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DL: Mr. Inside (Raji) and Mr. Outside (Maybin)


This is the sixth in a series of position-by-position stories on the NFL Draft by    

If you analyze the Jets' defensive line starters, there are two things that jump off the page at you: production and age.

After playing without a prototypical nose tackle in 2006 and '07, general manager Mike Tannenbaum made a brilliant strategic play last spring with the acquisition of Kris Jenkins. The 6'4", 360-pounder, who returned to the Pro Bowl for a fourth time and also earned All-Pro second-team honors, was the key factor in a much improved Jets rush defense that finished seventh in the NFL at 94.9 yards allowed per game.

Typically ends don't put up big pass-rushing numbers in 3-4 systems, but Shaun Ellis registered eight sacks last season. Always a stout player against the run, the 6'5", 285-pound Ellis totaled 66 tackles and his 12 quarterback pressures led the club.

On the opposite side of the line from Ellis the past two seasons has been Kenyon Coleman (6'5", 295), a reliable presence known more for his work against the run. He had half a sack in '08 and has 8.5 tallies over the course of his 99-game career.

The line reserves include DE Mike DeVito and DT Sione Pouha and a pair of recent free agent signings in DE Marques Douglas and DT Howard Green.

Looking ahead to the draft, the Jets will most likely add youth to their DL stable. When the Green & White open the regular season, Coleman and Jenkins will be 30 and Ellis will be 32. They've combined to play 27 NFL seasons and each has likely passed the midway point of his NFL career.

Raji: Huge and Relentless

The top interior D-lineman in this year's crop is Boston College and North Jersey product B.J. Raji. At 6'2", 337 pounds, Raji is a tremendous physical presence who actually said one of his favorite players at his position on the next level is Jenkins.

"I'm a game-changer," Raji said. "I'm able to keep offensive linemen off linebackers on a consistent basis and make plays when the opportunity presents itself."

He is equally suited to play both 3-4 nose and 4-3 defensive tackle. After missing his junior campaign with academic issues, Raji racked up eight sacks and 16 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last season. During practice week at the Senior Bowl, he consistently beat up on the North's offensive linemen.

A Westwood Regional product, Raji could be among the top 10 overall selections. But CNNSI's Tony Pauline reported Raji had tested positive at a combine drug test and that he also had tested positive for marijuana at BC.

Penn State DE Aaron Maybin leads the charge on the outside. Maybin, a 6'4", 249-pounder who left Joe Paterno after his sophomore redshirt season, was fourth in the nation last year with 12 sacks. He gets quickly off the line but is a bit of a 'tweener — small for a 3-4 end and a project who would need time to develop on the outside in a 4-3 front.

"On the positive side, he's got a great burst, a wonderful first step, and I think sometimes NFL teams get carried away with the ability to pass-rush," says NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. "On the downside, I think he's two to three years away from being a three-down player and being able to stop the run and also has shown no ability to drop back in pass coverage."

Ayers Climbing Higher

The stock of **Robert Ayers** continues to go up. After a relatively quiet start to his career at Tennessee, Ayers collected 49 tackles as a senior and 15.5 of those stops were made behind the line. The 6'3", 272-pound Ayers, who had nine career sacks, opened eyes at the Senior Bowl when he battled Ole Miss prospect Michael Oher during the week and then followed it up with a 1.5-sack performance in the game.

"I guess you could say I'm a late bloomer," said Ayers, a one-year starter. "I just stayed patient, kept praying and waited until an opportunity came. When an opportunity came, I just tried to take advantage of it."

Florida State's Everette Brownleft an indelible mark in Tallahassee. As a Florida State junior, the 6'2", 256-pound Brown led the Atlantic Coast Conference in tackles behind the line (21.5) and sacks (13). He started 25 games for the Seminoles and racked up 23 sacks, tying for fifth on the school's all-time list.

**Tyson Jackson**, who would be a perfect fit as a 3-4 end, was a consistent producer in the SEC. Although Jackson had 8.5 sacks as a sophomore, he combined for eight his final two campaigns. The 6'4", 295-pounder, an Edgar, La., native, is not a naturally dominant pass rusher, but he's got a good all-around game that should translate well to the pros. If a 4-3 team adds Jackson, he figures to shift inside.

After a run on ends, we're likely to see Mississippi DT Peria Jerryselected late in Round 1. Jerry, named All America first team by the AP after collecting six sacks and 17 TFL, is your prototypical 3-technique tackle. Think Dewayne Robertson here when you mention the 6'2", 299-pound Perry, an explosive kid who gets in the backfield fast and also benefited from a strong week of practices down in Mobile.

"I feel like I can be one of the best at the position I play," Jerry said. "I'm not the biggest guy, and I'm definitely not the strongest guy. But I'm going to be there all day. As long as you put on the helmet, I'm going to be there. I'm going to keep fighting all day. I guess that's why they respect me so much."

For a team in need of a huge run-stuffing NT, Boston College's Ron Bracemight be had early in Round 2. The 6'3", 330-pound Brace is a space eater who's not an easy man to move. ACC head coaches have to be ecstatic that both Raji and Brace are done with the Eagles.

"Ziggy" with an Attitude

To those familiar with Evander Hood, he's just "Ziggy." Hood, an All-Big 12 player for the Missouri Tigers in 2007, got a lot of attention last season and his numbers dropped. But the 6'3", 300-pounder plays with a good motor and also had an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl.

And what about the nickname?

"I'm half-black and half-Mexican and my grandmother on my mother's side couldn't pronounce my name so they started calling me by their favorite cartoon character name, Ziggy," he said in an chat.

We urge you to visit and punch in Jarron Gilbert. The 6'5", 288-pound San Jose State DE jumps out of a pool! This freakish athlete was the WAC Player of the Year in 2008 and Jets head coach Rex Ryan led him through defensive drills at his pro day.

And we'd be remiss if we didn't mention Utah DE Paul Kruger. After originally signing with the Utes as a QB in 2004 and redshirting, he went on his LDS mission, returned a couple of years later and made a successful transition to defense as his 63 tackles were the most among freshmen linemen in the Mountain West Conference.

Then in January 2008, Kruger was stabbed while attempting to protect a small group of family and friends who were jumped in Salt Lake. Despite being outnumbered by a reported 15-5, Kruger was holding his own before someone stabbed him in the ribs and abdomen. He suffered artery damage and a collapsed lung that was full of blood, but he survived through a four-hour operation and wouldn't be down long.

Kruger (6'4", 263) not only recovered but was exceptional as a sophomore with 7.5 sacks and 16.5 TFL. The 23-year-old, who left Utah with two years of eligibility remaining, plays to the final whistle — in life and on the football field. This is a guy who has some tremendous intangibles.

Other Notables

Fili Moala, DT, Southern Cal, Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech. (For Larry English, Northern Illinois, see our preview on outside linebackers.)

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