Monday, April 14, 2003
Updated: April 17, 9:49 AM ET
Robertson stands out among DLs
By Len Pasquarelli
Here is how ESPN.com rates the top 15 defensive linemen prospects in the draft:
Vital statistics: 6-feet-1 3/8, 317 pounds, 4.84 in the 40.
Numbers game: Early entry junior started all three years for Wildcats, except for injuries in 2001, and finished with 114 tackles and nine sacks. Really blossomed in '02, posted 48 tackles, five sacks.
Upside: While his stats aren't earth-shattering, has skyrocketed up draft boards in last two months, and should be first defensive linemen chosen. Wide, squat body but very strong and deceptively quick through the gaps. When he's got his "A" game, very disruptive, can dominate for stretches, and is starting to come on as a pass rusher.
Downer: Not nearly as tall as most teams like and sometimes gets a bit too thick through the butt and thighs. Needs to use his hands better. Will stack people inside but doesn't get outside the tackle box very often.
The dish: There are teams who feel like he is better coming into the league than Warren Sapp was in 1995. Excellent player who keeps getting better every season and could go as early as the fourth overall selection.
Vital statistics: 6-feet-3 3/8, 262 pounds, 4.86 in the 40.
Numbers game: Another defensive lineman who bypassed senior season, but some guys couldn't post his kind of numbers if they played eight years. Had 44 sacks in three seasons, including an NCAA-record 24 in 2002, and totaled 63 ½ tackles for loss in his career.
Upside: Monster pass-rusher who just flies off the edge, flattens out at the quarterback, makes a ton of big plays. Unlike some speed-rushers, seems to have developed a few counter moves and inside spin techniques. Has that natural heat-seeking missile mentality great sack artists possess. Despite his pedestrian 40-yard times, scouts still love his explosive first couple steps. Can chase down a lot of plays from the backside.
Downer: His poor workout on March 26 dented the aura that surrounded him a little and some teams now question just how quick he really is as an outside player. Continues to have problems keeping on weight, might be too small to anchor against the run, and might be best suited to playing the rush linebacker position in a 3-4 alignment.
The dish: The late skepticism aside, anyone who gets 44 sacks in three years and 24 in one season, no matter the level of competition, has to be awfully good. He might drop a little but, the naysayers notwithstanding, Suggs is still a top 6-7 choice.
Vital statistics: 6-feet-4, 322 pounds, 5.22 in the 40.
Numbers game: Redshirted as freshman, then started full-time in three of next four seasons, and averaged 55.4 tackles. Had 39 tackles for loss, with 16 of those as a senior and 14 sacks in his career, and also was very good at blocking field goals.
Upside: Prototype size and power for the position, can just neutralize the entire inside area, between the guard boxes. Strong enough to command a lot of double-team blocking and some skills at playing the "3" technique. Comes off the ball quickly and, when motivated, will chase down plays. Durable, hard worker in the weight room, rarely on the ground.
Downer: At various times in his career, has allowed his weight to get out of control, although not in past two years. Stamina and concentration were big concerns earlier in his career. Not very polished as a pass rusher and might be just a two-down player against the run.
The dish: Has slipped a bit in the past month, but hardly out of the top 10-12, and should be a terrific player in the NFL if he continues to focus on the game and on keeping his weight at its current level. There are clubs, though, that have him rated as low as the third- to fifth-best tackle prospect.
Vital statistics: 6-feet-4 7/8, 304 pounds, 4.82 in the 40.
Numbers game: After a redshirt season, started in 43 of 46 games over the ensuing four years, and kept improving every campaign. Tackle and sack numbers literally improved every season, and he totaled 160 tackles and 18 sacks for his career. Had career-best 61 tackles and seven sacks in '02.
Upside: Long arms and even longer on potential. Combine workout just blew the scouts away. Runs well for a big man, has nice quickness, and really good feet that get him away from the trash and into a playmaking position. Good closing speed. Strong enough in the hands to win many of the in-fighting wars. Has three children and appears very motivated to provide for his family.
