Top 10 Prospects: Defensive Line


Over the next couple of weeks and leading up to the draft, I will be taking a look at each position, if the Dolphins have aneed to upgrade that position in the draft, and who are the top 10 prospects going in. Remember, this is only one man’s opinion. This is the sixth of such posts and today we will look at the defensive line.

Hooray, a position for the Miami Dolphins that is not a pressing need! I was starting to get worried we would never get there. I thought about skipping the position (or possibly skipping the entire defensive side of the ball) as most of the Dolphins needs are on the offensive side, but I thought that wouldn’t be fair.

With the re-signing (for now) of Paul Soliai at nose tackle, the Dolphins have what they hope will be a staple at that position for awhile. On the sides, they have overachievers Kendall Langford and Randy Starks coming back plus last year’s first rounder Jared Odrick coming back from an injury. For the time being, they are pretty much set on the defensive line. However, that may a bit unfortunate as this year’s class is stacked with talent. According to big board, 9 of the top 19 prospects are on the defensive line and Scout’s Inc. has 13 of the first 32 prospects on the defensive line. This position is unusual as there are a bunch of prospects in the 11-20 range that are very similar. One board may have someone ranked as the ninth best player, while another may have them at #20. If the Dolphins decide to go with the BPA strategy come draft time, one of these players may end up in their lap. Here are the top 10 defensive line prospects on the 2011 NFL Draft:

1. Da’Quan Bowers (DE), Clemson 6’3, 280 lbs

Bowers only had one highly productive year at Clemson, 2010 where he recorded 15.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss. Usually, I’m 100% against the one year wonder, but this year’s class seems to be full of them. Some point to the rise of productivity to the loss of his mentor, Gaines Adams and his father in the past year. Either way, he is an NFL-ready player. His explosion off the line and upper-body strength made him a nightmare for college tackles. He really excels in the run stopping though. He has shown excellent awareness and keeps his body square to the line. He is able to take on multiple lineman at once and can still make the play. However, he is coming off a torn meniscus which has some teams throwing up the red flag. His pro day is April 1st, which may erase most of the pre-draft scrutiny. There has been talk the Buffalo Bills are interested at #3, as are the Tennessee Titans at #8 and the Dallas Cowboys at #9.

2. Nick Fairley (DT), Auburn 6’4, 297 lbs

Fairley is going to have to bulk up a bit if he plans to stay a defensive tackle in the NFL. After the season ended, I heard rumors all over the place that Fairley was going to be the number one pick. Since then, concerns have been popping up left and right about him, hurting his draft stock. However, there is not another player in this draft with the upside that Fairley has. He was a beast at Auburn, but had to take a back seat to all the Cam Newton hype. But Fairley was the Cam Newton of the Tiger defense. He spent two years at the JUCO level, dominating in all aspects of the game before transferring to Auburn for his junior season. He has excellent burst off the snap to penetrate the gaps. He plays with a mean streak and will fit well in a 4-3 scheme. Experts question his work ethic, and have tabbed him as a “dirty” player (Albert Haynesworth, anyone?). He will probably be a top 10 pick, possibly to the Titans or Cowboys.

3. Marcell Dareus (DT), Alabama 6’3, 319 lbs

I am constantly seeing rankings and mocks with Dareus as the top player, and I’m not sold. To be honest, I’m having trouble understanding it. His potential is ridiculous, I know that. But let’s face it, the kid played in only 4 games in 2009, his “breakout” season. In 2010, his numbers were pretty pedestrian (33 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) for someone projected to be a top 5 pick. Teams were able to key on him in 2010 once Terrence Cody moved on to the NFL, and his numbers suffered. If I pick someone in the top 5, I expect them to be the anchor of the defense, not someone who needs to be surrounded with talent to succeed. He was also suspended for two games for taking improper benefits from his agent. Red flags? Yeah, a bit. Don’t get me wrong, Dareus has excellent potential and certainly has the skills to be the best. He can play either nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme or defensive tackle in in 4-3 scheme, a la Warren Sapp. I have no problem with Dareus being up near the top of draft boards, but his lack of experience and character issues are enough for me to not have him at the top. The whispers are quite loud that the Cleveland Browns at #6 like Dareus a lot.

4. Robert Quinn (DE), North Carolina 6’4, 265 lbs

If Quinn wasn’t suspended for the whole 2010 season for accepting two watches as gifts, he very well may have been at the top of this list. Even with the suspension, he is still a projected top 15 pick. That certainly says something. He is a raw prospect that will need work to be a star in the NFL. But the tools are certainly there. He has excellent explosion and can fly by an offensive tackle. However, he can get caught napping and is often to the last lineman off the line of scrimmage. He is too light, and can be a liability against the running game. He has trouble securing the edge and will often use an inside move and get beat by a running back. He is extremely fast though, and can stand to gain 10-15 pounds without losing quickness. Quinn’s future may be more of an outside linebacker. Word is the Texans may have an interest at #11.

