UCLA defensive end Datone Jones works against Colorado offensive linesman Stephane Nembot in a Sept. 29, 2012 game in Boulder, Colorado. / File/Getty Images
North Carolina's Sylvester Williams sacks Idaho quarterback Dominique Blackman on Sept. 29, 2012 in Chapel Hill, N.C. / File/Getty Images
Utah’s Star Lotulelei and Florida’s Shariff Floyd are the top defensive linemen on most teams’ boards.
Doesn’t have a prospect that blows away scouts, but relatively deep into the late first round and early second round.
An area of primary need because of age (Ryan Pickett is 33) and an overall lack of playmaking talent.
SMU’s Margus Hunt went into the offseason as a third-round type prospect, but after he blew out the scouting combine physical tests he got a second look and might go as high as the late first round.
Purdue’s Kawann Short looked like a lock as a first-round pick during the college season but concerns about his work ethic and weight fluctuations could push him well into the second round.
Nose tackle Montori Hughes was kicked off the team after three seasons at Tennesee because of academic issues and a dorm-room incident, then transferred to Tennessee-Martin, where he continued to show great power and decent athleticism for a big (6-4, 329) man.
The Green Bay Packers bookended their 2012 season with losses to a San Francisco 49ers team that was superior along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
B.J. Raji, the Packers’ best defensive lineman, is a key piece of their team and likely in for a long-term contract sometime in the next year. But behind him in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme, the Packers are thin.
Ryan Pickett, their consistently strong run-stopper going on seven seasons, is 33 years old and probably nearing the end of his career.
Another defensive lineman of note, 2012 second-round draft pick Jerel Worthy, had a bland rookie season when healthy and is coming off knee-reconstruction surgery that probably will keep him sidelined until at least the middle of this season and possibly longer.
Fourth-year pro Mike Neal has been more potential than production and endured a pedestrian 2012 season after being injured more often than not in 2010 and ’11. And Mike Daniels, a fourth-round pick last year, actually flashed more pass rush than Worthy but at 6-foot-0 is short for a 3-4 defensive end and might have to make his career as a niche player on passing downs.
In other words, if the Packers want to stack up physically with the 49ers and their ilk, they have to get better on the defensive line, which makes it a priority position in this year’s draft.
“The game of football starts up front,” coach Mike McCarthy said in an interview at the NFL scouting combine in February, “so you can really talk the same about the offensive and defensive line. You don’t ever have enough big people. That’s something that’s very evident in every NFL season.”
Looking at the prospects from the perspective of 3-4 defenses such as the Packers’, there probably will be somewhere from seven to 10 defensive linemen selected in the first round of this year’s draft.
Utah’s Star Lotulelei, Florida’s Shariff Floyd, BYU’s Ziggy Ansah (who also is a prospect as a 3-4 outside linebacker) and Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson will be long gone by the time the Packers pick at No. 26 overall.
But in a draft where many scouts don’t think there’s much if any difference between the Nos. 10 and 40 prospects, any of several defensive linemen could be on the board when general manager Ted Thompson makes the Packers’ first-round pick: North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams, UCLA’s Datone Jones, Alabama’s Jesse Williams, SMU’s Margus Hunt, Ohio State’s Jonathan Hankins and Purdue’s Kawann Short.
Of that group, Sylvester Williams, Jesse Williams and Hankins lack the prototypical 6-4 or taller height for 3-4 defensive ends but have shown some playmaking talent as interior linemen in the run and pass games that make them viable prospects; Jones (6-37/8) and Hunt (6-81/8) are more like the taller, longer defensive ends 3-4 teams prefer; and Short might be the most talented insider pass rusher of the group.
Sylvester Williams (6-25/8, 313) probably could play nose tackle and end in the 3-4, and his six-sack season last year suggests that despite playing the run well he could help an NFL team as an inside rusher.
“Really, really talented,” one scout said. “He doesn’t play that way all the time, but he’s really talented. First-round talent.”
Jesse Williams (6-33/8, 323) was an anchor for the national champion Crimson Tide and also has the versatility to play nose tackle and end in the 3-4. Some scouts question his quickness as an inside rusher — he had only 11/2 sacks in his two seasons at Alabama.
