By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff
A pretty good crop of defensive linemen will be in the draft next year and, really, its even deeper than what is listed out here. The guys at 11-20 really probably aren’t that far off from the guys ranked 5-10 here. The Patriots may very well be looking in this area high with Ty and Gerard Warren end players who are both getting up in age and Ty Warren injured. We do not include pure 3-4 outside linebackers in these rankings and will have a separate list in future weeks for guys who project more obviously at that position in the Patriots system.
1.) Marvin Austin (#9), North Carolina: A native of Washington, D.C., Austin is a dominating defensive tackle who would project to defensive end in the Patriots 3-4. He checks in at 6’4″ 310 and is very strong, yet quick. As a senior in high school Austin was named National Defensive Player of the Year by Scout.com and was perhaps the most highly recruited player in the nation. Last year, Austin racked up 42 tackles and 4 sacks for the Tarheels. Before this season even began, Austin became embroiled in controversy that centered around his allegedly receiving benefits from an agent and academic cheating. He has not played a game this season. There are obviously character questions with Austin, but as of late he’s been cooperating with all investigations and there is a chance he may be allowed to play some later this season. Even if he doesn’t, he is that good he should still be ranked #1 and will certainly be a top 5 pick at the very least. He’d fit perfectly with the Patriots if he can convince them he’s a good character.
2.) Jared Crick (#94), Nebraska: Crick has a year of eligibility left, but is a senior academically because of a redshirt season. Crick was overshadowed last season by fellow Nebraska defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, who went #2 in the draft last season. But that is a mistake as Crick is almost as talented and has put together a great college career himself. A excellent pass rusher, Crick may be a bit light for the Patriots scheme at 285 lbs. But he has proven himself without Suh next to him, putting up excellent stats again this year on Nebraska’s very good defense. He should make some team happy and be an excellent NFL player.
3.) Cameron Heyward (#97), Ohio State: The son of former NFL running back Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, Cameron could surpass his dad’s solid NFL career if he lives up to his potential. Sadly, Cameron’s dad died several years back from a brain tumor. Heyward came into this season with 12 career sacks and is known as a very good pass rusher. He only has a half sack so far this year, but teams do focus on trying to contain him. He could be more dangerous in the NFL where teams may be able to focus on him less. While its uncertain if he has the size to play with the Patriots, its close. He comes in a 288 with a frame for more. He’d play end in a 3-4 and will undoubtedly be a first round pick.
4.) Marcel Darius (#57), Alabama: Whenever there is a player from Alabama, particularly on defense, as a draftable prospect its worth mentioning the Nick Saban – Bill Belichick connection. Saban, Alabama’s head coach, is of course a former Belichick assistant and close friend. They play similar defensive systems. This year, the Patriots took Brandon Deaderick, another defensive lineman, from Alabama in the draft and it appears he has some potential to be a good fit and player with the Patriots. At 6’4″ 306 lbs. Dareus is a perfect fit for the Patriots system. Only a Junior, there is a decent chance he comes out this year as he too has run afoul of a NCAA investigation and has already served a two game suspension this season. As a player, he is stout versus the run, a good pass rusher and has shown some versatility to play inside at nose. He’s been fighting an ankle sprain since coming back from suspension and has shown toughness in that regard. You can watch him today versus South Carolina on CBS at 3:30 PM EST>
5.) Robert Quinn (#42), North Carolina: Quinn is one of the top defensive lineman pass rushers in the draft. He is 270 lbs. and a pure playmaker on defense. There is some school of thought he could convert to an outside linebacker in a 3-4, but is probably better off down in a 4-3. He is an excellent athlete with good speed who’ll make certainly cause problems for NFL teams trying to deal with his pass rushing.
6.) Drake Nevis (#92), LSU: Its difficult to decide if Nevis would fit with the Patriots or not. He is very, very strong and stout versus the run. But he is an inside player, where the Patriots have Vince Wilfork, and only 6’1 305 which is a bit small for a nose tackle. Its questionable whether he has the quickness to play outside at end in a 3-4. A disruptor inside, he’s probably better off causing havoc inside at tackle in a 4-3 where many NFL guards will have trouble dealing with his pure strength, relentlessness and quickness in small areas. Watch him tonight versus Florida at 7:30 PM EST on ESPN
7.) Greg Romeus (#91), Pittsburgh: Romeus is a 270 lb. talented defensive end/pass rusher who has been out for a month with a back injury recovering from back surgery. Reportedly he’s getting close to returning and should play again this season. The Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year last year, Romeus really can get after the quarterback and is one of those relentless, hard charging defensive edge players who can cause sacks and strips of the ball. Last year, he racked up 8 sacks. He is also a fine athlete with the speed and athletic ability to drop into coverage and play pass defense. If he recovers well from his surgery, he has a solid shot at being a first round choice.
8.) Adrian Clayborn (#94), Iowa: Clayborn also has a connection to Bill Belichick thru his coach, Kirk Ferentz, who was also a former assistant. Clayborn is a 285 lb. defensive end who has the frame to put on more. He can definitely play in a 2-gap system and should be a Patriots target of interest this draft. Clayborn also is a very accomplished pass rusher and may be that rare player who can play the Patriots 2-gap run defense system, but also has the ability to rush the passer. He is coming off Big 10 Defensive Player of the Week honors this week after a fine performance last weekend versus Penn State where Clayborn dominated the Nittany Lions all day with 10 tackles, 3 for losses and a sack. Penn State scored 3 points in a 24-3 loss. They were held to 54 yards rushing and Clayborn had a major part in that as well. Next weekend you can see if he can deal with the Denard Robinson sensation with Michigan in a 3:30 PM EST game on ABC.
9.) Marcus Forston (#99), Miami: Forston is a 6’3″ 310 lb. academic Junior who may come out after a great year, so far, this season. He is a stout run defender who is very strong and would fit the Patriots system. He also has such power, he does get to the QB right up the middle. So far this year through 4 games, Forston has racked up 4 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He may need another year in school as he sat out all of 2009 with an ankle injury and redshirted. So, really, this is his first season starting as he was a key reserve as a freshman. Another year in school and Forston has the potential to come back next season as perhaps the highest rated defensive lineman in college. But, if he does come out this year, with his talent certainly some team will draft this 20 year old relatively high. And it may just become a steal as he is headed upwards.
10.) Allen Bailey (#57), Miami: Bailey is another Miami lineman and more polished player, but he plays outside at end. He is stout, but more of a penetrating, edge type player. He can get to the QB and had 7 sacks last season. While he does have the natural ability and strength to convert to the Patriots system at 288 lbs., it would take some coaching and he have to harness his attack mentality. Vince Wilfork converted, however, albeit from the inside. Watch him and Forston take on Florida State tonight in an outstanding rivalry game on ABC at 8PM EST.