2011’s defensive middlemen, much like their offensive counterparts, are big and bulky with a hint of All-Pro caliber talent. Interior D-line is a major need for many teams this year and you can never underestimate the value of a solid run-stuffer. 5-6 of these guys may be selected abroad during the 1st round with several more finding a home early on day-two. D-Line may very well be the money position of the 2011 NFL Draft.
1. Marcell Dareus, Junior – Alabama
-In an extremely deep class, the asset that sets Dareus apart from the rest of the pack is his versatility. During his individual workouts at the combine and his pro-day, Dareus showed that he has the power to accompany his size when working the inside. He is capable of playing nose in a 3-4, but I think his talents would be best utilized as an end in a 3-4 or tackle in a 4-3. At 6’4” and 304lbs, Dareus will be hard to move and will certainly occupy double teams at the next level. His ability to get after the passer from both interior and exterior positions is what makes him, perhaps, the most coveted player in the class of 2011. If he’s not the #1 overall pick, you won’t have to wait long to see him go to a team picking in the top-5.
2. Marvin Austin, Senior – North Carolina
-A colossal man-in-the-middle, Marvin Austin was once the high-piece of every draft board. Unfortunately for this disruptive monster, the disciplinary issues that wiped out his Senior season are also chopping away at the rungs on his ladder to the top. The 310lb moving-fortress proved at the NFL combine that he hadn’t been shy of the weight room during his time away from the game. He hammered out 38 bench reps and demonstrated his explosiveness during the broad jump and 20-yard shuttle. One team is going to get a great value on this playmaker in the late 1st-early 2nd round. Don’t be surprised if his name pops up on the DROY ballot.
3. Nick Fairley, Junior – Auburn
-The defensive standout of the National Champion Auburn Tigers enters the 2011 Draft as one if its most coveted subjects. While definitely in contention for the #1 overall pick, Fairley’s stock appears to be taking an acute dive as the Panthers continue to assess their seemingly endless options. A force on the inside, the 6’5”, 300lb tackle from Mobile was more disruptive than a streaker down the stretch for the Tigers. Fairley recorded 11.5 sacks and 24 tackles-for-loss throughout his Junior season, establishing enough credibility to earn him the Lombardi Trophy (nation’s best interior lineman). Expect him to be picked very high in April’s draft – as high as 1 and no later than 7.
4. Stephen Paea, Senior – Oregon St.
-Aurora Borealis couldn’t have drawn your eyes away from Stephen Paea at the combine. Standing bolder than any defensive player at the event, Paea calmly lied flat on the bench and proceeded to pump out 49 reps of 225lbs. Paea then famously stated in an interview following the drill, “I could’ve gotten 50, no questions asked. I lost count pretty early but if I would’ve known that I only needed one more rep, I had it in me.” But his combine results aren’t the only thing bolstering his stock – the 311lb wrecking-ball earned Sports Illustrated All-American honors and was named a finalist for the Bednarik award, given to the nation’s best defensive player. I would certainly consider Paea amongst the top tier of DTs in the class of 2011 and I see him going in the 15-25 range.
5. Phil Taylor, Senior – Baylor
-At 6’4” and 340lbs, Taylor is almost guaranteed to crash the draft boards on Day 1. Sure, size is a valuable asset when recruiting run-stuffers, but the talented Penn State transfer has many more dimensions to his game that make him a top prospect. While maintaining the prowess to effectively split a double-team, Taylor specializes in using his superior strength and athleticism to disengage one-on-one blocks and track down ball carriers, ultimately fashioning 62 tackles and All-Big-12 honors during his Senior year.
6. Drake Nevis, Senior – LSU
-He may be the smallest guy on this list at 6’2” and 285lbs, but Nevis’s skills more than compensate for his subordinate figure. His versatility helped him earn Second-Team All-American honors after completing a Senior season highlighted by career highs in sacks and tackles-for-loss. Nevis is quick enough to make the transition to end without dilemma. Nevis should be an early 2nd round pick and it shouldn’t take long for him to crack a starting lineup.
7. Muhammad Wilkerson, Junior – Temple
-The 2-year starter and 2010 All-MAC selection is grabbing the attention of scouts across the nation with his abnormal size and athleticism. The 6’5”, 305lb Junior recorded 9.5 sacks during the 2010 season and proved that he can play NFL caliber football at both tackle and end. But his versatility isn’t confined to just one unit; Wilkerson played special teams brilliantly for the Owls during his tenure, showing superb awareness and incendiary acceleration.
8. Corey Liuget, Junior – Illinois
-Yet another outstanding talent from the Miami suburb of Hialeah. Corey Liuget is like a self-operating engine, running purely on desire and showing the rare explosiveness that only a truly gifted athlete can summon. Liuget’s off-ball speed allows for a devastating impact, driving offensive linemen back into the core of the play. These attributes will be beyond valuable at the next level and don’t expect the #8 guy on this board to slide out of the 2nd round.
9. Anthony Gray, Senior – Southern Miss.
-At 317lbs, Gray is an absolute anchor at DT. Gray’s wide frame makes him an exemplary run defender, creating a void in the middle of the line-of-scrimmage that will leave any offensive coordinator scratching his noggin. Gray will likely be a late round pick but keep his name in the back of your mind because I think he’s going to be one of this year’s big steals.
10. Jarvis Jenkins, Senior – Clemson
-The durable Nagurski Watch List honoree has high hopes going into April’s draft, and rightfully so. A multipurpose threat, Jenkins shows stout vision as he is frequently seen disrupting plays in the backfield. Having recorded 31 tackles-for-loss, 4 blocked kicks, and 31 quarterback pressures, the Clemson native has the statistical presence of a late 3rd day pick. However, at 6’4” and 315lbs, Jenkins has the ideal physical features to contribute at the next level and his tape shows that he knows how to use them. I see Jenkins going in the mid-late 3rd round range and playing a relief/redzone role in the NFL.
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