With the 2013 NFL Draft fast approaching on April 25, ClevelandBrowns.com will take a deeper look at the prospects, position-by-position. Today’s spotlight is on the defensive linemen.
Many of the nation’s most prominent draft analysts believe the strength of the 2013 NFL Draft is on the defensive line, not only in terms of top-10 talent, but also depth at the positions of 4-3 defensive end, 3-4 defensive end and defensive tackle.
“I think half the first round is going to be made up of front-seven players,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. said. “I have 12 defensive linemen in the first round right now. Whether it’s front-seven guys in general or just the defensive linemen, this is a great year. Sixteen of the 32 are going to be front-seven players on the defensive side, which is pretty amazing. There are a ton of defensive tackles, a ton of combo defensive ends.”
*4-3 defensive ends: Bjoern Werner (Florida State) and Ezekiel Ansah (Brigham Young); 3-4 defensive ends: Star Lotulelei (Utah) and Margus Hunt (Southern Methodist); defensive tackle: Sharrif Floyd (Florida) and Sheldon Richardson (Missouri).
Werner, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound native of Berlin, Germany, proved to be a talented pass rusher during his career at Florida State University.
Werner played in 14 games this year and led the Seminoles in both sacks (13 for 117 lost yards) and tackles-for-loss (18, 134). He also defended eight passes, broke up eight others, forced one fumble and recovered another.
In a season-opening win over Murray State, Werner registered four sacks. He had five multi-sack games, including 3.5 in a loss to the University of Florida.
“Werner, to me, with his great pass-rush ability, his great motor, the way he established himself as a complete defensive end, he has a little bit of a Chris Long-type mode of operation,” Kiper said. “That’s who he reminds me of. Chris Long was the second pick overall a few years ago and has had a heck of a career in St. Louis so far.”
Ansah is a native of Accra, Ghana, and played football at BYU after first trying track and basketball at the collegiate level. During his senior season, Ansah started nine of the 13 games he played at defensive end. He registered 62 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, in addition to an interception and nine pass break-ups.
Ansah had standout games against Boise State and Utah State this past season. Against the Broncos, he stopped a fake punt and had eight tackles and one sack. Against Utah State, Ansah had two sacks.
“He was a guy that was so long, so athletic, so gifted,” said NFL Network’s Mike Mayock. “I just think he’s so raw, sometimes, it can come out. I don’t think there is anybody in the NFL that doesn’t think he’s going to be a good player. But the question is when. Is it this year, next year or three years from now?
“He's so gifted, some teams are looking at him as a 3‑4 outside linebacker while other teams are saying with that frame, he could be 290 [pounds] and be a 3‑4 defensive end. Teams are looking at him as a 4‑3 end, a 3‑4 outside linebacker, and a 3‑4 end. You can’t say that about many kids and it goes to his unbelievable athletic ability and huge frame. I’m willing to bet on the kid. I think he’s going to go earlier than later.”
Lotulelei was recently given a clean bill of health after battling through some heart issues, and had a standout season at Utah where he registered 42 tackles, five sacks and four pass breakups as a nose tackle that started 12 games for the Utes. He made six different All-American teams and was a first-team selection by four publications.
A native of Estonia, Hunt registered 31 total tackles and eight sacks in 2012, which led to first-team All-Conference USA recognition following the year. He also showed an ability to block kicks, as he got in front of 17 throughout his SMU career.
“Margus Hunt from SMU, you might get him in the second round,” Mayock said. “But he’s a big, impressive kid that I think down the road will be a heck of a player.”
After the Florida Gators posted a 7-6 record in 2011, Floyd and his teammates bonded together, and that led to individual success for him. He registered 29 unassisted tackles, 46 total stops, 13 tackles for loss and three quarterback sacks. He also blocked two kicks and earned All-SEC and All-American accolades from various media outlets.
“The big difference is that our team came more together,” Floyd said at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “We trusted each other as a unit and there was no personal interest in it. It wasn’t, ‘Let me get my stats or do what I’ve got to do to get out of here.’ It was, ‘What am I going to do for my teammate, and what am I going to do for the guy next to me who’s going to give everything he’s got? Can I do the same thing? He trusts me to do my job and the linebackers trust that I’m going to be in my gap while they’re in their gap.’ It was more of a team thing than a personal thing this year.”
Richardson proved to be both a solid tackler and pass rusher throughout the 2012 season. He registered a season-best 14 total tackles and nine solo stops in a loss to Alabama, and had five consecutive games with at least a half sack.
“I think his natural position is the three-technique, which is that defensive tackle and the four‑man front,” Mayock said. “It’s not the only position he can play. You can move him around and I think just about all 32 teams in the league could find a way to utilize his skill set. He’s really exciting. He’s got a ton of upside, and he’s as physically gifted a defensive player as there is in this draft.”
*ClevelandBrowns.com utilized the players’ list by NFL Network’s Mike Mayock.