How important are defensive linemen? In the 2003 draft, 11 were selected in the first round. Before 2003, the most was nine in 2001. In 1997, we had seven defensive ends selected in Round 1, the most at any position in the past 10 years in the first round.
Of the 11 selected in the first round in 2003, four played more than 60 percent of the defensive plays for their team in their rookie season (Kevin Williams, Minnesota; Tyler Brayton, Oakland; Calvin Pace, Arizona; Dewayne Robertson, N.Y. Jets).
To win games, teams must be able to stop the run and pressure the passer, which helps defensive backs play well. Defensive ends that play on the backside of quarterbacks are especially important (Mike Vrabel of the New England Patriots is a prime example of this).
The two teams that played in Super Bowl XXXVIII were considered to be good defensive teams during the regular season. The Pats gave up a league-low 14.9 points per game while the Carolina Panthers gave up 19 points per game.
In 2003, the Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles combined for 21 consecutive victories, only the seventh time in history that two teams won a combined 20 straight games in a season. New England was No. 1 in scoring defense and the Eagles were seventh overall. These two teams are a good example of why teams want defensive linemen. Here are my rankings for defensive tackles.
Click here to see my rankings for defensive ends.
1. Tommie Harris, Oklahoma (6-21/2, 295)
Did not work out at the combine (left hip flexor), except for doing 29 strength lifts. At Oklahoma's Pro Day, he ran two 40s (4.78, 4.80) and had a 31-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot broad jump. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.31 and the three-cone drill in 7.31. Three-year starter in high school as a defensive tackle. He has played the position since the fourth grade. Very seldom do true freshmen start in a great program like Oklahoma. Harris started every game and was productive for his position. Had a tackle for a loss in his first game on his first play against North Carolina. Very quick athlete who will disrupt plays. The big question will be if he can outquick players at the next level. People think he might be a bit immature (only 20 years old). Comes from very good family; father has a small church in Killeen, Texas.
2. Vince Wilfork, Miami (Fla.) (6-11/4, 323)
Did not work out at the combine, except for doing 36 strength lifts. He did everything at his Pro Day, except lift. Ran two 40s (5.05, 5.05) and had a 261/2-inch vertical jump and an 8-foot-5 broad jump. He played defensive tackle in high school and was a very good shot-put and discus thrower. He broke the Miami indoor shot record during the 2001 track season. He played as a true freshman at Miami in 2001 and had 13 tackles for losses. Miami rotated its defensive line and played as many as nine defensive linemen. 2003 was his first year as a starter. He moves well for his size, but he needs to control his weight. He can be a very disruptive player. He had seven sacks in 2002. Quick, very powerful run stuffer.
3. Darnell Dockett, Florida State (6-3 3/8, 297)
Worked out at the combine, running the 40-yard dash twice and clocking 5.0 both times. Had a 31-inch vertical jump, 8-foot-9 long jump and 26 strength lifts and did not do shuttle or the three-cone drill at the combine. Had a position workout and ran short shuttles only on Florida State's Pro Day, timing a 4.66. Outstanding high school player in Maryland also honored for academic performance. Redshirted in 1999, started 10 games in 2000 as a redshirt freshman and has started last three years. Has strength and quickness, but needs to play more aggressively every play. Marginal worker; has a "me first" attitude and can be a locker room lawyer. Does have very good talent, but will he change ways when he goes to the NFL?
4. Marcus Tubbs, Texas (6-4, 321)
At the combine, he lifted 29 times, and had a 321/2-inch vertical jump and an 8-foot-9 broad jump. At his Pro Day, he ran two 40s (4.96, 5.10), the short shuttle (4.66) and the three-cone drill (7.77). He did not finish his position workout; he said he had a pulled muscle. Originally was a basketball player in high school who did not play football until his junior year. At Texas, he redshirted in 1999 then started 26 games over the next three seasons. This player has a lot of tools. He's a dependable, good athlete. He needs to be pushed; he has the ability to be tough and nasty but does not always show it.
5. Dwan Edwards, Oregon State (6-23/4, 313)
Had a complete workout at the combine. Ran his 40s in 5.12 and 5.15. Had a 28-inch vertical jump, 8-foot-6 long jump, 25 strength lifts and ran 4.68 in the short shuttle and 7.59 in the three-cone drill. Worked out at Oregon State's Pro Day but did not run, jump or lift. Played linebacker and running back in high school. Gained 7.7 yards per rush. Was an all-state basketball players for two years and weight man on the track squad. Redshirted at Oregon State in 1999 and played occasionally in 2000. Has started the past three years. Great character, gives good effort and is very competitive. Has good quickness. Solid player, not great, but will give his best every day. Comes from small town in Montana.
