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ESPN.com Rates the Top 7 Defensive Tackle

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Johnson top draw of lean DT group

By Len Pasquarelli


Here is how ESPN.com rates the top seven defensive tackle prospects in the draft:

• Travis Johnson (Florida State)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 3 5/8, 298 pounds, 4.87 in the 40, 23 bench press reps.

Numbers game: In high school, was a Parade Magazine All-American and also a USA Today All-American, recruited by all the West Coast schools but opted to test himself at FSU. Only started one full season, in 2004, after spending much of career in Seminoles' tackle rotation. Played in 51 games with 21 starts and had 175 tackles, 43½ tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 31 pressures, six forced fumbles and three recoveries. His 18 tackles for loss in '04 represented the third-best single season in school history. Gained a medical redshirt in 2000 because of a neck injury, then had shoulder surgery after the '02 campaign. An all-ACC selection as a senior and the defensive team captain.

Upside: Compelling size-speed-quickness combination. Exceptional athlete with quick, active hands and nifty feet. When he's on his game, explodes off blocks, finds the ball and makes the play. Enough movement skill to get wide. Enough power to compact the pocket and chase down the quarterback. Like several of the top tackles in this draft, very nice pass-rush acumen. Can be a disruptive, dominant player when his motor is revved. Knows how to slip the double-team block and how to make himself narrow enough to get through small spaces. Aspires to be more than just another player.

Downside: Good but not great size and could use a little more strength. Probably has to play the three-technique spot. Will have to use his hands a little better and learn to shed quicker. Has a tendency to mope. Only started one full year as he had to wait his turn behind some of the Seminoles' big-time tackles. Has had some injuries.

The dish: A pure one-gap player who, based on athleticism and potential, should be the first tackle off the board.

• Luis Castillo (Northwestern)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 2¾, 305 pounds, 4.79 in the 40, 32 bench press reps.

Numbers game: Raised in the Dominican Republic and learned English as a second language. Appeared in 42 games and started 34 times, registering 251 tackles, 19½ tackles for loss, 4½ sacks, 11 pressures, one forced fumble and one recovery. Over his three years as a starter, averaged 76.3 tackles, including career-best 84 stops in '02. Had 51 solo tackles as a senior, when he played the entire season with a severely sprained left elbow that required postseason surgery. In 2004, became only the fourth player in school history to earn All-American and all-academic honors in the same season.

Upside: Really improved his speed and quickness in the past year, a motivated player, aspires to be more than just another guy and willing to pay the price. Powerful build, especially strong in the lower body, can sink down and grow roots on the interior. Moves well for such a big man and will make stops outside the box. Gets up and down the line of scrimmage, reacts well to the flow, a very aware player. Knows the leverage game and uses his hands well to get position. Stout enough to absorb initial contact and to counter with power. Can split the double-team block.

Downside: Doesn't always play up to his size. Could be more physical and needs to add a little more functional strength. Will never be nifty enough to penetrate regularly into the backfield and, as a pass-rusher, won't crush the pocket. Has had injury problems, and battled asthma, in the past.

The dish: One of the draft's fastest-rising prospects in the past month, and we're not sure whether it's because he is so good or the tackle position is so lean. Some teams feel that he will be the first tackle selected. Others grade him a high second-round pick. Wednesday's revelation that he took steroids following the 2004 season apparently won't hurt his stock much.

• Shaun Cody (Southern California)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 4, 293 pounds, 5.03 in the 40, 34 bench press reps.

Numbers game: Was a Parade Magazine pick in high school and one of the country's most heavily recruited players. Targeted by Southern California to serve as cornerstone of the school's rebuilding program. Started in 38 of 44 appearances despite missing seven contests in 2002 because of a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. Finished with 130 tackles, 31½ tackles for loss, 21 sacks, three forced fumbles and four recoveries. Also blocked five kicks. A consensus All-American choice in 2004 and a finalist for the Lombardi Award.