5. J.J Watt (DE), Wisconsin 6’5, 290 lbs

Watt is awfully intriguing. He came from Central Michigan after playing tight end for one year, and immediately made an impact with the Badgers. Even with his lack of experience at the position, he does everything well and is NFL ready right now. He is relentless when rushing the passer and has the size and strength to bull rush an offensive lineman. He possesses an excellent spin move and can give linemen fits. He also is an effective run defender. He can get off blocks and get to runs to the outside, as well as penetrate inside. He has the ability to play several different areas on the line, as well as special teams and even as a Mike Vrabel role on the goal-line. He is also a high character guy. He needs to learn the position more, but the sky is the limit for him. The San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens are both said to be interested, which could be intriguing for the Dolphins to use one of them as a trade partner to move back and regain a second rounder.

6. Alden Smith (DE), Missouri 6’4, 263 lbs

Smith is undersized as a defensive end, but has long arms and can disrupt the passing lanes. He spent only two years at Missouri before declaring for the draft, so some experts are concerned about a lack of experience. He has a motor and uses it well. He made other ends look slow during the combine, running a 4.75 and playing faster than that. He came back from a broken fibula after only three games in 2010, showing a toughness that NFL teams love. Teams will need to decide whether to use Smith as an end or a 3-4 outside linebacker. He was not asked to drop back in coverage at Missouri, so if that is his route, he will need to work on it. He plays stronger than his numbers indicate, and could be a handsome reward for a team that takes the time to develop him. Smith will go in the 11-20 range, possibly to the St. Louis Rams at #14.

7. Cameron Jordan (DE), California 6’4, 287 lbs

Jordan has worked his way back into the top 20 with an excellent combine, Senior Bowl and pro day. He certainly has the experience necessary. He was a four year starter with the Golden Bears. Some experts are pointing to that as a reason to be concerned, saying he has already reached his peak, but I disagree. He has a leg up because the Bears employed a 3-4 and 4-3 system, so he has experience playing in both. He doesn’t have elite speed and won’t bat many passes down, but he has a strong motor and won’t give up on any play. He is a strong run defender is a good tackler. He will settle in well in the NFL. He may not be a star, but will more than likely be a solid starter for years. He is another that will probably be drafted in the 11-20 range, possibly to the Chargers if they miss out on J.J. Watt or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at #20.

8. Ryan Kerrigan (DE), Purdue 6’4, 267 lbs

“Superman”, as his teammates and coaches called him for his strength and effort, was near the top of FBS in 2010, recording 70 tackles, 26 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. Kerrigan is a smart defender. He hustles every play, and is a good pass rusher. Nobody thought he had elite speed, until he ran a 4.67 at the combine. He needs work getting off the ball. He was a team captain in 2010 and is a leader in the locker room. Like the others above him, he is in the 11-20 range, possibly to the Jacksonville Jaguars at #16, and will be a top starter for years to come.

9. Corey Liuget (DT), Illinois 6’2, 298 lbs

Liuget’s (pronounced legit) versatility is what makes him a first rounder. He has shown the ability to play the 3-4 NT position, as well as in a 4-3 scheme. He is difficult for lineman to block one-on-one, and has pretty good speed for somebody his size. He has excellent awareness to find the ball-carrier and can penetrate the line and make tackles in the backfield. He is strong and can push lesser guards and centers out of the way. He is a another high character guy, being described as a leader in the locker room. He does not have elite closing speed and needs to work on his stamina and conditioning. He could go as high as #14, or as low as #29 to the Chicago Bears.

10. Adrian Clayborn (DE), Iowa 6’3, 281 lbs

Clayborn has dropping down draft boards due to a mediocre senior season. However, that fall may slow after his impressive pro day. Clayborn displayed excellent speed and great burst, moving him possibly back into the top 20. He did only bench 225 17 times, but teams aren’t drafting Clayborn for his strength. He is relentless, and has a tendency to make plays in the backfield. He is a strong run defender as well. Teams may be concerned about his character, as he was arrested and plead guilty to disorderly conduct in 2010. He may go to the Bucs at #20 or maybe the New Orleans Saints at #24.

5 mid-rounders for the Dolphins to keep an eye on:

Sione Fua (DT), Stanford 6’2, 308 lbs

Jabaal Sheard (DE), Pittsburgh 6’3, 264 lbs

Cliff Matthews (DE), South Carolina 6’4, 257 lbs

Ian Williams (DT), Notre Dame 6’1, 319 lbs

Cedric Thornton (DT), Southern Arkansas 6’3, 309 lbs

This defensive line class is stacked. Even if the line isn’t a pressing need for the Dolphins, I would certainly recommend giving a long look to some of the guys in the middle of the draft. I have done a ton of research about Sione Fua, and I like him a lot. He will be a top notch reserve to start and may work his way to a starter position in a few years with some work, and will be available in the fourth round. I also like Cliff Matthews, a high character guy with a great work ethic, who may be available as late as the sixth round.

What do you think? The Dolphins obviously have more pressing needs, but do you believe they should address the defensive line at any point in the draft?

Twitter- @notquiterosey

Other Top 10 Prospects:


Running Back

Wide Receiver

Tight End

Offensive Line