(A series looking at the top players at various positions leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft, set for April 25-27.)
When it comes to the actual three days of the annual NFL Draft, the dynamic is a fairly simple one. Teams are looking to add good players, and the media covering the proceedings is looking for interesting stories to tell about those new players. Once Commissioner Roger Goodell opens this draft for business on the night of April 25, the first few defensive linemen to get selected should make everybody happy.
Among those consistently being identified as the top defensive line prospects are Utah's Star Lotulelei, Florida's Sharrif Floyd, BYU's Ziggy Ansah, and Florida State's Bjoern Werner.
From a playing standpoint what this quartet brings is as follows:
Lotulelei (6-foot-3, 311-pounds) attended Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, for two years before transferring to Utah, and in his three seasons on the defensive line for the Utes he managed 21.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Lotulelei is a powerfully physical player who grew into a more violent presence in the middle of the defensive line year by year.
Floyd (6-3, 297) played in 13 games as a freshman in 2010, but he didn't become a full-time starter until 2011. In 2011 and 2012, he had a total of 19.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, while also blocking three field goals in 2012 alone. Floyd gets it done with an attacking style, and another factor in his favor is that he was 20 years old during the 2012 season.
Ansah (6-5, 271) is still learning the game, literally, and heading into 2012 he had only 10 total tackles at BYU. But in his final college season, Ansah exploded with 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, nine passes defensed, an interception, and a forced fumble. Then in the Senior Bowl he won Most Outstanding Player honors with seven tackles, including 3.5 for loss, plus 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.
Werner (6-3, 266) broke into the starting lineup full-time in 2011, and he finished that season with 12 tackles for loss, seven sacks, eight passes defensed, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery that he returned 25 yards for a touchdown. In 2012 Werner improved to 18 tackles for loss and 13 sacks, to go along with another eight passes defensed and a forced fumble.
And that's only the half of it, the football half of it. There's also this:
Star Lotulelei, whose full first name is Starlite, is married with two children. At the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Lotulelei was prohibited from participating and sent home after being diagnosed with a heart condition. An echocardiogram had revealed a left ventricle operating at 44 percent, compared to the normal range of 55-70 percent. Since then, additional tests led most to believe the abnormality might have been caused by a virus, and Lotulelei participated at his pro day without incident.
Hollywood could make a movie of Floyd's story. In fact, it already did. It was called "The Blind Side," and it was about Michael Oher. Floyd was suspended for two games in 2012 for what the NCAA ruled was the accepting of improper benefits, but then the family that provided those benefits adopted Floyd. Kevin Lahn and his wife, Tiffany, are the people who adopted Floyd, who grew up in a poor and broken family, much like Oher.
Ansah was born in Ghana, where he played soccer and pickup basketball at his local school. There he met Mormon missionaries and was baptized into that faith. The missionary who baptized Ansah kept in touch after returning to America, and he later suggested that if Ansah was serious about basketball he should apply to BYU and try out for the basketball team. Ansah was accepted at BYU and awarded a scholarship in 2008, but he was cut two different times from the basketball team. He then walked on to the track team, where he posted a 10.91 in the 100 meters and a 21.89 in the 200. Ansah then was persuaded to try out for the football team, and he began playing football in 2010.
When Werner gets to feeling a little claustrophobic from the media attention that comes to football players, he typically goes back to his hometown – in the Berlin, Germany, neighborhoods of Wedding and Reinickendorf. He first played football for the Berlin Adler, and then in 2007 he attended Salisbury School in Salisbury, Connecticut, as an exchange student where his sports career blossomed. Werner played at Salisbury in 2007, he returned to Germany for his junior year of high school, and then in 2009 it was back to Salisbury. Despite playing high school football for only two years, Werner chose Florida State over Oregon, Miami, and California. And during his first college spring break, Werner married his girlfriend Denise, whom he had met in 10th grade in Berlin.
Besides the aforementioned quartet, there are enough prospects both inside and outside to make this a deep class of defensive linemen.
For teams looking for 3-4 ends or 4-3 tackles, or maybe a 3-4 nose tackle, the group includes Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins (6-3, 320), Georgia's John Jenkins (6-4, 346), Alabama's Jesse Williams (6-3, 323), North Carolina's Sylvester Williams (6-3, 313), and Missouri's Sheldon Richardson (6-3, 294).
The 4-3 defensive end group should include Texas A&M's Damontre Moore (6-5, 250), UCLA's Datone Jones (6-4, 283), Florida State's Tank Carradine (6-2, 276), and LSU's Sam Montgomery (6-3, 262).
THE 2012 NFL DRAFT, DL STATISTICS
Number drafted: Tackles: 22; Ends: 23
Picks by round: Tackles: 3 in the first; 4 in the second; 3 in the third; 4 in the fourth; 2 in the fifth; 1 in the sixth; 5 in the seventh; Ends: 7 in the first; 2 in the second; 4 in the third; 1 in the fourth; 2 in the fifth; 1 in the sixth; 6 in the seventh.
Highest pick: Tackles: Dontari Poe, Memphis, Round 1, 11th overall, by Kansas City; Ends: Bruce Irvin, West Virginia, Round 1, 15th overall, by Seattle
Biggest impact: Tackles: Fletcher Cox of Mississippi State was picked immediately after Poe, by the Philadelphia Eagles at 12th overall, and he posted 5.5 sacks in nine starts; Ends: Chandler Jones was selected in the first round by the New England Patriots, 21st overall, and he finished with six sacks and three forced fumbles in 13 starts.