Pro Football Weekly Draft Prospects DT
Do not be surprised if there is a quick run on defensive tackles in this year’s draft. There were probably four defensive tackles who played at a true All-America level for most of the year. Two are juniors — Florida’s powerful Gerard Warren, a real force vs. the run, and Wisconsin’s very athletic Wendell Bryant — despite his slow start and one-game suspension for accepting an unadvertised discount from a shoe store. The seniors are Georgia’s Richard Seymour, who bounced back from a one-game suspension at the start of the year, and Texas’ Casey Hampton. Miami (Fla.) DT Damione Lewis also has had games when he plays at the same level, if not higher, than the All-Americans, and there is no question that Texas’ other tackle, Shaun Rogers, has even more natural talent than Hampton. Some might also make the same argument about Georgia’s Seymour and his huge sidekick, Marcus Stroud. Although Stanford’s Willie Howard and Alabama’s Kenny Smith had really disappointing senior years, their stock could go right back up again if they go to the Senior Bowl and have big weeks. However, it would be awfully hard for USC’s underachieving Ennis Davis to get his stock back up. Kansas State’s Mario Fatafehi really can play the run, and with better technique and more experience, he could be a real load.
At Texas, the Longhorns feel that Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers are the best set of tackles they’ve ever had, and both earned All-Conference recognition in 1999. Hampton, a blue-collar type, is only about 6-1, but he is over 300 pounds, strong as a bull and a real force because of his ability to control the middle. He gets top grades for his non-stop motor, work ethic, football instincts and leadership, and he has been starting at Texas, when healthy, since 1996, when he started the last six games of the year and in the Fiesta Bowl. Hampton had to redshirt after three games in ’97 with a knee injury that required surgery, but he came back to start every game in ’98 and played at an All-America level last season, when he had 101 tackles, including 21 for loss.
Rogers is about 6-4½ and has the pass-rush potential Hampton lacks. However, Rogers’ weight tends to get up to about 335 pounds, which will limit his quickness. He did not become a full-time starter until last year, when he had 27 tackles for loss and 5½ sacks. But he got off to a so-so start this season, sprained his ankle vs. Houston, causing him to miss 2½ games, and has never been close to 100 percent healthy since. The book on Rogers is he is Texas’ most gifted defensive tackle since Kenneth Sims and can dominate when he gets his motor cranked up and is going full speed. However, there are too many downs when that does not happen. He obviously is not a self-starter like Hampton, but when Rogers gets it going, he can be even more dominating inside.
Georgia’s Richard Seymour just turned 21 and never redshirted, so he has a chance to keep getting better and better. He was not very highly recruited out of high school but was impressive enough to play as a true freshman in ’97, shared time but probably played over half the minutes in ’98 and was the team’s best defensive lineman in ’99 and 2000. Seymour plays hard, competes, plays with good leverage, uses his hands well and gives really good effort. He also has a short burst and can penetrate and make plays. What he may lack is a great closing burst of speed and long speed. There are times when he gets in on the quarterback but can’t quite close fast enough to finish the job. However, he is enough of a pass rusher to play a power anchor DLE position or outside in a 3-4 defense.
While Seymour was not that highly recruited, everyone was after Marcus Stroud coming out of high school. After redshirting in ’96, he rotated in ’97 and has started the past three years. However, he rarely has been the dominating player he was supposed to be, although he has been more impressive for longer stretches in recent weeks than he ever has before. The most impressive thing about Stroud is when he walks into the room because he looks the way you expect an NFL defensive tackle to look. He is huge but not fat, powerful and quick. He also has quick hands. Nevertheless he has never developed into a consistent force. Stroud is slow to shed blocks much of the time, and at times he does things that make you question his lateral movement. He also has never developed into much of a pass rusher, but with his size and strength, he can push the pocket. Some feel he lacks a real mean streak and might be better suited for the offensive line. However, if you watched him in the first half of the Auburn game, you saw why he will probably be a first-round pick as a defensive tackle.
Damione Lewis of Miami (Fla.) is not the next Warren Sapp, but he may be the Hurricanes’ best defensive tackle since Sapp. Lewis is a four-year starter after winning high school All-America honors in Texas. He is not huge like Stroud or Rogers, and like Sapp, he lacks great height, but he is very quick off the ball and disruptive. His play suffered for about a month after he broke a toe on his right foot in late September, which is why he was not rated as an All-American. While some really like Lewis and feel he will be a first-round pick, others have questions concerning the fact he is not a naturally huge man, lacks long arms and does not play with great functional strength.
Alabama’s Kenny Smith looked like a rising star in ’99 before he tore a ligament in his right knee late last season. He missed spring practice, came back in the fall and was set back by neck and shoulder problems. He also was either afraid to really cut loose because of his knee or because he was worried about how another injury would affect his pro status. The fact Alabama is having such a down year may also have taken its toll on him. However, when healthy and motivated, Smith is a good athlete with quick hands and feet who can be explosive and dominating.
Kansas State’s Mario Fatafehi is a wide-bodied run stuffer who is not that tall and may not have great long speed. However, he is very strong and hard to block inside, can anchor or attack and has good quickness and a good motor. Being a junior-college transfer, he is raw around the edges but is getting better all the time. He also is just 21 years old and is already huge.
Stanford’s Willie Howard had a really good junior year, when he had 10 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, won the Morris Trophy as the best defensive lineman in the Pacific-10 and led Stanford to the Rose Bowl by often coming up big in big games. He showed inside pass-rush ability, a good spin and bull rush and was a high-intensity player and team leader. However, he hurt his knee in the Notre Dame game at the end of the year, still played vs. Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and then had surgery, which turned out to be far less serious than originally feared. But he has not regained last year’s form after reporting back this fall in less-than-ideal shape and is not playing with the same enthusiasm or motor he showed in ’99. Now people are also questioning if he is a DT-DE tweener — not fast enough for end and not powerful enough to play inside.
USC’s Ennis Davis does not have Darrell Russell-type ability, but like Russell, he comes with the underachiever tag, as there have been times this year when he makes you wonder how badly he wants it. Davis was a fat, out-of-shape freshman who redshirted to get in shape. However, by ’98 he was starting, and people were starting to compare him to Russell. Then he hurt his knee at the end of the ’98 campaign and had surgery. Last year his excuse was the knee was never 100 percent, but this year the problem seems to be how fast his motor runs. Davis is quick for his size, can hold the point of attack and be a force inside. Put on a highlight tape of his 10 best plays, and you might think he could be like Russell. But when you watch Davis over the course of several games, you often see him disappear for long stretches. He also may not be the natural inside rusher Russell is, and in fairness to Davis, he is not as naturally big, coordinated or quick. On the plus side, he does have initial quickness, quick hands and quick feet.