2011 NFL Draft: Top Five Defensive Linemen, Pre-Combine

GLENDALE AZ - JANUARY 10: Nick Fairley #90 of the Auburn Tigers sacks Marvin Johnson #1 of the Oregon Ducks in the fourth quarter of the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10 2011 in Glendale Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The 2011 NFL Scouting Combine begins one week from today. Viewed through a lens fusing talent with fit for the Buffalo Bills, I'm going to be listing my Top 5 prospects at four key positions; all are big need areas for the Bills. We'll start with the defensive line after the jump.

I said up top that I'm listing these "through a lens fusing talent with fit for the Bills". To make this as explicit as possible, that simply means that in forming these opinions (I saw all five guys play at least three times, by the way), I did my best two factor talent and how the player would fit with the team. Pretty straightforward; each factor was given equal consideration.

We'll be doing three more of these posts before next Wednesday - one for quarterbacks, one for offensive tackles, and one for pass rushers. It's enough to drive a little discussion, and will help you keep tabs on the players at those four critical areas for Buffalo once the Combine starts. It's a starting point for me, too - I don't anticipate a lot of movement, but it's not smart for anyone to declare their board locked in February.

Without further ado, my top five defensive linemen, pre-Combine, in the 2011 NFL Draft. (Blank measurement boxes indicate a lack of current information; I don't like pulling numbers from teams there. We'll update this after the Combine with official weigh-in numbers.)

No. Name Pos. College CL HT WT Arm Hand
1 Marcell Dareus DT Alabama JR
Big, physical defender that hails from a technically demanding defense coordinated by Nick Saban. Dareus is powerful at the point of attack and an excellent athlete for a man his size, and if well-conditioned should be an every-down defender as a pro. Extremely versatile, Dareus can legitimately line up and perform at several techniques; he'd be a good two-way defender at either one, three or five. That versatility would be valuable in scheming around another versatile lineman, Kyle Williams.
2 Nick Fairley DT Auburn JR
An extremely dominant presence that excels at wreaking havoc in opposing backfields. When he's on, he plays the game with as much intensity and ferocity as any lineman you'll see. A better pass rusher than run defender, Fairley has the requisite length and girth to play inside or outside, in an even or odd front. He'll be at his very best as a three-technique player that is used much as Williams has been used in Buffalo - and though he's a bit one-dimensional, he'll be outstanding in that role.
3 Cameron Jordan DE California SR 6041 287 34.5 11.25
Versatility makes Jordan such a hot commodity. He is athletic with enough quickness and burst to play end in a 4-3 defense, and is stout and technically sound enough to play end in a 3-4 defense. Jordan excels at shedding blocks, utilizing long arms and a powerful punch to control and disengage easily to make plays. In Buffalo's odd front, he would join Dwan Edwards and Alex Carrington as players that could line up at the three, four or five technique. Will be a better run defender than pass rusher as a pro.
4 J.J. Watt DE Wisconsin JR
Still flying under the radar a bit thanks to Jordan's standout Senior Bowl performance, but he's nearly Jordan's equal in my book. Bills fans would love the way this guy plays - he's super intense and has a non-stop motor, in the mold of Williams. Put up Fairley-esque production in 2010 and offers more versatility (yet less upside) as a prospect. Like Jordan, Watt would be an edge defender for the Bills, capable of playing end in the 3-4 and either end or three-technique tackle in the 4-3.
5 Cameron Heyward DE Ohio State SR
He's got great bloodlines - his father is the late Craig "Iron Head" Heyward - which is why the fact that he was an inconsistent senior despite being a four-year contributor is so troubling. His motor appears to run hot and cold (though mostly hot), and there are times when he allows teams to dominate him. Still, when he's on, he's as dominant as any player on this list. Heyward is a bit more schematically limited than most of these guys; he'd be best as a five technique, but could moonlight as a three tech despite his not being an elite penetrator.
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