NFL Draft preview: A look at the top defensive line prospects

US PRESSWIREMemphis Tigers defensive lineman Dontari Poe takes a break during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

There aren’t many position groupings in the NFL Draft that are judged by their versatility like defensive linemen. you have defensive ends that can project to 3-4 outside linebackers, and defensive tackles who need to be able to play with a hand in the dirt, then bounce across the line, depending on the scheme.

This year’s class has some solid options on both ends, with at least three, and up to six, NFL-ready prospects that are first-round eligible and can have an effect right away.

Few, though, made the same kind of splash as Memphis tackle Dontari Poe, who will be the most interesting commodity heading into the NFL Draft. his combine showing, which included a position-leading 44 reps on the bench press and a sub-5 second 40-yard dash, vaulted him from middle-of-the-road prospect to potential top 10 selection, depending on how much teams are willing to overlook some gaffes on tape.


For interior linemen, it’s something that Jets head coach Rex Ryan has said time and time again over the past few years. it doesn’t get much better than Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Similarly are Miami’s Paul Soliai and more recently, Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh. On the outside — judging solely by the past few years — Brian Orakpo and Jason Pierre-Paul define the mold, and overall versatility, that defensive coordinators are looking for at the position.


Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State6-4, 298 π 40 Time: 4.80Watching Fletcher Cox on film, you see a player that looks just as natural over center as he does splitting out and rushing a left tackle. And even though his highlight tape is stocked, one thing that stuck out to us was his ability to simply disrupt the flow of things in the backfield. Sometimes it’s not always about accrued statistics, but instead by the way a quarterback’s timing can be thrown off a little bit, or by a running back’s primary direction having to change in the backfield. He projects as a 4-3 defensive tackle or a 3-4 defensive end, which should help his stock, too.

Quinton Coples, North Carolina6-6, 283 π 40 Time: 4.73 There are times it looks like Quinton Coples has little to no interest regarding what’s happening on the field. He dogged enough plays over the last two years to raise questions about his maturity and commitment level. but the only reason he has pushed ahead of Melvin Ingram here is his off-the-charts measurements. At 6-6, 283 pounds and a scary 4.73 40-time, he has the wing span to disrupt countless plays in the backfield and the speed to be a difference-maker off the edge.

US PRESSWIREMississippi State defensive lineman Fletcher Cox walks away after finishing the broad jump during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Melvin Ingram, South Carolina6-1, 265 π 40 Time: 4.66 Watching his highlight tapes, it’s almost impossible to tell what position Ingram plays. He’s running for touchdowns on fake punts, dropping back into coverage to intercept passes and he’s busting through the line to rough up quarterbacks. He could be the best overall athlete on this list and would make a perfect pick in the 10-to-15 range. At the next level, we see him as a 3-4 linebacker given his incredible speed (at the combine he registered a 4.66) and phenomenal hands. despite his size, he’s certainly strong enough to get around the edge.

Michael Brockers, LSU6-5, 322 π 40 Time: 5.34

To stand out on that LSU defense last year was no easy task, yet Brockers somehow managed to set his name apart. Watching him against Alabama, you see a player who still may be a step slow for the next level but is thick enough to hold his own during a double team, which is crucial if he’s going to play the interior at the next level. He’s got a great first step off the ball and can jump enough to be a factor when there’s a live ball.

Dontari Poe, Memphis6-3, 345 π 40 Time: 4.92His measurables have gotten him this far, and now it’s up to scouts and GMs to decide whether or not he’s worth the gamble. Poe will more than likely be gone by pick No. 20 and is a great fit for a team that plays a 3-4 scheme in search of a true defensive tackle to plug up the middle. He has received several comparisons to Ngata coming out of school, but his tape doesn’t exactly match the praise. Poe can take up a lot of space, though, and really allow the linebackers behind him to roam.

THE BEST OF THE REST: Chandler Jones;;Syracuse;;6-5 ½;;265;;4.85Whitney Mercilus;;Illinois;;6-3;;262;;4.64Derek Wolfe;;Cincinnati;;6-5;;297;;4.96Andre Branch;;Clemson;;6-4 ½;;260;;4.66Jerel Worthy;;Michigan State;;6-2 ½;;310;;4.99


Though it’s not as deep as it has been over the past few years, this position will be well-combed as teams look to bulk up their various defensive packages.

It will, however, be interesting to see how high or low teams have gotten on Poe since the initial combine hype has worn down. He could potentially be a late first-round steal or a top-10 stretch, which could really shake up the flow of the draft.


Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka will continue to harass quarterbacks next season but Osi Umenyiora’s situation is uncertain and Dave Tollefson signed with the Oakland Raiders. There probably will be a run on pass-rushers midway through the first round, so the Giants might not get the chance to add one at No. 32. a late-round tackle possibility is USC’s Dajohn Harris.

— Mike Garofalo


The Jets used two high picks on this position last year: First-rounder Muhammad Wilkerson was a solid rookie starter, and third-rounder Kenrick Ellis is still a project.

They have a good veteran presence with Sione Pouha, who was re-signed this offseason, and Mike DeVito, and a band of young contributors that also includes Marcus Dixon and Ropati Pitoitua.

The Jets have a need for an explosive pass-rusher, but in their 3-4 scheme, they’ll likely look to fill that role with a player who projects as an outside linebacker. but that doesn’t mean they won’t be on the lookout for a playmaker on the defensive line.

— Jenny Vrentas

Conor Orr:;

NFL Draft preview: A look at the top defensive line prospects

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