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NFL

Ranking the Top 20 Defensive Lineman in the 2013 NFL Draft

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SEC Defenders Headline Deep,Versatile Class of Defensive Linemen

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The defensive line position is the deepest position in this year’s NFL draft and could see a record number taken in the first round.

It’s no secret that the league has turned into a pass-first league and that means an increased premium is placed on pass-rushers to get to the quarterbacks and disrupt their rhythm and there is no shortage of elite pass-rushing prospects in this class, and one could be the number one pick of the Kansas City Chiefs. In fact, the top two picks could be defensive linemen depending on how the combine workouts shakeout.

While pass-rushing defensive ends are certainly available to teams needing a presence coming off the edge this year they shouldn’t diminish the versatile group of interior linemen that can help 4-3 and 3-4 teams in 2013.

A couple of nose tackle prospects will come off the board early for teams that run a 3-4 defense. This position has been growing increasingly difficult to fill because of the lack athletic big men coming out of college in recent years. Traditional 4-3 defensive tackles adept at stuffing the run are plentiful this year and some even possess the pass-rushing ability to play the “three-technique” while some can play end in a 3-4 front.

The athleticism, strength, first-step quickness, and versatility this class presents headlined by a number from the SEC is among the best in years and a number in this list should make it to a number of Pro Bowls in the near future.

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20. Tank Carradine-DT-Florida State

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Looks the part of a top-10 pick at 6-4.5 and 255 pounds, but has not produced much until this season. After transferring from junior college Carradine has flashed his massive potential and solid effort for a very good defense. Unfortunately for him he tore his ACL this season and will be a big question mark as far as what he can contribute in his rookie season. However, when he is healthy he is a disruptive force in the interior of the defensive line and some team will get a steal because he is a first round talent that will get selected in round three.

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19. Alex Okafor-DE-Texas

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In a down year for the Texas defense, Okafor shines, and has the frame and the ability to be a complete end in the NFL for a long time. He shows good first-step quickness and uses his hands as well as any defensive lineman in the country, a trait not possessed by many in college football. Okafor is versatile and smart enough to play as a 4-3 end on either side or could intrigue some teams as a 3-4 outside linebacker similar to Lamarr Woodley, but I think he profiles best at a base 4-3 end where he won’t be asked to drop into coverage and can play with his hand in the dirt like he did in college.

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18. William Gholston-DE-Michigan State

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At 6-6 and 280 Gholston has the frame of a 1st round pick, but his production and effort level do not match that of a top pick. He has shown to lose control of his emotions and has been suspended for his on-the-field behavior. His pass-rushing needs refinement and is strictly a power rusher with a lack of moves. Can line up at either end spot in a 4-3 and could play end in a 3-4 because he is strong at defending the run. His inconsistent motor and lack of production will make scouts wary of selecting him too high, but the right coach could tap into his vast potential.

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17. Akeem Spence-DT-Illinois

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In what had been an abysmal year for Illinois, Spence has been one of the few bright spots on a defense that was supposed to be the team’s foundation for a solid season. Spence isn’t as quick or disruptive as his former teammate and first round pick Corey Liuget, but has flashed the ability to dominate at times. He can be an effective starter at the next level if he shows more consistent effort and better use of his hands to disengage from offensive lineman and should be taken in the middle of the second round.

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16. Brandon Jenkins-DE-Florida State

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Jenkins was hurt this season and elected to declare for the draft instead of taking a redshirt could line up as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or as an end in a 4-3 defense. At 6-3 and 257-pounds he would be an ideal fit in a Cover-2 defense where he can rush the quarterback as he did so often while at Florida State. He won’t be great dropping back into coverage, but playing a role similar to that of Terrell Suggs or Lamarr Woodley where he attacks the quarterback will allow Jenkins to make an impact right away as a rookie. If he proves healthy in the pre-draft process, then he could be a fast riser and move up the rankings for teams seeing pass rushers.

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15. Bennie Logan-DT-LSU

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Logan was overshadowed by others on his own team, but in many ways is the key cog on LSU’s line. Makes plays in the backfield stuffing opposing teams in the run game. He will improve as a pass rushing tackle in the NFL as he incorporates an arsenal of moves to be a menace along the interior of the line. Good first step quickness that allows him to beat guards and centers to the point of attack. Surprised some with his decision to leave school early and could not be an immediate factor as a rookie.

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14. Sylvester Williams-DT-North Carolina

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Williams is a two-year starter after coming over from junior college makes a lot of plays defending the run. Runs down the line to chase down the ball and has a high motor. Could use more refinement in his technique while rushing the passer, but has some decent moves and uses his hands fairly well. Just needs more experience and coaching to bring out his potential.

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13. Corey-Lemonier-DE-Auburn

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Lemonier was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal year for Auburn and flashes his pass rushing skills week in and week out. Could stand to add 15-20 pounds to his 240 pound build, but with his relentless motor will not sacrifice the speed that has made him such a productive player. He is versatile having lined up at right and left end and while he hasn’t been asked to drop back in coverage, I think he could also line up as a 3-4 OLB. I love the way he uses his hands like a heavyweight boxer and his nasty streak is what you love to see from a defensive end.

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12. Ezekiel Ansah-DE-BYU

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Ansah is one of the more intriguing prospects in the entire draft, and has the frame at 6-6 and 273-pounds to develop into a dominant defensive lineman. He has lined up across the line over the years having played nose tackle, defensive tackle, end and even some outside linebacker. In the NFL he projects to a base 4-3 end but could also play end in a three man front.