“A lot of things going for him,” one scout said. “He has a chance to match up well against guards. He’ll have better strength (than them) and he has pretty good instincts, that will help even if he isn’t as quick, he’ll still have pretty good power. (Maybe) late first round. You’d be more comfortable in the second round.”
Hankins (6-27/8, 320) has position versatility also, though he’s more of a nose tackle than end, and likewise his inside rush is suspect (five sacks in three seasons at Ohio State), which could make him more likely to go in the second round.
“I think he’d be really good at nose, and he could moonlight a little bit at the (3-4 end),” said a scout for an NFC team. “The closer you get him to the ball the better he’ll be.”
Jones and Hunt are true 3-4 ends and are better prospects as inside rushers than the aforementioned bigger linemen. Hunt, a former track athlete from Estonia, moved up draft charts in the offseason because of outstanding physical testing at the scouting combine. Aside from his relatively crude football skills — he started playing only in 2009 — he also turns 26 years old in July, so one or two seasons of his physical prime already might be behind him.
“That guy hasn’t played much,” a scout said, “but when you put his dynamic plays on there, he can do some things other people can’t do. The problem is you see so much inconsistency because he hasn’t played much football. He’s a guy that can block kicks, he takes points off the board. He’s so tall that if you rush him and he’s going to knock a million balls down. The negative to him is his age.”
Jones is the kind of versatile player 3-4 defenses covet — he played across the defensive line at UCLA — and his 61/2 sacks last season suggest he might improve an NFL team’s inside rush.
“He could be a disruptive tackle-behind-the-line-of-scrimmage-type guy,” another scout said.
Short (6-27/8, 299) is on the shorter side for a 3-4 end and has had problems keeping his weight down at times, but he had 191/2 sacks in his final three seasons at Purdue, which is excellent for an inside rusher.
“He has some inside burst to him,” a scout said. “A bigger guy. He’ll probably be a second-round player because people say his motor runs hot and cold. When you watch him, he can take on blocks, he can get off blocks. But as far as chasing the ball, he has to develop that.”
1. Star Lotulelei, Utah, 6-21/2, 311, Round 1
Junior-college transfer played three years at Utah and should fit equally well in 3-4 and 4-3 fronts because of his combination of power and athleticism. “I like him a lot,” said a scout for an NFC team. “First film I watched on him was BYU, that was the most impressive game I’ve watched (of any defensive player). He’s special. I didn’t watch much film on him because we don’t think he’ll be there, but maybe he’ll start dropping. I think he’s a really good player.” An echocardiogram at the scouting combine revealed that his left ventricle was working below an acceptable capacity, but he’s since been cleared, with the issue attributed to a virus. “I like him,” another scout said. “I don’t like him every tape. He might be the most talented guy out there, but there might be one or two out there that play more consistent through the week and through the down. He flashes the most talent of the (defensive linemen), but his top to bottom (range in performance) is the widest.” Had 211/2 tackles for loss and seven sacks in his three seasons, including 10 and 5 last season. “I’m not a big fan,” said a scout with the minority opinion. “I think he gets swallowed up versus doubles, and he doesn’t have the quickness to split’em. And I don’t see the toughness to hold the point versus doubles. When he’s one on one he’s got power and good pad level, but I don’t know if he can handle NFL double teams and be effective.”
2. Shariff Floyd, Florida, 6-25/8, 297 Round 1
Junior entry moved from end to tackle last season and led Florida in tackles for loss (13). “Really my top guy (overall),” one scout said. “Those guys in Kansas City (with the No. 1 pick), if they’re not sold that they want to take the offensive line, I could see them go with Shariff Floyd. He’s a better athlete and quicker and more explosive (than Lotulelei). I think he’s going to be pretty good.” Comes from a hardscrabble background in Philadelphia and was suspended the first two games in ’11 for accepting illegal benefits from a booster. Repaid the money and later was adopted by that booster. None of several scouts expressed character reservations. “To me he’s the most active (of the defensive linemen),” another scout said. “He worked out good, and there was something I liked about the kid personally. All the tape’s good, and I felt strong about Floyd being that type of (hard working) guy.” Ran an excellent 40 (4.92 seconds), had an OK 30-inch vertical jump and didn’t perform the bench press at the combine or his pro day. Occasionally mentioned as a possible No. 1 pick overall. “That’s what you hear from everybody,” a third scout said. “I put on a highlight film and it’s still not very impressive. It’s OK, he’s a good player, I’d like to have him, but c’mon, I don’t see anything special about him.”
