The Boston Globe examines the top defensive linemen available in the 2012 NFL draft. Players are listed with position, school, height, weight, and 40-yard dash time. * denotes underclassman:
Luke Kuechly* MLB, Boston College, HEIGHT: 6-3, WEIGHT: 242, 40 TIME: 4.58
Phenomenal all-around, three-down linebacker. Outstanding production with 191 tackles last season, which led the country. Demonstrated speed and agility to match his natural instincts. In workouts, he has shown a terrific ability to drop into coverage. Might be a better person than player, if that’s possible.
Melvin Ingram OLB, South Carolina, HEIGHT: 6-1, WEIGHT: 264, 40 TIME: 4.74
Athletic ability and versatility stand out. Did so many things well that the coaches moved him all around, so he hasn’t been set at one position. Short arms (30 inches) make him too small for 4-3 end. Had 26 tackles for a loss and 19 sacks the past two seasons. Plays better in space. Light on his feet.
Dont’a Hightower* ILB, Alabama, HEIGHT: 6-2, WEIGHT: 265, 40 TIME: 4.68
Doesn’t matter where you play him—and he could play any number of positions—he makes plays and delivers punishing hits. Very smart. Called all the plays and got the Crimson Tide lined up. Thick, strong, and physical. Loves the game.
Courtney Upshaw OLB, Alabama, HEIGHT: 6-1, WEIGHT: 272, 40 TIME: 4.76
Outstanding for the Crimson Tide, with 17 tackles for a loss and eight sacks, and often played his best in the biggest games. Strong and has a great base. He plays to leverage well. Didn’t show well at the Senior Bowl, where he was easily blocked by bigger tackles. Not explosive.
Andre Branch OLB, Clemson, HEIGHT: 6-4, WEIGHT: 259, 40 TIME: 4.69
Has a lot of versatility. Could play 4-3 end, rush OLB, or strongside linebacker. Long arms (34 inches) allow him to shed blockers. An explosive pass rusher who is still learning the game. Only one year of production: 17 tackles for loss and 10 sacks last season.
Shea McClellin OLB, Boise State, HEIGHT: 6-3, WEIGHT: 260, 40 TIME: 4.63
Has drawn comparisons with former Patriots OLB Mike Vrabel because of his versatility, but McClellin is not at that level of athlete. Uses large hands well at the point of attack. Can drop into short zones for coverage. Needs to improve his strength. Did just 19 reps on the 225-pound bench press.
Bruce Irvin OLB, West Virginia, HEIGHT: 6-3, WEIGHT: 245, 40 TIME: 4.46
As just a pure athlete, may be the best pass rusher in the draft. But he’s never been a full-time starter and will require a lot of development. Has endured a tough life but fought to better himself. Outstanding first step and can really run. In two seasons had 29 tackles for loss and 22 sacks.
Zach Brown OLB, North Carolina, HEIGHT: 6-1, WEIGHT: 244, 40 TIME: 4.49
Set 60-meter record for Tar Heels’ track team at 6.72 seconds. Doesn’t have great instincts and will run into the wrong holes. Too much speed causes him to overrun plays. Can cover and run with running backs. Had 13 tackles for loss and five sacks last season.
David Lavonte OLB, Nebraska, HEIGHT: 6-0, WEIGHT: 233, 40 TIME: 4.65
Terrific production, with 152 tackles and six sacks as a junior, 133 tackles as a senior. Great special teams player. Very good speed and knows how to play the game. Will have to play weakside linebacker in a 4-3 because of his size. NFL players will handle him easily at point of attack.
Bobby Wagner ILB, Utah State, HEIGHT: 6-0, WEIGHT: 241, 40 TIME: 4.49
Can play all three downs at the NFL level. Shows very good instincts at times, but he will play mechanically when he thinks too much. Needs to improve his footwork. Will make an instant impact on special teams.
BEST OF THE REST
Ronnell Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma (6-1, 253, 4.69, 3-4); James-Michael Johnson, ILB, Nevada (6-1, 241, 4.68, 3-4); Demario Davis, OLB, Arkansas State (6-2, 235, 4.61, 3-4); Jake Bequette, OLB, Arkansas (6-4, 274, 4.75, 4-5); Travis Lewis, ILB, Oklahoma (6-1, 253, 4.75, 4-5); Sean Spence, OLB, Miami (5-11, 231, 4.71, 4-5); Josh Kaddu, OLB, Oregon (6-3, 239, 4.75, 4-5); Keenan Robinson, OLB, Texas (6-3, 242, 4.79, 4-5); Kyle Wilbur, OLB, Wake Forest (6-3, 249, 4.86, 4-5).
* UNDERCLASSMAN | ROUND — PROJECTED ROUND OF SELECTIONGreg A. Bedard can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.