Michigan State defensive lineman Jerel Worthy works out at the NFL combine in Indianapolis in February. / File/Getty Images
• Top Prospect: Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox. Doesn’t have the dynamic talent of an elite pick but has excellent power and plays well against the run and pass.
Overall draft: Not strong for possible top-10 picks but not bad from there through early in the second round.
• Packers outlook: Their primary need along with outside linebacker. They figure to draft a defensive lineman early.
• Rising star: Cincinnati’s Derek Wolfe. Put up good sacks numbers (18 ½ in three years as a starter) as an inside player in a 4-3 scheme, and at 6-5 1/8 and 298 is moving up draft boards as a 3-4 end.
• Falling star: North Carolina’s Quinton Coples went into last season looking like another possible Julius Peppers but turned off scouts by protecting himself rather than playing hard last season and now might not be the first defensive lineman drafted.
Sleeper: Alabama’s Josh Chapman: Nose tackle’s draft stock dropped because he won’t be ready to practice until September at the earliest after tearing his ACL last October and delaying reconstruction surgery until January so he could play out the season, but he obviously has toughness and desire.
It’s safe to say at least one person on the Green Bay Packers badly missed Cullen Jenkins last season.
A source said that outside linebacker Clay Matthews texted Jenkins a couple times last year lamenting that his drop in sack totals was directly attributable to Jenkins’ absence on the defensive line.
For a player who missed his share of snaps because of injuries while he was with the Packers, Jenkins’ departure to Philadelphia in free agency last summer showed how much difference a good inside pass rusher can make for his teammates. Though Jenkins wasn’t the only reason the Packers dropped from No. 5 in passing yards allowed and No. 3 in sacks percentage in 2010 to last in the NFL in both categories last season, it was a big one.
With defensive end Mike Neal’s 2011 season a washout because of a knee injury, the Packers failed to produce a pass-rushing threat to replace Jenkins. Philadelphia, on the other hand, jumped from No. 10 to No. 1 in sacks percentage, and Eagles defensive end Jason Babin finished No. 3 in the NFL in sacks with 18, topping his previous career-high of 12½.
“Jason Babin, who was out walking the streets (as a free agent in 2011), had 18 sacks,” an NFL scout said, “and (defensive end) Trent Cole, who missed four games, had 11. I tell you what, they owe Cullen Jenkins.”
Anyone who follows the Packers knows that General Manager Ted Thompson’s top mission in this draft is to find a pass rusher, whether it’s a defensive lineman or an outside linebacker, who can help the Packers’ defense return to its 2010 level of play, when Matthews had a career-high 13½ sacks. Last year, he had only six.
Thompson figures to use a high draft pick on the defensive line regardless, possibly with his first pick, at No. 28 overall. With B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, the Packers have two good run stoppers, and Raji has been effective as one of their two inside rushers on passing downs. But after that they need help.
With Neal suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s policy banning performance-enhancing drugs, he’ll have a difficult time making an impact this year despite the promise he showed in two games as a rookie before injuring his shoulder and last year in training camp before tearing cartilage in a knee.
Thompson and his scouting staff are looking hard at the linemen who fit the physical makeup for a 3-4 end, can bump inside in the nickel defense and might be available at No. 28.
At least four defensive linemen figure to be off the board by the time the Packers pick: Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox, who probably is the most complete defensive lineman in this draft; North Carolina’s Quinton Coples, a major talent who’s a prototypical boom-or-bust prospect; Memphis’ Dontari Poe, a huge man (346 pounds) whose freakish offseason workouts for scouts have propelled him to a possible top-20 pick because of his potential; and LSU’s Michael Brockers, a young (redshirt sophomore) and big (6-5, 322) run stopper with some pass-rush potential as his game matures.
After that, there are several 3-4 defensive end prospects who could be available at No. 28 and worth consideration: Penn State’s Devon Still, Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy and maybe Connecticut’s Kendall Reyes.
None of the three has big sacks numbers even for an inside rusher — if they did, they wouldn’t still be on the board at No. 28. But they have some potential.
Still (6-4 7/8, 303) and Worthy (6-2 3/8, 308) have the most talent of the three but also have shown uneven effort.
Still (4½ sacks last season) figures to go in the bottom third of the first round or in the first few picks on the second. He comes from a Penn State program that one NFL scout said has a reputation in NFL circles for producing big, talented players who don’t always finish plays.