3.Sheldon Richardson, Missouri, 6-11/2, 294, Round 1
Junior-college transfer lacks height but is disruptive and makes plays. “I love him,” one scout said. “He might have some trouble with point of attack stuff, double teams and all that. But if he goes to the right place he can be a real force.” In two seasons at Missouri had 181/2 tackles for loss and six sacks. Might have the most talent as an inside rusher in the draft. Ran the 40 in 5.02 seconds and did 30 bench-press reps. “He plays like his (butt) is on fire,” another scout said. “Against Alabama, how many tackles he made just by quickness and hustle and want-to. He’s an impressive player.”
4. Datone Jones, UCLA, 6-37/8, 283, Round 1
Played end and tackle in a 4-3 scheme but projects best as a 3-4 end and nickel inside rusher in the NFL. “He’s strong, he’s got good instincts, he’s just a really good football player,” a scout said. “He’s going to make plays, run around some blocks and play. If they let him play in the same spot that (Houston’s) J.J. Watt plays, he makes plays. But he’s sort of a ‘tweener (for the 4-3).” Impressive on the hoof, has OK arm length (323/4 inches). Had 19 tackles for a loss and 61/2 sacks last season, and 361/2 and 131/2 in his three seasons as a starter. “He has some toughness to him, he’s not a one-trick-pony, edge-rush guy,” a second scout said. “He has some ability to play against the run. He gets a little upright at times and gets washed, but a lot of times he’ll play with his pads down, and he’s able to fight off blocks and make plays.” Missed the ’10 season because of a broken foot. Ran the 40 in 4.80 seconds and did 29 bench reps. “I think Jones is one of the top 30 players (in the draft),” said a college scouting director.
5. Margus Hunt, SMU, 6-81/8, 277, Rounds 1-2
Won the discus and shot put for Estonia in the 2006 Junior World Championships, went to SMU as a track athlete but then switched to football when the school dropped track. Started playing football in 2009 and last season had 111/2 tackles for loss and eight sacks as a defensive end. Has 333/4-inch arms and had an NCAA record 17 blocked kicks in his career. “You get his highlight tape he looks like a first rounder, and he tests like a top 10 guy,” a scout said. “In the Senior Bowl he played about as bad a game as anybody I remember in the Senior Bowl. He was just horrible, looked like he was horrible. (But) I think he could be a very good inside rusher. If Al Davis was still alive I think he takes him.” Blew away the combine with an amazing size-strength-speed performance of a 4.60-second 40 and 39 bench reps. “There’s a huge upside, but on the flip side there’s a bust factor as well,” a second scout said. “If you hit on (picking) Hunt, you’ve done a really nice job, because he’s a big, fast, athletic joker. He’s still learning the game and could be a dominant player. Going to get bigger and stronger and be a little like J.J. Watt, but faster and more athletic.” Age is a major downside. He turns 26 in July, which makes him three to five years older than many of the players in his draft class. By the end of his rookie contract he could be in decline. “I don’t like the age,” a third scout said. “He’s a 4.6 guy running, has a great vertical, all these things. But he’s 26 years old, and that’s what you have to know. That should bother you.”
6. Kawann Short, Purdue, 6-27/8, 299, Rounds 1-2
Big and athletic but with questionable work ethic. “He’s sorry, lazy, fat, all those things,” one scout said. “But all that said, he’s very, very talented. Big, strong, got a great feel for it. Can play the run and pass rush. He’s just in terrible shape. I think he’s a good person, but he’s in terrible shape. His self discipline is probably about a zero, but he’s got real stuff. I think he has more ability than Floyd.” Weight has been up in the 325-pound range at times. Made plays behind the line of scrimmage (441/2 tackles for a loss and 191/2 sacks in three seasons as a starter. “Anytime you get those big kids, in college their workload, they don’t know how to handle (playing hard all the time),” a second scout said. “When they get here the volume picks up and they have more working hours and they become a little bit better. He had the same issues. I don’t think he’s as talented as the Star guy from Utah, but I tell you what, he plays with a good base, and he plays square. But he’s a little hot and cold too, doesn’t play away from the ball real good.” Has long arms for his height (343/4 inches), did not work out at the combine because of a hamstring injury, and at his campus workout reportedly ran the 40 in 5.08 seconds and did 29 bench reps. “He has good movement on stunts,” a third scout said. “It’s hard for him to make a play when he gets back there, but he wins when they’re moving him.”
