Ed. note—The following is the sixth installment in a nine-part series previewing the 2006 NFL draft. This installment features defensive linemen.
The premium put on pass-rushers could push as many as six defensive ends into the first round of this year's NFL draft, even though this is being judged as a down year for defensive linemen overall.
"It's a disappointing crop. (Mario) Williams and (Haloti) Ngata are the only truly complete players. After that you've got undersized pass-rushers who have to add bulk," jaguars.com draft analyst Tony Pauline said.
Williams is screaming up boards. The 6-7, 295-pounder is a great athlete with big upside. He's coming out as a junior and the feeling is Williams hasn't scratched the surface of his ability. Williams can be used in a 4-3 or a 3-4. He's a top pass-rusher who isn't bad against the run, either.
The light went on for Williams in the second half of last season, after coach Chuck Amato took Williams to task. Williams had two sacks in the first half of the year and 12½ in the second half. Teams are likely to overlook Williams' penchant for turning it on and off; his talent is that special. Williams could be headed to the New York Jets at number four.
Ngata, 6-4, 338, of Oregon is a big, powerful, overwhelming force at defensive tackle. He, too, is coming out as a junior and offers a lot of upside. Ngata is athletic and makes plays in space; he's even been used on punt coverage. There have been questions about his motor, but it must be considered that Ngata lost his father in a car accident two years ago and his mother passed away recently. He's a top 10 pick. Buffalo at number eight would be a good spot for Ngata.
Broderick Bunkley, 6-3, 295, of Florida State is an explosive one-gap defensive tackle who carries potential to play nose tackle. He's a low-to-the-ground guy who plays with leverage. He's high energy and disruptive. The Browns could like him at number 12.
Florida State's Kamerion Wimbley, 6-4, 248, will no doubt interest a team with a specific pass-rush plan in mind. Wimbley will be a pass-rush specialist in a 4-3 or a rush backer in a 3-4. He missed a lot of time last year with ankle injuries and saw his sacks production cut to 7½, but he has a special first step and the Browns and Broncos are thought to be interested.
The other N.C. State pass-rusher is Manny Lawson, 6-5, 241, a great athlete who ran a sub-4.5 at the combine. He plays bigger than his size and is adequate against the run. Lawson plays hard and has growth potential. He could also fit in a 3-4 as a rush backer. He had 9½ sacks last year and is likely to be picked late in the first round.
Penn State's Tamba Hali, 6-3, 265, is going to attract someone who likes his work ethic. Hali is a little shorter than most teams would like at defensive end but, of course, so is Dwight Freeney. Hali had a spectacular senior season that produced 11 sacks. He wasn't great at the Senior Bowl and that started his stock to fall. Hali fled Liberia with his father during a civil war and his mother is still there. He's a high-character guy for whom playing football is a joy. He'll go late in the first round.
Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka could become one of the steals of the draft. Kiwanuka, 6-6, 266, of Boston College, went into his senior season as a top 10 prospect. He would've certainly been a top 10 pick a year ago if he hadn't chosen to return for his senior season. Kiwanuka was dogged by a knee injury last season and never hit his stride. Then, in the Senior Bowl, he was stoned by Virginia offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. As a result, Kiwanuka is struggling to stay in the first round. He remains, however, a top talent; a player with size and athletic ability. Seattle has interest.
Michigan defensive tackle Gabe Watson, 6-3, 340, is a classic under-achiever. He's a big, dominant presence. He beats double teams and collapses the pocket. Watson is a solid pass-rusher for a guy his size. Somewhere along the line he bought into his press clippings, causing Lloyd Carr to bench Watson last season. His size and talent, however, will earn him a chance in the NFL, probably entering early in the second round. Watson is a high-character guy who needs a dose of nasty.
Mark Anderson, 6-4, 255, of Alabama is a solid athlete who has really improved his game. He makes plays up the field and plays bigger than his size. The Tide defensive end was solid at the Senior Bowl and outstanding at the combine. He's smart and underrated. He'll go in the middle of round two.
Finally, LSU's Claude Wroten, 6-2, 302, is going to find out how much an arrest for possession of marijuana is going to cost him. The charges were dropped but the stigma remains. Otherwise, Wroten is an explosive tackle with pass-rush ability. He moves laterally and makes plays. He didn't run at the combine then showed up hurt for his pro day, all of which could drop his stock into the latter part of round two.