With the various defensive fronts NFL teams are using, big, athletic defensive lineman always are a need. Mike Lombardi, Andrew Brandt and Wes Bunting of The National Football Post break down this year's top 10 defensive lineman.
1. T Terrence Cody, Alabama THE BUZZ: An absolute game-changer who single-handedly has turned around the Crimson Tide's rush defense. Cody is a massive nose tackle who possesses an amazing blend of quickness and flexibility off the snap. He gets off the ball quickly and overpowers offensive linemen on contact. He is unblockable one-on-one and needs the attention of at least two blockers on every play. He has the base strength and girth to hold the point of attack against double-teams; he can push the pocket even against double-teams. He isn't going to run an impressive 40-time but his initial 10-yard spilt is impressive and he closes well. He is limited as a pass rusher and is a bit raw technically. He needs to do a better job using his hands to shed blocks and play with more consistent leverage when driving linemen upfield. But Cody is the type of player you can build a defense around, and his power, strength and agility are unmatched by any defensive tackle to come out in the past decade.
2. T Sen'Derrick Marks, Auburn THE BUZZ: Marks is a bit undersized but plays with good power and has a lot of strength in his lower half. He has great balance and body control off his initial pass rush. He likes contact inside and prefers to use his suddenness to get into offensive linemen quickly and use his array of pass-rush moves to disengage and explode upfield. He's a polished pass rusher who has an array of moves (arm over, rip and swat) inside, which allow him to gain a step inside and close on the quarterback. A naturally squatty player who does a nice job playing with leverage and getting under guards. Marks isn't the most powerful run defender and will struggle with double-teams. He has difficulty shedding blocks when he is trying to hold the point of attack. He plays with a great motor and never takes a snap off. He's a maximum-effort player, no matter the situation.
3. E Brian Orakpo, Texas THE BUZZ: He possesses a slender but muscular frame with good upper-body thickness. He demonstrates a good first step and excellent closing speed in pursuit of the ball. He also has the ability to bull rush and drive tackles back into a quarterback's lap. He needs to do a better job using his hands and disengaging from blocks on the outside. He plays the run well for a smaller end and shows good power at the point to stack. Orakpo has a tendency to simply try to make tackles miss; he needs to play with better hand placement and work on disengaging on contact. He struggles when tackles get into his body and is often content to be blocked when they do. Orakpo has the burst and change-of-direction skills to be a 10-sack guy in the NFL if he can learn to play with better hand placement.
4. E Greg Hardy, Ole Miss THE BUZZ: He's an explosive athlete who does an excellent job firing off the ball. Hardy possesses good body control and balance on his outside pass push, and makes it difficult for tackles to get under him and stay on their blocks. He's a hard worker with a motor that runs non-stop. He keeps pushing the pocket from the outside and re-directs well back toward the ball. He plays the run extremely well for his size, and has the length and lower-body strength to anchor in. But he lacks a great arsenal of moves and is limited to the speed rush. He needs to learn to use his hands better to shed blocks once he is engaged, but he has the power, burst and quickness to get after the passer and play the run at the next level.
5. E Everette Brown, Florida State THE BUZZ: Brown displays an impressive combination of power and speed off the edge and makes it difficult for tackles to cue in on his pass rush. He has the first-step quickness and burst to get out of his stance and reach the corner consistently. Brown exhibits a strong punch and drive on his bull rush, and does a nice job mixing in the bull rush and speed rush to keep tackles off-balance. While he is aggressive and plays with a high motor, he needs to show more discipline and better instincts. He will run himself out of plays and lose containment on runs to his side. He rushes with power, speed and agility, and just needs to add more moves to his pass-rush arsenal. He has a lot of upside, and while he isn't a finished product, all the physical tools are there.
6. E Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech THE BUZZ: Johnson has an explosive first step off the snap and the ability to get up the field in a blink. He has a massive wingspan and great closing speed. He also has the athletic ability to drop off in zone-blitz situations. He disengages well from tackles, and uses his outside swat move as well as anyone in the country. He is agile and can change directions quickly. He needs to become a better all-around player. At times, Johnson will get washed out too easy in the run game. He needs to do a better job planting and holding at the point of attack. He comes out of his stance too high against the run and doesn't show the fight or motor you want to consistently see. He needs to continue to work on his technique and hand placement in the run game, but has the power and length to be a good run stuffer. In addition, at times he gets lazy and doesn't have the production you would expect from someone with his type of physical gifts.
7. T B.J. Raji, Boston College THE BUZZ: Raji displays great lower-body strength and has the power to consistently get under interior linemen and drive them into the backfield. He does a nice job playing low while anchoring inside and is difficult to move off the ball. He has an impressive initial surge off the snap, and has the lower-body strength to overpower blockers. Raji does a nice job finding the ball and has enough closing speed to make a play in space. He struggles a bit when his initial surge is stalled and lacks the suddenness to shed blocks and explode upfield. But he has an intriguing combination of quickness and power off the snap.
8. E George Selvie, USF THE BUZZ: Selvie is a long, lean athlete. He has an explosive first step and gets on a tackle's outside shoulder quickly. Selvie also has the closing speed and quickness to turn the corner and get after the quarterback. He can get too high on his outside rush and can be pushed past the quarterback too easily. Selvie needs to add more moves to his pass-rush arsenal; he is too dependent on his speed rush and struggles shedding blockers when they get their hands on him. He lacks the bulk and lower-body strength to bull rush, and when he gets locked on, the battle is over. He can struggle against the run and physical run blockers, but he does have the burst and quickness to slide down the line and shoot gaps inside. He is raw in terms of technique and diversity in his pass rush, and may be best-suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme at the next level.
9. Geno Atkins, Georgia THE BUZZ: Atkins is a short, undersized tackle who plays with natural leverage and pop. He has a powerful lower body and does a nice job driving his legs through contact and fighting off blocks on his pass rush. He plays extremely low and with natural leverage, and it's difficult to move him off the ball. But he struggles finding the ball consistently. He will get a bit too upright on run plays in an attempt to find the ball and can get jacked backward at times at the point of attack. He has quick feet and good overall body control, and can regroup quickly and anchor in once he finds the ball. He struggles taking on double-teams and has a tendency to be washed out of plays too easily. He has a passion for the game and a non-stop motor.
10. E Corey Wootton, Northwestern THE BUZZ: Wootton does an excellent job keeping blockers away from his body and shedding blocks at the point of attack. He does all the little things well. He has a vicious outside swat move and doesn't seem to wear down against double-teams. He has good speed off the edge but lacks the burst and first step to consistently turn the corner. He is an aggressive run defender who can hold the point of attack against the run, but he has a tendency to over-run plays and doesn't always do a great job finding the ball. Wootton could really move up draft boards once scouts see more tape.
NationalFootballPost.com is a new football insider Web site featuring Andrew Brandt, the vice president of the Green Bay Packers for the past nine years, and Michael Lombardi, who has worked in NFL front offices for 22 years, including nine years with Cleveland and eight with Oakland.