“All that said, I like the player,” the scout said. “You have to have a good D-line coach who stays on him and holds him accountable for his effort each and every time, because he does have the ability. There aren’t a lot of very good inside pass rushers. If you can find one who can do it — and he can do it — you like to work with them. I think there’s a lot of potential with the guy.”
Scouts differ on whether Still or Worthy is the better player. Worthy had 3½ sacks last season and showed some ability as a disruptor in the middle of the line.
“I saw some inconsistency, but when he plays he’s a (butt) kicker,” said a scout who preferred Worthy to Still. “Has a frame, almost 6-3, and he’s lean, he can get bigger. When he flashes — you have to grade the flashes like you grade the negative plays — he’s pretty damn good. When he’s on, this is a damn good football player.”
Reyes (6-4 1/8, 299) is a high-character player who appears more likely to be a mid-second-round pick but some teams might consider him at the bottom of the first.
“The cleanest guy (of the three) is the kid from UConn,” a scout said. “He’s a lot like (the Packers’ Mike) Neal. I don’t see him as a first-rounder.”
• Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State, 6-4, 298, Round 1
Junior entry is athletic and has close to a prototypical build for a 3-4 defensive lineman, though he also fits well as a 4-3 tackle. “He’s more explosive and athletic than (LSU’s Michael) Brockers,” a scout said. “One thing Brockers can do, he can play the run today. Cox has more of an upside, but it’s going to take him a little longer.” Started at defensive tackle for 2½ seasons and finished his career with 24½ tackles for loss and 8½ sacks, including 14½ and five last season. Also blocked five kicks and forced two fumbles in his career. Was suspended for last season’s opener along with four teammates for academic shortcomings. Ran the 40 in an excellent 4.81 seconds, did 30 bench-press reps and had a 26-inch vertical jump. His three-cone drill of 7.07 seconds was best among all defensive tackles at the combine. “He is an explosive dude,” another scout said. “I like him a lot. He’s got some real (stuff).”
• Quinton Coples, North Carolina, 6-5¾, 284, Round 1
Wore No. 90, same as former Carolina end Julius Peppers. Coples is a big-time talent and the two are similar in size — Peppers was 6-6¼ and 283 coming out — but Coples was not nearly the playmaker Peppers was in college. “He’s extremely talented,” one scout said. “When he wants to play, oh my god, you can’t block him. I looked at that guy on the field in pregame and said holy (crap), I wouldn’t want to be the right tackle. He didn’t do squat. He had one sack, blown protection. He’s a workout freak. I talked to some of the coaches that got fired there, they thought he saved himself this year knowing he was going to go high in the draft.” More a power than speed player, so in a 3-4 scheme he figures to play defensive end and move inside on passing downs, rather than as an outside linebacker. Played defensive tackle in 2010 and had 10 sacks, then moved back to end last season and had 7½ sacks. Over the last two years also had 31 tackles for loss. Looks like a classic boom-or-bust player, might be slipping down some draft boards but still figures to go in the top half of the first round based on talent. “He doesn’t look like he cares about football,” another scout said. “He’ll go (high because he’s a) 6-6, 281 pounder. It’s true. He just doesn’t play hard. It’s bad. Lifeless. He could be great player, I just don’t like him. Not for me. I don’t want him.” Ran the 40 in 4.78 seconds, had a 31½ -inch vertical, and did 25 bench-press reps at the scouting combine. “You look at him and go, ‘Wooo, man,’ big, he can run, can move, all that stuff,” a third scout said. “Then you watch him play and go, he’s going to have to have a heck of a D-line coach who stays on him and helps him develop. If you feel really good about that then you take a chance on him. Most people will see the great measurables and the athleticism and say he’s got to be a first-rounder. I think you have to be a little leery.”
• Michael Brockers, Louisiana State, 6-5, 322, Round 1
Redshirt sophomore blossomed last year and probably is the most stout defensive lineman in the draft. Outstanding size and probably the best run defender in the draft. “Like him,” a scout said. “He plays the run like a (son of a gun), could play the run in the NFL today, yesterday. The reason he didn’t pass rush much is because the coordinator down there rushes all linebackers and ends on third downs, so they took Brockers out.” In his first season as a starter last year had 9½ tackles for loss and two sacks. Didn’t perform well at the scouting combine — ran the 40 in 5.31 seconds, had a 26 1/2-inch vertical jump — but shows up too often on game videotape for that to be of much concern. Long (35-inch) arms. Didn’t bench press at the combine because of a shoulder injury. Young, immature, but could have the athletic ability to become a good inside rusher. “He’s one of my top guys, a first-rounder,” another scout said. “I love the fact that he’s tall and he weighs 323 and he’s got those long-ass arms. That gives him the capability to play on the inside in a 4-3 as a defensive tackle or an (end) in a 3-4 defense. He’s an interesting guy. I’ve got him in the middle of the first round.”