6. Tim Anderson, Ohio State (6-31/4, 307)
Did not work out at the combine because of a right hamstring pull. Worked out at Ohio State's Pro Day and ran his 40s in 5.01. He had a 321/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-1 long jump, 28 strength lifts, ran 4.32 in the short shuttle and 7.35 in the three-cone drill. Undefeated heavyweight wrestler as a senior in high school. Redshirted in 1999 at Ohio State, played in seven games in 2000 and has started for last three years. A very competitive player with blue-collar mentality. Self-motivated, a good athlete who plays hard every down and plays smart. This is the type of player you want on your team, he makes everyone else play better.
7. Igor Olshansky, Oregon (6-51/4, 315)
Had a complete workout at the combine. He ran two 40s (4.97, 5.02), the short shuttle (4.41) and the three-cone drill (7.61). He also had a 331/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-2 broad jump and performed 41 strength reps. He had another very good workout at Oregon's Pro Day, where he did 43 lifts. Played defensive tackle in high school. Intercepted a pass in the California vs. Texas all-star game and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown. He redshirted at Oregon in 2000, then played in every game in 2001, including three starts. He started the next two seasons. I think he will be able to play strong-side end or defensive tackle in the NFL. Very strong; has athletic ability; will work hard. A player with lots of upside.
8. Isaac Sopoaga, Hawaii (6-21/4, 317)
Had a complete workout at the combine. Ran two 40s (4.97, 5.03) and had a 301/2-inch vertical jump, an 8-foot-3 broad jump and had 42 strength lifts (the best at the combine). Also worked out at Hawaii's Pro Day in Los Angeles (Home Depot Center). Played high school football, basketball and baseball in Pago Pago, American Samoa. Played only two years at Hawaii after playing in junior college. Has very good lower-body strength with very good initial quickness, very tough at point of attack. Had 31 sacks in junior college in 2000. Did not play in 2001 (grades). This player made a great jump in 2003.
9. Randy Starks, Maryland (6-3 3/8, 314)
Did some things at the combine -- 27 lifts, 291/2-inch vertical jump, 8-foot-6 broad jump (said he had a sore right knee). At Maryland's Pro Day, he ran two 40s (5.15, 5.18) and had a vertical jump of 33 inches and a 9-foot-4 broad jump. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.64 and the three-cone drill in 7.39. Played offensive and defensive tackle in high school; also played basketball at a high level. With the Terrapins, he played as a true freshman in 2001 and started the next two years. He had 71/2 sacks in 2003. Very active player with good strength. He will not turn 21 until December. He has very good quickness for his size, but he needs to control his weight. A player with a lot of upside.
10. Darrion Scott, Ohio State (6-3 1/8, 289)
Had a complete workout at the combine. Ran two 40s (4.81, 4.86) and had a 361/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-10 broad jump, but no lifts at the combine or Pro Day (right shoulder injury). Played running back in high school. He gained 1,600 yards as a fullback his senior year. Played as a true freshman at Ohio State in 2000 and has started the past three years. Had ankle problem in 2002. Had 91/2 sacks in 2002, but only four in 2003. Plays hard, has good instincts. Has adequate strength but needs to get stronger. Good athlete. Has some natural pass-rush skills, but needs to explode more upfield. Best position is defensive end.
11. Donnell Washington, Clemson (6-51/2, 332)
Had a complete workout at the combine where he ran his 40s at 5.00 and 5.07. Had a 31-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-1 long jump, 34 strength lifts and ran 4.88 in the short shuttle and 7.80 in the three-cone drill. Worked out again on Clemson's Pro Day, running the 40-yard dash twice and clocking a 5.0 both times. Has a 331/2-inch vertical jump. Played basketball and track and field in high school. Highly rated player out of high school. Redshirted in 2000 at Clemson. Played in 12 games in 2001 but did not start. Has started the past two years. Posted nine sacks in three seasons. Big athlete who can run. Very long arms at over 36 inches each. Was more consistent in 2003 than previous years. A player with a lot of upside.
12. Junior Siavii, Oregon (6-41/2, 344)
Had a complete workout at the combine. He ran two 40s (5.16, 5.20) and had a 241/2-inch vertical jump and a 7-foot-9 broad jump. He also benched 225 pounds 31 times. He worked out again at Oregon's Pro Day and improved his jumps to 29 inches and 8-foot-1. Born in American Samoa and finished high school in 1996. He worked for three years before enrolling in junior college. He played at two junior colleges in two years before starting school at Oregon in 2002. Played little for Ducks in 2002, but played well in 2003. He's an anchor tackle people are looking for; an athlete with strength. He could be a big hit or you could miss on him. Some question about with work habits.
13. Terry Johnson, Washington (6-23/4, 306)
Had a complete workout at the combine. Ran his 40s in 4.69 and 4.81. Had a 34-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-6 long jump, 31 strength lifts and ran 4.75 in the short shuttle and 7.56 in the three-cone drill. Worked out at Washington's Pro Day but did not run or jump. Played tight end and defensive line in high school. Was also a very good basketball player and all-state volleyball player. Did not play in 2000 at Purdue (partial qualifier). Played but did not start in 2001. Was a two-year starter at tackle. Came to Washington as a tight end and returned an interception for a touchdown against Texas in a bowl game. Question is will he compete every down -- tends to take plays off. Is a force when he turns it on. Had 10 sacks in 2003, which is very good for a tackle. Has had some character problems in the past.
