Profiles of Top Defensive Players by Position

NEW YORK - Notable defensive and special teams players in the NFL draft, grouped by projected NFL positions:


Position outlook: With passing now the preferred way to move the ball, teams need to stop it any way they can. One way is with the sort of pass rushers who force changes in offensive game plans.

-Derrick Morgan, 6-3, 266, Georgia Tech, junior: Smart, 4-3 style end who can stop the run and be a crafty pass rusher. May not work out as an OLB in a 3-4.

-Jason Pierre-Paul, 6-5, 270, South Florida, junior: A bit tall for a DE, he might be stood up easily by blockers. Better at pursuit than holding the point against the run. Nice burst off the ball on pass rush. Just one season of major college ball after two JUCO years.

-Brandon Graham, 6-1, 268, Michigan: Despite lack of ideal height, Graham's a disruptive force with nice speed off the edge and good athleticism and field smarts.

-Everson Griffen, 6-3, 273, Southern Cal, junior: Fast for such a big guy, he's quick off the snap, but does his best work in confined areas.

-Carlos Dunlap, 6-6, 277, Florida, junior: Can play in either scheme due to combination of size and speed. Motivation a concern, as is a DUI arrest.


Position outlook: Getting to the QB isn't just a job for ends. Teams that can draw double teams in the middle are a step ahead - and it doesn't hurt to be able to stuff the run, either.

-Ndamukong Suh, 6-4, 307, Nebraska: Could fit in either a 3-4 or 4-3, thanks to sun-blotting size and plenty of quickness and strength. Projects as both a pass rusher and a run disrupter. Slight injury history.

-Gerald McCoy, 6-4, 295, Oklahoma, junior: A great fit in a 4-3, where he can wreak havoc with his speed and athleticism. A potential nightmare for blockers in years to come.

-Jared Odrick, 6-5, 304, Penn State: Has ability to play either front, but needs some coaching in pass rush.

- D'Anthony Smith, 6-2, 304, Louisiana Tech: Big and athletic, not what you want to hear if it's your job to block him. He's also durable and athletic, but can be pushed around versus the run.

-Brian Price, 6-1, 303, UCLA, junior: Powerful, but a bit short. Good pass rush moves, but not great in pursuit or moving side to side.

-Tyson Alualu, 6-3, 295, California: A tweener, perhaps, for a DE. He's got hands and pass-rush moves, but size leaves him between 3-4 and 4-3 desirability.


Position outlook: One of the few thin defensive positions in this draft, there's still a couple gems for teams that choose wisely for their scheme and personnel.

Inside Linebackers

-Rolando McClain, 6-3, 254, Alabama, junior: Has great ability, and leadership ability. His toughness and strength serve him well against the run and on blitzes, but man coverage may be a liability. Smart player who can read route progressions well in zone coverage.

-Brandon Spikes, 6-3, 249, Florida: Strong and intense, he's an excellent run stopper who needs to show more as a blitzer. Can make plays in coverage, despite lack of elite speed.

-Sean Lee, 6-2, 236, Penn State: Good size, and quick reads help him overcome lack of top-end speed and agility that may hamper him in man coverage. Injury concerns after missing 2008 due to torn knee ligaments.

Outside Linebackers

-Sean Weatherspoon, 6-1, 239, Missouri: Sharp player versus both run and pass, his combination of speed and size helps him defend against either. Not always quick to diagnose, however.

-Sergio Kindle, 6-3, 250, Texas: Played two years at DE for Longhorns, but projects as an OLB in a 3-4. Perhaps best suited to blitzes and run pursuit.

-Ricky Sapp, 6-4, 252, Clemson: Edge rusher who could also be a DE, especially if he can get some bulk on that frame without losing any of his excellent athleticism.

-Jerry Hughes, 6-2, 255, TCU: Nimble and quick, he played DE in college, so pass coverage will need work. Had nice combine. Accomplished pass rusher.

-Dekoda Watson, 6-1, 240, Florida State: Fast, versatile player with experience playing inside and outside. Good instincts, but technique needs refinement.


Position outlook: Want to win games in the NFL? Stop other teams' passing attacks. That starts here, with a few excellent prospects in Joe Haden, Earl Thomas and Eric Berry.


-Joe Haden, 5-11, 193, Florida, junior: Smooth, fluid runner with excellent ball skills. Good but not great in run support. Can return kicks.

-Kyle Wilson, 5-10, 194, Boise State: Great field vision in secondary and on punt returns. Plenty of athleticism, but not a lot of size.

-Devin McCourty, 5-11, 193, Rutgers: Savvy player with good balance and strong work ethic. Ball skills could be better.

-Kareem Jackson, 5-10, 196 Alabama, junior: Cerebral player with skills to hang with speedy WRs. Confident and aggressive, gets to the ball. Some issues with durability and occasional overaggressiveness. Might fit nicely in a cover-2.

-Jerome Murphy, 6-0, 196, South Florida: Solid, aggressive cornerback whose style may fit a cover-2 better. Two-year starter.

-Donovan Warren, 5-11, 193, Michigan, junior: Versatile defensive back who can play at the corner or safety, he's not a pure speedster, island-type cover cornerback. Excellent in run support.

-Patrick Robinson, 5-11, 190, Florida State: Good pure speed and aggressiveness for a cover-2 scheme, but not particularly quick. Raw technique.


-Eric Berry, 6-0, 211, Tennessee, junior: Hard, physical player who seems to see what's happening on the field before anyone else does. Smart player with good leadership abilities. Had shoulder surgery after 2008 season.

-Earl Thomas, 5-10, 208, Texas, junior: Fast and willing to fill holes in the running game; size and strength may be drawbacks in the NFL. Might work out as a cornerback.

-Taylor Mays, 6-3, 230, Southern Cal: Plenty of physical tools, but doesn't always take proper angles and can be overaggressive, which will lead to whiffs.

-Morgan Burnett, 6-1, 209, Georgia Tech: Plenty of tools, and good instincts for the game in coverage and versus run, but lacks consistency.

Nate Allen, 6-0, 207, South Florida: Big and athletic, he needs to work on pursuit angles, ball skills and tackling.



-Leigh Tiffin, 6-1, 209, Alabama: Made 86 percent of field goals, including some pressure kicks. Might not be a kickoffs guy, but shows 50-yard range and accuracy to boot.


-Zoltan Mesko, 6-4, 204, Michigan: Four-year starter with a 44.5-yard average in 2009. Excellent at dropping ball inside the 20. Big and athletic, he's carried on fakes, too.

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