NFL teams seeking defensive lineman won't be disappointed

| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 11:27 p.m.

Potential or performance? High-risk or high-reward? A starter for today or a star of tomorrow?

The defensive line might be the most loaded position in the NFL Draft, with at least six players who could go in the first round, including several who appear to be plug-in-and-play immediately athletes.

Sharrif Floyd of Florida, Star Lotulelei of Utah and Sheldon Richardson of Missouri are expected to be picked early in one of the deepest drafts for defensive tackles in years; as many as five could go in Round 1. And it's not top-heavy, either; there will be good defensive linemen available on Day 3.

Then there's Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, the Brigham Young track star-turned-top-round pick who has only three years of football experience, yet has boundless potential, unrivaled physical skills and the kind of athleticism rarely seen at his position.

“He was off the radar, completely undrafted when the season began,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said.

What he doesn't have is much experience, and the question is whether a team that takes him in the top 5, or where he is projected to go, can wait the couple of years it might take him to pick up the experience and knowledge he needs to excel.

Such picks often are expected to play well and play now.

“You're not sure what you're going to get, but you know there is potential for this huge upside,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “I think it's the best story in the draft. A year and a half ago, he wasn't even on NFL teams' draft boards. Now we're talking about him as a top-10 selection who has played minimal snaps.

“It scares me, and it scares teams how little he has played.”

Some of the other linemen look to be scary good. Floyd couldn't be blocked at times, even against superior teams, and Lotulelei — at 320 pounds — is close to being nose tackle-sized yet is quick enough to play anywhere along the line.

Mayock likes Floyd's “ability to get off the field and disrupt the pass game ... unique for a defensive tackle. If you can get a defensive tackle that can affect the pass game, you've got something special. I love the kid.”

An on-the-rise defensive lineman is the more highly rated Bjoern Werner's teammate at Florida State, Tank Carradine, who is recovering from a torn ACL. He's a sack specialist who could outperform some of the more highly ranked linemen.

Datone Jones, a UCLA defensive end, is a Steelers-type player: Puts up stats, is motivated and is a leader. But he'll probably go in the first round, and the Steelers likely won't look at that position until a later round.

Johnathan Hankins of Ohio State and Jesse Williams of Alabama could wind up being taken later in the first round or early in the second.

Looking for a projected Day 3 linemen who could perform at a level might higher than he is drafted? How about Jordan Hill of Penn State?

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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