14. Matthias Askew, Michigan State (6-5 3/8, 308)
Had a complete workout at the combine. Ran his two 40s in 5.21 and 5.28 and had a 27-inch vertical jump, 8-foot-6 long jump, 4.42 in the short shuttle, 7.56 in the three-cone drill and 20 strength lifts. Did only position drills at his Pro Day. Had 21 sacks as a senior in high school. From same high school in Florida as Michigan State all-time leading rusher Lorenzo White. Played as a true freshman in 2001, starting three games. Started five games in 2002 and every game in 2003. Had six sacks in 2003. Young player with a lot of upside. Good against the run with 11 tackles for loss in 2003.
15. Rodney Leisle, UCLA, (6-31/4, 309)
Did not work out at the combine due to a left ankle sprain. Worked out at UCLA's Pro Day and ran his 40 twice for 5.25 and 5.19. He had a 28-inch vertical, an 8-foot-5 long jump, 31 lifts, a 4.67 in the short shuttle and a 7.95 in the three-cone drill. Lettered in track and wrestling in high school. Played both offensive and defensive line. Also played one year of basketball. Redshirted at UCLA in 1999, started 12 games in 2000 and started the past three years. Good competitor, tough, aggressive, intense and shows good character. Needs to work on pass rush. Broke right wrist in 2002 and missed six games.
16. DeMarco McNeil, Auburn (6-1, 310)
Did not work out at the combine due to ankle and shoulder problems. Worked out at Auburn's Pro Day and ran his 40s twice for 5.34 and 5.35. He had a 24-inch vertical jump, a 7-foot-11 long jump, did 21 lifts, ran a 4.85 short shuttle and an 8.04 three-cone drill. He was still suffering from an ankle injury sustained at the Senior Bowl. First lineman ever to be named Mr. Alabama, had 30 sacks over the last two years of high school. Also played basketball and was a pitcher on the baseball team. Redshirted at Auburn in 1999 before becoming a four-year starter at defensive tackle. Had six sacks in 2003. Needs better offseason workout habits. Needs to push himself. Is a quick, disruptive player, but speed is a worry. Will quickness make up for a lack of speed?
17. Chad Lavalais, LSU (6-11/2, 303)
Did not work out at the combine at his agent's advice. Worked out at LSU's Pro Day and ran his 40s in 5.06 and 5.04. He had 25-inch vertical jump, 8-foot-7 long jump and 17 strength reps. Played tight end, running back and defensive end in high school. Also threw the javelin and shot put for the track and field team. Last year of high school was 1997 and worked as a prison guard for two-and-a-half years before going to LSU in 2000. Started three games as a freshman and has been a starter the past three seasons. Tough, hard-working player who needs to get stronger for next level. Will be 25 years old his first NFL season. Plays with great intensity. Had seven sacks in 2003.
OTHERS TO WATCH:
Other defensive linemen who will be taken later in the draft and could surprise some people (alphabetical order):
Nathaniel Adibi, Virginia Tech (6-31/4, 254)
Can rush passer; explosive.
Darrell Campbell, Notre Dame (6-3 5/8, 302)
Strong; plays hard every play.
Roderick Green, Central Missouri (6-21/4, 246)
Explosive pass rusher.
Travis Laboy, Hawaii (6-31/4, 263)
Has pass rush skills.
Uyi Osunde, Connecticut (6-3 1/8, 252)
Possible 3-4 linebacker; can rush passer; 33 strength reps at NFL Scouting Combine.
Andrew Shull, Kansas State (6-41/2, 265)
Reggie Torbor, Auburn (6-2 1/8, 254)
Was high school running back. Edge rusher; had 101/2 sacks in 2003.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Twelve defensive linemen were picked with the first pick in the draft. Two have made the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Lee Roy Selmon (picked No. 1 in 1976) and Buck Buchanan (1962).
- Tommie Harris of Oklahoma has two cousins who have been drafted in the first round: Stockar McDougle by the Lions in 2000 and Jerome McDougle by the Eagles in 2003.
- Shaun Phillips of Purdue has worn three numbers at Purdue -- Nos. 53, 22 and 15 -- the past two years while playing the same position: defensive end.
- Marcus Tubbs of Texas likes to jet ski.
What scouts look for when grading defensive linemen:
- Ability to learn football
- Competitiveness and toughness
- Work habits
- Athletic ability
- Lateral quickness
- Strength at point
- Use of hands
- Stays on feet
- Pass rush
- Tackling ability
- Closing speed
Gil Brandt was vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-89. He is now in his eighth year as NFL.com's chief personnel guru. (Brandt is of no relation to Packers VP of Player Finance Andrew Brandt.)