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Rookie Report - Defensive Linemen

  1. DE Demarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys (Troy St), 1.11
    Overview:
    The Cowboys surprised quite a few people by selecting Ware with the 11th pick of the draft. Ware is an explosive edge rusher, but is a bit undersized to be a full-time defensive end in a 4-3 defense. He was a dominant pass rusher in college and was named the Sun Belt defensive player of the year after collecting 10.5 sacks in 12 games. His combination of size, speed, and skills has drawn comparisons to a player like Willie McGinest, who Parcells drafted when he was with the Patriots. Like McGinest, Ware is versatile enough to line up at DE or OLB, but will most likely begin his career as a pass rush specialist. He's gotten increasingly stronger in the past few years, but he will still struggle as a run defender when matched up against much bigger offensive tackles. He also has very limited experience dropping in coverage and playing in space, and will need time to develop in those areas if the Cowboys decide to shift to a 3-4 base and play him primarily at OLB. Level of competition is another concern for Ware, as he didn't face many NFL-caliber offensive tackles while playing in the Sun Belt conference.
    Fantasy Outlook: This started out as a very deep defensive end class, but many of the top players will be converted to outside linebacker in the pros, thus limiting their fantasy value. The Cowboys appear to be doing the same thing with Ware if they switch to a base 3-4 defense, but look for him to be used mainly as a pass rush specialist similar to Charles Haley or Derrick Thomas. He has the potential to be an impact pass rusher early on in his career, and his high draft status suggests the Cowboys will give him plenty of opportunities.


  2. DE Erasmus James, Minnesota Vikings (Wisconsin), 1.18
    Overview:
    Erasmus James is a raw prospect with the athletic ability to potentially become an elite pass rusher in the NFL. After missing all of 2003 with a hip injury, he came back strong with 8 sacks as a senior and was named Big 10 defensive player of the year. James is quick off the snap and his speed around the corner is probably his best asset, but he also has adequate strength to counter inside and bull rush on occasion. He will need to add bulk to become an everydown DE in the NFL, but he held up pretty well as a run defender in college. There are some concerns about his durability as he's had trouble staying healthy during his college career. James also hasn't demonstrated that he can sustain his level of play over a long period of time, having only been a starter for two years and he wasn't all that dominant in 2002. Overall, he is a very promising prospect with great instincts and a great motor who should contribute early on in his career.
    Fantasy Outlook: The Vikings had to be pleased to see James available with their 2nd pick of the 1st round. Despite limited experience as a starter, some scouts rated him as the best pure pass rusher in this class, and he should fit in well on a line that is already loaded with talent. Last year's 1st round pick Kenechi Udeze is an ideal LDE, and Kevin Williams and Pat Williams should form one of the league's best DT tandems who will command double teams on nearly every play. He'll have some catching up to do after a lengthy holdout, but James is expected to compete with Darrion Scott for the starting RDE job and should contribute right away as a pass rush specialist in the nickel package. The Vikings have major upgrades to their secondary, so if James can stay healthy and continue to improve, he could become a threat to reach double digit sacks every year.