Upside: Very productive, complete and explosive athlete who seems to rise to the occasion at big times and in big games. Maybe the best overall body control of any of the defensive linemen in the draft. Possesses an innate ability to get off blocks, with spin or counter moves or by using his hands, and to get into the play. Never quits on a play, even one away from him, and will chase people down the line and to the sideline. Enough upper-body strength to defeat double-team blocks, but, as a three-technique guy, his forte remains penetrating through the gaps. Nice change of direction and good closing ability. Won't crush the pocket, but he's so quick, and has such a keen sense of the pass-rush, that he can get to the quarterback and wreak havoc. Big-time character guy.

Downside: His game is quickness, not strength, and some personnel evaluators feel that his best position might be strong-side end. The problem there is that he lacks quickness to play the edge. Not very bulky and will get washed out of some plays. Not an anchor-type defender. A tad too much finesse.

The dish: Even the scouts who like him a lot aren't certain whether he's an end or a tackle. His versatility offers a lot of possibilities, though, and he's almost certainly a first-rounder.

• Mike Patterson (Southern California)

Vital statistics: 5 foot 11 5/8, 292 pounds, 4.90 in the 40, 26 bench press reps.

Numbers game: Moved from Sacramento to Orange County as high school sophomore because he wanted to play against top-tier competition. A prep wrestling champion. Started in 39 of 50 appearances, teaming with Shaun Cody to provide the Trojans one of the country's premier tackle tandems. Had 146 tackles, 46 tackles for loss, 21½ sacks, four forced fumbles and a school-record 13 recoveries. Had three or more recoveries in three seasons and scored two touchdowns on fumble returns. Was an all-Pac-10 choice as a senior.

Upside: Explosive one-gap defender and can get up the field and disrupt flow. Super first step and knows how to naturally compact himself and use his innate leverage to squeeze through the creases and get into the backfield. Spatially aware, and has great feel for the game. Can anchor at the point of attack but also flashes lateral quickness, can move down the line to plug a hole, and will chase plays down from behind. Unusually long arms allow him to maintain separation. Strong enough to take the first impact and to redirect the blocker. Uses his hands really well. Plays the double-team pretty well for a one-gapper. Good pass-rusher and has nice inside closing speed. Durable and will play hurt. A big-time team leader.

Downside: Lack of height will always be a concern for some teams. Lacks a little knee-bend and his body looks a tad soft. Will sometimes get stalled if he doesn't get through the gap with his initial surge. Might be limited to playing nose tackle on a one-gap team.

The dish: Teams that play a one-gap defense absolutely love him. Second-rounder on a lot of boards but, with the right "system" team, could go in the bottom of first round.

• Jonathan Babineaux (Iowa)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 2 1/8, 286 pounds, 4.87 in the 40, 21 bench press reps.

Numbers game: Played fullback, linebacker and punter in high school and, as freshman at Iowa, actually started three games at fullback in 2000. Switched to defense in 2001 but was forced to take a medical redshirt when he suffered a broken leg in spring practices. Over next three seasons, started 31 games at tackle, recording 131 tackles, 39 tackles for loss, 19 sacks, 24 pressures, five forced fumbles and four recoveries. Had 11 sacks in 2003, when he earned all-Big Ten honors and was also named conference's Sportsman of the Year. Voted the team's defensive most valuable player in '04.

Upside: Has played some at end and perhaps quick enough to move outside as a rusher in some situations. Very active and athletic, can play down the line and redirect back when the play goes away from him. A flexible athlete who bends his knees well. Good power in his initial surge and can break down the pocket from the inside. Quick to the ball but strong enough to stand up in the hole. Good motor and hustle. Plays with nice pad level and will win his share of hand-to-hand combat.

Downside: Not bulky and might need more strength to be effective at the next level. Although quick, probably doesn't have the explosive twitch to beat NFL blockers right off the ball. Will get enveloped by the bigger guards and seems to get frustrated when he can't get off the double-team. Has had some injury problems.

The dish: Solid defender who should move quickly into an NFL rotation. Ought to be drafted in the top half of the second round.

• Atiyyah Ellison (Missouri)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 4¼, 305 pounds, 5.07 in the 40, 25 bench press reps.

Numbers game: Began college career at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College and transferred to Missouri in 2002. Played in 36 games with 31 starts and had 171 tackles, 26½ tackles for loss, 6½ sacks, 11 pressures, two forced fumbles and a recovery. Was a team captain as a senior and made the all-Big 12 team.

