a true freshman in 2001 and started three games. He started the past three seasons and earned all-conference kudos in 2003 and 2004. He had six sacks in 2004 and 12 in his career. He has good size for the position, but he needs to get stronger to play well in the NFL. He's more of a power rusher, but needs to improve his escape moves. He competes and can dominate one-on-one matchups. He does not seem to have a lot of lateral quickness. He was raised by his mother. He's a good person for someone with such a tough background.
4c. Mike Patterson, Southern California (5-11 5/8, 292)
He did not work out at the combine. He had a complete workout March 23 at USC's Pro Day. He ran two 40s in 4.94 and 4.95. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.48 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.68. He had a 321/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot broad jump and 25 reps. He grew up in Sacramento but moved to Los Alamitos to play football. In high school, he was a defensive lineman and an outstanding wrestler. Nickname is "Baby Sapp." At USC, he played as a true freshman. He was a three-year starter at tackle. He had six sacks in 2004 and 211/2 in his career. This player is a lot like Jerry Ball, who played many years in the NFL. He is short but has long arms (33 1/8 inches). He is very quick and difficult to single-block. He has a burst and uses his hands well. He had very good production despite getting double-teamed often. He's a very hard worker with lots of personality.
7. Atiyyah Ellison, Missouri (6-41/4, 305)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran two 40s in 5.07 and 5.07. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.79 seconds and the three-cone drill in 8.00. He had a 271/2-inch vertical jump, an 8-foot-7 broad jump and 25 bench presses. He played defensive line in high school and at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. He started the past three years at Missouri. He played defensive end in 2002. He had 21/2 sacks last season and wound up with 61/2 for his career. He has the tools to be better than he has played; he just wasn't really consistent. He's a good athlete with quick feet, agility and balance you don't often find in defensive tackles. He has good hand strength and could be a real good inside player if he competes on every play. This is the type of player who can go to the Pro Bowl or go home for lack of all-out effort.
8. C.J. Mosley, Missouri (6-2, 314)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran two 40s in 5.08 and 5.09. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.64 seconds and the three-cone drill in 8.21. He had a 271/2-inch vertical jump, an 8-foot-4 broad jump and 27 bench presses. In high school, he played defensive line and finished third in the state in the shot-put. At Missouri, he redshirted in 2001. He started five games in 2002, then was a full-time starter the past two seasons. He had 61/2 sacks in 2004 and 151/2 in his career. He needs to work harder on his conditioning, which might help his intensity late in games. He has good size and body control. His quickness is above average for a player of his size. He can help a team if he gets in better shape and plays hard every down.
9. Ronald Fields, Mississippi State (6-2 3/8, 313)
He worked out at the combine but did not lift due to a problem with his left shoulder. He ran two 40s in 5.12 and 5.14. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.68 seconds and the three-cone drill in 8.01. He also had a 27-inch vertical jump and an 8-foot-6 broad jump. At MSU's Pro Day, he ran two 40s in 5.07 and 5.08 (at 298 pounds). He also had a 32-inch vertical jump and 22 bench presses. He played on the defensive line in high school and prep school. At MSU, he played as a true freshman and started three games. He started the past three years, but wound up with only one career sack. He has the weight to play the position in the NFL, but he needs to keep it at 300 pounds and play hard every down. He has decent athletic ability for the position. He plays high and not always consistent. He plays with good strength and good use of hands.
10. Michael Montgomery, Texas A&M (6-4 7/8, 276)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran two 40s in 5.05 and 5.06. (He ran 5.00 and 4.96 at A&M's Pro Day.) He also ran the short shuttle in 4.32 seconds and the three-cone drill in 8.21. He had a 341/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-7 broad jump and 19 bench presses. In high school, he played on the defensive line and also made all-region in basketball. He spent two years (2001-02) at Navarro Junior College. Before the 2003 season, he had a heart problem that required surgery and did not play well. He made the All-Big 12 team last year. Though he played end last year, he might be a better fit at tackle. He has 36-inch arms and above-average athletic ability. He will compete and has a lot of upside; he hasn't played a lot of football. He needs to improve his pass rush and not play so high. His mother, Rosie, was an All-America basketball player at Stephen F. Austin and played pro basketball.
11. Eric Coleman, Clemson (6-4 7/8, 288)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran two 40s in 5.12 and 5.13 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.71 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.42. He had a 33-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-10 broad jump and 27 bench presses. In high school, he played tight end and defensive end. He also played basketball. At Clemson, he played in 2001 as a true freshman. He started on offense, but was moved to defense after four games. He did not start until 2004 and wound up with five sacks for his career. He's a big, strong player with long arms (34 inches) who can push the pocket. But he plays high, and he has been known as inconsistent, immature, and a hot-and-cold worker. He has some ability, but he needs a coach who will push him in practice to be better.
12. Matt McChesney, Colorado (6-33/4, 307)
He was not invited to the combine. At Colorado's Pro Day on March 17, he ran two 40s in 5.07 and 5.08. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.69 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.66. He had a 271/2-inch vertical jump, an 8-foot-7 broad jump and 21 bench presses. He was a three-time all-conference selection in high school. He family has a ranch in the Longmont, Colo., area. At Colorado, he played as a true freshman in 2000 and started two games in 2001. He did not play in 2002 (injury, and violating the school conduct code). He started 10 games in 2003 and 12 in 2004. He led the team in sacks last year with seven. He plays hard on every play and has good agility and balance. Like many college players, he plays too high. He has had some off-the-field problems (drinking) but comes from a very good family.
13. Jimmy Verdon, Arizona State (6-3 1/8, 280)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran two 40s in 5.03 and 4.98. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.56 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.76. He had a 311/2-inch vertical jump and 18 reps. In high school, he played fullback, wide receiver, tight end, punter and defensive back. He also was a standout on the basketball team. He was a three-year starter at ASU with 101/2 sacks. He has good athletic ability and might become an end in the NFL.
14. Tim Bulman, Boston College (6-31/2, 294)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran two 40s in 4.91 and 4.93. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.20 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.23. He had a 321/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-7 broad jump and 35 reps. In high school, he played defensive line and racked up 361/2 sacks in three years, including 17 his senior year. At Boston College, he played as a true freshman in 2001. He had nine starts over the next two years, then started every game in 2004. He plays hard every down. He has good speed and quickness, but his size and lack of bulk will hurt him. (Can he get his weight up to 315?) He does have good upper-body strength. The scouts say he is the type of person you want to bring into a street fight with you.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Other defensive tackles who will be taken later in the draft and could surprise some people (alphabetical order):
Lorenzo Alexander, California (6-2, 289)
He started five games as a true freshman. Great effort; very good leader.
Anthony Bryant, Alabama (6-3, 337)
Massive upper body and strong legs, but has to control weight. He will help a team as a run stuffer.
Sione Pouha, Utah (6-3 3/8, 325)
Older player (born Feb. 3, 1979). He has natural ability and is very strong. He was inconsistent, but played well in the Fiesta Bowl.
Darrell Shropshire, South Carolina (6-21/4, 301)
He played fullback in high school. He played only two years at a four-year school. Plays hard; strong at point.