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Defensive tackles strongest in a decade

University of Georgia defensive tackle Richard Seymour (93).
University of Georgia defensive tackle Richard Seymour (93).

This year's defensive tackle class is the strongest position on that side of the ball and the best group of prospects at the position in more than a decade.

There could be five defensive tackles selected in the first round with at least 10 among the top 100 picks. Tackles Gerard Warren (Florida) and Richard Seymour (Georgia) are expected to go in the top 10 with Marcus Stroud (Georgia) to follow soon after in the middle of the first round. With every club except the Steelers and possibly the Patriots playing the standard 4-3 set, tackle is a critical spot on a club's front line. This class will probably see 20 prospects drafted over the seven rounds

This year's defensive end class is comprised mainly of smaller one-dimensional pass rushing players. Missouri's Justin Smith is the one prospect with the complete package NFL clubs seek in a defensive end and will most likely go in the top five. As a junior, he is not a fully developed player at this point but has the athletic ability to be a top NFL defender within a short period.

Two other ends carry first-round grades — Florida State's Jamal Reynolds and California's Andre Carter. They will most likely be off the board by the middle of the round. Both defenders lack the size to be every down defenders early in their careers.

Southern Mississippi's Cedric Scott has the size to be a complete player but needs work on his pass rushing moves. Oregon State's DeLawrence Grant is the fastest rising defensive player this season, combining the quickness off the edge to be a solid pass rusher with the additional weight and bulk to be more stout in run support.

Several defenders like TCU's Aaron Schodel, Iowa State's Reggie Hayward, Mississippi's Derrick Burgess, Minnesota's Karon Riley, Nebraska's Kyle Vanden Bosch and Florida State's Roland Seymour could go in the first round but are strictly one-dimensional pass rushers at this point of their development.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

1. Gerard Warren 6-4, 325 lbs. Florida

Explosive junior tackle has been an anchor on the Gators front line since his freshman season. He gets an explosive surge in the middle that has allowed him to disrupt the ground game consistently over his career. He has a strong base and plays with sound leverage that makes him difficult to move in the middle. He gets a good push as a bull rusher, but needs further work on his pass rushing moves. He'll be gone when the Patriots are on the board at No. 6.

2. Richard Seymour 6-6, 299 lbs. Georgia

Athletic senior tackle has been one of the most productive linemen in the nation over the past three seasons. He has excellent mobility and footwork combined with the size and functional strength to play both the run and pass well. He may have the best package of athletic ability of any defensive linemen in this class. He is capable of playing both inside at tackle or the strong side end position. He'll be a top 10 selection.

3. Marcus Stroud 6-6, 317 lbs. Georgia

Powerful tackle has been a force in the middle for the Bulldogs the past three seasons. He uses his huge wingspan to deflect passes. He also is a powerful bull rusher with the ability to collapse the pocket and force passers to run with the ball. He needs work on his hand and arm technique to separate faster but has the athletic talent to become an impact defender in the NFL.

4. Shaun Rogers 6-4, 330 lbs. Texas

Huge senior tackle has the package NFL clubs look for in an interior defender — bulk, mobility and strength. He has carried an underachiever label most of his career, but has flashed big-time ability often enough to draw the attention of scouts. He has the combination of speed and power on the inside to be a dangerous sack artist. He is similar to Chester McGlockton in size, athleticism and periods of inconsistencies. Give him a late first-round grade.

5. Damione Lewis 6-3, 290 lbs. Miami (Fla.)

Quick tackle has been a force on the inside since his freshman season. He is very quick on the snap and has the ability to gain fast penetration into the backfield. He has the mobility and speed to make plays along the line and on the sidelines. He is similar to Russell Maryland in size and athleticism and has been effective as a pass rusher, showing the upfield burst of speed to get to the passer. He should be a late first-round selection.

DEFENSIVE ENDS

1. Justin Smith 6-4, 267 lbs. Missouri

Rugged junior end is the most complete prospect in this draft class. He is still improving as a defender but has the package to sack the passer and play tough at the point of attack in run support. He had a strong offseason workout program that will probably push him into the top five. He is one of the few players at this position that is capable of being an every down defender at the next level.

2. Jamal Reynolds 6-3, 267 lbs. Florida State

Lightning quick outside pass rusher has the fastest first step on the snap in this class. He has an array of pass rushing moves which combined with his linebacker type speed allows him to get up the field quickly and harass the passer. He is suspect at the point of attack in run support and needs a creative scheme like the Titans' Jevon Kearse to fully utilize his ability. He could go in the top 10 picks or at worst, be off the board by the middle of the first round.

3. Andre Carter 6-4, 250 lbs. California

Athletic senior defender failed to step up in the postseason and distinguish himself in any phase of the evaluation process. He checked in at the NFL Combine at only 249 pounds, which left doubts about his ability to be an every down defender. He is a fine athlete and plays big in run support despite his marginal size. He has the upfield speed to get after the passer but needs further development in that area. Projects to a middle first-round selection, though he is a falling prospect at this point.

4. Cedric Scott 6-5, 281 lbs. Southern Mississippi

Physical defensive end combines fine size and athleticism to play the strong side end position. He has nice mobility to make plays along the line and has the physical power to hold the point of attack well. He has enough upfield speed to be a factor as a pass rusher but he too needs further development in that area. He figures to go at some point in the second round.

5. DeLawrence Grant, 6-3, 275 lbs. Oregon State

Another fast rising Beaver whose offseason has him flying up the draft charts. Grant had an impressive senior season and an even bigger offseason that has pushed him into the top 50 prospects. He has put on 20 pounds and retained his fine 4.7 speed. He has the quick first step off the edge that clubs look for in a defender for the standard 4-3 set. He needs improvement as a run stopper but has the package to be an every-down defender within a short period.

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