By Chad Reuter
May 5, 2011

Judging from the earliest returns, the draft class of 2012 lacks elite talents on defense. It's evident that cornerback and inside linebacker should be stronger than most other positions.

Looking at the prospects on defense available in the 2012 NFL Draft, one other thing becomes abundantly clear: Alabama has a boatload of talent.

The Tide lost four first-round picks to the NFL draft in April -- DL Marcell Dareus, WR Julio Jones, OT James Carpenter and RB Mark Ingram -- along with seventh-round quarterback Greg McElroy.

Dareus was the only significant loss on defense, but it is possible that head coach Nick Saban, a defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns, could lose both starting safeties, three of four linebackers, and his nose tackle to the NFL in 2012 -- and they could all go in the first two rounds.

The last time seven players from one team went in the first two rounds of a draft was Southern Cal's 2008 class (four defenders, three on offense).

Seven defenders from the same school haven't gone that high in recent draft history, with the highest number being the five from Oklahoma picked in the top 36 selections of the 1984 draft. In fact, seven defensive prospects lining up together in college haven't been picked in the first three rounds of a draft over the past 35 years.

The only position group listed below where at least one member of the Crimson Tide defense does not appear is defensive end. Rising juniors Kerry Murphy and Damion Square are also likely to be on the scouting radar in 2012 or '13 as five-technique ends for teams running schemes similar to Saban's 3-4.

It's unlikely any of the Tide defenders will be drafted as high as Dareus, who went to Buffalo with the third overall selection. Cornerback 'Dre Kirkpatrick has the size, toughness and ball skills to be a top-10 pick if deemed the top cover corner in the draft after a strong season and Combine workout, while inside linebacker Don'ta Hightower, free safety Robert Lester could be chosen in the first round.

Nose tackle Josh Chapman and linebacker Courtney Upshaw could force their way into the first but might be better values in the second round, along with strong safety Mark Barron and linebacker Nico Johnson, if he enters the draft early after finally getting a chance to play regularly as a junior.

But this isn't a breakdown of Alabama's defense. While the Crimson Tide has talent in abundance, there are plenty of other defensive prospects angling for attention between now and the 2012 draft.

Grade: Average

  1. K Blair Walsh (Georgia) 5-10/185/4-5
  2. P Bryan Anger (California) 6-4/207/4.75/4-5
  3. P Drew Butler (Georgia) 6-2/210/5.20/5
  4. K Philip Welch (Wisconsin) 6-3/198/5-6
  5. K Caleb Sturgis (Florida) 5-10/192/6
  6. K David Ruffer (Notre Dame) 6-1/176/6-7
  7. K Derek Dimke (Illinois) 6-0/180/6-7
  8. P Brad Nortman (Wisconsin) 6-3/212/7
  9. P Brian Stahovich (San Diego State) 6-0/195/7


  1. Donte Paige-Moss (North Carolina) 6-4/242/4.67/1
  2. Brandon Jenkins (Florida State) 6-3/245/4.69/1-2
  3. Devin Taylor (South Carolina) 6-6/250/4.76/1-2
  4. Alex Okafor (Texas) 6-4/258/4.62/1-2

Compared with the 2011 defensive end class, any group would be average to below-average. But teams might be scrambling to find difference-making pass rushers in next year's draft unless some of the players listed below step up or there are huge numbers of ascending underclassmen in the J.J. Watt category. North Carolina's Donte Paige-Moss has that ability, and could be a high pick if he adds good weight while racking up sacks over the next year. Jenkins could be a mid-first round defensive end (or the next highly-rated conversion to 3-4 linebacker) with another productive season as a junior. Taylor and Okafor have the size, length and speed to earn top 50 selections if all goes as planned.

Coples, Crick and Winn played inside in college, but teams playing a 3-4 scheme will likely covet them as five-techniques in the NFL. Branch, Curry, Smith, Miller and Ojomo all have great potential as weak-side pass rushers, while Bequette and Browne could be solid, hustling strong-side players.