Downer: Despite his size, actually looks a little lean, and might not have the natural bulk teams want at tackle these days. A little stiff and doesn't yet play with pad level and leverage. Still needs some pass-rush moves, since he won't get it done with quickness alone.
The dish: A late bloomer who really turned heads in the postseason. Might be best suited to playing the strong-side end spot, since so many teams lack a legitimate 300-pounder at the position. Has worked hard and it will pay off with him being a first-round selection.
Vital statistics: 6-feet-3 1/8, 313 pounds, 4.92 in the 40.
Numbers game: One of several Bulldogs defenders to bypass his senior year. Started in two of three seasons in Athens, had 154 tackles, with 75 of those coming in 2002. Recorded nine sacks for career and actually had three interceptions in '01, when he occasionally lined up at end.
Upside: Strong enough to bull-rush people and athletic enough to display nice change-of-direction skills that enable him to pursue the ball. Just a natural flow to his game, seems to diagnose and anticipate where a play is going, and gets himself into position. Will take on, and often defeat, the double-team block and occasionally gets through a gap cleanly.
Downer: Has a soft-looking body and, because he reads plays so well, gives the impression he isn't going full-bore all the time. Doesn't get off the ball with great explosiveness. Has some trouble redirecting and, when forced out in space, will miss tackles.
The dish: Although he needs to get his motor revving a little higher, will be the third Georgia defensive tackle selected in the first round in the past three drafts. Should go off the board in middle portion of opening round.
Vital statistics: 6-feet-2, 264 pounds, 4.71 in the 40.
Numbers game: Itinerant career included stints at two junior colleges and a redshirt season before settling in as two-year starter in 2001. Finished career with 112 tackles, 28 ½ of them for losses, and had seven sacks each in 2001 and 2002.
Upside: Explosive first step can carry him into the backfield and, once there, corners naturally to the quarterback. Demonstrates nice closing speed. Not just an upfield rusher, since he owns some nifty counter moves, and can spin inside when the edge is cut off from him. Has a little more power than most people expect and, on occasion, will surprise a tackle with a bull-rush move.
Downer: Not very big and, while he isn't consistently knocked off the line of scrimmage, doesn't play the run as well as he'll have at the next level. Has gotten by much of his career on natural skills and needs to work harder on technique and not be a stranger to the weight room. Not self-motivated.
The dish: Didn't start playing hard in '02 until the Hurricanes head coaches lit a bonfire under him. Has to be nudged a bit. But in a poor year for ends, teams just beyond the top 10 really like him, and he figures to be off the board at about the halfway point of the first round.
Vital statistics: 6-feet-3 5/8, 281 pounds, 4.73 in the 40.
Numbers game: Former backup to Cleveland Browns end Courtney Brown, moved into starting lineup full-time in 2001. Had breakout season in 2002, when his 80 tackles and 15 sacks actually bettered his combined totals from his first three seasons. Also forced seven fumbles last year.
Upside: Good quickness, another guy blessed with natural "edge" skills, can beat the tackle with his initial move. Big hitter who will impact the passer with everything he has, and tries to force the fumble, either with the force of the collision or by going for the throwing arm. Doesn't always look as if he is chasing the ball but, slow down the tape, and he's in a lot of frames. More active than he appears and will make game-altering plays.
Downer: Not yet strong enough and, when a tackle locks on him, he'll get ridden upfield and beyond the quarterback. Despite his quickness, not a natural closer. Will need to refine some counter moves and learn to work his way inside of blockers. A little bit of a guesser.
The dish: Bounced back from an ordinary combine performance and is once again viewed as a first-round prospect. Scouts mixed over whether he or McDougle will be the first end to go after Suggs is off the board.
Vital statistics: 6-feet-5, 308 pounds, 4.99 in the 40.
Numbers game: Redshirted as a freshman, then started four straight years, and averaged 49.5 tackles, with career-best of 61 in 2001. Had 19 ½ sacks, but 10 of those came in '01 and he was less productive last season.