Upside: Naturally strong inside defender with a nasty streak. Occasionally can split the double-team block and collapse the interior. Good anchor against the run but a lot more athletic than most nose-tackle-type players. Will clog things up between the tackles and make lots of stops in a closed area. Can protect the linebackers and keep people away from the second-level tacklers. Hard worker and wants to be good.

Downside: Lack of initial surge means he doesn't get much penetration, and he will never be a disruptive force. Not a very polished pass-rusher, from a technique or speed standpoint. Gets caught up too often in hand-fighting blockers. Plays too tall at times and loses momentum.

The dish: Probably a two-down nose tackle in the NFL, and will probably be chosen sometime in the second round.

• Ronald Fields (Mississippi State)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 2 3/8, 313 pounds, 5.07 in the 40, 22 bench press reps.

Numbers game: Attended Hargrave Military Academy before transferring to Mississippi State in 2001. Finished his career with 46 appearances and 36 starts. Recorded 172 tackles, 16½ tackles for loss, one sack, six pressures, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Had a career-best 57 tackles in '04 and was named to the all-SEC squad.

Upside: Nose-tackle-type player with a wide, girthy body and the ability to hang in and serve as a human speed bump inside. Plays tough, stout and nasty at the point of attack. Stays low and has a natural leverage to him. Good, active hands, can grab a blocker and move him around.

Downside: Limited athlete, does not flow well to the action, often has problems locating the ball. Neither aware nor instinctive. Not going to make many plays outside the box. Keeps trying the same bull-rush move over and over and, with one career sack, it's pretty obvious he is not a threat to challenge the pocket. Plays with a high pad level and will get lazy when he gets frustrated. Needs a little more motivation.

The dish: A two-gap tackle who has size-strength components and enough ability to be a first-day selection.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

More on DTs

Others: Lynn McGruder (Oklahoma), C.J. Mosley (Missouri), Darrell Shropshire (South Carolina), Anthony Bryant (Alabama), Eric Coleman (Clemson), Lorenzo Alexander (California), Matt McChesney (Colorado), Chris Barry (Nevada), Tim Bulman (Boston College), Mike Wright (Cincinnati), Vince Crochunis (Pittsburgh), Derreck Robinson (Iowa), Larry Burt (Miami, Ohio), Jonas Seawright (North Carolina), Tom Sverchek (California), Chris Van Hoy (Louisiana Tech).

Rising: He didn't log a lot of starts and had a slew of injury problems, but Santonio Thomas (Miami) definitely has some game, and teams are warming to him. Thomas is a nose tackle with good size (6 foot 3 and 303 pounds) and, if he's healthy, is going to be a solid middle-round selection. Keyonta Marshall (Grand Valley State) comes from a small program but is a guy getting talked up right now. Marshall had 26 career sacks and an eye-opening 69 tackles for loss. At 333 pounds, he needs to shed some tonnage but, if he can get into the 290- or 300-pound range, he might be a steal.

Declining: It seems like only a few months ago that Anttaj Hawthorne (Wisconsin) was viewed by some pundits as the top tackle prospect in the draft. For whatever reason, and despite 41 career starts, Hawthorne has slipped precipitously on most boards. He has great size (6 foot 3 3/8 and 321 pounds) but doesn't play with much passion. He'll still get drafted, probably on the first day, but there isn't much buzz about him. Another former big-time recruit, Albert Means (Memphis), is probably little more now than a late-round selection after a college career that didn't live up to the high school hype.

Intriguing: Sione Pouha (Utah) is already 26 years old, having taken time off from the game to serve his Mormon mission, so he's definitely getting a late start to his career. A lot of teams, however, have brought him in for visits in recent weeks. He is 6 foot 3 3/8 and 325 pounds, ran 5.02 and did 32 bench press reps in a recent workout, and he looks like a player. Pouha is a brute-strength kind of guy with some upside. It will be interesting to see whether someone takes a chance on this late bloomer.