Grade: Average

  1. Kheeston Randall (Texas) 6-5/295/4.98/1-2
  2. Tydreke Powell (North Carolina) 6-3/310/5.06/2
  3. Josh Chapman (Alabama) 6-1/310/5.09/2
  4. Brandon Thompson (Clemson) 6-2/310/5.30/2-3
  5. Alameda Ta'amu (Washington) 6-3/330/5.29/2-3
  6. Kendall Reyes (Connecticut) 6-4/298/4.93/3
  7. Jaye Howard (Florida) 6-3/302/4.93/3
  8. Armond Armstead (USC) 6-5/295/4.97/3
  9. Renard Williams (Eastern Washington) 6-2/298/5.18/3-4
  10. Logan Harrell (Fresno State) 6-2/278/4.92/4


  1. Marcus Forston (Miami, Fla.) 6-3/305/4.95/1-2
  2. Jerel Worthy (Michigan State) 6-3/305/5.04/1-2

No one saw Auburn tackle Nick Fairley becoming the dominant player he was in the 2010 season before the season began. Forston has the explosiveness to become that sort of player, but he, Randall, Worthy, Powell, or someone else will need to step up to land in the top half of the draft's first round. There is some depth in the top 100 with Thompson continuing Clemson's history of producing tackles and Chapman a Casey Hampton-type nose tackle prospect. Ta'amu's combination of size, strength and agility will certainly intrigue scouts. Armstead is moving to tackle for the Trojans this year, and could get top 100 consideration, along with high-motor prospect Harrell and highly-productive FCS star Renard Williams.

Grade: Average

  1. Zach Brown (North Carolina) 6-2/225/4.54/1
  2. Travis Lewis (Oklahoma) 6-2/232/4.53/1-2
  3. Brandon Lindsey (Pittsburgh) 6-2/250/4.67/1-2
  4. Bruce Irvin (West Virginia) 6-2/235/4.72/1-2
  5. Nigel Bradham (Florida State) 6-2/241/4.63/2
  6. Tank Carder (TCU) 6-2/237/4.62/2
  7. Sean Spence (Miami, Fla.) 5-11/225/4.52/2-3
  8. Emmanuel Acho (Texas) 6-2/240/4.65/2-3
  9. Adrian Robinson (Temple) 6-2/250/4.66/3
  10. Lavonte David (Nebraska) 6-1/212/4.57/3


  1. Nico Johnson (Alabama) 6-3/238/4.59/2
  2. Ronnell Lewis (Oklahoma) 6-2/240/4.63/2

It was expected UNC linebacker Bruce Carter would be a top-15 pick because of his length and athleticism, and Brown has a chance to make good on that promise if he avoids the type of serious injury (torn ACL) that knocked Carter into the second round. There are more 4-3 second-level defenders available in this class than there were in 2010, with Lewis, Bradham, Carder capable of playing in that alignment. Lindsey and Irvin will convert from end to a 3-4 rush linebacker in the pros due to their lack of size and quickness off the snap. Spence and David are undersized, too, but their explosive tackling will earn them top 100 draft positions. There isn't a strong underclassmen group as of yet, but Johnson is buried in a tough Alabama depth chart and Lewis will get his turn to star after the graduation of Jeremy Beal.

Grade: Above-Average

  1. Courtney Upshaw (Alabama) 6-2/263/4.73/1-2
  2. Chris Galippo (USC) 6-2/250/4.74/2-3
  3. Jerry Franklin (Arkansas) 6-1/241/4.66/2-3
  4. Korey Williams (Southern Mississippi) 6-2/243/4.65/3
  5. James-Michael Johnson (Nevada) 6-2/240/4.68/3-4


  1. Luke Kuechly (Boston College) 6-2/235/4.76/1
  2. Vontaze Burfict (Arizona State) 6-3/245/4.67/1
  3. Don'ta Hightower (Alabama) 6-4/258/4.74/1-2
  4. Manti Te'o (Notre Dame) 6-2/245/4.59/1-2

This class has a bit of everything -- especially when underclassmen are included. Kuechly is the tough, productive interior defender teams will liken to Keith Brooking, Burfict is a missile between the tackles and can get to either sideline, Hightower could be a clone of former Tide star Rolando McClain if healthy, and Te'o might not be too far behind Kuechly for teams coveting a hustling inside defender. Upshaw has lined up at defensive end for 'Bama, but has the versatility to play inside or outside linebacker depending on the scheme. The rest of the seniors listed below haven't received a lot of hype as of yet, but all have a chance to start at the next level.