  3. DE Marcus Spears, Dallas Cowboys (LSU), 1.20
    Overview:
    Tremendous athlete who could be an ideal fit as a 3-4 power end with the size and strength to play inside in a 4-3 if needed. Spears was heavily recruited as a tight end and as a basketball player coming out of high school. He was a 3-year starter at defensive end at LSU and was named 1st team All-SEC the past 2 years. He moves surprisingly quick for someone his size (6'4", 307), and has a huge wingspan that allows him to clog the passing lanes. He is athletic enough to drop in coverage, as seen by his two career interception returns for TDs including one in the 2004 national championship game against Oklahoma. Has good but not great speed around the edge, but can also overpower blockers at times with his bull rush. Spears has the physical ability to be a Pro Bowl type player in the NFL, but he doesn't always give consistent effort and some scouts have questioned his toughness. Hurt his value with inconsistent play earlier in his college career, but the light seemed to come on at the end of his senior year as he finished with 8 sacks in his last 5 games and looked dominant at the Senior Bowl. Has been described as a mix between Richard Seymour and Kevin Williams, and could develop into the best defensive linemen of this class.
    Fantasy Outlook: Spears is a perfect fit for Dallas as he can line up at LDE whether they play in a 3-4 or a 4-3. The Cowboys have made significant talent upgrades to their front 7 this year, which should take some pressure off him and allow him time to improve his technique and develop as a pass rusher. The biggest concern with Spears is his motor, but Bill Parcells is a master motivator and will find a way to get the most out of him. Parcells will also likely get him to lose some weight before the season starts, which should improve his speed. Spears' ability to play multiple positions will give the Cowboys added flexibility, and allow them to mix up their defensive fronts just as the Patriots have been doing recently. His progress was slowed a bit due to a preseason injury, but he's expected to be healthy for the beginning of the season.


  4. DE Matt Roth, Miami Dolphins (Iowa), 2.14
    Overview:
    Roth is a blue collar type of player with a nonstop motor who relies more on power than speed when rushing the passer. In addition to blocking 12 kicks during his senior year of high school, he was the state heavyweight wrestling champion and was named Illinois high school athlete of the year. He was recruited to Iowa as a linebacker but made an impact as a pass rush specialist as a sophomore when he collected 10 sacks despite getting zero starts. He followed that up with 20 sacks over his next two seasons, each of which ended with him being named 1st team All-Big 10. Roth has good size (6'3", 275lbs) and good strength and is already a very solid run defender, which should allow him to earn playing time right away. Is the type of player that coaches love who will give maximum effort on every play, and has been compared by scouts to players like Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay. He doesn't have the type of speed that will allow him to just run past offensive tackles, but is quick and technically sound and should be very effective playing LDE in a 4-3 or 3-4.
    Fantasy Outlook: Roth is the type of overachiever that you just know will work as hard as he can to get the most out of his abilities. The Dolphins have solid depth at defensive end, but most of the players are 30 years or older so Roth should bring some youthful exuberance to the position. He's highly competitive and will make it tough for the coaches to keep him off the field. He was expected to compete with newly signed Vonnie Holliday and last year's starter David Bowens for playing time at the LDE position across from Jason Taylor, but has had some difficulty adjusting and may be reduced to a specialist role for his rookie season. He may also see some time as a rush OLB if the Dolphins wind up using a 3-4 front most of the time.


  5. DE Justin Tuck, NY Giants (Notre Dame), 3.10
    Overview:
    Very productive pass rusher who holds the all-time career sack record at Notre Dame with 24.5 despite leaving school with 1 year of eligibility left. Was a 3-sport star athlete in high school who came to Notre Dame as a LB and TE prospect. Had success as a pass rush specialist before breaking out with 13.5 sacks in his first season as a starter. He's got good size (6'5", 265), along with the speed and body control to become a dominant edge rusher, but he's still raw and will need some time to work on his technique. He's a willing run defender and a solid tackler, but he can be overpowered by bigger tackles at the point of attack. Doesn't always give consistent effort and is sometimes slow to react, but he is a smart, aggressive player who should be successful as a pro. Has similar measurables to a player like Mike Rucker and could line up at either DE position in a 4-3.
    Fantasy Outlook: Tuck was rated by many scouts as a 1st round prospect, but he somehow fell to the Giants in the middle of round 3. The Giants appear to be set at defensive end for the time being with Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. Strahan will turn 34 years old this season, however, and is coming back from the first major injury of his career. Tuck will likely backup both starters right away and should see plenty of time as a 3rd DE in the rotation. If Strahan doesn't rebound with a solid season, he may consider retirement or possibly even be a cap casualty, which could potentially open up a starting job for Tuck as early as 2006. Although there are some defensive tackles with a better chance to play right away, Tuck gets the nod here due to his higher upside.


