Rank and File: Defense

March 18, 2002
Rank and File: Defense
by Keith Weiland

In part two of our look at the top names available on the first day of the draft, we’ll spotlight the players who line up on the defensive side of the ball, position-by-position.

Defensive Tackle
1. John Henderson, Tennessee, 6’6″ 306
2. Wendell Bryant, Wisconsin, 6’4″ 308
3. Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee, 6’5″ 320
4. Ryan Sims, North Carolina, 6’4″ 311
5. Eddie Freeman, Alabama-Birmingham, 6’5″ 310
6. Anthony Weaver, Notre Dame, 6’3″ 296
7. Larry Tripplett, Washington, 6’1″ 305

There’s a lot of first round depth at this position. After fighting ankle injuries all season, Henderson is now hearing concerned whispers regarding a slight curve in his spine. Though it may shorten his career if it develops into an issue, Henderson is still the top-rated tackle on the board. He becomes the steal of the draft if he slips out of the top ten.

And don’t forget… Alan Harper, Fresno State. The slow forty time Harper posted at the combine will drop him a few slots on draft day, but he has the ability to plug the middle.

The Advance Scout says… With Gary Walker (who will play end), Seth Payne, and Jerry DeLoach on the roster, DT doesn’t figure to be a need position for the Texans on draft day. Regardless, if one of these top seven guys should tumble farther than expected, the Texans shouldn’t hesitate to make them one of their selections.

Defensive End
1. Julius Peppers, North Carolina, 6’6″ 283
2. Bryan Thomas, Alabama-Birmingham, 6’4″ 266
3. Charles Grant, Georgia, 6’3″ 282
4. Dennis Johnson, Kentucky, 6’4″ 258
5. Ryan Denney, Brigham Young, 6’7″ 276

It’s moot to argue whether Peppers is a defensive end or an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme since he’ll be drafted as a 4-3 DE by some other team. Even with Peppers, depth is lacking at this position. Thomas is very fast and should make for a good pass rusher in the NFL. He may be a tad underweight as a 3-4 DE, but Thomas answered questions about his strength when he lifted 225 pounds 33 times at the combine. Grant, a former two-way player, has matured and could be gone before the end of the first round.

And don’t forget… Will Overstreet, Tennessee. Yet another Vol defensive lineman, Overstreet has a relentless motor and was an All-SEC Academic player last year. Like Thomas, significant questions exist regarding his size and his ability to defend against the run as a 3-4 end, so the Texans likely evaluate him as an OLB.

The Advance Scout says… The Texans are in need of another defensive end, but few (if any) of these players will fit their scheme on the line. It’s more likely that the Texans will draft one of the DTs with pass rushing skills (such as Anthony Weaver if he’s still around at #33 overall), and move him to end.

Outside Linebacker
1. Kalimba Edwards, South Carolina, 6’5″ 265
2. Napolean Harris, Northwestern, 6’3″ 253
3. Dwight Freeney, Syracuse, 6’1″ 266
4. Saleem Rasheed, Alabama, 6’2″ 229
5. Raonall Smith, Washington State, 6’2″ 244
6. James Allen, Oregon State, 6’2″ 240
7. Jashon Sykes, Colorado, 6’2″ 236
8. Alex Brown, Florida, 6’3″ 260

Edwards thinks of himself as a defensive end, but he lacks the size to play the position in a 3-4 scheme. Unlike most other DE/OLB “tweeners,” Edwards does have some experience at linebacker. Freeney, an end at Syracuse, possesses the pass rushing skills required of the 3-4 OLB, but his ability to drop into coverage remains a big unknown.

And don’t forget… Akin Ayodele, Purdue. He spent some time as an OLB for the Boilermakers before making the switch to DE in 2000. Though pass coverage was not one of his strengths, Ayodele has the athleticism to further develop those skills. He also has a good head on his shoulders, something very important to this franchise.

The Advance Scout says… Outside linebacker still figures to be one of the top priorities heading into the first day of the draft, even with free agents Kailee Wong and Greg Jones already on the roster. It is unlikely that the Texans trade up to select Edwards or Harris in the first round since an advantage of playing the 3-4 defense is being able to sit back and watch the “tweeners” slip on draft day.

Inside Linebacker
1. Levar Fisher, North Carolina State, 6’0″ 233
2. Robert Thomas, UCLA, 6’0″ 229
3. Trev Faulk, Louisiana State, 6’2″ 241
4. Andra Davis, Florida, 6’0″ 244
5. Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma, 6’3″ 243

A few of these players project to be outside LBs as well. Fisher may not possess outstanding technique as a tackler, but he can make plays all over the field. He is excellent in coverage and good against the run. Thomas and Calmus both have good football instincts. One or both may fall into the third round.

And don’t forget… Bradley Jennings, Florida State. Jennings is a solid tackler and is physical in run defense. The downside here is that he lacks blazing speed and is a liability in pass coverage.

The Advance Scout says… Inside linebacker may be the Texans pick with either their second pick in the second round or their top pick in the third round.

1. Quentin Jammer, Texas, 6’0″ 204
2. Phillip Buchanon, Miami, 5’10” 186
3. Lito Sheppard, Florida, 5’10” 194
4. Mike Rumph, Miami, 6’2″ 205
5. Derek Ross, Ohio State, 5’10” 197
6. Dante Wesley, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 6’0″ 211
7. Keyou Craver, Nebraska, 5’10” 201

Jammer follows in the footsteps of former Longhorn corner Bryant Westbrook as a likely top-ten selection. Rarely challenged in 2001, Jammer is a brutal pass defender that excels in man coverage. Like Westbrook, he is a ferocious tackler, unafraid to help out against the run. And boy, Jammer can hit. The only downside for fans of the team that selects him is hearing “Jammer jams his man…” for the next decade. Yo, color analysts – buy a thesaurus.

And don’t forget… Kevin Thomas, UNLV. Nothing flashy here, just a good cover man.

The Advance Scout says… Cornerback is not a priority for the Texans since Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman are already in the fold. It would be a huge surprise if the Texans selected a corner on the first day, though depth at the position is important. Having someone with talent to develop that can be brought in for nickel and dime packages would be nice.

1. Roy Williams, Oklahoma, 6’0″ 219
2. Ed Reed, Miami, 5’11” 201
3. Kevin Curtis, Texas Tech, 6’1″ 212
4. Lamont Thompson, Washington State, 6’1″ 220
5. Michael Lewis, Colorado, 6’1″ 211
6. Tank Williams, Stanford, 6’2″ 222
7. Chris Hope, Florida State, 5’11” 210

Just how high can Williams go? Safety is not a position that is highly regarded on draft day, but Williams is a unique talent that plays strong safety like a linebacker. Weighing a little on the heavy side at the combine made Williams look more like a linebacker, too.

And don’t forget… Pig Prather, Mississippi State. A converted running back, Prather is the wildcard of the available safeties. He is rumored to have scored just five points (out of a possible fifty) on the Wonderlic test, so if I write anything bad about him here, he may not be able to read it anyway.

The Advance Scout says… The Texans have no one on their roster that deserves to start at either safety position. That said, the team doesn’t figure to be protecting many fourth quarter leads this season, so safety is a need that can be filled in 2003 if it is not addressed in the middle rounds.

Keith Weiland was fired after the combine as Pig Prather’s Wonderlic coach when his rule of “Pick C if you don’t know the answer” failed forty-five times.