Friday, June 7, 2013

Senior Interior Defensive Linemen Rankings (Preseason)

       1.  Ra’Shede Hageman  -  6’5” / 310  -  Minnesota
A converted tight end, Hageman was very productive in his first year as a starter at Minnesota (35 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks), earning honorable mention all-Big Ten honors. With his natural speed, athleticism, and ability to play with power at the point of attack, Hageman may have only scratched the surface of his ultimate potential. He needs to be more consistent at keeping his pad level down, and further develop his hand technique and placement to maximize the strength in his upper body. Still, beyond the raw technique and athletic upside is the only interior defensive lineman among this group who has the potential to be dominant against both the run and the pass. 
       2.  Daniel McCullers  -  6’6” / 377  -  Tennessee
Gigantic two-gap monsters are nearing extinction in the NFL, as offenses are spreading out more, forcing defenses to place more emphasis on speed. McCullers won’t dominate the “Underwear Olympics”, but he is not your typical nose tackle prospect either. He possesses rare movement skills for a defender his size, enabling him to control two gaps and still be a force beyond just eating space and tying up blockers. He has the ability to penetrate or collapse the pocket on passing downs. McCullers is still learning to play the game after just one year in the SEC, but he may wind up being an exception to what has become a devalued defensive prototype in today’s NFL.      
      3.  Will Sutton  -  6’0” / 280  -  Arizona State
Sutton is one of college football’s most disruptive defenders. His numbers (23.5 tackles for loss, 13.0 sacks), coupled with his frequent presence in opposing backfields, indicate elite explosiveness off the snap. A closer look, however, shows him beating blockers with a combination of natural leverage, hands, and lateral quickness. The most explosive element of his game is his ability to blow by defenders with arm over or rip moves and then close on the football. He seldom makes tackles outside his frame due to his lack of length, making his ability to beat blockers paramount to his success. The questions and intrigue are both obvious with Sutton, and it will be interesting to see how his game translates to the NFL.    
       4.  Deandre Coleman  -  6’4” / 320  -  California
Coleman is one of the more polished prospects in this group. He shows good anticipation and quickness off the snap, and maintains good pad level for a taller defender, allowing him to play with leverage and anchor against the run. He flashes the ability to beat blockers laterally after his initial punch, but he is frequently unable to capitalize with merely average explosiveness and athleticism. He shows good awareness to locate the football while engaged, but needs to do a better job of using his hands to shed blockers. Coleman’s size and sound technique will cause him to draw looks from teams who employ either 4-3 or 3-4 fronts, but he will need to show more as a pass rusher to be drafted early.    
       5.  Khyri Thornton  -  6’3” / 300  -  Southern Miss
Thornton is a disruptive force in the middle of the Southern Miss defensive line. He has good size for a 4-3 defensive tackle, and demonstrates the ability to beat blockers with explosiveness or power. He is a solid run defender, capable of anchoring at the point of attack or penetrating to disrupt plays in the backfield. Good pursuit speed indicates pass rush upside as well, but he needs to play with better leverage through contact, and develop his pass rush moves to maximize his quickness off the snap. If Thornton can put it all together in his senior year, we could see a substantial rise in his stock leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft.   
       6.  Dominique Easley  -  6’2” / 283  -  Florida
Coming back from an ACL tear suffered in the regular season finale the previous year, Easley had a tough time beating athletic offensive tackles off the edge in 2012. He is set to move back inside to his more natural defensive tackle position in 2013. From there, he should be able to better utilize his lightning quick first step to penetrate the A and B gaps. Easley does not use his hands well, which affects his ability to play with leverage, and ultimately accentuates his lack of size and strength. While he is insanely explosive and loaded with upside as a pass rusher, he must improve his ability to turn speed to power if he is to play more than a situational role in the NFL.  
       7.  Calvin Barnett  -  6’2” / 300  -  Oklahoma State
Barnett made an impressive transition from JUCO transfer to arguably the top interior defender in the Big 12. He finished the season with 30 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss, a quarterback sack, and four hurries. He demonstrates the ability to combine violent hands with quickness off the snap to gain penetration. He struggles to keep his pad level down at times and does not always play with good leverage, making it difficult for him to beat his blocker if he doesn’t do so with quickness off the snap or with his initial punch. He will need to show more as a pass rusher in his final season to be viewed as more than a mid-round prospect.  
       8.  Caraun Reid  -  6’2” / 288  -  Princeton
Reid was granted a fifth year of eligibility after missing most of the 2010 season with a pectoral injury. In just nine games in 2012, he recorded 5.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, and blocked three kicks for a Princeton defense that allowed just 19.9 points per contest, down considerably from the 32.5 points per game they allowed in 2011. Reid overwhelms blockers with quickness and some of the most sophisticated hand technique in this class. He is not only capable of penetrating gaps from the interior, but he also shows great speed and flexibility off the edge. If Reid continues to dominate the Ivy League, and shows well at all-star practices and at the NFL Scouting Combine, he could be a surprise riser in this draft class.  
       9.  Aaron Donald  -  6’0” / 275  -  Pittsburgh
Donald has totaled 37.5 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks over the last two seasons, earning all-Big East honors as both a sophomore and junior. Short and compact with long arms, he shows quickness off the snap and leverages well off his blocker when rushing the passer. He possesses excellent lateral quickness, enabling him to sidestep blockers after giving them an initial jolt, and has good closing speed. While he utilizes a variety of pass rush moves, he needs to add upper body strength and play with more violent hands to shed blockers. Donald is not nearly as explosive as he is quick. He looks like a situational player whose lack of size could cause him to slide to the later rounds.   
      10. Ryan Carrethers – 6’2” / 328  -  Arkansas State
Carrethers earned a starting job midway through his redshirt sophomore season, and has since become a force in the middle against the run. He finished first in his conference among interior defenders with 63 stops, earning all-Sun Belt Conference honors as a junior. He has good size and a strong lower half, enabling him to hold his ground against double-team blocks. While he carries his 328 pounds well, Carrethers is a limited athlete who lacks explosiveness and change-of-direction skills. He has a hard time shedding blockers, and needs to do a better job of keeping his arms extended to prevent blockers from tying him up.

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