Defensive tackles on Ravens' radar

Ngata or Bunkley would help plug hole on line

April 24, 2006|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN REPORTER

When the Ravens go shopping for a defensive tackle in the high-rent district of Saturday's NFL draft, they will find all shapes and sizes. But they aren't likely to find a body big enough to completely close the hole left by the departure of 350-pound nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu.

That is because this year's class of defensive tackles brings more emphasis on athletic 300-pound physiques than on monster trucks.

"There are not a lot of monster-size guys," said draft analyst Russ Lande. "It's a very good year to get a solid defensive tackle who could start for 10 years. ... And there are a lot of them, some late in the draft."

The Ravens' defense was reeling when Kemoeatu and Tony Weaver, a smallish 280-pound end, defected in free agency. The Ravens countered by signing 295-pound end Trevor Pryce and 305-pound tackle Justin Bannan.

Now they need to add more help at tackle and improve a defense that allowed four 100-yard rushers in the span of seven weeks last season.

Whether the Ravens use the 13th pick in the draft on such a tackle - and mollify disgruntled middle linebacker Ray Lewis - or trade down in the first round to get an extra pick is sheer speculation. But general manager Ozzie Newsome should have several options.

If he holds at 13, he might wind up with one of the top two tackles, Haloti Ngata of Oregon or Brodrick Bunkley of Florida State. Ngata - pronounced NAH-ta - offers size and strength to Bunkley's quickness and explosion.

Put another way, Ngata is a better run stuffer and Bunkley a better pass rusher.

"I think Bunkley is more of a playmaker," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "He is smaller than Ngata; he's a very good pass rusher.

"Ngata is your prototype, two-gap, 3-4 type of nose tackle. He's big ... [and] very tough to move off the ball. He's not quite as good of a pass rusher right now, but probably has a higher ceiling than Bunkley."

At least five teams picking ahead of the Ravens in the first round have a need at defensive tackle. Only the Buffalo Bills, with the eighth pick, and the Cleveland Browns, with the 12th, reportedly are considering Ngata or Bunkley.

Lande considers Ngata (6 feet 4, 337 pounds) the better long-term pick at tackle, although he has some reservations about Ngata's conditioning. In his draft publication, GM Jr., Lande says Ngata "is very soft and fleshy and needs to lose at least 25 pounds."

DeCosta doesn't seem concerned about Ngata's weight, however.

"For the most part," DeCosta said, "he plays pretty hard. He has a good motor. You try to run between the tackles [against Oregon] and you can't. What he'll do as a pass rusher is different than what he'll do as a run stuffer."

Lande has no reservations about Ngata's strength.

"Brute strength," he said. "I've seen him drive guys back when he wants to bull rush, and I've seen him literally toss an offensive lineman off him to make a tackle."

Bunkley (6-3, 307) has some extra baggage of his own. He was arrested in January 2003 for the theft of a video game, paid a fine and served 16 hours of community service.

Bunkley, however, leaped up draft boards during the scouting combine in February when he did 44 reps in the 225-pound bench press and ran a 4.91-second 40-yard dash. He also performed well at the Senior Bowl.

Should the Ravens pass on those two tackles or choose to move down, they still will be able to improve the position. Two players with first-round talent, Claude Wroten of LSU and Gabe Watson of Michigan, are destined to drop because both have issues. Wroten was arrested on charges of marijuana possession with intent to distribute, although the charges were later dropped.

Watson, at 6-3 and 340 pounds, was benched at one point last year; Lande labeled him "the ultimate tease" because of his underachieving.

One intriguing possibility in the second round is John McCargo (6-2, 301) of North Carolina State. McCargo benefited from playing inside defensive end Mario Williams. Yet, Lande insisted, there were stretches when McCargo outshone Williams.

Still, Mike Mayock, the draft analyst for NFL Network, said Ngata may be the man for the Ravens. In a conference call last week, Mayock said he thought Ngata could drop to the Ravens.

"If he was sitting there at 13, they would be all over him," Mayock predicted.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

Defensive tackle prospects

A look at the defensive tackles who could be available for the Ravens on the first day of the draft Saturday:

Player, School Ht. Wt. Skinny

Haloti Ngata, Oregon 6-4 337 Best run stopper in the draft.

Brodrick Bunkley, Florida State 6-3 307 Great effort guy, can be disruptive.

John McCargo, N.C. State 6-2 301 Missed five games in 2005 to foot injury.

Gabe Watson, Michigan 6-3 340 Perfect nose tackle, excellent on goal line.

Claude Wroten, LSU 6-2 302 Off-field problems are shadowing him.

Jonathan Lewis, Virginia Tech 6-1 310 Started 39 straight games past three years.

Rodrique Wright Texas 6-5 360 Ton of talent, but too inconsistent.

Others to consider: Babatunde Oshinowo (6-1, 305), Stanford; Jesse Mahelona (6-1, 310), Tennessee; Orien Harris (6-3, 302), Miami; Montavious Stanley (6-2, 314), Louisville; Barry Cofield (6-4, 303), Northwestern; Kyle Williams (6-1, 298), LSU.

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