Sleepers: Alfred Malone (Troy) could be the second prospect from the small school in this draft, with end/linebacker Demarcus Ware projected as a first-round pick. Malone has good size and good-enough speed. Kendrick Haynes (Louisiana-Lafayette) has a good body and can stop the run. Brian Godfrey (Slippery Rock) has demonstrated some pass-rush skills and might be a good free agent addition.

Notable: Greg Pauly (Notre Dame) has an older brother, Eric, who played at Wisconsin. … Albert Means (Memphis) was a high school teammate of current New York Jets star defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson's. … Jason Jefferson (Wisconsin) was a three-time offensive lineman of the year in high school, and some teams project him as a guard. … Ronald Fields (Mississippi State) is the cousin of New York Giants defensive lineman Kendrick Allen.


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And the top LB`s ....

Johnson known to miss some plays

By Len Pasquarelli


Here is how ESPN.com rates the top 12 linebacker prospects in the draft:

• OLB Derrick Johnson (Texas)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 3¼, 242 pounds, 4.52 in the 40.

Numbers game: Was a Parade Magazine All-American selection in high school, where he reportedly recorded 30 tackles and four forced fumbles in one game. Three-year starter for the Longhorns, opening in 40 of 50 appearances, and finished his college career with 458 tackles, 65 tackles for loss, 10½ sacks, 39 pressures, 11 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and nine interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Recorded 120 or more tackles in each season as a starter and had four interceptions each in 2002 and 2003. In 2004, won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation's top defensive player and the Butkus Award as the best linebacker. Was a consensus All-American and named to the all-Big 12 team.

Upside: Fluid athlete with great flexibility, loose hips and great speed. Can chase down plays all over the field. Good range, covers a lot of space with only a few steps. Knows how to pick up his feet to avoid getting caught up in the trash. Moves laterally with a lot of facility. Can go sideline to sideline. Instinctive and aware, a solid diagnostician. Fine closing speed. Very productive in every phase of the game. Definite team leader.

Downside: The critics feel he avoids too many plays. His supporters contend that you can't have more than 450 career tackles by not taking people on. But watch him on tape and you can see the detractors make a good point. He runs around way too many plays and, even with all those tackles, he whiffs far too much. Doesn't stack the way he should and will not stand up the lead-blocker. More of a drag-down tackler. Not an explosive blitzer.

The dish: We're not sold, and neither are a few scouts whose opinions we value, but we are in the minority. Could be the first defensive player off the board and almost certain to be among the top dozen prospects chosen.

• OLB/DE Shawne Merriman (Maryland)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 4 3/8, 272 pounds, 4.68 in the 40.

Numbers game: In high school, averaged nearly 150 tackles per season as a three-year starter. Started in 17 of 38 appearances during three-year college career, didn't start for a full season until the '04 campaign, when he lined up at the "Leo" position, a hybrid end/linebacker spot on the strong side. Registered 189 tackles, 32½ tackles for loss, 22 sacks, 27 pressures, four forced fumbles and three recoveries. Had 85 tackles and 17 tackles for loss in 2004. An all-ACC choice in 2004.

Upside: Classic downhill player, quick-twitch speed, doesn't take long for him to get to maximum acceleration. An explosive athlete, comes off hard with the first step and can fly into the backfield and disrupt offensive flow. Powerful enough to stand up blockers, stack at the point of attack and move the line of scrimmage. Fast enough to chase plays down from the backside. Big-time closing speed when turned loose on the quarterback. Knows how to corner and flatten out on the pass rush. Uses his hands well and will knock blockers away from him. Carries his weight really well and looks more like a 255-pound player than someone in the 270s. A physical freak with an undeniable mean streak.

Downside: Doesn't quite redirect as well as he could. Perhaps a little tight in the hips. Will overrun some plays because he is so naturally aggressive, then sometimes struggles to recover. Has to remember to bend his knees more consistently and to get his pad level down. Some scouts feel he has gotten so big that he will have to line up at end.

The dish: Incredible combination of size and speed. His value is certainly enhanced by the reemergence of the 3-4 front because he is the kind of hybrid "edge" defender so many teams are seeking now. Should be a top-12 pick.

• OLB/DE Demarcus Ware (Troy)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 4, 251 pounds, 4.56 in the 40.

