1. JOHN HENDERSON
Tennessee (6-7, 295; 4.85)
Strengths: Combination of strength and balance almost has to be seen to be believed, especially when he's on the dead run. Can get chopped at the leg, do a full spin on the run without losing his feet or his head of steam. Launches himself low off the line and gets instant penetration. Is a bull at the point, yet nimble enough to elude the blocker using quickness or brute strength. Gets separation from his opponent almost as an afterthought, especially when single-teamed.
Weaknesses: Gets a little lazy in his technique when the play isn't an obvious run or pass situation. Will get too vertical off the snap. Gets discouraged when he's regularly seeing double and triple teams. Didn't have his best season as a senior after deciding not to declare for the pros after a monster junior season.
Bottom Line: This guy is an all-world talent and clearly one of the best handful of players in this draft. Definite top 10 pick overall, and his ability warrants a top 5 selection.
2. WENDELL BRYANT
Wisconsin (6-4, 302; 4.79)
Strengths: Definitely earns the attention of foes, who constantly double-teamed him at the point. Tremendous strength and doesn't stay anchored to the blocker easily. Surprises you with his quickness at times and has a developed bag of tricks, especially a rip move he uses to get the corner on a guard. Excellent vision enables him to find the ball carrier in trash. Simply cannot be handled 1-on-1 inside on the pass rush and will be in the backfield almost every down. Makes plays sideline to sideline.
Weaknesses: Seems to go through the motions at times when being used as a decoy or in pass drop (zone blitz). Needs to bend his knees more. Is a little too willing to stand up —especially on the pass rush — and his rush is neutralized when he gets too vertical.
Bottom Line: Is the finesse alternative to Henderson, though almost every bit as effective. Definite Pro Bowl potential here.
3. RYAN SIMS
North Carolina (6-4, 291; 4.78)
Strengths: Possesses a good, lean body and wears his weight well. Has some hip shake and can get loose inside against the pass. Can really explode off the line and get past the blocker before he can set up. His athleticism is supreme for an interior DL.
Weaknesses: Needs to be stronger at the point and better about taking on the block, instead of trying to go around it every time. Gets his pads turned too easily and can be moved out of the hole as a result.
Bottom Line: Did some extraordinary things at the Senior Bowl after a stellar season, likely pushing himself into the top half of the first round.
4. ALBERT HAYNESWORTH
Tennessee (6-6, 310; 5.03)
Strengths: Gets through the line quickly and has a lot of spring in his legs. As long as he's on his feet, he's chasing the ball. Never stops and seems to bounce up if he goes down. Very tenacious and really has special arm strength. Seems like he's making something positive happen — whether blocking a pass or pressuring the passer — on nearly every play.
Weaknesses: Started just one season, and is still learning the tricks of the trade. Will need work on turning his ability into pass-rushing production. At times, has leverage problems when he doesn't bend his knees, especially against shorter opponents.
Bottom Line: A future elite presence in the middle of an NFL defense. If he would have returned for his senior season, you likely would be looking at a top 5 pick in 2003.
5. ANTHONY WEAVER
Notre Dame (6-3, 286; 4.95)
Strengths: Runs well, chases well and is comfortable in space. Gets good penetration against the run and consistently disrupts things. Has very good strength. Knows how to play the position — keeps his outside arm free against the run and gets a good surge off the corner vs. the pass. May be as complete a run/pass DL as there is in the country, able to play DE and DT effectively.
Weaknesses: Has lots of fire and will, with a great motor, but doesn't have the super quickness or incredible burst, which are characteristics of most great DL. Lost a lot of momentum his junior year when his play seemed to slip, though he rebounded nicely as a senior. Pure power blockers have the most success against him.
Bottom Line: A bit small, but as complete a player as you'll find with a great record of success.
1. JULIUS PEPPERS
North Carolina (6-6, 280; 4.55)
Strengths: Pure athleticism is almost unrivaled, as we have not seen many 280-plus pounders who can run like safeties and make plays sideline-to-sideline. Awesome closing speed. Tremendous big-play ability as well as innate natural athleticism. Doesn't fall victim to the habit of running straight upfield on every down, and as a result, is effective against the run as well as the pass. Great productivity all three years. Strength in his lower quarters is very impressive. Keeps his feet while staying low — even when not engaged with a blocker. Gets smarter and makes better decisions as the game progresses as he gets a better idea of how he will be game-planned.
Weaknesses: Has enough physical ability to almost never be blocked, but allowed himself to be stalemated too often. Doesn't use a lot of moves and really work to get free if he doesn't have success early on.
Bottom Line: Franchise type DE who has the chance to be a fixture in the Pro Bowl, a la Bruce Smith.
2. BRYAN THOMAS
UAB (6-4, 255; 4.61)
Strengths: Excellent feet and good upper-body strength. Changes directions quickly and doesn't over-pursue automatically when he gets a free run into the backfield. Gets off the line like a bullet and can really give an OT trouble getting into his setup and influencing his charge. Thinks and has a plan — works his blocker inside on one play, then outside the next. Very active in the pass rush and has a great motor.
Weaknesses: Needs to take better routes to the QB. Tends to think pass first; will get his shoulder pads turned at the line too easily. Needs to stay home a little better because he will bite on misdirection.
Bottom Line: Unsung but very talented. If he can put on weight before April, he could climb into the late first round.
3. ALEX BROWN
Florida (6-4, 254; 4.58)
Strengths: On pure ability, is almost as talented as any pass rusher in this draft. At times during his sophomore year, looked unblockable, giving hints of what his pure natural ability enables him to do. A pass-rusher supreme, he has almost the perfect build for the position as well as special acceleration and long arms that allow him to 'get small' off the edge efficiently.
Weaknesses: Thinks pass first on almost every down and rushes upfield, taking himself out of the play against the run. Isn't anything special on sweeps flowing to his side — seems to prefer to let the action pass than to actively try to get in and disrupt it. If a team establishes itself as a power team and he's unable to get off the edge quickly, he'll start taking plays off.
Bottom Line: Looked like a future top-five pick after his sophomore year. As it is, he's still a big-time talent and a likely first-rounder.
4. AKIN AYODELE
Purdue (6-3, 261; 4.64)
Strengths: Very fast and covers the full line, coming fast from the backside. Very fluid athlete with little wasted motion — runs like a deer. Really gets his hands into the blocker off the snap so he can control him and knows how to play the position. Really turns it on in crunch time. When he can pin his ears back, he couldn't be stopped by just one blocker at the college level.
Weaknesses: Though he's gained enough weight to be stout at the point, still tries to take an outside lane around the block instead of taking it on at the point, which can be very costly at times vs. runs inside. While very fast, has lost some speed and zip since bulking up and may have trouble holding all the weight over a 16-game season, as he's still cut high and lean.
Bottom Line: Has a few question marks, but is a solid player with an esteemed record.
5. WILL OVERSTREET
Tennessee (6-4, 260; 4.68)
Strengths: Really gets out there in pursuit, but runs under control. Covers the field like a LB. Never stops and makes a lot of plays because he has such an all-out motor. Very good balance for a high-cut player. Has several moves and can get free with all of them. Takes instruction well and has a good attitude.
Weaknesses: Relies on the bull rush too often and doesn't have the pure strength to make it effective against every blocker. Much more of an edge-rusher than a guy who can take on the play at the point efficiently. Was dogged by injuries at UT.
Bottom Line: Good nuts-and-bolts, blue-collar worker who won't let you down.