The defensive line is perhaps the one area in the draft that might be most plentiful. Particularly for those teams looking to add depth to a 3-4 scheme like the 49ers. This year, the line is littered with behemoths. You’ll notice the list below is compiled of those primarily listed as defensive tackles in college. This is because, typically both the 0-technique tackles (nose tackles) and 5-technique ends (defensive ends in the 3-4) are rather large and usually come from a program where they played on the interior of the line.
Conversely, when I compile a list for outside linebackers, you’ll see several players listed that played defensive end in college. This is because many outside pass rushers in the 3-4 play defensive end in college. There are only a few teams that play a true 3-4 at the college level, so NFL coaches must get creative and be sort of visionary when scouting defensive lineman and outside linebackers/pass rushers.
My Top 10 Defensive Lineman:
1. Star Lotulelei 6-4 325lbs – Utah Stock: Rising Projection: Top 5
2. Johnathan Hankins 6-4 325lbs – Ohio State Stock: Rising Projection: Top 15
3. Jesse Williams 6-4 320lbs – Alabama Stock: Rising Projection: Top 20
4. Sheldon Richardson 6-4 295lbs – Missouri Stock: Rising Projection: Top 20
5. Sharrif Floyd 6-3 301lbs – Florida Stock: Rising Projection: 1st round
6. Jonathan Jenkins 6-3 351lbs – Georgia Stock: Falling Projection: 1-2 rounds
7. Sylvester Williams 6-3 320lbs – North Carolina Stock: Falling Projection: 2nd round
8. Kawann Short: 6-3 310lbs – Purdue Stock: Falling Projection: 2nd round
9. Bennie Logan 6-3 287lbs – LSU Stock: Steady Projection: 2-3 round
10. Brandon Williams 6-2 328lbs – Missouri Southern Stock: Rising Projection: 3-4 round
Issac Sopoaga is in the final year of his deal, and with a history of letting nose tackles walk (Aubrayo Franklin) it seems logical that the Niners could look to fill this spot with an early pick, even with Ian Williams waiting in the wings. Ricky Jean François filled in admirably for Justin Smith, but I’m not sure he’s a long term solution along the line. Depth and a potential starter at nose tackle are likely to be filled in this draft.
Many of the players listed above are versatile enough to play anywhere along the defensive line for the Niners. Only Jesse Williams, Jonathan Jenkins, and perhaps Brandon Williams project as true nose tackles at the next level.
Jesse Williams is quickly becoming one of my favorite players in the draft. The Aussie is a former rugby player and possesses the athleticism to line up on both sides of the ball. You may have noticed him line up the backfield in Alabama’s jumbo goal line package during the National Championship game. It’s unlikely Williams will be available when the 49ers pick in round one so we’ll look elsewhere for potential fits.
Sharrif Floyd is one some of you are familiar with and was Todd McShay’s selection for the 49ers in his latest mock draft. Having seen Floyd play first hand I can honestly say the man is going to make a lot f money at the next level. He’s constantly wreaking havoc in the backfield and in on just about every play. I don’t think he’ll drop beyond pick 25 when it’s all said and done.
Jonathan Jenkins from Georgia is seeing his stock fall a bit after missing the Capital One Bowl due to academic suspension. His size and production cannot be ignored. The second team All-SEC selection is a true nose tackle that can almost single-handedly impact the defenses ability to stop the run.
I discussed Kawann Short from Purdue before their bowl game and I love his motor. He projects more of a 3-technique tackle (4-3) but has a giant wingspan that has allowed him to deflect 15 passes and block an astonishing six field goals during his career. In the right system and with proper coaching I could see him being used similarly to how the Texans use J.J. Watt.
Bandon Williams, from small school Missouri Southern, is one to keep your eye on. He’s shown ability to not only stuff the run but use his amazing athleticism to record 8 1/2 sacks his senior year and 27 for his career. He can play anywhere on the line and I imagine he will continue to rise up the draft boards. I'd love to nab this kid in the second round if he lasts that long.