Numbers game: Only played two seasons of football in high school and was recruited as a skinny wide receiver. Probably better known in high school as a basketball player and track star. Played in 44 games at end and started 35 of them. Had 201 tackles, 58 tackles for loss, 27½ sacks, 76 pressures, 10 forced fumbles and four recoveries. Twice named to the all-Conference USA team and was the conference's defensive player of the year for 2004 season. Also a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award in 2004.

Upside: Natural outside pass-rusher, explodes out of his stance and gets upfield, can flatten out and close on the passer. Like a heat-seeking missile at times. Over a 10- or 15-yard space, there are few players in this draft faster than he is. Terrific athlete, can run all day, changes direction nicely. Good body control, seems to just flow to the ball. Agile and loose. Long arms so, when he gets into blocker, he can extend and create separation. Has shown some ability to drop into the flat and play in space.

Downside: Very raw, hasn't had much exposure to the game, and certainly not to the linebacker position, which is where he will be asked to play by some teams. Long, lean frame isn't all that strong, and he might need another 10 pounds. Doesn't always play with leverage and will get washed out at the point of attack. Will have to use his hands better and get off blocks quicker. Like most smaller-school players, relies a lot on just his physical skills.

The dish: Another "tweener" defender who will be very popular with 3-4 teams. Has skyrocketed up draft boards and could be chosen in the top half of the first round.

• OLB Darryl Blackstock (Virginia)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 2 5/8, 247 pounds, 4.70 in the 40.

Numbers game: Registered an amazing 29 sacks as a high school senior, then spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy before enrolling at Virginia in 2002. Started in all but one of his 39 appearances and finished with 237 tackles, 42½ tackles for loss, 27 sacks, 46 pressures, two forced fumbles, four recoveries and an interception. Also had one blocked punt in 2002. Led the ACC with 11 sacks in 2004 and is the school's career leader in quarterback takedowns.

Upside: Another premier athlete with basketball-type movement skills and NBA-caliber leaping ability. Good pursuit player and an excellent blitzer off the edge. Nice feel for when and where the holes will open for him in the blitz. Plays with an economy of motion and lifts his feet through the garbage. Good awareness when playing in space. Has displayed some cover skills.

Downside: Despite weighing nearly 250 pounds, doesn't play that big or that strong. Not stout enough on the plays run right at him and tries to run around too many blocks and redirect to the play from the backside. Too much run-and-chase to his game and way too much finesse. Will have to use his hands a lot better at the next level.

The dish: There's plenty of nice foundation here and a ton of natural ability. Will need some more bulk and a better understanding of leverage, but a top-shelf prospect.

• OLB Kevin Burnett (Tennessee)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 2 7/8, 235 pounds, 4.61 in the 40.

Numbers game: Played running back in high school and was primarily recruited by the Vols to play safety. Moved to linebacker during his freshman season. Missed all but one quarter of the 2002 season after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament. Played in 49 games and started 28 contests. Chalked up 274 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, eight sacks, 10 pressures, three forced fumbles, three recoveries and one interception. Had 120 tackles, including 90 solo stops, in 2004. An all-SEC selection in 2004 and was twice named to the conference's all-academic team.

Upside: Very active, but economical at the same time. Sees the ball quickly, takes solid angles and gets into the play. Compensates for a lack of explosiveness and closing speed with instinctive style. The kind of defender who looks fairly unremarkable during a game but, when you check the stat sheet, has 10 tackles. A very sure tackler, won't slide off ball carriers, and will step into the hole. Hits with a natural, rising motion.

Downside: A good, but not great, athlete. Not nearly as complete a pass-rusher as some of the other linebacker prospects. Might be more of a drop-and-cover player and, in that area, will have to get better at tracking receivers from the backfield. Plays off his feet a little too often and sometimes has lapses in which he struggles to disengage.

The dish: Nice player who has competed at a high level and knows how to play the game. A solid second-round pick.

• ILB Odell Thurman (Georgia)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 0 1/8, 233 pounds, 4.62 in the 40.