Upside: Superb natural athleticism, has great tools for a big man, a complete package when he wants to be. Has dramatically improved his rush skills in the past two years and, if he gets his hands on a lineman and can redirect the initial surge, can bottle up the run. Surprisingly quick feet and able to run around some plays and still make the stop. Very aware player, seems to have a feel for where the ball is going.
Downer: Another former Hurricanes standout who has to be prodded into becoming the dominating player he should be most times. Coming off a tremendous 2001 season, started very slowly last season, and it looked at times as if he was saving himself for the draft. No one can question his toughness but he isn't particularly nasty.
The dish: He'll go in the first round, but probably lower than he should, because teams are really split on him. Given his skills, should be a top 10 selection, but don't bet on it. Too hard to pass on if he slips down to the middle of the first round but even the team that takes him might hold its breath. Needs to get things cranked up.
Vital statistics: 6-feet-4 3/8, 273 pounds, 4.71 in the 40.
Numbers game: Played all four seasons and was a starter for 2 ½ years, but missed some games because of shoulder and hamstring injuries. Totaled 13 sacks for his career, with seven of them coming in 2002.
Upside: Great smarts on and off the field, a 3.7 GPA in finance, and a guy whose character is a huge plus. Natural leader around whom others rally up. More technician than great athlete, has worked hard on game's nuances, and that has helped make up for lack of natural athleticism. Really uses hands well, counters nicely, just has a knack for getting to the ball. Intense and competitive, reminds people of former Cornhuskers star and current Rams starting right end Grant Wistrom.
Downer: Doesn't have great quickness and, because he lacks size, that could be a problem for a player expected to get upfield. Rarely out of a play, since he doesn't stay engaged very long, but doesn't make many big plays, either. Past injuries, shoulder surgery after the 2001 season and a torn hamstring that cost him five games in '02, are a concern. Hasn't been a double-digit sack guy at the college level.
The dish: Scouts love his motor and his workouts have been terrific. It's easy to fall in love with a prospect who plays as hard as he does, and that is precisely what could get him into the first round.
Vital statistics: 6-feet-3 1/8, 298 pounds, 4.80 in the 40 (estimated).
Numbers game: Played all four seasons but didn't move into lineup full-time until the first month of his junior year. Really flourished in 2002, as he had career-highs in tackles (43) and sacks (six).
Upside: Strong and thick throughout the lower body and knows how to use his muscle. Powerful in the hands and can win the closed-space in-fighting battles when he lines up at tackle. Instinctive and aware. Moves with a nice economy, doesn't often make a misstep, closes well on the ball. Plays hard all the time and, while his numbers sometimes don't add up, a good worker.
Downer: Might not be quite strong enough to play tackle full-time or quick enough for end. Kind of an in-between defender. Because he didn't run at the combine, and then pulled a hamstring during his campus audition, clubs don't have a recent read on his 40 time.
The dish: Not a flashy player, and doesn't really have a position yet that he can call home. But if there is the anticipated run on defensive linemen in the first round, he might get pulled up into the bottom quadrant of the stanza. No worse than a prospect for the top half of the second round.
Vital statistics: 6-feet-6 1/8, 277 pounds, 4.67 in the 40.
Numbers game: Combined for 106 tackles, 11 of them for losses, and 11 ½ sacks in his two years as a starter. Played in all four seasons, but not much productivity in first two years, then really came on strong senior year.
Upside: Lean and angular defender who can squeeze through the creases, find the ball, make a play. Big heart and a dedicated performer who will do whatever it takes to be a factor at the professional level. Unlike some guys with his physical dimension, doesn't look clumsy running or make change of direction moves, and his linear speed is superb.
Downer: Has played both end and tackle, more of the latter, and hasn't yet settled in at one position. His frame is so narrow, and he is so light in the back end, that he almost has to play end in the NFL. For all his straightline speed, isn't especially quick, and doesn't burst to the ball.
The dish: Most teams regard him as a second-round prospect but some of his workouts have been so good lately that he might sneak into the first go-around. A guy who has overcome some physical limitations and just makes himself too hard to overlook.
Vital statistics: 6-feet-4, 269 pounds, 4.67 in the 40.
