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DL Spotlight's on Sharrif, Star, Bjoern, Ziggy

Posted Apr 12, 2013

Newyorkjets.com's coverage of the 2013 draft includes breakdowns of each position group, the Jets' needs at the spot, and the top players expected to be selected at the position from April 25-27. Today's sixth in the series: Defensive Line.

The Jets surely have holes to fill on their roster heading toward the 2013 season, but one area that looks stout, even after the departure of Mike DeVito to Kansas City and the release of Sione Po‘uha, is the defensive line.

"Really, I feel good about the guys we have there," head coach Rex Ryan said last month. "That young defensive line could end up being the strength of our team. With Mo Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Kenrick Ellis, that's a pretty good start right there. I think that's exciting."

Include NT Damon "Snacks" Harrison in that mix as well. And since this is the exciting time on the NFL calendar, when missing pieces at each position are replaced with new pieces, they've also added former Charger Antonio Garay.

The run defense needs to improve its NFL rankings of 26th in yards allowed per game and 21st in yards per rush. The pass rush was 24th in sack rate. But with rookie Coples and "super soph" Wilkerson leading the Jets' sack chart and Ellis overcoming his health "nicks and knacks" to blossom into a beast in the middle, it's possible the Jets have the pillars in place in their front line and now need to fill in around them.

Which brings us to the draft. There are certainly some intriguing tackle and end candidates out there, but will one wind up on the Jets' postdraft dance card? Here's a rundown of the top D-linemen in the draft. Keep in mind that some DE names may be missing here because they're also considered top stand-up OLB prospects and so will appear in our linebackers overview a week from today.

Sharrif, Star Share Tackle Spotlight

Florida's Sharrif Floyd (6'3", 297) is the consensus top pick among this draft's D-linemen. His unsettled upbringing, during which he lived with his mother, great-grandmother and adopted parents, didn't inhibit his impact on the big stage as he settled into his college home with the Gators. He made All-SEC Freshman Team in '10, played all line positions and started to light things up as a sophomore DE, then roared into prominence as a true junior last season with 6.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and much disruption.

Is he a ready-for-primetime-player? Consider that in Florida's last two bowl games he recorded 3.5 sacks.

The only blip on the postseason screen: Floyd suffered a minor ankle sprain at the combine and so didn't work at UF's pro day. But he's still risen up the boards to where many think he will go to Oakland at No. 3 overall.

If the Raiders don't go with Floyd, or if he goes to Jacksonville one pick ahead of them, as Clark Judge of CBSSports.com most recently projected, they could take the next-best DT.

And the biggest news these days for Utah's Star Lotulelei involves his heart. No, not his desire, his ticker. Rob Rang of The Sports XChange reported last week that a source said the 6'3", 311-pounder has passed "at least 10 tests, including two cardiac MRIs" and that the NFL won't seek to have him medically reexamined.

These issues have suppressed Star's draft stock. Without the cardiac queries, the two-time All-Pac 12 first-teamer might have competed with Luke Joeckel for top-pick-of-the-draft honors. With them, he's still a potential top-10 type of guy.

At DE It's Bjoern vs. Ziggy

For pure DE types, the top choices appear to be            two impressive talents who were born overseas

Bjoern Werner (6'3", 266) is what you might call a fast learner. An exchange student from Berlin, as in Germany, Werner played only two years of Connecticut high school ball but starred there, then fashioned a phenomenal three-year career at Florida State as, according to FSU, "one of the most versatile defensive ends in the nation." For his career he had 23.5 sacks, 35 tackles for loss and — shades of J.J. Watt — 18 pass defenses.

After last season (ACC-leading 13 sacks, 18 TFLs, 8 PDs) Werner raked in eight All-America first-team awards and was coming in as a top-five player on many draft analysts' value boards, although mock drafters tend to have him going lower, to the Steelers at No. 17 or the Giants at 19.

Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah (6'5", 271) out of BYU originally came out of Accra, Ghana, where he learned how to speak Twi and Fante, two Ghanaian dialects, as he was learning his English. He grew up playing soccer, his measurables had him thinking of a career in the NBA, and he started college not as a DE but as a member of the Cougars' track team. But he turned to football in '10 and last season as a senior he emerged with 13 TFLs and 4.5 sacks in 13 games (nine starts) playing all around the BYU front. His. 4.26-second time in the 20-yard shuttle at the combine was the best among all D-linemen this year.

Russ Lande on National Football Post has a thoughtful essay this week on Ansah vs. Werner. His conclusions: "Remarkably, both display instincts and awareness beyond their playing experience, which makes me more confident that they both will become elite NFL players. Although Ansah has more potential and the upside to be a better NFL player, Werner is the safer bet in my view as he was an impact player in every game, while Ansah would disappear for stretches in nearly every game due to playing upright and without aggression."