• Devon Still, Penn State, 6-4 7/8, 303, Rounds 1-2
The Big Ten Conference defensive player of the year has a prototypical 3-4 end build. “On tape I thought he was a top-15, even a top-10 pick,” one scout said. “I thought he was the best big, athletic defensive lineman I saw. (Effort) was the only thing I knocked him on, I questioned his toughness. In every game you kind of saw him surrender a little bit. I think that would temper people. From a talent standpoint, he has as much talent as anybody.” Cousin of former NFL defensive standouts Art Still of the Chiefs and Bills, and Levon Kirkland, a linebacker with four teams. “You watched early on (last season), the Alabama game, pretty good talent (on the field), big game, he pretty much dominated the game, they couldn’t block him,” another scout said. “Very quick off the ball, good inside pass rusher, so if you put him at the three-technique and had him rush the passer more than defend the run, he was an impact player that game. Then you watched a couple other games, say Purdue, they cut (block) him a lot, went at his legs and got him out of the game, slowed him down. As a player you liked his role as an inside pass rusher, a guy who had quickness getting off the ball and could be an impact guy from the inside. Then you saw times when he got tired, fatigued, played too high and got pushed off the ball.” Suffered a torn ACL as a freshman and redshirted. Had 8½ sacks the last two seasons, including 17 and 4½ last season. Ran the 40 in 5.08 seconds, had a 29½-inch vertical and did 26 bench-press reps. “He looks like he couldn’t give a (crap),” a third scout said. “Talented guy, but he makes a tackle, and other guys get up and celebrate and look like they’re (excited), and (Still) makes a pretty good play and just lays on the ground. He’d have to fall (out of the first round) for me to mess with him.Shame on us for taking a guy that doesn’t love football. If you miss on (picks) you miss on them, but shame on you taking somebody that doesn’t like football. We can preach all this and then you take a guy that.”
• Jerel Worthy, Michigan State, 6-2 3/8, 308, Rounds 1-2
Dominated in the Spartans’ Big Ten Conference championship game loss to Wisconsin. “I like him,” a scout said. “When I first saw him he flashed, sort of knocked you out. He’s like a get-off (the snap) freak. I’ve never seen anybody get off like this. He gets off the ball, he cheats, he led the NCAA in offsides (penalties), but he just has a great sense for get-off and all that stuff. But I thought he was a little bigger than he is. If you said, take away his get off and what is he? Honestly, he’s just an average player.But he makes so many plays on his get off. If they start hard counting him in the NFL and he can’t use his get off, he might not be a great player. But when he gets off he’s really good.” Entering the draft after his redshirt junior season. Three-year starter had 27½ tackles for loss and 12 sacks in his career, including 10½ and 3½ last season. Blocked three kicks in his career. Ran the 40 in 5.04 seconds, had 28½-inch vertical jump at the combine. Didn’t bench at the combine because of a pectoral injury. “He can dominate, and then he takes his plays off, just like a bunch of (defensive linemen) do,” another scout said. “Worthy’s makeup is spotty. Weight, work ethic, etc. It goes with the territory of defensive linemen.”
• Kendall Reyes, UConn, 6-4 1/8, 299, Rounds 1-2
Played end and tackle in college, has great build for a 3-4 end but lacks explosion as a pass rusher from the inside. “I don’t like him,” a scout said. “He’s a great human being, one of the all-time good guys. Just not dynamic. Whoever gets him is going to get a good player for a long time, just a solid, good pro.” Three-year starter finished with 31½ tackles for loss and 11½ sacks in his career. One of the better testers among inside defensive linemen at the combine, ran the 40 in 4.87 seconds, had a 34½-inch vertical and did 36 bench-press. Most likely will go in the middle of the second round, though a team might see something to take him late in the first. “It’s the flavors,” another scout said in comparing Reyes to Still and Worthy. “If you want safe, you take Reyes. If you’re looking at the ceiling you go with Worthy or you go with Still.”