  6. DT Shaun Cody, Detroit Lions (USC), 2.05
    Overview:
    Cody has the size (6'4", 293), quickness, and athletic ability to line up either at under tackle or defensive end in the pros. During his senior year in high school, he was truly a jack of all trades as he collected 22 sacks on defense, 850 yards receiving and 15 receiving TDs as a tight end, and 10 rushing TDs as a fullback. Cody began his collegiate career as a defensive end, but was quickly moved inside to tackle where he started 8 games as a true freshman. After suffering a torn ACL during his sophomore year, he returned to start all 13 games as a junior and was named 1st team All-Pac 10. He followed that up with a dominant senior season where he collected 10 sacks and was named Pac-10 co-defensive player of the year and 1st team All-American. His best attribute is his quickness, which allows him to get penetration and put pressure on opposing QBs. He has adequate strength but can be outmuscled at times, which is likely why he slid to the 2nd round on draft day.
    Fantasy Outlook: Cody is an athletic, versatile defender who works hard and could contribute at either DT or DE. He has drawn comparisons to Shaun Ellis and Trevor Pryce, players who have seen time at both DT and DE throughout their careers. Cody is expected to begin his career as a backup to Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson, but he will likely see time as part of the DT rotation on passing downs and could take over Wilkinson's starting job as early as 2006. There is also a chance that he could compete for playing time right away at LDE, which could raise his value significantly.


  7. DT Travis Johnson, Houston Texans (Florida State), 1.16
    Overview:
    Travis Johnson enjoyed a solid but unspectacular college career at Florida State before emerging as the premier DT in this year's draft class during his senior year in which he often dominated opposing offensive linemen. He has an impressive combination of size (6'3", 305) and speed (4.9 40), which NFL scouts tend to salivate over. Johnson is a strong run defender, but is also quick off the snap and can create havoc behind the line of scrimmage. He seems ideally suited to play the under tackle position in a 1-gap scheme, but has shown the ability to handle double teams and play at the NT position. There are some attitude and injury concerns about him, but if the Texans coaches can keep him motivated and focused he has the potential to be an all-around impact player in the same mold as Darnell Dockett.
    Fantasy Outlook: After drafting a QB and WR with their 1st round picks in 2002 and 2003, the Texans have turned to the defensive side of the ball adding CB Dunta Robinson and OLB Jason Babin in 2004, and now Johnson to upgrade the defensive line. Long-term, Johnson is probably a better fit as a DE in the Texans 3-4 scheme, but the Texans already have quality starters at both DE spots so he may see more time at NT early on. Regardless of where he lines up, the Texans will look for ways to get him involved right away and he will have added value in leagues that require starting a DT.


  8. DT Mike Patterson, Philadelphia Eagles (USC), 1.31
    Overview:
    Patterson was nicknamed "Baby Sapp" and teamed with Shaun Cody to give the Trojans the nation's best DT tandem in the country the past couple years. Despite being somewhat undersized at just 5'11", 292lbs, Patterson apparently showed enough potential for the Eagles to use their 1st round pick on him despite already having solid depth on the defensive line. Patterson was a 3 year starter at USC and was named 1st team All-Pac-10 during both his junior and senior seasons. He is an instinctive player with a great first step who uses his hands well to maintain separation from blockers and disrupt plays. Like Cody, Patterson has a great work ethic and always plays with a nonstop motor. He can be overpowered in the running game, but his lack of size is a concern and could cause him to wear down late in the season if he is overused.
    Fantasy Outlook: The Eagles placed the franchise tag on DT Corey Simon, but he has refused to sign the 1-year tender and is looking for a very expensive long-term contract that the Eagles are unlikely to give him. Patterson appears to be his heir apparent in the Eagles defense, and could take over as early as this year if Simon holds out. If he winds up taking over the under tackle spot in the Eagles defense, he could be a pretty valuable fantasy DT with the potential to collect 5 or 6 sacks a year.