Eyeballing More Elite Ends

Datone Jones (6'4", 283) of UCLA has versatility written all over him. He played everywhere in the Bruins' front, making him attractive to NFL D-coordinators looking for hybrid defenders to battle today's pass-oriented offenses. Jones also shows a smorgasbord of pass-rush techniques to go along with the bull rush that his well-built frame can bring to opposing O-lines. After breaking his foot and missing '10, then coming back slowly in '11, Jones registered career highs last season, especially with his 17.5 tackles for loss.

With a slow 4.95-second 40, a mere 12 reps on the 225-pound bench, and a marijuana possession further clouding the picture, Damontre Moore (6'4", 250) out of Texas A&M went from being proclaimed by some as the best pass-rusher in college football to almost out of Round 1. Yet the on-field production may be worth the risk — Moore has chalked up 21 sacks and 38.5 tackles behind the line the last two seasons for the Aggies, leading to his College Station monicker of "DaMonster."

Cornellius "Tank" Carradine (6'4", 276) seems to have rolled his way into the lower end of Round 1, this despite working his way back from a right ACL injury in the fourth quarter of Florida State's regular-season finale in December. But before that tear, he was on a tear with 11 sacks and 13 tackles behind the line for his senior season. He and Werner formed the Seminoles' first All-ACC first-team DE tandem in 18 years.

SMU's Margus Hunt is an imposing figure at 6'8" and 277. And according to Pat Kirwan's tried and true measurement, Hunt is one of the most explosive players in this draft. Kirwan for years has added together players' combine/pro day numbers from three specific events to come up with an "explosiveness index" for each. Hunt did 38 benchpress reps — tied for tops at this year's combine — vertical-jumped 34.5" and broad-jumped 10'1", giving him an 82.6 total that is second in this draft behind only Georgia DE/OLB Cornelius Washington.

Sizing Up More Top Tackles

Sheldon Richardson (6'3", 294), a redshirt junior, is listed in the middle of Round 1 by many mockers. He moved around early in his college career due to academic issues, which led to him having only one dominant season at Missouri. But last season really did stand out as he racked up 10.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and 75 tackles, all career bests, and adding a 60-yard fumble-return TD and a blocked kick.

Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins (6'3", 320) has the strength, quick feet and size to carry two nicknames, "Big Hank" and "Big John." Interestingly, some questioned his conditioning, whether because he played too heavy for the Buckeyes or played too much, rarely coming off the field and thus gassing out late in some games. His challenge could be rising above a similar OSU D-tackle, Dan Wilkinson, who flash but struggled to get a full roar going after he was the first overall pick by the Bengals in '94.

Kawann Short (6'3", 299) could join TE Dustin Keller with the Jets in '09 and LB Ryan Kerrigan with the Redskins in '11 as the most recent Purdue products to be drafted in Round 1. His senior stats weren't as good as his junior year, and his individual workout (due to a hamstring injury that kept him out of the combine and the Boilermakers pro day) was good but not eye-popping. Yet he played harder and more consistently last year, said Purdue coach Danny Hope, and his strength could earn him a low-first-round slot with a team like, dare we say, New England at No. 29.

Jesse Williams (6'4", 323) is yet one more product of Alabama's back-to-back national championship teams who could find himself in the first round of this draft. He took a more circuitous route than most to the Crimson Tide, playing basketball and rugby at home in Brisbane, Australia, then working his way from junior college to the Tide, for whom he played 5-technique DE before moving to nose. He's got great strength (30 bench reps at the combine, 600-pound benchpress at 'Bama) but has to improve his pass rush and his lateral movement to be all he can be in the pros.

Sylvester Williams (6'3", 313) comes out of North Carolina with a possible ticket for the Land of 10,000 Lakes. In fact, Brett Stott, the Vikings analyst for DraftTek.com, says that after watching Sylvester's highlight video, "It's hard not to draw some parallels between him and another Williams already donning the purple and gold. Given that Kevin's not getting any younger, adding another player with his potential would be a smart move" for draft-savvy GM Rick Spielman. 

Other Notables

DE William Gholston, Michigan State; DT John Jenkins, Georgia; DE John Simon, Ohio State; DT Akeem Spence, Illinois; DT Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern State.

Tuesday, March 26: Wide Receivers

Friday, March 29: Tight Ends

Tuesday, April 2: Running Backs

Friday, April 5: Quarterbacks

Tuesday, April 9: Offensive Line

Tuesday, April 16: Defensive Backs

Friday, April 19: Linebackers

Preseason Live: New York Jets

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