• Brandon Thompson, Clemson 6-2, 314, Round 2
Three-year starter flashes pass-rush quickness but had minimal sack production (3½ career sacks). More a 4-3 tackle than 3-4 end. “Clemson has been one (defensive line) disappointment after another,” a scout said. “(But) I like this guy, south Georgia guy. He’s quick and tough. He’s on the ground way too much and he just doesn’t make many plays. Had a sack and half (last year), just not many plays. He’s kind of explosive, you like the guy, but he’s 6-1, 300, 305, I’d like to find somebody a little more dynamic.” Had arthroscopic surgery on his ankle before the Senior Bowl but still played, though he didn’t run at the combine. Ran the 40 in 5.20 seconds at his campus workout. Has great build and loves the weight room, did 35 bench-press reps at the combine, also had a 31-inch vertical and 8-foot-4 1/3 broad jump. Probably can play nose tackle also. “He’s got size, he’s got strength, he’s got great hands, plays with his pads low,” another scout said. “But there’s times he stands straight up and is looking in the backfield and he gets knocked back 10 yards into the safety. And you go, whoa, whoa, whoa, what’s with this? It’s accepted (at Clemson). Don’t put on the West Virginia (video), they knock him ass over tea kettle four or five times, they kicked the (crap) out of him.” Had 16 1/2 tackles for loss in his career. “He’s got that prototypical stubby type frame, 6-2, about 318,” a third scout said. “I like the way he plays with his hands, his balance. He’s got power, explosive. He’s competitive. I like everything. At the Senior Bowl he went crazy. I don’t see him in a 3-4, I see him as a 4-3 three-technique.”
• Jared Crick, Nebraska, 6-4 1/8, 289, Rounds 2/3
Played tackle and end in college, kind of a ‘tweener athlete who looks ready made for a 3-4 end who moves inside on passing downs. “He’s a textbook guy, does everything the coaches ask,” a scout said. “Doesn’t play very hard. Just a really good player, plays the run, will be in his gap. I think he’ll be a solid player, a little better than what some people are saying.They say he benefited from (playing next to Ndamukong) Suh (before last season) and all this, (but) I think he’s a solid player.” Had strong sophomore and junior years (19 sacks and 32 tackles for loss combined). Then his senior season was wrecked by injuries (sprained knee in the spring, season-ending torn pectoral muscle in October). “He’s a prototypical 3-4 defensive end,” a scout said. “Can stop the run, gives you everything at the point of attack. Sometimes they come in the league and they’re just OK edge players (out of college) and they develop well. This guy’s got the motor to do that.” Ran the 40 in 4.94 seconds and had a 31-inch vertical at the combine. Didn’t bench because he was still recovering from the pec injury. “He could be OK (as an inside pass rusher),” a scout said. “I think he’s a pretty good football player.”
• Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati, 6-5 1/8, 295, Rounds 2-3
Late bloomer who had a good senior season and better offseason. Three-year starter at defensive tackle finished last season with 21½ tackles for loss and 9½ sacks. For his career had 37 and 19½. “He had more sacks and tackles for loss than those top four (defensive linemen) all put together,” a scout said. “He’s a good player.” At the scouting combine ran the 40 in 4.94 seconds, had a 33½-inch vertical and did 33 bench reps. Was the Big East Conference co-defensive player of the year and avid weight lifter who was named the college strength and conditioning athlete of the year. Dropped from 295 pounds at the combine to 280 at his pro day. “Just kind of a guy,” another scout said. “OK. Nobody to take in the first round. I’d say third (round).”
• Tyrone Crawford, 6-4 1/8, 275, Boise State, Rounds 2-3
Not as accomplished a college player as Billy Winn, another defensive lineman from Boise State in this year’s draft, but might be the better prospect. Played in high school in Windsor, Ontario, then at a junior college before transferring to Boise State. Finished his two-year career at Boise with 27 tackles for loss and 13½ sacks. “Everybody’s going to like Winn better, but Crawford is tough,” a scout said. “Neither one freaked me out. But there’s a reason why Boise wins. They’ve got four defensive linemen plus (linebacker Shea) McClellin that are going to get drafted.They didn’t go to Georgia in the opener and beat Georgia’s (butt) by mistake, they have better players.” Ran the 40 in 4.82 seconds at the combine then lowered it to 4.77 seconds on campus, according to NFL.com. Had 33-inch vertical and did 28 bench reps at the combine.