  9. DE Chris Canty, Dallas Cowboys (Virginia), 4.31
    Overview:
    Canty entered the 2004 season as one of the most highly regarded DE prospects in the nation, but a serious knee injury in September clouded his draft stock. Things became even more muddled in January when he was hit by a beer bottle that was thrown across the room in a bar brawl and suffered a detached retina as a result. Canty is a huge player at 6'7", 280lbs, with the strength to hold up at the point of attack and anchor against the run. He led all ACC defensive linemen in tackles for two straight seasons, and was occasionally used at DT and as a TE in goalline packages. Not that quick off the snap and lacks ideal closing speed to become a dominant edge rusher, but should be a perfect fit in a 3-4 DE. Biggest concerns for him are whether he'll be able to fully recover from his injuries and how durable he will be as a pro.
    Fantasy Outlook: Former 1st round lock who slipped due to knee and eye injuries, but the Cowboys targeted him as a great fit for their new defense and traded up late in the 4th round to get him. There was a chance he would start the year on the physically unable to perform list, but he's been cleared to practice and looks to be in the mix for playing time as part of the DE rotation. If he can stay healthy, could wind up being one of the best value picks of the entire 2005 draft.


  10. DT Luis Castillo, San Diego Chargers (Northwestern), 1.28
    Overview:
    Luis Castillo was considered the premier NT in this year's draft class, and his draft stock wasn't hurt as much as expected by a positive test for steroids at the scouting combine. He has prototypical size (6'3", 303lbs), strength, and quickness (4.83 40) for the NT position that should allow him to hold up very well against double teams. Enjoyed a successful senior year despite being forced to play with torn ligaments in his elbow and a broken bone in his right hand. He is primarily a run defender, but is quick enough to create some interior pressure and has shown improved ability as a pass rusher. Despite the positive steroid test, he has a reputation as a great character guy who is smart, tough, and works as hard as anyone.
    Fantasy Outlook: The Chargers used both 1st round picks to upgrade their defensive front 7, selecting OLB Shawne Merriman with their 1st pick and then adding Castillo with their second. Castillo is expected to backup Jamal Williams at NT, but could also compete for time at one of the DE spots. Williams is a dominant player at times, but has had some problems staying healthy so Castillo will provide some insurance at the position. Castillo performed well against strong competition in the Big 10 and could develop into a very solid NFL player, but his fantasy prospects are going to be somewhat limited unless he develops into more of a playmaker down the road.


Others

  • DT Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta Falcons (Iowa), 2.27 - Undersized, athletic DT should backup Rod Coleman


  • DT Vincent Burns, Indianapolis Colts (Kentucky), 3.28 - Intense, active defender with potential


  • DE Chauncey Davis, Atlanta Falcons (Florida St), 4.27 - Could contribute as pass rush specialist


  • DE Jovan Haye, Carolina Panthers (Vanderbilt), 6.15 - Strong run defender


  • DE Bill Swancutt, Detroit Lions (Oregon St), 6.10 - 2 sacks in Senior Bowl but slipped due to speed concerns


  • DT Anttaj Hawthorne, Oakland Raiders (Wisconsin), 6.01 - Big run plugger who fell in draft due to positive marijuana test


  • DT CJ Mosley, Minnesota Vikings (Missouri), 6.17 - Will learn behind Pat Williams and Kevin Williams


  • DT Ronald Fields, San Francisco 49ers (Mississippi St), 5.01 - Strong run defender who can play NT


  • DT Atiyyah Ellison, Carolina Panthers (Missouri), 3.25 - Could replace Brentson Buckner in 2006


  • DE Eric Moore, NY Giants (Florida St), 6.12 - Raw pass rusher who needs to get stronger


  • DE Jonathan Goddard, Detroit Lions (Marshall), 6.32 - Short DE with great speed will be moved to LB


  • DT Mike Montgomery, Green Bay Packers (Texas A&M), 6.06 - Tall, developmental player


  • DE Ryan Riddle, Oakland Raiders (California), 6.38 - Tweener who may be better suited as 3-4 OLB


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