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Versatile Long leads impressive group of defensive ends

By Todd McShay

Scouts Inc.

(Archive)

Updated: February 18, 2008

The 2008 NFL draft should feature at least eight defensive linemen selected in the first round. The most likely candidates include DEs Chris Long, Vernon Gholston, Phillip Merling, Derrick Harvey and Calais Campbell, and DTs Glenn Dorsey, Sedrick Ellis and Kentwan Balmer.

Long, Dorsey and Ellis rank among the six elite prospects in this year's class. Long earned the highest grade of the 2008 senior prospects I studied on film last summer, and his game was even more refined this past fall. He is versatile enough to play end in a three- or four-man front, and some teams think his best fit in the NFL could be at linebacker. Dorsey and Ellis have somewhat similar styles; Dorsey spent most of his time working as a three-technique at LSU, while Ellis did most of his damage at nose tackle. Regardless, both display the first-step quickness, explosive power and closing burst to disrupt in the NFL.

The remaining five projected first-rounders have a wide variety of backgrounds and styles. Gholston is an undersized edge rusher who might fit best as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Balmer played tackle at UNC but might fit best as a 3-4 end in the NFL. Merling and Campbell are unusually big 4-3 ends coming out of the college ranks, and depending on the scheme, could play inside and/or outside at the next level. Finally, Harvey has the frame and speed to play a more traditional weakside end in a four-man front.

There are far more quality ends than tackles to choose from in this year's crop of defensive linemen, and the official combine list confirmed that feeling. Of the 52 defensive linemen invited to Indianapolis, 35 are listed as college defensive ends.

This deep group can be broken into three different parts. First, there are traditional ends that fit best in a 4-3 scheme. Some quality examples expected to be available between Rounds 2 and 5 include Lawrence Jackson, Darrell Robertson, Christopher Ellis and Jeremy Thompson. Second, there is a group of bigger ends who project better as inside players in a three-man front. Kendall Langford, Jason Jones and Johnny Dingle fit that mold and will be available after the first round.

The third group is best classified as rush-linebacker types. These are typically end/outside linebacker tweeners who lack the size to consistently stack at the line of scrimmage but are blessed with enough pass-rushing burst and athleticism to play a more versatile role, either as a full-time starter at outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or as a sub-package edge rusher. Some second-tier examples will include Quentin Groves, Clifford Avril, Titus Brown, Jameel McClain and Jeremy Geathers.

As for the tackles, there's a noticeable drop-off in talent after Dorsey, Ellis and Balmer. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if Pat Sims is the only one to come off the board in Round 2. Sims came on strong as a junior (4.5 sacks and 15 QB hurries) and should test well enough to solidify a spot in the first couple of rounds.

Defensive tackles available on Day 2 should be viewed as potential situational contributors. There will be several undersized three-technique types capable of occasionally disrupting the opponent's backfield. The best of the rest include Trevor Laws, Letroy Guion, DeMario Pressley, Andre Fluellen and Carlton Powell. Then there are space-eaters like Marcus Harrison, Red Bryant, Frank Okam and Athyba Rubin, who will fit best in two-gap schemes at the next level.

Finally, there are a handful of small-school defensive linemen vying for spots in the late rounds. In my opinion, the three with the biggest upsides are Langford (Hampton), DE/OLB Curtis Johnson (Clark Atlanta) and DT Kurt Hout (Ferris State).

Top 25 Defensive Line Prospects in 2008 NFL Draft

Player School Position Height Weight Speed

1. Chris Long Virginia DE 6-3 1/4 266 4.80

2. Glenn Dorsey LSU DT 6-1 1/4 310 5.10

3. Sedrick Ellis USC DT 6-0 7/8 308 4.95

4. Vernon Gholston Ohio State DE 6-3 5/8 255 4.65

5. Kentwan Balmer North Carolina DT 6-4 1/2 308 5.05

6. Phillip Merling Clemson DE 6-4 3/8 275 4.71

7. Derrick Harvey Florida DE 6-4 1/2 250 4.65

8. Calais Campbell Miami DE 6-7 5/8 279 4.80

9. Lawrence Jackson USC DE 6-4 3/8 261 4.92

10. Quentin Groves Auburn DE 6-3 1/8 249 4.43

11. Pat Sims Auburn DT 6-3 7/8 310 4.96

12. Darrell Robertson Georgia Tech DE 6-3 7/8 247 4.75

13. Trevor Laws Notre Dame DT 6-0 7/8 297 5.16

14. Cliff Avril Purdue DE 6-3 252 4.70

15. Marcus Harrison Arkansas DT 6-2 3/4 310 5.05

16. Kendall Langford Hampton DE 6-5 3/8 295 4.95

17. Letroy Guion Florida State DT 6-4 1/4 297 5.17

18. Jason Jones Eastern Michigan DE 6-5 1/8 272 4.80

19. Red Bryant Texas A&M DT 6-4 3/4 326 5.05

20. Christopher Ellis Virginia Tech DE 6-4 1/4 260 4.64

21. Dre Moore Maryland DE 6-4 1/8 307 5.00

22. Demario Pressley NC State DT 6-3 1/4 300 4.85

23. Jeremy Thompson Wake Forest DE 6-4 3/8 264 4.80

24. Andre Fluellen Florida State DT 6-1 7/8 285 5.05

25. Johnny Dingle West Virginia DE 6-3 1/28 275 4.85

Day 1 Defensive Linemen in 2007 NFL Draft

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