While the weekend at the NFL Combine featured some of the big names of this draft class like Cam Newton, Monday brings what is widely considered the deepest position group of prospects. Most estimates project there to be around 11 defensive linemen picked in the first round come April, and Monday is a chance to see some of the inriguing pass rusher and run stoppers up close. The linebackers also hit the field Monday, though it's not considered a particularly strong class aside from Texas A&M's Von Miller, a possible top-ten pick.
But while there are plenty of linemen projected to come off the board quickly, the order they're selected is obviously yet to be determined. With that in mind, here's a look at some of the tussling for position along the defensive line that will take place leading up to draft day, with Monday's performance a legitimate factor.
Alabama's Marcell Dareus vs. Auburn's Nick Fairley - Both stud SEC defensive tackles are considered top-five talents. Fairley, 6-4, 291, gained a national profile with his dominant performance in the BCS National Championship game and is in the mix to be selected No. 1 overall. Meanwhile, Dareus, 6-3, 319, had more of a sustained track record of excellence in college than Fairley. Both players will no doubt be top-ten picks, but we'll see who has a leg up after today's workouts.
Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers vs. North Carolina's Robert Quinn - Both ACC pass rushers are also in the mix to be selected first overall, with Bowers, 6-3, 280, nominally in the pole position at the moment. Quinn, 6-4, 265, meanwhile, did not play in 2010, but his 2009 game tape is said to be superlative. With the importance of pass rush in today's NFL, both players will be dissected thoroughly.
California's Cameron Jordan vs. Wisconsin's J.J. Watt vs. Iowa's Christian Ballard vs. Ohio State's Cameron Heyward - These four players are jockeying for position as bigger, dual-threat defensive ends who have scheme versatility. Watt and Jordan are probably a notch above and could go in the top-15, but Ballard and Heyward are hot on their tail. Jordan, 6-4, 287, was the standout player at the Senior Bowl, while Watt, 6-5, 290, and Heyward, 6-5, 294, both declared early after stellar seasons in the Big Ten.
Illinois' Corey Liuget vs. Temple's Muhammad Wilkerson - Wilkerson, 6-4, 315, is one of the draft's recent risers and is considered a late first-rounder at the moment. Liuget, 6-2, 298, is probably a notch ahead at the moment and is supposedly very athletic for his frame. Keep an eye on both players' performance in the first 10-yard split of their 40-yard dash.
Miami (FL)'s Allen Bailey vs. Texas' Sam Acho vs. Arizona's Brooks Reed - A crop of second-tier pass rushers who are expected to come off the board after round one, this group will come down to team fit. Reed, 6-3, 263, projects for some as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he proved at the Senior Bowl that can be productive on the line in a 4-3 scheme. Bailey, 6-3, 283, has been a bit disappointing in the pre-draft process, but athleticism is his calling card so he should show up well in Indianapolis. Finally, Acho, 6-2, 262, was very productive in college and should find a home somewhere in the second round.
*-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 10:40 a.m., February 28 *