O'Hara's Draft Preview: Rating the defensive linemen

Posted Apr 17, 2013

In the fourth installment of his draft preview series, Detroitlions.com columnist Mike O'Hara rates the top defensive linemen available

Sharrif FloydDT Sharrif Floyd
It is fitting that Sharrif Floyd is being compared to Ndamukong Suh. Both play defensive tackle, and they developed a friendship after meeting at an awards banquet three years ago.

When Floyd was asked at the Combine earlier this year if there was a player that he patterned his game after, he mentioned Suh,  who’s had two Pro Bowl seasons in his three years with the Lions.

“I haven’t really watched the league in a long time,” Floyd said. “I first started watching in in 2007, but I did get to know Ndamukong Suh in 2010, so we have a good relationship, and I’ve watched him play a couple of times.

“We were at the Maxwell Awards dinner. That was the year I won high school player of the year, and he was there for college player of the year. We got a chance to sit down and talk a little bit off the field and bounce ideas and thoughts off each other.

“He’s actually exactly the same as I am off the field. I can’t speak for on the field yet. It was just normal conversation – two friends talking.”

Since being drafted second overall by the Lions in 2010, Suh has been an offense-wrecker at defensive tackle. He had a spectacular rookie season with 10 sacks and was voted first-team All-Pro. Suh had a drop-off in 2011 with a performance he rated “indifferent” but bounced back last season to have eight sacks, second most in the league for defensive tackles behind the Bengals’ Geno Atkins, who had 12.5.

Floyd was a three-year player at Florida. He started at end in 2011 as a true sophomore and at tackle in 2012 as a junior. He goes into the draft as one of the top five prospects at any position and easily could be the first defensive player drafted.

This is a deep draft for defensive linemen, but there’s a bit of a puzzle. It’s not because of lack of top-level talent or depth. Just the opposite.

There are a lot of quality players who can be rated at more than one position, depending on how they fit a team’s needs or scheme.

For example, Star Lotulelei of Utah is one of the top-rated tackles, but he also could be an end in a 3-4 scheme. Dion Jordan, Jarvis Jones and Barkevious Mingo are pass-rushers who played outside linebacker in college but could be pass-rushing ends in a 4-3 scheme in the NFL.

If the Lions are looking for a pass-rusher – and they will be because of their needs, even if not with the fifth pick overall – this is a good draft to find one.

At the NFL owners meetings last month, General Manager Martin Mayhew remarked about the depth of pass-rushers in the draft, and how it might have made an impact on free-agent signings.

The Lions’ staff coached the South team at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, and it gave them an up-close look at defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who was on the South team.

His practice week wasn’t special, but he was outstanding in the game. Ansah had 3.5 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks and was voted the game’s Most Valuable Player.

Ansah, who grew up in Ghana, has limited football experience. His athletic skills are not limited, though. At 271 pounds, he was timed in 4.56 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

That should get him to the quarterback in a hurry.

Following are my ratings for the top defensive ends and tackles, in the draft, with comments on each player, and other issues involving where the Lions stand on the position. Each player’s height, weight and time in the 40-yard dash is included.

Defensive ends:

Ziggy AnsahDE Ziggy Ansah

1. Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, Brigham Young, 6-5, 271, 4.56: Got to BYU in 2008 on an academic scholarship, tried out for football in 2010. Did not have a tackle-for-loss or a sack that season. Progressed steadily, and dramatically, and had a big senior season -- 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, nine pass breakups. He has all the physical tools, including long arms and big hands. Experience the only issue.

2. Bjoern Werner, Florida St., 6-3/266 4.81: Born in Berlin and played only two seasons of football in Connecticut before going to Florida State in 2010. Played all 14 games as a true freshman and was a full-time starter the last two seasons with impressive versatility – seven sacks, eight batted passes, an interception and a forced fumble in 2011, and 18 tackles-for-loss, 13 sacks and eight batted passes in 2012. His stock has slipped a little in the offseason. His draft position could be impacted by teams projecting outside linebackers as defensive end.

3. Cornelius “Tank” Carradine, Florida St., 6-4/276, 4.75: Defensive Junior College player of the year before transferring to Florida State in 2011. Tore up the JUCO ranks. In 2012 started at left end opposite Werner and had 11 sacks before going out with a torn knee ligament in the 12th game. Underwent surgery in November.

4. Datone Jones, UCLA, 6-4/283, 4.75: Entered school in 2008 and played as a true freshman. Missed all of 2010 because of a broken foot and remained in school for two more seasons. Played end and tackle on UCLA’s line. In 2012, had 6.5 sacks, two blocked kicks, a safety and a seven-yard TD catch.

