The 2014 NFL Draft by Position: Defensive Line

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Over the past several years, you’d be hard pressed to describe a big difference between a revolving door and the Baltimore Ravens defensive line.

Working the transition from player to player as well as any team in the NFL, the Ravens continuously replace free agents with new defensive linemen, and almost never undergo any appreciable “transition period” of diminished effectiveness.

The Ravens typically achieve this feat through the draft, by making it an annual purpose to add at least one defensive lineman, even if defensive end or tackle isn’t a need.

Baltimore has drafted at least one defensive lineman in each of the last four drafts – including two last year (Brandon Williams and Kapron Lewis-Moore) – with the later rounds typically being the target area to add defensive line depth.

This year, the Ravens are at it again. After losing defensive end Arthur Jones to the Indianapolis Colts in free agency, it wouldn’t hurt to bolster the defensive line in next week’s draft. The post-Jones defensive line has already been in the works though, as Lewis-Moore is a worthy candidate to be a quality rotational player next season, with 2012 seventh-round pick DeAngelo Tyson likely taking on a bigger role.

In the 2014 draft, it wouldn’t hurt for Baltimore to address either nose tackle or defensive end, as Haloti Ngata’s time in Baltimore could be coming to an end any year now, and having too much depth on the defensive line is a good problem the Ravens would likely be fond of having again in 2014.

Who are some potential prospects that could fill in for Baltimore as quality rotational players along an already solid defensive line?

DEFENSIVE ENDS (5-Technique)

Dominique Easley, Florida – Tearing his ACL in each knee should be a turnoff, right? Well in most cases, yes, but for Easley, he’s a rare case of talent trumping injury history, no matter how severe his list of injuries is.

His dominant beginning to the 2013 season was halted when he tore his ACL last fall, but he appears primed to be on the field as a rookie this season. With the quickest get-off on the snap of any defensive lineman in this draft and as quick as any defender in any year, Easley is a prime example of someone who can make an impact without recording a sack or tackle.

His disruption is unmatched in this draft class, and perhaps the injury could be enough for a slight chance he’s available for the Ravens in the second round. Baltimore has enough depth that his services wouldn’t be needed in the early part of the season as he returns from injury, but he can still be a contributor at some point next season.

Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh – While Easley makes a living using his disruption to let other defenders amass the stats, Donald does both. Perhaps the most productive defensive player in college football last season, the biggest drawback with Donald is his size, as he stands at just 6’1, 285 pounds.

But – for a guy often compared to Geno Atkins – his size isn’t a liability to his game. Donald’s go-to success route is his hand usage, which can be effective regardless of size. He is disciplined when it comes to keeping his eyes in the backfield, and his use of his hands on a per-play basis will likely be at the top of the NFL once he enters. A dark horse option in the first round?

RaShede Hageman, Minnesota – At 6’6, 311 pounds, Hageman has more than adequate size, and when he’s on, boy is he on. But the problem for Hageman is he doesn’t always play to the quality he is capable of.

A combination of high pad level and so-so effort shadow a prospect that is, at times, a dominating force up front. In Baltimore’s defense, with proper coaching, Hageman has the potential to be a dominant 3-4, two-gap defensive end. But will he ever reach that potential? Hageman will be a 24-year-old rookie, so his learning curve will have to be quick. For a player who often doesn’t play to the potential his athletic ability would suggest, he’s a true boom-or-bust pick with plenty of risk involved.

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DEFENSIVE TACKLES (0-Technique)

Louis Nix III, Notre Dame – There isn’t a large list of appealing nose tackles in this year’s draft class. Unlike the 5-technique defensive end crop – one that has plenty of potential instant impact options – the group of nose tackles is both thin and lacking in elite talent.

Nix III is the most “true” 0-technique in this year’s draft, as his 6’2, 331-pound frame combined with history of knee issues almost exclusively keeps him in this role in the NFL. He makes the list because he’s one of the few top-end exclusive nose tackles, so if the Ravens want to add another man in the middle early in the draft – although they already have Brandon Williams for that – keep an eye on Nix as a potential option.

Zach Kerr, Delaware – Ideally, in order to add depth at nose tackle, the Ravens should opt to wait until later in the draft and take a flier on a project as opposed to investing a high pick in someone like Nix III. A viable day three option is Kerr, who started his career at the University of Maryland and is from Gaithersburg, Maryland.

A raw player in the sense that pad level inconsistencies limited his potential impact at the FCS level, with coaching Kerr could become a valuable rotational piece as a diverse nose tackle that moves well given his 6’1, 326 pound frame. He’s an active, violent player during pass rush pursuit and displayed the capability to anchor the interior run game. As a later pick, the Ravens could take him in, use him marginally if needed in 2014, but ideally try to get the most out of him starting in 2015.

Justin Ellis, Louisiana Tech – Ellis is a limited athlete, but the appeal of adding a 6’1, 334 pound nose tackle to the rotation could intrigue the Ravens, Coming from a 4-3 defense where he was not an every-down player, Ellis projects as a two-down run stopper in a 3-4 defense, with likely more potential for success in a 4-3.

Ellis doesn’t provide much in the athleticism department, and there isn’t much room for growth other than improved conditioning. Ellis is a “he is what he is” player who could fill a void for a team in need of a rotational run-stopping tackle.

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One Rave about “The 2014 NFL Draft by Position: Defensive Line

  1. Cheri on said:

    I love watching BIG 10 midwest football and thrill the Terps are moving to that conference. I saw Minnesota and Notre Dame countless times this year and both Hageman and Nix scares the hell out of me. Those 2 and you hear this all the time but those 2 really do run hot and cold in every sense of the words for me to pick at 17. Easley correct me if I am wrong but I think he suffered not one but two of those type of injuries def. a red flag there. Kerr don’t know much about, a local kid but a local kid more being probably being a Redskins fan then a Ravens fan growing up since he’s from down that way. I live in York that would be consider local to Baltimore but it seems like a lot of Steelers fans in the area :( Ellis I will take your word on him not too familiar with him.Can’t recall seeing Lou.Tech once this year.Bottom line for me Casey just as the Ravens addressed defense last year I would like them to go mostly offense this year and then go back to the defensive side of the ball again in 2015. Where in the upper part of the draft they are going DL, CB, LB and so forth and hoping a lot of times that will be the BPA.

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