The Jaguars would seem to be positioned perfectly, according to this year's crop of defensive ends and defensive tackles.
"This is a terrible year for defensive tackles. It's an outstanding year for pass-rushers," jaguars.com draft analyst Tony Pauline said.
That combination is just fine with the Jaguars, who have the game's best defensive tackle combination in Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, but remain likely to be in the market for a defensive end early in this year's NFL draft.
Oklahoma's Dan Cody, 6-5, 265, tops the list of ends. Cody is a ferocious and tenacious defender who ran a 4.68 40 at his pro-day workout. He's athletic and plays smart. The only knock on Cody is that he's a bit undersized and isn't likely to be good against the run. He's a pass-rusher who can provide an impact in that department immediately. He would fit perfectly next to Stroud and Henderson, who handle the run-defense chores very well. Getting Cody, however, would likely require the Jaguars to trade up into the top 10.
In fact, the premium nature of the defensive end position could see all of the first-round prospects leave the board before the Jaguars are on the clock with the 21st overall pick. Marcus Spears of LSU, Shawne Merriman of Maryland, Erasmus James of Wisconsin, David Pollack of Georgia and Justin Tuck of Notre Dame are the other first-round candidates.
Spears, 6-4, 295, is a perfect fit as a 3-4 defensive end or for a 4-3 team looking for a run-stuffer. Dallas, Houston and San Diego would be likely candidates to select Spears. He has top skills but the rap on Spears is that he doesn't always play hard. Pauline thinks Spears would be a top-eight selection if he played all-out. Spears didn't run at the scouting combine or in the LSU pro day because of a knee injury.
Merriman, 6-4, 270, is a linebacker who may be converted to defensive end in the NFL. He ran a 4.70 in his pro-day workout and is a true "tweener." Is he a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 end? That's the question that could cause Merriman to drop, but Pauline thinks Merriman's talent and upside will prevail and make him a first-half-of-the-first-round pick. He's athletic, forceful, productive and makes a lot of plays upfield. He is the definition of a "playmaker."
James, 6-4, 270, is a terrific pass-rusher who had a great senior season. He's a little undersized and has been bothered by injuries in his career, and that could cause him to fall to the Jags, should other prospects zoom up. James ran a disappointing 4.85 at the combine.
Pollack, 6-2, 260, was a fabulous performer at Georgia. Nobody is more productive. He's a great athlete who runs well and plays fast. Pollack has run 4.6 and 4.7 and is a perfect fit for a zone-blitz team. The major concern is for his size. He has small hands and feet and he has very little size upside. The fear is that he could get "swallowed up by big tackles," Pauline said, and he might be better as a linebacker in a 3-4.
Tuck, 6-5, 268, could soar up boards. He ran a legit 4.6 in his pro day, and scouts are beginning to factor in that Tuck played well despite several nagging injuries last season. He had a great sophomore season and is now coming out as a junior. "He makes plays in every direction," Pauline said. "He has as much upside as any of the guys above him." Pauline thinks Tuck could be gone by the time the Jags are on the clock.
Matt Roth, 6-4, 270, is another one of those Iowa over-achievers. Pauline says he could be the most competitive player in the draft. Roth has run in the high 4.6 range, but he remains limited by his size. He'll go early in the second round.
Virginia Tech's James Davis, 6-3, 265, is quick and explosive, but he has been held back by a lot of injuries. He missed 2003 with a torn pectoral muscle and has never played at 100 percent. He's a 4.75 guy with a 34-inch vertical jump. Figure him to go early in the second round, too.
Chris Canty, 6-7, 290, of Virginia is a run-stuffing defensive end who has good size and even better size potential. He's not a special athlete but he makes plays. Canty, however, was lost early last season when he tore his
ACL. He's expected to be ready to go this summer, but he may be more of a prospect for 2006 than for '05. He's a third-round guy.
Cal's Ryan Riddle, 6-3, 250, is the last of the first-day prospects. An undersized end who plays fast and creates havoc, Riddle is a poor man's David Pollack. Riddle can drop into coverage but will always struggle against the run. He ran a rather poor 4.8 in his pro day, but he was bothered by a hamstring pull. Riddle is also a prospect as a 3-4 linebacker.
The tackle crop is headed by Florida State's Travis Johnson, 6-5, 286, who may hear his name called in the middle of the first round. Johnson is a decent athlete, is solid against run and has some pass-rush ability, but he is not a dominant player. He recovered from a bad junior year that was compromised by a legal struggle, and gave a top performance last season. He ran a 4.8 at his pro day.
USC's Shaun Cody, 6-3, 290, is a solid college player who has size and speed limitations for the next level. He's a late-first round prospect.
Teammate Mike Patterson, 6-0, 285, is explosive and makes a lot of plays up the field and is good against run, but size concerns will drop him into the second round.
Anttag Hawthorne, 6-3, 312, of Wisconsin has excellent size and can be an outstanding run-stuffer, but he doesn't always play that way and ran a very pedestrian 5.3 at the combine. He needs to give a better effort. Figure him for early in the second round.
Northwestern's Luis Castillo, 6-5, 305, is a good athlete, makes a lot of plays in the box and offers potential as a nose tackle for the 3-4 teams. He plays low and is a prospect for the second half of the second round.
Iowa's Jonathan Babineaux, 6-2, 280, is one of the best leverage linemen in the draft. He's explosive, plays hard, makes plays up the field and can drop into coverage. Size limitations, however, make him a marginal first-day prospect.
Tony Pauline is the publisher of tfydraftpreview.com, the internet's number one site for year-round coverage of the NFL Draft.