• Dontari Poe, Memphis, 6-3½, 346, Round 1
A workout freak and a huge man whose combine performance shot him up many draft boards, though he appears to be sliding now that teams have gone back and looked at game tape. “He’s like the girl that comes out at the beach and knocks you out, it’s god almighty,” one scout said. “Then the more you start looking, the guy doesn’t make any plays.” Junior entry and three-year starter finished his career with 21½ tackles for loss and five sacks, including eight and one last season. “Somebody’s going to take him (high),” another scout said, “and something inside me wants to take him because after I saw his (campus) work out I went holy Toledo.” At the combine ran the 40 in an amazing 4.91 seconds with an even more amazing 10-yard split of 1.67 seconds, and did 44 bench-press reps. Also squatted 700 pounds in college. Won Tennessee prep titles in the shot put twice and discus once. Some scouts think he might be like Kris Jenkins, who had spotty production at Maryland but had a great offseason before the 2001 draft and went on to become a Pro Bowl defensive lineman. “(Poe) is an athlete,” another scout said. “When you put him in those settings, drill work, he looks great. You put him in a football game and he’s extremely inconsistent, you don’t see a lot of power and explosiveness. I was quite disappointed to watch tape on this guy, was shaking my head. He’s bigger than Kris Jenkins, just as athletic but stronger, with the same inconsistencies Jenkins had coming out of Maryland. The difference is, Jenkins was meaner, Jenkins was tougher, Jenkins was more competitive when he needed to be. I don’t see this guy kicking anybody’s (butt) on tape. With Jenkins you at least saw that, and when you went to the all star game he was unblockable.”
• Alameda Ta’amu, Washington, 6-2½, 348, Rounds 2-3
A wide-body run stopper who offers minimal pass rush. Started for 3½ years and finished his career with 16½ tackles for loss and 7½ sacks, including seven and 3½ last season. Ran the 40 in 5.31 seconds at the scouting combine, 35 reps, 26-inch vertical. Had weight issues early in his career and was as high as 390 pounds. “Good size, typical nose tackle,” a scout said. “He’ll be fine. Good movement around the ball, good chase for a big man. I like that guy. probably third round, fourth round. But the big boys generally go early, they’re hard to find.”
• Mike Martin, Michigan 6-1 3/8, 306, Rounds 2-3
A good athlete who projects much better to a 4-3 defensive tackle than anywhere in a 3-4. Three-year starter had six tackles for loss and 3½ sacks last season and 25 and 10 for his career. “Tough as (crap)” a scout said. “Sort of limited in what he can do, he’s an A-gap player. But I tell you what, you’ll get all you want with that (guy).” Lacks the length for a 3-4 end and is not much of a rusher considering he’s a good athlete. Ran the 40 in an excellent 4.83 seconds at the combine, had a 33 1/2-inch vertical jump and did 36 bench reps. “He’ll be gone in the third (round),” another scout said. “He’s an honest player, he’ll probably go some place and be a player. He’s a brawler now. He likes football, he likes all that stuff.”
• Hebron (Loni) Fangupo, Brigham Young, 6-0¾, 323, Rounds 5-6
Former junior-college player transferred to USC for two seasons but missed most of his first year because of a broken ankle and the end of his second year because of an undisclosed injury. Transferred and walked on at BYU for his final season after a burglar broke into his apartment while his wife was home alone. Played end in BYU’s 3-4 and had six tackles for loss and no sacks. Has the build to be a 3-4 nose tackle. Will be 27 years old by the start of the season. “A big wide-body,” a scout said. “Just a guy. Plugger.” Ran the 40 in 5.16 seconds, had a 31 1/2-inch vertical and did 36 bench reps at the combine.
• Akiem Hicks, Regina, 6-4 5/8, 318, Rounds 5-6
Played at Sacramento City College for two years, transferred to LSU but was declared ineligible for accepting illegal benefits. In two seasons at Regina had 13 tackles for loss and eight sacks, including eight and 6½ last season. Raw and not as strong as his size suggests. Has the long arms (35 1/8 inches) of an offensive tackle. Ran the 40 in 5.23 seconds, had a 31½-inch vertical and did 26 bench reps. “Big. Raw,” a scout said. “An SEC recruit. Kind of interesting.”
* — 40-yard dash times from the NFL scouting combine are the average of the fastest and slowest times captured by hand-held timers on two runs.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.