Numbers game: Was a partial qualifier in 2001, then, after some off-field and academic problems, played at Georgia Military Academy in 2002. Transferred back to Georgia in '03 and started in 22 of 23 appearances. Had 186 tackles, 29½ tackles for loss, 9½ sacks, 24 pressures, two forced fumbles, three recoveries and two interceptions. Returned one interception for a touchdown. Was all-SEC and a semifinalist for the Butkus Award in 2004. Was suspended for the first three games of the '04 campaign for violating unspecified team rules.

Upside: Huge hitter who strikes a natural, rising blow and really gets his legs and hips into a tackle. When he smacks you, chances are you're going down. An explosive first-contact defender who can jolt a ball carrier and stop him in his tracks. Wraps up on tackles and drives through people. Reads keys well and gets up into the hole. Hustles and will make plays outside the tackle box. A decent inside blitzer. Plays with a chip on his shoulder. Solid work ethic.

Downside: His motor might actually run a little too high – he bites easily on play-action fakes. Has a tendency to overrun some plays and doesn't redirect back into the flow. Not very good in coverage and will struggle in space. A ton of off-field issues, including two suspensions, and definitely lacks maturity.

The dish: Just grading him on football skills, probably the best inside linebacker in the draft, and maybe the premier backer, period. But teams that are doing background checks on him can't like some of the stuff being unearthed. No worse than a second-round pick on ability, but it will be interesting to see how much the character red flags will hurt him.

• OLB Matt McCoy (San Diego State)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 0, 234 pounds, 4.62 in the 40.

Numbers game: Redshirted as a freshman. Three-year starter, opened in 29 games and finished with 270 tackles, 27 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Had 18 tackles in a 2004 game against Michigan. Missed the final game in '04 because of a wrist injury. Was twice named second-team all-Mountain West Conference.

Upside: Just a good, steady defender who is never going to be flashy or athletically jaw-dropping, but a guy who makes the plays he is supposed to make. A sure, wrap-up tackler who is always in position. Solid cover skills and can run deep. Big heart and big motor and a solid character guy.

Downside: Lack of bulk means he gets engulfed every once in a while. Will go through stretches where he gets blocked too easily. Needs to get stronger.

The dish: Might have been the best player not invited to the combine. On a steady rise, has made a lot of visits the past month, and some teams rate him as a possible second-round prospect.

• ILB Barrett Ruud (Nebraska)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 2½, 241 pounds, 4.75 in the 40.

Numbers game: A starter on three state championship teams in high school. Started 37 games and appeared in 50, posting 432 tackles, 50 tackles for loss, eight sacks, 29 pressures, seven forced fumbles, three recoveries and one interception. Had a fumble return for a touchdown. Averaged 146 tackles over his final two seasons, and his 143 stops in 2004 led the conference. An all-Big 12 pick in 2004 and was also named to the conference's all-academic team last season.

Upside: Intense, smart and, as his numbers indicate, very productive. Competes on every snap. Uses his hands well to shed blockers and does a nice job of keeping people off his legs. Plays on his feet and under control. Moves his feet well and very fluid in going laterally down the line. Does a nice job of ducking under blocks and sliding underneath a play. Drops well and has nice awareness in the coverage game.

Downside: A sure tackler, but not a guy who will jolt you. Doesn't strike through the tackle or hit with natural rising action. A step slow on some plays.

The dish: Played mostly outside linebacker in college but might have to make the switch to the inside at the next level. A productive player in four different defenses during his college career, so change is nothing new to him. A second- or third-round pick.

• ILB Channing Crowder (Florida)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 2¼, 245 pounds, 4.67 in the 40.

Numbers game: Played mostly at tailback in high school and delayed enrollment at Florida while he rehabilitated a knee injury. Played in 20 games and started 17 of them, recording 179 tackles, 13½ tackles for loss, four sacks, one pressure, two forced fumbles, three recoveries and an interception. Voted a team captain as a sophomore. Was an all-SEC choice in 2004. Was twice suspended, one game on each occasion, for scrapes with the law.

Upside: Has an undeniable swagger to him. Plays with a sense of urgency. Vocal on the field and just a naturally intense defender. Cuts through the traffic to get to the ball and, when he arrives, is an explosive hitter. Tries to de-cleat the ball carrier every chance he gets. Fancies himself an intimidator and, at times, certainly fills the role. Sheds nicely, really uses his hands well, strong enough to slap blockers away. Makes plays outside the box and can get out on the edge. Has some rush ability and times his blitzes well.

