In the first of a series of articles on the positions in the 2003 NFL Draft, I start with the defensive line. It's the appropriate place to begin the positional breakdowns because it is the deepest position in the draft pool, but it is not a bottomless well.
By my estimations, 26 of the 32 teams will want to draft a defensive lineman on the first day. During the first round of the draft, you are going to feel like you hear a defensive lineman selected every other pick. I will not be surprised if 10 to 12 defensive linemen are selected in the first round.
It won't stop there because the second and third rounds will see another 10 to 12 get chosen. Do the math -- that's 20 to 24 defensive linemen and still a club or two will miss out on satisfying one of their pressing needs!
It may be easier to quickly go over the teams that probably won't take a defensive lineman in the draft. Miami, Pittsburgh, Carolina and St. Louis could pass on one in order to fill their other needs.
The rest of the league is planning on taking at least one and in most cases two defensive linemen. The need for defensive linemen is ever-present in the NFL, and this draft class is going to do it's best to satisfy all of them. That is a tall order!
Let's first look at the teams that want a defensive lineman in the first round and why they do. The Bears, Cowboys, Cardinals, Vikings, Seahawks, Patriots, Chargers and Chiefs all pick in the top 16 and most of them should take a big man to play up front on defense. A corner like Terence Newman or a quarterback like Byron Leftwich will interrupt two teams' plans, and that will give hope to the teams in the second half of the first round hoping for some defensive linemen to fall to them. The Broncos, Bills, Giants, Eagles, and Raiders are all hoping the aforementioned teams change their minds at the last minute and let one or two of the top defensive linemen fall to them.
The demand is there and so is the supply, so lets look at the top players to go in this draft:
If an inside player to stop the run, collapse the pocket, and protect the linebackers is a top priority, then Jimmy Kennedy (Penn State), Dewayne Robertson (Kentucky), William Joseph (Miami, Fla.), Kevin Williams (Oklahoma State) and Johnathan Sullivan (Georgia) are the guys your team is looking at early in the first round.
Robertson has been moving up the board, and according to a few teams, has passed Kennedy on their draft board. He plays hard, has a John Randle motor and plays through injuries. What's not to like?
Kennedy is a kid I've followed since his high school days and he has much better size than Robertson and can do it all. Veteran NFL coaches love size and athleticism, and Kennedy has it.
In another year, Joseph could have been the top defensive lineman in the draft, but because of the talent pool and the intense scrutiny, he doesn't hold up to the first two guys. However, he will make some team very happy in the first round. A team with a penetrating front and lots of stunting will love this guy.
Williams made his move at the Senior Bowl, and Sullivan is another guy with a big-time motor who worked out well, and plays hard on film.
If these players are all gone by the 15th pick, then keep an eye on Ty Warren (Texas A&M) and Rien Long (Washington State) to satisfy teams going late in the round.
If an outside pass rusher is a top priority, then Terrell Suggs (Arizona State) and his 24 sacks in 2002 is the prize of the class. His workout clouded the picture a bit, but not enough to lose the top spot. The next defensive end on most boards should be Jerome McDougle (Miami, Fla.). He's fast, tough and after Dwight Freeney was so successful as the Colts draft pick last year, he has been defined as that kind of player. One defensive coordinator I had dinner with recently said McDougle is a cross between Hugh Douglas and Freeney.
Once a team selects McDougle, there will be a run on defensive ends, and Chris Kelsay (Nebraska) and Michael Haynes (Penn State) should come off the board quickly. Late in the first round a team or two could get nervous if they wait until the second round because all the quality players could be gone and they may reach for Dewayne White (Louisville) or Kenny Peterson (Ohio State). White gets mixed reviews from the defensive line coaches I have spoken with and Peterson is considered more of a tackle than an end.
Overall, more tackles will be drafted in the first round and ends should dominate the late second and early third rounds. What makes this draft so impressive is that in the third round, there will be some real quality players who have as good a chance of being excellent pros as the players taken earlier in the day. My favorite prospects to go later and become very sold NFL players are: Jarret Johnson (Alabama), Antonio Garay (Boston College) and Tyler Brayton (Colorado).
Finally, when you compare the near 25 defensive linemen to be taken on the first day of the draft to the probability of half that number (12-13) of offensive linemen being taken on day one, you get a sense for the depth and the need.
Kirwan's Hot Topics
Some key points to keep in mind as we watch the draft unfold:
- Will the Eagles replace the departed Hugh Douglas drafting as late as they do?
- Will a team like the Raiders, Saints or Patriots with multiple first-round picks move up in the draft to get a premiere defensive lineman?
- How does Atlanta with no first-round selection ever get a quality defensive tackle late in the second round?
- Could the Broncos be forced to make a move up in order to get one of the top three defensive ends?