Numbers game: Started for most of his final three seasons and, in that period, had 184 tackles and 27 sacks. Very consistent sack totals, with nine in 2000, then 10 in '01, and eight in '02. Over final two seasons, registered 40 tackles for losses.
Upside: Unlike some of the outside players in the 2003 talent pool, has not experienced any trouble keeping his weight up, and has maintained his very quick 40-yard times. Nifty feet, can jump around some plays, and still get in on the action. Not a quick-twitch rusher, but comes off hard, and can get to the passer. Has actually performed more than adequately in the linebacker drills for those teams who wanted him to do them.
Downer: Coming off a broken fibula suffered in the season finale, but has recovered well, according to team physicians. An angular player who does not play the run as well as he will in time. If some team selects him to play linebacker in a 3-4, will need a period of adjustment.
The dish: Of particular interest to the 3-4 teams in the league. Has made a nice move up most draft boards in the past month. Probably a second-round pick but no one should be overly surprised if he goes in the first. After all, it just takes one team to like you, and there are several intrigued by him.
Vital statistics: 6-feet-4 5/8, 307 pounds, 5.03 in the 40.
Numbers game: Lettered, at age 18, as redshirt freshman in 1999. Over his final three seasons, averaged 43.7 tackles and totaled 13 ½ sacks. Best year came in 2002, when he had 52 tackles, with 12 of them resulting in losses.
Upside: Worked hard since the end of the 2002 season to get his weight under control and catch the scouts' eyes. Can play tackle, nose tackle and maybe even left defensive end. Deceptively athletic and moves pretty good for a big man. When he is into the game, and totally focused, is capable of taking over for short stretches.
Downer: At this point of his career, still just leaning into blockers instead of trying to control them, and will have to use his hands and leverage better. Is not a guy who disengages very well or instinctively finds the ball. Not very quick coming off the ball. Isn't a tackle who will disrupt many plays.
The dish: Another lineman who could get pushed into the first round if a lot of players at the position go off the board quickly. Has impressed scouts in his recent workouts. If he keeps his weight down, and his enthusiasm up, should be a solid if unspectacular player.
Vital statistics: 6-feet-6 1/8, 303 pounds, 5.16 in the 40.
Numbers game: Claimed the Outland Trophy in 2002 when he recorded 52 tackles and 13 sacks. Two-year starter who redshirted freshman season, then played a year as a backup. Only had four sacks in his first two seasons.
Upside: Huge frame and long torso, could probably add another 15 pounds and no one would notice. Strong lower body and isn't often knocked off his feet. Can handle the double-team blocks and, if he gets into the backfield, has enough speed to close on the quarterback. When he stays low and keeps his pads down, can be a solid player.
Downer: Lacks some functional football strength and will need to get a lot stronger in the upper body. When his first move is to stand up, he loses all semblance of leverage, and can't anchor against the run then. Although he never stops chasing the ball, struggles to redirect, and just isn't very fluid. Hasn't had much exposure to football and that can be good or bad.
The dish: Looked stiff and disinterested at the combine workouts and most of the scouts panned him mercilessly there. Didn't take offseason seriously enough and undertrained. But the people who think a guy with his natural size is going to slip beyond the second round are nuts. Might be best suited to playing end in a 3-4 front.
Vital statistics: 6-feet-4, 279 pounds, 4.78 in the 40.
Numbers game: Played all four seasons, was named conference freshman of the year in 1999, and started 2000-2002. Most productive season was as a senior, when he registered 76 tackles and 8 ½ sacks.
Upside: Tough and durable defender, has always demonstrated passion for the game, won't take any snaps off. Good strength, although not a naturally powerful player, but can lock on and fend off the initial block. Solid versus the run and knows the leverage game.
Downer: Not a natural right end because he lacks true quickness off the edge and isn't a very polished pass rusher. Probably better suited to playing the left end spot but lacks bulk to consistently anchor against the run. Lots of sizzle but doesn't make many big plays.
The dish: Projected by some observers as a first-round choice but likely to last into the second round. Solid player who should be a rotational player in his rookie season. Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.