Downside: Not as fluid as you want, especially through the hips, and falls into the habit of not breaking down into a textbook football position. Sometimes allows his emotions to take over and will play out of control and with a lack of discipline. Got away with some freelancing in college that won't cut it at the next level. Has had knee problems and some off-field issues that could be a factor.

The dish: Teams are looking hard at his character and examining some of the off-field incidents in which he was involved, but seem almost as concerned with his knees. Might still sneak into the bottom of the first round, depending on individual teams, but could just as easily slip into the third round.

• ILB Alfred Fincher (Connecticut)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 1 3/8, 248 pounds, 4.68 in the 40.

Numbers game: Three-year starter, played in 47 games, starting 35 of them. Posted 354 tackles, 33½ tackles for loss, five sacks, seven pressures, eight forced fumbles, five recoveries and four interceptions. Had one interception return for a touchdown. Had 90 or more tackles, including 140 stops in 2004, in each of his final three seasons. His 140 tackles in '04 led the conference. Chosen for the all-Big East team as a senior.

Upside: Tough, gritty overachiever, kind of flew under the radar screen until UConn moved to the Big East and he began to get some exposure. A good athlete, has a feel for the game and, when you stop the video, he's almost always in the frame. Knows how to scrape off a blocker, how to get up inside the flow and how to make the play. A sure tackler who will step up into the hole. Enough speed to turn and run deep down the middle, so could be a good fit for "Cover 2" teams. Competitive and feisty.

Downside: Doesn't explode into tackles. Occasionally tries to do too much instead of just taking care of his own responsibilities, and will get out of position. Gets caught inside a little too much.

The dish: A player on the rise, has a nice foundation on which to build, and figures to be a first-day choice.

• OLB Jordan Beck (Cal-Poly)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 2 3/8, 233 pounds, 4.60 in the 40.

Numbers game: High school wide receiver and defensive back. Moved to linebacker as a true freshman in 2001 and appeared in 10 games. Started in all but three of 43 outings, had 449 tackles, 51½ tackles for loss, 16½ sacks, 16 passes defensed, six forced fumbles and three recovered, and four interceptions. A monster year in 2004, when he totaled 135 tackles, 5½ sacks, six forced fumbles and four interceptions. Arguably one of the best overall seasons in the country by a linebacker at any college level. Captured the Buck Buchanan Award in 2004 as the top defensive player in I-AA football. Was also named the Great Western Conference defensive player of the year.

Upside: Bright, aware player, made most of the defensive adjustment calls in college and always scored high with coaches in the cerebral side of the game. Consistently productive throughout his career. Doesn't go many snaps without making a play. Has good burst and can fly to the ball. Much better athlete than he originally appears and posted a 41-inch vertical jump at the scouting combine. Has some cover skills. Goes hard every snap.

Downside: For as quick as he is, the speed is largely straight-line, and he is not a big change of direction guy. Played way off the line of scrimmage in his college defensive scheme, so some questions about how well he takes on blockers. Doesn't use his hands well. Hasn't played against big-time competition.

The dish: A few teams feel he moves well enough to switch to safety. An interesting guy, might have to play in a scheme where he is covered and protected and just allowed to run to the ball.

• OLB Trent Cole (Cincinnati)

Vital statistics: 6 foot 2¼, 243 pounds, 4.77 in the 40.

Numbers game: Sat out his freshman season to work on academics. Began his career at defensive tackle, then moved to end, but projects best to linebacker. Played in 38 games, starting 33, and finished with 238 tackles, 48 tackles for loss, 19 sacks, 35 pressures, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Upside: Impressive-looking athlete. Despite playing end for most of career, seems to have linebacker-type abilities. Plays nice gap control, takes care of his own business, and grades out well in terms of assignments. Good knee bend, can work across blockers, and not afraid to take people on head-up. Good motor.

Downside: Lacks fluidity and, when stacked up against better competition in the Senior Bowl practices, didn't step it up. Will hang back too much at times, and might not be a good diagnostician. Plays off-balance and is on the ground more than you'd like.

