'09 NFL draft: Top 10 DL prospects
Four of top five (and seven of top 10) defensive line prospect are defensive ends
With size and speed, Florida State's Everette Brown is the top current pass rusher
Mississippi DT Peria Jerry could sneak into the first round with a solid combine
With the NFL combine set to begin this week in Indianapolis, SI.com's Bucky Brooks, a former scout, is ranking the top 2009 draft prospects by position group. The lists were compiled through a series of conversations with scouts and game-tape evaluations. The schedule will be as follows:
1. Everette Brown, Florida State, DE: A freakish athlete with all the tools to be a difference-maker at the next level. Blessed with an outstanding first step and explosive closing burst, Brown terrorizes quarterbacks from the backside. Although he excels at beating offensive tackles off the ball with his exceptional snap anticipation, Brown also possesses an array of moves that allow him to consistently win one-on-one battles on the edge. With 13.5 sacks and four forced fumbles last season, Brown demonstrated he is capable of taking over the game as an edge rusher and is a strong candidate to be the top pass rusher taken on draft day.
2. B.J. Raji, Boston College, DT: A dominating interior player with exceptional strength and power. The former Eagle overwhelms blockers at the point of attack and serves as a disruptive force against the run as a "one-gap" penetrator. Though Raji needs to play stouter against double teams, his ability to get into the backfield consistently alters the way offenses attack. Additionally, Raji is an effective pass rusher who uses a combination of power and surprising athleticism to defeat one-on-one blocks. Raji was considered one of the top defensive tackle prospects heading into the season, and he has only solidified his status with a solid showing during the regular season and Senior Bowl.
3. Brian Orakpo, Texas, DE: An energetic pass rusher with outstanding speed and quickness. Orakpo possesses an explosive first step and routinely defeats tackles with an assortment of athletic rush moves. The former Longhorn recorded 11.5 sacks during his senior season and is a persistent threat off the edge as a rusher. Though scouts downgrade Orakpo for his struggles against the run, he is a phenomenal pass rusher who has the potential to make an immediate impact as an edge player in a 3-4.
4. Aaron Maybin, Penn State, DE: An explosive speed rusher with an outstanding closing burst. Maybin (12 sacks last season) relies on his superior athleticism to put tremendous pressure on quarterbacks off the edge. As a run defender, Maybin lacks the bulk to consistently hold the point but is an effective "run-and-chase" player on the backside. While Maybin's lean frame and one-dimensional game concerns some scouts, many view the former Nittany Lion as a talented prospect with the potential to blossom into a big-time pass rusher in a 3-4.
5. Tyson Jackson, LSU, DE: The former Tiger is a stout edge defender with good strength and power. While Jackson specializes in playing a power game, he also shows good quickness off the ball and flashes a closing burst when chasing quarterbacks from behind. As a run defender, Jackson effectively stacks blockers at the line of scrimmage and quickly sheds the opposition to corral ball carriers. With few collegiate defensive ends possessing the size and strength to effectively play the run as a rookie, it is not surprising that many scouts view Jackson as a potential first-round pick.
6. Peria Jerry, Mississippi, DT: An ultra-quick defensive tackle with a high motor and good movement skills. Jerry shows explosive quickness off the snap and serves as a disruptive force as a "one-gap" penetrator. Jerry effectively works angles off stunts and games to get into creases against the run. Though he lacks the lower-body strength to handle double teams consistently, Jerry relentlessly challenges blockers at the point and finds a way to get in on a number of tackles along the line of scrimmage. With few defensive tackles possessing his quickness and motor, Jerry is a coveted prospect who could sneak into the first round with a solid performance at the NFL combine.
7. Paul Kruger, Utah, DE: A high-motor pass rusher with an explosive first step and burst. Kruger surprises offensive tackles with his quickness off the ball and eventually wears them out with his relentless pursuit. As a run defender, Kruger has problems stacking blockers at the point of attack but actively chases runs down from the backside, as evidenced by his 15.5 tackles for loss this season. Though Kruger is an unpolished prospect due to his lack of game experience (he only played two years of college ball due to serving an LDS mission), his athleticism, motor and upside make him an intriguing prospect at the top of the second round.
8. Evander Hood, Missouri, DT: An energetic interior pass rusher with exceptional speed and quickness. Hood shows explosive initial quickness and is surprisingly nimble for his size. He deftly uses an assortment of rush moves to put consistent pressure on quarterbacks in the pocket. Though Hood only recorded five sacks on the season, his production doesn't accurately reflect the impact he has on opponents' blocking schemes. Hood is an ideal "three-technique" in a Tampa-two scheme and could further boost his stock with a standout performance at the combine.
9. Robert Ayers, Tennessee, DE: An active defensive end with solid overall skills. Although he doesn't possess an explosive first step, Ayers is a solid pass rusher who occasionally flashes a closing burst while pursuing quarterbacks. Scouts have reservations about Ayers' rush skills based on his paltry career production (nine career sacks), but he opened eyes with his impressive performance at the Senior Bowl (1.5 sacks). Ayers turned up his game against top competition and displayed skills that few scouts had seen throughout his career. With a solid showing at the combine, Ayers can continue to make a late climb up the draft board.
10. Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech, DE: The former Yellow Jacket is a rangy athlete with good speed and quickness. With exceptional height (6-foot-7) for the position, Johnson relies on his long stride and fluid movement skills to track quarterbacks down from the backside. While his size hinders his ability to effectively defend the run, Johnson makes a number of flashy plays that jump out on tape. Johnson's production doesn't match his athletic potential, but scouts still view him as an intriguing pass rusher and will make a play for the enigmatic talent at the top of the second round.