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We continue our preseason rankings of draft eligible players by position. Today we cover the defensive line.
1. Sam Montgomery – LSU: Montgomery was a 3rd team All-American and 1st team All-SEC in 2011. He was 3rd in the SEC in sacks (9) and 7th in the SEC in tackles for loss (13). He missed 8 games in 2010 with a knee injury, but rebounded with an outstanding season in 2011. Montgomery is one of the most dominant defensive ends in the country. He has terrific athleticism, great size and a high motor. Expect him to be a high first round pick, possibly top 5.
2. William Gholston – Michigan State: Gholston was a first time starter in 2011 and he ended the year as a 2nd team All-Big Ten selection. He steadily improved every game and by the end of the year was a disruptive force. He does a good job setting the edge in the run game and turning outside plays back to the inside. Gholston is a player that creates havoc, brings good QB pressure off the edge and will be a highly sought after commodity next April.
3. John Simon – Ohio State: When I see John Simon play, I think of the Energizer Bunny. He led his team in sacks (7) and tackles for loss (16). He is a very quick one gap player that plays with energy and effort on every play. He is extremely active and disruptive. He is the heart and soul of the Buckeye defense. He has played both inside and outside. Simon is so athletic that Ohio State even used him as a spy against Denard Robison, so he could possibly make the transition to outside linebacker. Regardless of position, Simon is a player that you have to find a spot for and get him on the field.
4. Barkevius Mingo – LSU: Mingo teams with Sam Montgomery to give LSU a monster player at each end of the defensive line. He was 2nd team All-SEC and led his team with 15 tackles for loss. Mingo makes plays all over the field and creates confusion for the opposing offense. He has played standing up and with his hand on the ground. At 240 pounds, he will probably be a candidate for conversion to outside linebacker in the pros.
5. Alex Okafor – Texas: Okafor is beginning his third year as the starter at defensive end and has been 1st team All-Big 12 in both 2010 and 2011. He is a very versatile player with good speed and quickness. When the Longhorns were thin at tackle, he has kicked inside, but he is more suited to play on the outside. He has played linebacker and defensive end, so he could play either position at the next level. Okafor has a good bull rush, pursues the football well and led his team with 12.5 sacks in 2011.
1. Johnathan Hankins – Ohio State: Hankins teams with John Simon to give the Buckeyes a dominating front line, however that’s where the similarities end. Simon is a 270 pounder, where Hankins weighs in at 322 pounds. He is powerful, yet agile and very athletic. Hankins was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection with 3 sacks and 14 tackles for loss last year.
2. Star Lotulelei – Utah: Lotulelei is a big, strong inside player that is better against the run than against the pass. He is able to get off of blocks well, even when he’s double teamed. He tied for the team lead with 9 tackles for loss; however, he sometimes tries to jump the count and gets himself in trouble. Lotulelei is a 2 gap run stuffer that completely shuts down the middle of the line. He was selected 1st team All-PAC 12 in 2011.
3. Kawann Short – Purdue: Short was a team captain and 2nd team All-Big Ten in 2011. He led the team with 6.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Short has been a starter since his freshman year. When Short uses his lower body strength, he can be immovable, even when double teamed. He sometimes struggle with consistency and doesn’t always generate the type of leverage that he’s capable of producing. If he can develop a mean streak, he can be a dominating player at any level.
4. Jesse Williams – Alabama: Williams is a 320 pounder that has played the 3-4 defensive end for the National Champions and moves inside on passing downs. He does a good job stopping the run and pushing the pocket. Williams was a JC transfer, so 2011 was his first year as a starter. Although Williams plays end for the Crimson Tide, I see him as more of a nose tackle or 4-3 defensive tackle at the next level.
5. John Jenkins – Georgia: Jenkins was also a JC transfer and was named the Bulldogs Newcomer of the Year in 2011. He is a massive 358 pound nose tackle that is hard to move. He is a space eater that makes it very difficult to run between the tackles. Jenkins has surprising athleticism. In the 2011 Outback Bowl, Jenkins intercepted a pass off of Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins.
by Dwayne Wilton