The dish: Innate pass-rush skills, raw athleticism and potential could get him into the first day of the draft.

More on LBs

Others: ILB Lofa Tatupu (Southern California), OLB David McMillan (Kansas), ILB Kirk Morrison (San Diego State), OLB Cornelius Wortham (Alabama), OLB Jared Newberry (Stanford), ILB Lance Mitchell (Oklahoma), ILB Adam Seward (Nevada-Las Vegas), ILB Marcus Lawrence (South Carolina), OLB Michael Boley (Southern Mississippi), OLB Bryant Brown (Houston), ILB Mike Goolsby (Notre Dame).

Rising: LeRoy Hill (Clemson) was a productive, high-motor player who has made a lot of late visits and is definitely gaining momentum with scouts. His lack of size has been overshadowed by his athletic skills. Ryan Claridge (Nevada-Las Vegas) has great size (6 foot 2¼, 254 pounds), is a deceptively good athlete, and can play either middle or strong linebacker and contribute on special teams. He has moved into the high middle rounds. All Lionel Turner (LSU) did was lead the Tigers in tackles last season and, with his knees seemingly sound again, he is back on the radar screen.

Declining: He will probably still go off the board in the middle rounds, but there isn't quite the buzz about Rian Wallace (Temple) as there was a month or two ago. Most teams feel he should have stayed in school for his senior season. Also slipping a bit, but more because of age (25) than his ability, is Robert McCune (Louisville), who spent three years in the National Guard.

Intriguing: An end in college, Jonathan Goddard (Marshall) had 22½ sacks over the past two seasons, including 16 quarterback takedowns in 2004. He can be an explosive pass-rusher and, while he struggles in space, should at least merit consideration as a situational defender … Another college end, Andre Frazier (Cincinnati), doesn't have great athleticism but is an overachiever who has flashed enough to draw a look … Marques Harris (Southern Utah) has some injury and off-field concerns, but had 11 sacks in 2004 and might be a good fit in a 3-4 front … Robert Rodriguez (Texas-El Paso) is too productive to ignore.

Sleepers: Kenneth Pettway (Grambling) has long arms and posted 19½ sacks the last two seasons. He is a "tweener," but with so many teams playing the 3-4 now, that isn't such a bad thing to be … Nigel Eldridge (UAB) is limited athletically but was very steady in a good program … James Grigsby (Illinois State) is undersized but still very strong, and was his conference's defensive player of the year for each of the last three seasons.

Notable: Derrick Johnson's (Texas) brother, Dwight, played for Baylor and was a journeyman in the NFL for a few seasons. Johnson is the cousin of former NFL wideout Bert Emanuel … Channing Crowder (Florida) is the son of former NFL defensive end Randy Crowder, who played for Cincinnati and Miami … Lionel Turner (LSU) is the cousin of former Buffalo defensive back Raion Hill … Lofa Tatupu (Southern Cal) is the son of one-time New England fullback Mosi Tatupu … The father of Barrett Ruud (Nebraska) also played for the Cornhuskers, as did two uncles and his great-grandfather … As a high school senior, Lance Mitchell (Oklahoma) played tailback and rushed for over 3,000 yards and 36 touchdowns … Jared Newberry's (Stanford) grandfather and two great-uncles played baseball in the Negro Leagues … The father of Marques Harris (Southern Utah), Alvin Phillips, played football at Colorado … James Grigsby (Illinois State) is a three-time AAU All-American on the trampoline … Ryan Claridge (Nevada-Las Vegas) is the brother of Carolina Panthers guard Travis Claridge … The father of Jordan Beck (Cal-Poly) played college football, and his mother was a swimmer.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.


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WTF is the deal w/ Matt McCoy :huh:

Not even thought highly enough to get a combine invite but now all the sudden a 2nd rd pick. He must have some serious coverage skills to get as many visits as he has....Or a really damn good agent :lol:

Gimme his fellow Aztec -- Kirk Morrision.

DT wise, I really like Ellison and Babineaux but that's about it. Alfred Malone showed lots of intensity in the Silicon Bowl and could make for a good late Day 2 pick.

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