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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

It looks like teams will be in a rush to draft pass rushers

The Class of 2011 is rich in sack specialists, prompting speculation that as many as half the first-round picks could be defensive linemen. Best of the batch might be Alabama tackle Marcell Dareus.

April 25, 2011|Sam Farmer
  • Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus goes through drills during the NFL scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus goes through drills during the NFL… (Brian Spurlock / US Presswire )

What goes up, must come down.

The NFL's passing numbers have come up, so the quarterbacks must come down.

And there's scarcely a better time than now to stock up on those relentless pass rushers, as this NFL draft class is loaded with them. Some predictions estimate as many as half the players selected in the first round Thursday will be defensive linemen.

"Everybody needs pass rushers," New York Jets Coach Rex Ryan told reporters recently. "We were [eighth] in the league last year in sacks and third in the league in defense, and yet we need pass rushers. If we need them, then how about these other teams? Everybody needs pass rushers. Clearly, if a pass rusher's there and we think he's the best player, then that's the guy we'll take."

Coming off a season in which Detroit Lions rookie Ndamukong Suh was dominant, everybody is on the lookout for Suh, Part II. He might not be out there — Suh appears to be a once-in-a-decade player — but you can bet teams will take their chances.

"I look at it like, if you go back in the history of watching football . . . it started up front," said Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, likely to be the first defensive player selected, possibly No. 2 by the Denver Broncos. "Some people were scared and backed up off the ball, but the real bulls stayed up front and played the game."

Whereas the 6-foot-3, 320-pound Dareus has the girth to be the man in the middle, this draft is especially rich in edge rushers. As many as 10 defensive ends could be chosen in the opening round, and that's not counting outside linebackers Von Miller of Texas, Akeem Ayers of UCLA and Martez Wilson of Illinois. Many experts believe North Carolina's Robert Quinn is the best defensive end prospect in this draft class.

Other defensive ends who could go in the first round:

Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson

Aldon Smith, Missouri

J.J. Watt, Wisconsin

Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue

Cameron Jordan, California

Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh

Cameron Heyward, Ohio State

Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple

Adrian Clayborn, Iowa

Down, set, glut!

It will be interesting to see what happens with quarterbacks this year since many teams need them. In fact, eight of the teams among the first 10 picks are on the lookout for a long-term answer at that position: Carolina, Denver, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona, San Francisco, Tennessee and Washington.

Most mock drafts have Auburn quarterback Cam Newton going to the Panthers at No. 1, and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert as the second quarterback off the board. But there are several other intriguing prospects in this class. Among them:

Jake Locker, Washington

Ryan Mallett, Arkansas

Andy Dalton, Texas Christian

Christian Ponder, Florida State

Colin Kaepernick, Nevada

Trophy-toting Twosome

A year after two Heisman Trophy winners went in the first round of the 2010 draft — Sam Bradford to St. Louis and Tim Tebow to Denver — it could happen again.

Newton is expected to be among the first players chosen, if not the first, and Alabama's Mark Ingram, the 2009 winner, is the top-rated running back on many teams' boards.

In 2006, USC's Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, both Heisman winners, were selected in the first 10 picks.

Family ties

Some of this year's prospects with NFL roots:

Ingram, RB, Alabama: Father, Mark, a first-round pick in 1987, spent 10 seasons as a receiver for the New York Giants.

Lee Smith, TE, Marshall: Father, Daryle, was an offensive lineman who played for Dallas, Cleveland and Philadelphia.

Mike Pouncey, C, Florida: Twin brother of center Maurkice, first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers last year.

Stefen Wisniewski, G, Penn State: Son of Leo and nephew of Steve, both former NFL linemen (Leo a nose tackle for the Colts, Steve an All-Pro guard for the Raiders).

Heyward, DE, Ohio State: Son of late NFL running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward.

Jordan, DE, Cal: Son of former Minnesota tight end Steve Jordan, who spent 13 seasons with the Vikings.

Greg Lloyd, LB, Connecticut: Son of Greg, a former Pro Bowl linebacker for Pittsburgh.

Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon: A The latest in a long line to play in the NFL. After his grandfather (Clay) played, his father (Clay Jr.) and uncle (Bruce) had illustrious careers. His brother, Clay III, is a star linebacker for Green Bay.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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