Paradigm Shift

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Paradigm Shift
by Warren DeLuca

Note: This is seventh in a series of college prospect profiles in preparation for the 2006 NFL Draft next April. This time we take a look at the top five prospects on the defensive line.

The Texans’ coaching change will have a drastic effect on the team’s defensive line if, as expected, they change their base defense from Dom Capers’ 3-4 to a 4-3. After four years of looking for massive block-eaters, the Texans’ front office will be paying added attention to the pass rushing and playmaking abilities of the D-linemen that they scout.

The transition to an even front should create a glut of defensive tackles as Seth Payne, Gary Walker, Robaire Smith, and Travis Johnson would all likely play inside in that scheme. Walker and Johnson in particular should thrive in a system that requires them to penetrate and disrupt rather than controlling the line and keeping blockers off the linebackers. The vets in this group will earn some hefty base salaries in 2006 ($4 million for Walker, $3.4 million for Smith, and $2.8 million for Payne), and since only two of them will play at a time, that means a big chunk of the salary cap is going to be standing on the sideline on any given defensive play.

On the outside, the Texans have plenty of 3-4 outside linebackers who have college experience as 4-3 ends, but with Jason Babin the heaviest at 259 pounds, they all would be best suited for the weakside spot. None appear to have the size or the size potential to be an every-down strongside end capable of holding up against an offensive tackle and often a tight end as well. The Texans will have a great need for a player in the 6’4”, 285 lbs. range with outside pass rush ability.

North Carolina State end Mario Williams would arguably be the best fit for the Texans of any defensive player in the draft. Williams has drawn comparisons to Julius Peppers, who the Texans considered the last time that they owned the top overall pick. If Houston opts out of the Reggie vs. Vince debate and trades down a few spots, Williams could be their guy.

The other top D-linemen (not including rush end/tweener types, who will be covered later) are all tackles. Oregon’s Haloti Ngata of Oregon is a scary combination of brute strength and agility. Texas’ Rod Wright is another big man with great athletic ability. When Michigan’s Gabe Watson comes ready to play, he’s a force to be reckoned with… but that doesn’t always happen. Miami’s Orien Harris, on the other hand, never lacks intensity.

Other defensive linemen to look for on draft day:

Brodrick Bunkley, Florida State
Dusty Dvoracek, Oklahoma
Jonathan Lewis, Virginia Tech
Jesse Maholena, Tennessee
Claude Wroten, LSU

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