With the Texans using the number one overall pick last year on defensive end Mario Williams, it's not likely they will spend a high pick on a defensive line prospect this weekend. However, the increasing reliance on defensive line rotations in the NFL puts an emphasis for any team to build depth in the trenches so it's not entirely out of the question.
Defensive end is arguably the deepest position in the draft with as many as 10 prospects projected to get drafted in the first two rounds, while at defensive tackle, two players stand out amongst an otherwise pedestrian group.
The Crème of the Crop
Gaines Adams (DE – 6-4, 265), Alan Branch (DT – 6-5, 330)
Gaines Adams, the top defensive end prospect in this draft, is the premier pass rushing prospect available. Blessed with a tremendous balance of size and speed, Adams uses his quickness to get off the edge and attack the opposing quarterback.
During his senior season at Clemson, Adams wreaked havoc on ACC backfields registering 12.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. Some teams have concerns about his lack of bulk, but his 6'4'' frame will allow him to add weight if needed. His long arms give him the ability to knock passes down at the line and although he needs to improve defending the running game at the point of attack, his speed allows him to make it up in pursuit of the ball carrier.
Where some senior prospects tend to let their performance tail off if they stay in school, Adams did not. He had the chance to be a first round pick in 2006, but made the right decision and improved his draft stock even more. Rumors have the Lions seriously interested in obtaining Adams to be the primary pass rusher in head coach Rod Marinelli's Cover 2 defense, but even if the Lions go another direction, don't expect to see Adams falling out of the first six picks.
On the interior, Alan Branch is the ideal candidate to be a top nose tackle in the NFL. His huge presence in the middle is rarely seen in a prospect coming out of college, but with more teams changing to the 3-4, a defense predicated on a big nose tackle to keep blockers off of linebackers, Branch carries great value in the league today.
Concerns have been raised about Branch's ability to maintain his weight and his tendency to sometimes disappear during games, but his strength off the ball at the line of scrimmage and his capability of penetrating the opposition's backfield helped Michigan to have one of the top defenses in the country in 2006.
Teams at the top of the draft that employ a 3-4 scheme like Cleveland and San Francisco seem like logical destinations for Branch.
First Round Worthy
Amobi Okoye (DT – 6-2, 302), Adam Carriker (DE – 6-6, 296)
Okoye, a 19-year old defensive tackle prodigy out of Louisville, is perhaps the most intriguing prospect of the draft.
Showing a tremendous balance of pass rush and run stopping ability, Okoye burst onto the scene his senior year with eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss.
Okoye's strength will need to be developed in an NFL weight room and his technique refined, but he has the potential to be the anchor for a team's defensive line for years to come.
Despite his age, Okoye should have the ability to step in immediately and make an impact for teams like Washington, Miami, Buffalo, or even with his old coach Bobby Petrino in Atlanta, a man who should know him better than anyone else.
Adam Carriker is the biggest and best run defender of this year's defensive end class.
Battling through minor injuries his entire career, Carriker still had a productive four years at Nebraska garnering 134 tackles for the Black Shirts. Although better known for his run stopping ability, Carriker was able to use his non-stop motor to rack up 20.5 sacks
Carriker is known for his strong work ethic, superb tackling ability, and versatility which will allow him to play in various defensive fronts at the next level. He compares favorably to Green Bay defensive end Aaron Kampman, who plays in a 4-3 defense currently, but is able to rotate between end and tackle. However, Carriker's place in the NFL will likely be as a 3-4 end and first round selection with a team such as San Francisco or Pittsburgh
The Best of the Rest
Jamaal Anderson (DE- 6-5, 288), Jarvis Moss (DE – 6-6, 250), Justin Harrell (DT – 6-4, 300), Anthony Spencer (6-2, 261)
Jamaal Anderson is close on Adams' heels for the title of best pass rusher in the draft. With outstanding measurables and the athletic ability to make plays all over the field, Anderson could is a defensive coordinator's dream.
The biggest knock on Anderson is his lack of starting experience. In three years, he started less than half of the games he appeared in, but the 13.5 sacks he registered in 2006 will surely entice the right front office to scoop him up sometime in the first round.
One of the best defensive athletes in the draft, Jarvis Moss may be a man without a position. At only 250 pounds, Moss seems destined to move to linebacker unless he can add weight.
As one of the key members of Florida's championship defense, Moss contributed 7.5 sacks and should translate to an outstanding pass rusher at the pro level.
Justin Harrell from Tennessee was projected by many to be a sure-fire first round pick before tearing his bicep tendon and missing a majority of his senior season. Concerns about his health will negatively affect his draft status, but his top character, work ethic, and toughness should overshadow any doubt about Harrell's ability to perform.
Look for Harrell to be taken anywhere from the end of round one to the end of round two.
Anthony Spencer finally stepped onto the national scene during his final campaign at Purdue.
Although he appears to be in a similar situation to Moss, Spencer seems better suited to step in immediately due to his superior instincts and knack for making plays against the run and the pass. Like former Boilermaker Shaun Phillips, who has been a pass-rush terror with the San Diego Chargers, Spencer could step in as a starting outside linebacker immediately in a 3-4 defense or use his pass rush instincts to start off as a specialist in a 4-3 scheme.