Opinions vary on which defensive tackle in April’s NFL Draft is the best, but there is a consensus on one thing from every draft analyst:
This talent pool for defensive linemen is deep.
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said recently the defensive tackle position is “flat-out loaded” and teams will be able to find quality, impact players into the fourth round.
For the Oakland Raiders, who begin a new phase of their offseason rebuilding plan with assessments beginning Wednesday at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, that’s a good thing.
Most draft predictors believe the Raiders will use their No. 1 pick – third overall – for an impact player on the defensive line, where tackles Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly may have played their last games for Oakland, and where the team needs a strong pass-rushing defensive end.
But depth at the position could also allow the Raiders to either trade down for extra picks and still land good talent on the D-line, or go for a player at another position early and still get a talented defensive tackle or end later.
Among analysts and NFL writers, Utah’s Star Lotulelei (6-foot-4, 325) consistently has been the top-rated defensive tackle. Right behind him are Sheldon Richardson of Missouri (6-3, 295), Kawann Short of Purdue (6-3, 315), Sharrif Floyd of Florida (6-3, 303), Johnathan Hankins of Ohio State (6-3, 320), Sylvester Williams of North Carolina (6-3-, 320) and Jesse Williams of Alabama (6-3, 320).
Lotulelei, in fact, has been pegged by some as perhaps the best player in the draft. Another ESPN analyst, Todd McShay, believes the Utes star is No. 1 on his overall draft list and says: “Lotulelei will never be an elite pass rusher, but he is strong against the run and has the quickness and power to collapse the pocket. He could become a mainstay in the middle and be good for five to seven sacks per year.”
Yet when NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock discussed the Raiders’ No. 3 overall selection on a conference call with the media Monday, he said Oakland should focus on Florida’s Floyd if it decides to take a defensive tackle.
“Oakland is in a very good place,” Mayock said, according to Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “They need D-linemen, and they can get one in this draft. This kid from the University of Florida, Sharrif Floyd, he’s the prototypical three-technique (opposite the guard defensive tackle) in this draft and I think he’s going to be a big-time impact player that people don’t know about. I’ve got him rated higher than the Utah kid and he’s a natural at what they do.”
Then, there’s this, too: What if the Raiders go another direction with the No. 3 overall pick – some mock drafts have them going for West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith – and they sign a free-agent tackle?
Bill Williamson, the AFC West blogger for ESPN.com, reported Monday that there is some speculation that Chiefs defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft out of LSU, has been mis-cast in Kansas City’s 3-4 defense, and would be a better fit as a free-agent pickup in the 4-3 alignments of both Oakland and Denver.
Williamson notes the price for Dorsey may not be high, after some disappointing years in K.C., yet he might be an impact player in a different system and still is young. Bill Williamson quoted Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson as saying Dorsey could be a much better player in the Raiders’ scheme.
It will be interesting to see what, if any, opinions or lines of thinking emerge from the Raiders after this week’s evaluation sessions at the Combine. No doubt the Raiders will add talent on the defensive line, but where it comes from is the question.