He has shown the ability to rush the quarterback no matter where he lines up and his versatility will have him soaring up draft boards. He has a quick first step that allows him to get past offensive tackles and shows a relentless effort in pursuit. He does need to work on defending the run as he can get too high as some college rushers tend to do and gets engulfed by bigger linemen. Has only been playing football since 2010 and is very raw as a prospect, but has enormous potential and a ceiling of a 10-sack a year defensive lineman.

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11. Kawann Short-DT-Purdue

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Short returned to Purdue after being a three-year starter after receiving a grade from the NFL advisory board that suggested he would be a day two pick. Does not do one thing exceptional, but can do a lot of things well. Equally stout defending the run as he is rushing the passer from the interior of the line. He needs to improve his conditioning at 325 pounds to stay on the field because he can show fatigue late in the fourth quarter.

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10. Johnathan Hankins-DT-Ohio State

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Hankins is a true anchor in every sense of the word and man-handles offensive lineman and sheds them when playing against the run. Didn't have the type of season many had hoped for, but he still elected to declare for the draft. Is not a pass rusher, but has upside if he can work on using his hands more effectively. Has great first-step quickness and makes plays outside the tackle box. Rarely comes off the field at Ohio State but needs to monitor his weight, he’s at 335 now, but has been north of 350 at times to realize his limitless potential. Reminds me a little of New England Patriots DL Vince Wilfork.

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9. Sam Montgomery-DE-LSU

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At 245 pounds Montgomery is actually a better defender against the run than versus the pass. He finds and tracks the ball very well form the right end spot where he projects to play in the NFL unless he can improve his raw pass rushing skills. He does need to learn to use his hands better to shed offensive lineman to be a complete end. Is an intense competitor and vocal leader for a productive college defense.

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8. John Jenkins-NT-Georgia

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Jenkins is a house at 360 pounds and needs to monitor his weight moving forward in his career. If he shows up to the combine overweight he may fall out of the first round conversation. Is best suited as a nose in a 3-4 defense which would limit his draft stock. Has pretty good initial quickness and will dominate in confined spaces, but will only be a two-down player as a result of his weight, he would be a far better player at 335 than 360. Jenkins is a player similar to former Alabama NT and current Baltimore Ravens massive NT Terence Cody.

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7. Barkevious Mingo-DE-LSU

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Mingo is slightly undersized for a defensive end and will have to add 20-25 pounds to his 240 pound body, but has the frame at 6’5’’ to add the bulk without sacrificing the speed that makes him a terror off the edge. His long arms, fluid hips, and first step quickness make him the elite pass rushing end in this draft class. Not as productive as he was last year, but a coach will fall in love with his speed and potential and take him earlier than his production would dictate.

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6. Sheldon Richardson-DT-Missouri

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At 290 pounds, Richardson has the makings of the prototypical three-technique tackle in a 4-3 Cover-2 defense that needs explosion and quickness to disrupt the pocket form the interior of the defensive line. The former JUCO transfer has had some injury problems in his college career, but has worked hard to get back to top form and plays with an aura of confidence that is evident on film. Richardson is a better player vs. the run right now than at rushing the passer, but has the tools to develop into a disruptive presence in the interior of the line.

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5. Sharrif Floyd-DT-Florida

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Floyd has the ideal size you look for in a defensive tackle at 6-3 and 298-pounds, but doesn’t possess the power and strength you need along the interior of the line, so he could be best served as an end in a 3-4. Floyd has above-average quickness and is fairly agile and mobile for being close to 300-pounds. Doubtful that he will ever be a good at getting to the quarterback, but can be a valuable run defender if he can improve his strength. He has more than 20 starts on his resume and was a valuable contributor on one of the nation’s top defenses this season, but has been a bit of an underachiever until this season when he really put it all together. His combine performance will move him into the top 10-15 picks.

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4. Dion Jordan-DE-Oregon

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At 6-6 and 240 pounds, Jordan lacks the bulk you like to see in a defensive end, but has enough versatility in his game to line up as a pass rush specialist on third downs early in his career as he bulks up to the 260 pound range. Could play in a 3-4 scheme as an OLB or a 4-3 scheme as a rushing end. Jordan reminds me of Aldon Smith who had 14 sacks as a rookie playing a rushing end for the San Francisco 49ers a year ago and is developing into one of the best pass-rushers in the league. With his toughness and effort, Jordan is capable of being a matchup nightmare on 3rd downs.

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3. Bjoern Werner-DE-Florida State

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Werner has the best motor and relentless pursuit of any end in this year’s class who is equally adept at stopping the run as he is at rushing the passer. Has an untapped potential after playing just two years of high school football and could thrive under the right defensive line coach. Could play in a number of different fronts, but ideally suited as a 4-3 end where he can fly off the edge and rush the quarterback as he did so well at Florida State.

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2. Star Lotulelei-DT-Utah

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Lotulelei is a massive and physical defensive tackle that tips the scales at 320 pounds that can be an anchor in the run game and occupy and shed multiple blockers. Struggles as a pass rusher, but can improve because he has quick feet and hands to fight off centers and guards in pass protection. Has a nasty demeanor and non-stop motor that scouts and coaches will love. Should be a top-five pick and reminds me of Ravens DL Haloti Ngata.

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1. DaMontre Moore-DE-Texas A&M

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The Monster is playing up to his nickname this season for the Aggies, and while Johnny Manziel is getting the headlines for his team, the play of Moore is just as big a reason for the Aggies success. The versatile defensive lineman has experience in a 3-4 scheme as an OLB and has played both end spots in a 4-3 and has excelled in both. A terror coming off the edge with double digit sacks this season and a history of staying healthy. Will show relentless pursuit to the ball and is always in the middle of a big play. Moore should be a top-five pick in April, and could be a candidate to be the first selection.