7. Tank Carradine, Florida State 6-41/8, 276, Round 2
Had 11 sacks before he tore the ACL of his right knee last Nov. 24. “He’s not going to be ready until November, he won’t be ready for training camp,” one scout said. “You’re going to have to redshirt him. But he’s got some stuff. He’s a big, good looking guy now. Probably better than the other end (Florida State end/outside linebacker Bjoern Werner) athletically.” Had 26 sacks in two seasons at Butler (Kans.) Community College, then 51/2 sacks as a backup in ’11. Fits best as a 4-3 left end but might be able to add weight to go with excellent arm length (343/4 inches) and be a 3-4 end and inside rusher. “I like the Tank,” a second scout said. “When I got down there, he didn’t work out, but he’s a big, good looking kid. He’s got some athletic ability and some upside. It’s getting him in the right position, a good scheme fit for him. (He’s 276 but) he looks like he weighs to 290.”
8. Jordan Hill, Penn State, 6-11/4, 303, Rounds 3-4
A short inside player who better fits a 4-3 than 3-4. In his last two seasons combined had good numbers for an interior lineman (161/2 tackles for loss and eight sacks) but performed shockingly poorly in physical testing (5.23 seconds in the 40, 221/2-inch vertical). Improved his vertical to 30 inches at his Pro Day. “He made play after play,” one scout said. “In the Senior Bowl he played really well, and then you look at his combine numbers and they’re maybe the worst. He’s slow and small, his vertical jump was awful. Watching film on him he’s just a good player making plays.”
9. Bennie Logan, LSU, 6-17/8, 309, Rounds 3-4
Redshirt junior entry is short for a 3-4 end and fits best as a 4-3 tackle. Similar to Hill but probably not quite as good a player. Was productive in two seasons as a starter (12 tackles for a loss and five) but showed poor athleticism in testing (25-inch vertical jump) at the combine, improved it slightly (28 inches) at his campus workout. Didn’t run the 40 at the combine or on his Pro Day because of a hamstring injury. Did 30 bench reps. “He’s not very dynamic, he’s not quick, sudden or explosive,” a scout said. “But he’s big and smart and can find the ball. Strong, has long (34-inch) arms. Tough to knock off the ball. Will never be a pass rusher.”
10. William Gholston, Michigan State, 6-61/4, 281, Rounds 3-4
Junior entry was highly recruited coming out of high school in Michigan and has an ideal build for a 3-4 end with his 6-6-plus height, 34-inch arms and 103/8-inch hands. But there are major questions about his maturity and effort. Had anger issues earlier in his career and was suspended for a game in ’11 after punching a Michigan offensive lineman and twisting Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson’s head by the facemask at the end of another play. Is the cousin of one of the NFL draft’s recent major busts, linebacker Vernon Gholston, who was the No. 6 pick overall in 2008 and had zero sacks in a three-year NFL career. In two years as a starter had 291/2 tackles for loss and 91/2 sacks. “This guy’s pretty much the same way (as his cousin),” a scout said. “He’s not as talented as Vernon, but he’s just not a very good football player. I think he played good his first couple years – a (former teammate) told me that as a freshman he was a heavily recruited guy but never panned out. Great looking guy.”
1. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina, 6-25/8, 313, Rounds 1-2
Junior-college transfer has more of a nose tackle build, but despite lacking the preferred height of a 3-4 end appears to be athletic enough to play there as well. “Now he’s not 6-5 and 282 pounds,” one scout said, “but when you put him inside (in a 3-4) he can play a couple different spots. If you play three-man line he can play outside as a rusher. There’s a lot of versatility with the guy. He plays with great effort, he’s got the strength, he chases the ball, plays with his hands. Someone’s going to get a really good player there, probably late one, early two.” Hasn’t played a lot of football – only his senior year in high school, then went to work in a manufacturing job before deciding to try football at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. Had 201/2 tackles for loss and 81/2 sacks in two seasons at North Carolina. “The coaches over there I know raved about him,” another scout said. “They thought the kid played hard and was good. In the Senior Bowl he was OK, didn’t think he was great. I thought he struggled and labored to get to the quarterback.” Ran a good 40 (5.03 seconds) and had an OK vertical (261/2 inches) for a 313-pound man, and did 27 bench reps. “He has some natural pass rush ability, he’s got good upper body strength,” a third scout said. “He’s got a good motor but he’s got to buy in and every single play go get it. I saw plays where he was just kinda going and not really gettin’ it.”