5. Margus Hunt, SMU, 6-8/277: 4.53: A native of Estonia, where he excelled in the field events – shot put, discus and hammer throw in world junior competition. Went to SMU for track and switched to football when SMU dropped track. First season of football was 2009, and he used his ability to lead the NCAA with seven blocked kicks. Holds NCAA record with 17 career blocks. Had eight sacks as a full-time starter in 2012. Impressive athlete, but his skills don’t always transfer to production.

6. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M, 6-5/250, 4.84: His stock has slipped after being ranked near the top of the list going into the offseason. His workouts have been unimpressive. He played behind Denver Broncos star Von Miller in 2010 as a true freshman but blossomed quickly after Miller left for the pros in 2011 – 17.5 tackles-for-loss and 8.5 sacks in 2011, 21 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks in 2012.

7. Sam Montgomery, LSU, 6-3/262, 4.78: A redshirt in 2009 and missed half of 2010 because of a knee injury, but got on a roll in the last two seasons – 17 sacks and 26.5 tackles-for-loss. Primarily a right end.

8. Alex Okafor, Texas, 6-5/264, 4.92: Was used at defensive end as a freshman in 2009 but played more as an undersized tackle in 2010. Back at end the last two years, he had 19.5 sacks. His size makes him an end in the pros.

Defensive tackles:

1. Sharrif Floyd, Florida, 6-3/297, 4.87: Tremendously productive athlete who might be a slightly smaller version of Ndamukong Suh. Played all 13 games for the Gators as a true freshman in 2010, with two starts. Eleven starts at defensive end in 2011, and led the team in 2012 with 13 tackles for loss after being moved inside to tackle. Easily could be drafted in the top four.

2. Star Lotulelei, Utah, 6-3/311, 5.41: Went to Snow College in Utah in 2008 and transferred to Utah in 2010. Played at Snow in ’08 but not in ’09. As a full-time starter at Utah in 2011 he shared the Morris Award with Southern Cal’s Matt Kalil as the Pac-12’s top lineman. Had 10 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, four batted passes and three forced fumbles in 2012. A heart condition prevented him from participating in Combine drills, but that has been cleared up.

3. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri, 6-3/296, 4.96: Also played tight end in high school in St. Louis. Spent his first two seasons at the College of the Sequoias in California. Transferred to Missouri in 2011 after red-shirting in 2010 because of a wrist injury. Started 11 games in 2012, missing one game because of a team-mandated suspension. Good athlete, but his size is not quite up to NFL standards for defensive tackle.

4. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina, 6-3/313, 4.99: He took a long route to football. Played one season of high school football, then took a job with a manufacturing company. Back in football for two seasons in junior college, enrolled at North Carolina in 2011 and was an instant starter. He has good athletic skills and production – 20.5 tackles-for-loss in two years and six sacks in 2012.

5. Kawann Short, Purdue, 6-3/299, 5.09: Played on an Indiana state high school basketball championship team before enrolling at Purdue in 2008. After a red-shirt season was a full-time starter for four seasons (2009-12). Holds Purdue’s career record with eight blocked kicks and had 15 tackles-for-loss in 2012.

6. Johnathan  Hankins, Ohio St., 6-3/320, 5.28: Played at Detroit Southeastern High, a three-year player at OSU and fit into the rotation as a freshman in 2010. Started 13 games in 2011 and was named the Buckeyes’ outstanding defensive lineman, with 11 tackles-for-loss and three sacks. Best suited for nose tackle.

Other defensive ends: Lavar Edwards, LSU; John Simon, Ohio St.; Mallichiah Goodman, Clemson; Cornelius Washington, Georgia; William Gholston, Michigan St.; Cornelius Washington, Georgia; Devin Taylor, South Caroliina.

Other defensive tackles: Jesse Williams, Alabama;  John Jenkins, Georgia; Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern; Akeem Spence, Illinois; Jordan Hill, Penn St.; Nicholas Williams, Samford; Montori Hughes, Tennessee-Martin.

Lions depth chart: The strength is in the middle at tackle, with starters Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley returning. C.J. Mosley was signed as a free agent to add depth. Ogemdi Nwagbuo of Michiga State, signed late last season, has previous NFL experience with the Chargers and Panthers in three previous pro seasons.

Jason Jones was signed as a free agent to start at left end and is the only veteran on the roster with substantial starting experience at end. Cliff Avril signed with Seattle, Kyle Vanden Bosch was released, and Lawrence Jackson remains unsigned as a free agent. Ronnell Lewis, a fourth-round draft pick last season, and Willie Young are back. Neither had a sack in 2012, and Lewis played only one snap on defense.

Lions draft possibility: They will draft a pass-rusher at some point, perhaps even with the fifth pick in the first round. The draft is deep enough that they could get one with their second-round pick – 36th overall.