Grade: Above-Average

  1. Alfonzo Dennard (Nebraska) 5-10/195/4.49/1
  2. Chase Minnifield (Virginia) 6-0/185/4.48/1
  3. Donnie Fletcher (Boston College) 6-1/200/4.53/1-2
  4. Coryell Judie (Texas A&M) 5-11/188/4.42/1-2
  5. Casey Hayward (Vanderbilt) 6-0/185/4.53/2
  6. Brandon Boykin (Georgia) 5-10/184/4.44/2
  7. Janoris Jenkins (formerly Florida, FCS/DII transfer) 5-11/186/4.52/2-3
  8. Keith Tandy (West Virginia) 5-10/198/4.54/3
  9. Shaun Prater (Iowa) 5-11/180/4.49/3
  10. Omar Bolden (Arizona State) 5-10/195/4.47/3


  1. Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama) 6-2/190/4.49/1
  2. Cliff Harris (Oregon) 5-11/180/4.49/1
  3. Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina) 6-1/190/4.52/1-2
  4. Morris Claiborne (LSU) 6-0/178/4.45/2
  5. Jayron Hosley (Virginia Tech) 5-10/172/4.52/2

Although Prince Amukamara deservedly received a lot of publicity for his talent during the 2011 draft process, opposing offensive coordinators will tell you that throwing toward Dennard was just as difficult because his physicality at the line of scrimmage makes up for his lack of size. He joins Kirkpatrick, the slight-but-talented Minnifield, Gilmore and Harris, and several others in building a very deep class of corners for next April.

Jenkins is a big question mark; multiple arrests caused him to be dismissed from Florida and he says he plans on transferring to a lower-level program instead of entering a summer supplemental draft (that might not happen due to the NFL lockout). Bolden is included in this list despite suffering a knee injury in the spring, as his talent and a strong postseason workout could still land him in the top three rounds.

Grade: Average

  1. SS Mark Barron (Alabama) 6-2/210/4.56/2
  2. SS Tony Dye (UCLA) 5-11/205/4.52/2-3
  3. FS Eddie Whitley (Virginia Tech) 6-1/195/4.45/3
  4. FS Lance Mitchell (Oregon State) 6-2/208/4.58/3-4
  5. SS Delano Howell (Stanford) 5-11/198/4.49/4
  6. FS Aaron Henry (Wisconsin) 6-0/205/4.50/4
  7. FS George Iloka (Boise State) 6-3/207/4.62/4-5
  8. SS Sean Cattouse (California) 6-2/216/4.59/4-5


  1. FS Robert Lester (Alabama) 6-2/206/4.56/1-2
  2. SS Ray Ray Armstrong (Miami, Fla.) 6-4/220/4.54/1-2
  3. FS T.J. McDonald (USC) 6-2/205/4.54/2
  4. FS Janzen Jackson (Tennessee) 6-0/187/4.43/2

If underclassmen Lester and Armstrong, both of whom have chances to be difference makers at the next level, do not enter the 2012 draft as early entries, this year's class will look much like the 2011 edition. Barron and Dye will become NFL starters, but their deficiencies in coverage due to below-average agility and size, respectively, might not allow teams to consider them in the top 40 selections. Average size, speed or ball skills for the rest of the players below will prevent a run on safeties in the second or third rounds for the second successive draft.

Grade: Above-Average

  1. K Blair Walsh (Georgia) 5-10/185/4-5
  2. P Bryan Anger (California) 6-4/207/4.75/4-5
  3. P Drew Butler (Georgia) 6-2/210/5.20/5
  4. K Philip Welch (Wisconsin) 6-3/198/5-6
  5. K Caleb Sturgis (Florida) 5-10/192/6
  6. K David Ruffer (Notre Dame) 6-1/176/6-7
  7. K Derek Dimke (Illinois) 6-0/180/6-7
  8. P Brad Nortman (Wisconsin) 6-3/212/7
  9. P Brian Stahovich (San Diego State) 6-0/195/7

None worth top 100 consideration

This year's draft saw only two specialists selected in 254 picks, partially because the lockout made it more important to lock up position players with no immediate rookie free agency to use for roster-cushioning at light positions. Next year, there could be five or more kickers and punters drafted; nine are listed below because while they all have strong legs, their field-goal accuracy and consistency in pinning opponents inside the 20 will determine who will rise and fall.!/nfl/draft/story/15030004/defensive-prospects-alabama-loaded

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