When it comes to looking for areas of strength in the upcoming NFL Draft, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. did not look past the defensive linemen who have declared for the league’s annual selection meeting.
“I think half the first round is going to be made up of front-seven players,” Kiper 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.”
One of those defensive ends Kiper highlighted was Bjoern Werner, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound native of Berlin, Germany, who 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.”
Kiper also pointed out that Barkevious Mingo from Louisiana State University has the ability to be an impact player at the NFL level.
“Mingo didn’t produce the results I thought he would,” Kiper said. “He was blocked and handled in too many games to push him up in the top group. I still have him as one of the top guys. He still carried a good grade. He’s going to test out off the charts. He can play up or down, so he can play in a 3-4 or a 4-3. I think he’s going to go fairly high.”
Kiper said that outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (University of Georgia) and defensive end Damontre Moore (Texas A&M) compared to two of the league’s best pass rushers, Denver’s Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys.
“Jarvis Jones, that’s the kind of guy that can fill that Von Miller role,” Kiper said. “Damontre Moore played down this year. He played up two years ago, so he’s one of those DeMarcus Ware types. I think he’s going to be a highly coveted player. He could end up being the No. 1 guy on a lot of people’s boards. They’re both elite.”
Versatility was one common theme Kiper touched on when describing each of the defensive linemen he expects to go early in the draft.
“When you compare last year’s group to this year’s group, and you look at the defensive linemen, a lot of those guys were combo guys,” Kiper said. “Nick Perry, Whitney Mercilus, Chandler Jones, Melvin Ingram, Bruce Irvin, a lot of those guys were combo guys, could play up or down and were pass rushers. Defensive tackle-wise, Dontari Poe was a space-eater. Fletcher Cox was a penetrator.“This year, you’ve got more numbers. You have potentially 12, 13, 14 defensive linemen going in the first round. They’re all first-round caliber. This is not a force. These guys would be in the first round just about any year.”