2. Jesse Williams, Alabama, 6-33/8, 323, Rounds 1-2
Played rugby and basketball growing up in Australia before switching to football in high school in that country. Played a year at an Arizona junior college before transferring to Alabama. Should be able to play nose tackle and end in a 3-4 scheme. “Probably better for a 3-4,” a scout said. “You don’t like the way he plays or looks particularly, but he makes a million tackles. They worked the (crap) out of him (at his Pro Day) and he just kept working, so he’s a lot more impressive – the more you dig into it, the better player you see.” Stronger in the upper body than his solid 30 bench reps suggests, and ran an excellent 40 (reportedly 4.92 seconds at his Pro Day) for his size. Only had three sacks in two years at Alabama and has short (32-inch) arms, so some scouts question his ability to do anything but bull rush, though others think he’s quick enough. “He’s going to be just fine (as a rusher),” another scout said. “There’s people who think he could play as a three technique on the outside shoulder of the guard and get up field, he’s got that much quickness. He’s a funny built guy, a big upper body and thin lower legs, thin legs. He’s built almost like a track athlete.”
3. Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State, 6-27/8, 320, Rounds 1-2
True junior entry with the squatty, chunky build of a nose tackle, though he has enough awareness and ability to play a little as a 3-4 end. “I like him,” a scout for a 3-4 team said. “I thought he was just a solid player. He had some hot and cold, but I thought he was solid, and he plays smart.” Two-year starter had only four sacks but made 15 tackles for a loss in ’11 and ’12 combined. “He’s a big guy, but I didn’t see a whole hell of a lot of plays out of him,” a second scout said. “He’s 323 pounds. Some of those guys you watch are making play after play after play, I didn’t see enough of that out of him.” Had a 5.31-second 40 and 26-inch vertical. “I don’t like Hankins, a big 3-4 slug guy,” said a scout from a 4-3 team. “I’ve been wrong before. Somebody that plays 3-4, just put him on the nose.”
4. John Jenkins, Georgia, 6-35/8, 343, Round 2
Junior college transfer is a prototypical space-eating nose tackle. Weighed up to 370 pounds during the season but has dropped 25 or more pounds in the offseason. “He’s poor fundamentally,” a scout said. “He plays too narrow to be as big as he is, but I see a football player in there. The one thing that impressed me about him, since the Senior Bowl to the combine to his workout, he’s really improved. He’s lost weight, he’s in better shape. At the Senior Bowl the coach worked their (butts) off one day, and I thought he’d be the first one to give up, but he fought through it. There’s little things that flash. Is he a top pick? No. He’s a big body.” Played in a defensive tackle rotation and had eight tackles for loss and four sacks the last two years. “He’s pretty active,” another scout said. “I’ve watched him against some pretty good (offensive linemen), like the Alabama guys, and he gave them a little trouble – not a lot of trouble, but a little. Not a sideline to sideline guy, gets up the field, but he’s got to beat you right now or he’s bull rushing you.” Had vertical jump of 241/2 inches, ran the 40 in 5.20 seconds and did 30 bench reps. “He’s a fixer upper to me,” a third scout said. “Just get him a little bit square and a little better footwork. Why is he all of a sudden losing weight and doing better in his workouts and all that? Because he’s getting close to the NFL. If he’s going to keep doing that, I think the guy’s got a football player in him.”
5. Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern, 6-11/4, 335, Round 3
Three-time Division II all-America had a school record 27 sacks plus 521/2 tackles for loss in his four-year career. Showed at the Senior Bowl he could play against top competition. “A wide hipped guy,” one scout said. “Would use strength, power and leverage in the run game, absorb double teams.” Has the athletic versatility and bulk to play nose tackle and end in a 3-4, though lack of height could be a liability at end. Probably fits better as a tackle in a 4-3 scheme. Some scouts think he can be a productive inside rusher, others don’t see it. “His length is going to hurt him,” another scout said, “but he’s a little bit of a natural-instinct player and a big, square kid.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.