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Broncos Draft Prospects: Defensive Line

Posted Mar 17, 2013

A look at the defensive line prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft, and any players in the position group potentially in Denver's range.

Editor's Note: In the weeks leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft, Andrew Mason will evaluate each position group. He will take a look at the best time to draft prospects at each position and address how he believes the Broncos will approach the position groups. Up first: quarterbacks.

IDEAL DRAFT RANGE: It depends what type of player you seek.

For pass-rushing, speedy defensive ends, Round 1. For larger, stouter defensive ends against the run, Rounds 2-4. For defensive tackles who can pressure the quarterback, Rounds 1-2. For defensive tackles who are larger bodies (320 pounds or more), are better at stopping the run and play as a one-technique against the opposing center, Rounds 2-4 are the sweet spot.

With Florida's Sharrif Floyd, Utah's Star Lotulelei, Missouri's Sheldon Richardson, Brigham Young's Ziggy Ansah and Florida State's Bjoern Werner likely to be off the board by the time the Broncos select, the truly elite defensive tackles are out of reach, barring a trade.

But this year's class goes deep in terms of quality for the first two days, and it would come as no surprise if as many as 13 defensive linemen go off the board in the first round, with perhaps 20 or more being taken in the first two rounds.

And let's face it -- a team could always use another stout lineman. If one is the best player available when the Broncos' turns arrive, they could bite.

RECENT BRONCOS HISTORY: John Elway and his personnel department haven't been timid about targeting the front line to rebuild the Broncos from the inside out. Although the first pick of his regime, Von Miller, is listed as a linebacker, he plays many of his snaps from a down position as a pass-rushing defensive end.

Even taking Miller out of the equation, the Broncos have selected three defensive linemen the last two drafts -- one more than they selected in the previous three. Defensive end/tackle Derek Wolfe was the Broncos' first pick in 2012; that marked the first time in 15 years that the Broncos opened the draft with a player who at least platooned as a defensive tackle.

BRONCOS OUTLOOK: The fax faux pas that led to Elvis Dumervil's release Friday throws everything into flux at defensive end.  If the Broncos eventually get him back, finding a pass rusher isn't a pressing need, although the Broncos might look to supplement their depth in the middle rounds, although they could stand pat with Jackson and Beal providing depth. If not, pass-rushing end becomes a priority.

At defensive tackle, the Broncos appear set with Kevin Vickerson and Terrance Knighton, with Derek Wolfe moving inside for pass-rush punch when the Broncos go into nickel and dime packages. But given the time necessary to develop an effective defensive tackle -- typically at least a year -- the Broncos could be ideally positioned to draft a prospect and patiently develop him, along with the young players already in the fold.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN THAT MIGHT FIT THE BRONCOS IN THE FIRST TWO ROUNDS:

DE Margus Hunt, SMU: His 40-yard dash time of 4.60 seconds shows he can drop back to outside linebacker in a 3-4 and cover ground; his 38 bench-press repetitions offer an indication that he has the raw strength to shake off offensive tackles at the point of attack and even play as a 3-4 defensive end. Hunt is an older prospect -- he turns 26 in July -- and didn't take up football until he arrived at SMU; he originally ventured there from Estonia to train in the hammer throw, shot put and discus before SMU disbanded its track program. He's a freakish athlete with a stratospheric upside, even if he sometimes appears a bit awkward. But once he learns to throw his weight and frame around better, look out.

DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State: The 6-foot-3, 320-pounder is versatile and quick enough to play any spot along a 4-3 line, but at times his play tailed off late in games, raising questions about his fitness and stamina. But he's an above-average pass rusher from the interior with more attributes than negatives.

DT Sylvester Williams, North Carolina: He's not as versatile as Hankins, but is steadier and has earned plaudits for his work ethic, even though it hasn't always translated to his on-field performance. He can be quick off the snap, and fits in the physical mold of the Broncos' projected first-team defensive tackles, which would help smooth his transition.

DT Kawann Short, Purdue: An excellent interior pass rusher, but the Broncos already have someone of similar frame and skill set to the 6-foot-3, 308-pound Short in Derek Wolfe.

DT John Jenkins, Georgia: His size (6-foot-4, 346 pounds) is more suited to nose tackle, but he's played three, four and five technique. He also has dropped 24 pounds since last season. His skill set is similar to that of Kris Jenkins, who flourished in Fox and Del Rio's Panthers defense a decade ago.

DE Damontre Moore, Texas A&M: At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, he might be a better fit as a 3-4 linebacker than at defensive end; ideally, he would add 15-20 pounds to contribute on an every-down basis in the 4-3. He also only put up 12 bench-press repetitions at the combine, the fewest of any defensive lineman who lifted there. The film shows dominance, however -- 21 tackles for losses and 12.5 sacks last season, mostly working from a hand-in-the-dirt stance. If Moore's sub-par combine workout scares some teams off, he could be a steal late in the first round.

Others to watch: Florida State DE Tank Carradine, UCLA DE Datone Jones, LSU DT Bennie Logan, Auburn DE Corey Lemonier, LSU DE Sam Montgomery, Texas DE Alex Okafor, Ohio State DE John Simon, Alabama DT Jesse Williams.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN OF NOTE FOR THE MID-TO-LATE ROUNDS:

DT Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern: With small-school prospects, the Senior Bowl ends up being the litmus test, and Williams passed it, showing a decent array of pass-rush moves and playing energetically during the week. He needs to get down a bit from his playing weight of 341 -- but is on his way; he was at 335 at the Combine. 

DT Jordan Hill, Penn State: He has a similar frame and skill set to Short, but isn't as prolific of a pass rusher. However, he had a solid week at the Senior Bowl, getting the better of his one-on-one work, and is versatile enough to move around the defensive line. He's also added 15 pounds since last season and was up to 303 pounds at the Senior Bowl.

DE Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky: He's recovering from a torn ACL, but if he can add more weight -- he's at 250 pounds on a 6-foot-5 frame right now -- he could be a bargain. Smith had 12.5 sacks, but they came in clumps; five of them were against Florida International. However, three came against Alabama. He averaged 0.83 sacks per game against BCS-level competition the last three years.

DT Kwame Geathers, Georgia: You know the last name -- one brother, Robert Jr., is a Bengal; another, Clifton, is a Colt; his uncle, Jumpy, closed out a 13-year career by playing for the Broncos in 1996 and his father, Robert Sr., was a Bills third-round pick in 1981. Kwame is the biggest of the bunch, but not as big as he once was; he's dropped 13 pounds to 342 since the season. He was only a rotational player and occasional starter at Georgia and could have used some more seasoning, but could potentially be as solid an interior prospect as college teammate Jenkins.

DE Malliciah Goodman, Clemson: Goodman has a nice size/speed blend (276 pounds; 26 bench-press repetitions at the Combine) and displays good raw athleticism, but he didn't stand out at the Senior Bowl and was a liability against the run, something he'll have to improve in the NFL. He notched seven sacks last year.

Others to watch: Missouri Western DE David Bass, Mississippi State DT Josh Boyd, Michigan State DE Wlliiam Gholston, USC DE Wes Horton, Tennessee-Martin DT Montori Hughes, Bowling Green DT Chris Jones, Utah DE Joe Kruger, Nebraska DE Cameron Meredith, Alabama DT Damion Square, Illinois DT Akeem Spence, South Carolina DE Devin Taylor.

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