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Risk/reward on defensive line


The Jaguars will no doubt focus their attention on this year's class of defensive line draft prospects, but risk would seem to be the theme, especially at defensive end.

"There are a lot of solid pass-rushers. It's a group that lacks size but offers a lot of pass-rushing ability and speed," draft analyst Tony Pauline said. "There are more right defensive ends than there are left defensive ends, but a lot of guys who were defensive ends in college project at linebacker in the NFL."

The number one defensive line prospect is Virginia's Chris Long, a 6-3, 272-pound senior. The son of Raiders great Howie Long, the younger Long is expected to be a top three pick and represents little risk, but will he play up to the level of where he'll be selected?

"He's going to be a very good football player. Perennial All-Pro? I doubt it," Pauline said.

Long plays hard and is very productive. He has everything you want in a premier defensive end, except size or great pass-rushing speed. The concern is that Long may be as good as he's going to get. He averaged 4.77 at the combine but doesn't play that fast as a rusher.

LSU's Glenn Dorsey, 6-1, 297, is an explosive, one-gap, penetrating defensive tackle. He offers amazing quickness, change of direction and pursuit ability. He plays hard, plays smart and plays hurt. The risk with Dorsey is a mysterious knee injury. Dorsey hasn't run for the scouts and there's suspicion that he's undergone knee surgery. Questions about his knee and speed must be answered prior to the draft. The LSU pro day is set for March 26. Dorsey is expected to be a top six pick.

Sedrick Ellis, 6-0, 309, of USC is another explosive, one-gap tackle who plays hard and smart. Ellis flows to the action and can drop into coverage. Pauline refers to Ellis as a better version of Mike Patterson. Ellis ran a 5.3 but plays faster and was quicker than the average for 10 yards at the combine. Ellis was outstanding at the Senior Bowl and figures to be a top eight pick, but he has the height of a nose tackle, not a one-gapper. Therein lies the risk in Ellis.

Want a really big risk? Defensive end Phillip Merling, 6-4, 276, of Clemson recently underwent sports hernia surgery. It could drop his stock from the middle of round one to the bottom of the round.

Merling is a tremendous athlete and pass-rusher. He can turn and chase and covers a lot of ground. At times last season he played better than Gaines Adams had at Clemson. Sports hernia surgery, however, is a really iffy procedure and the track record of sports hernia guys isn't good. Merling, of course, has yet to run for scouts and that's an even bigger problem.

Florida's Derrick Harvey, 6-4, 271, has major upside as a pass-rusher. He's fluid, makes plays up the field and can change direction on a dime. He's not a complete player and that's not a problem because teams would agree that his best football is ahead of him. Harvey, however, is thin and can be a liability against the run. He put on weight for the combine and then ran in the mid-4.8s. The risk with Harvey is that he may be a tweener. He's got to find his niche. Pauline thinks his draft niche will range from the middle of round one to late in the round.

Quentin Groves, 6-3, 260, of Auburn is explosive off the edge. He flashes speed in every direction and is a pass-rushing menace who consistently disrupts plays. The risk with Groves is his size. He's small and struggles getting off blocks. He played linebacker at the end of the year and struggled. He could be another tweener and could get lost between two positions. His 4.55 at the combine, however, will make him a late first-round pick, even if he projects as a pass-rush specialist.

USC's Lawrence Jackson, 6-4, 271, has shown flashes of being a dominant defensive end, as a rusher and as a run-stuffer. He can pursue and slide; he just hasn't done each consistently. He ran 4.8 at combine and is a late-first round prospect.

Calais Campbell, 6-7, 290, Miami may be the riskiest pick in the draft. Campbell was a sensational player as a sophomore in 2006 and some thought he could become the first pick of this year's draft. That won't happen, however, because Campbell had a bad '07 season. "He was handled by mediocre blockers; probably should stay in school," Pauline said.

Making matters worse for Campbell is that he turned in a terrible combine workout, doing only 16 reps and running just under 5.10. Some are comparing him to former Miami lineman William Joseph. Campbell's size and potential, balanced with his recent poor performances, could land him anywhere from late in round one to early in round two.

Ahtyba Rubin, 6-2, 315, of Iowa State is the best nose tackle in the draft and a player who represents very little risk for 3-4 teams. Rubin is nearly impossible to move off the ball. He's been triple-teamed and still held the point. He likes doing the dirty work and did 35 reps at the combine. Rubin has played defensive line for just two years on the Division I-A level, which gives him major upside. He could go early in the second round.

Jason Jones, 6-5, 273, of Eastern Michigan is for a team that wants to take a swing for the fences. He stands out on film and ran under 4.8 at the combine. A late climber, Jones has come out of nowhere to become the choice of 3-4 teams looking for a two-gap type defensive end, as Jones is also viewed as a 4-3 tackle. He's quick and athletic and compares favorably to the Steelers' Aaron Smith. He's a solid second-round prospect.

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