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Nickel Package: Five teams with DT needs

11/14/2012

Defensive prospects are dominating the top of the draft board, and defensive linemen in particular are standing out.

Defensive linemen occupy 15 spots in my ranking of the top 32 overall prospects, so this week's Nickel Package will look at five teams with a need at defensive tackle and the prospects who could fit their schemes.

I'll examine teams with defensive end needs next week, but here's how the top defensive tackles on the board might fit with teams looking to bolster the interior of their front sevens.

First, a quick list of the seven players from the DT class who are in the top 32, with non-seniors noted with an asterisk.

Teams in the market

Cleveland Browns (Record: 2-7)

Current Browns starter Phillip Taylor is solid, but he has been banged up a bit. Cleveland could use a defensive tackle who projects as an every-down player, can create a little more penetration and be more disruptive as a pass-rusher.

Lotulelei is the most complete player in the group in terms of physical tools, but he is not a finished product. He needs to develop his hand use and play with more consistency, and he would benefit from landing with a team that has veteran defensive leaders who can help Lotulelei maximize his physical gifts.

He has plenty of potential, but at a position that often faces one of the toughest NFL transitions, Lotulelei could need a year of seasoning before becoming an impact player who steadily improves.

Should they pass on a DT early, the depth of the group might allow the Browns to find someone like Logan or Florida's Shariff Floyd* -- who can penetrate, play end or tackle and is on the fringe of the top 32 -- early in the second round.

Carolina Panthers (2-7)

Carolina's defense has shown improvement this season, ranking 15th against the run (113 ypg), but an upgrade is still needed. The Panthers could use a big guy with some ability to penetrate, making Lotulelei, Hankins and Williams good fits.

Denver Broncos (6-3)

The Broncos rank 10th in the NFL in rushing defense (98.3 ypg) and lead the league in sacks (31), so the defensive line might not seem like a pressing need.

However, most of the sack production comes from the edges, and Denver could continue to upgrade the interior alongside current starters Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan. Likely to be picking later in the first round, the Broncos could benefit from picking up a disruptive prospect like Richardson, Short or Logan.

Indianapolis Colts (6-3)

The Colts value a space-eating nose tackle as the centerpiece of coach Chuck Pagano's 3-4 scheme, making the massive Jenkins a good fit. Hankins could also be an option with his ability to stand up to double teams and anchor against the run.

New England Patriots (6-3)

The Patriots' abysmal secondary gets plenty of criticism, but New England could use some depth up front to compete with Kyle Love for the left defensive tackle spot next to stalwart Vince Wilfork.

Versatility is key, and the Pats would need someone with pass-rush ability because Love comes off the field in favor of Jermaine Cunningham in most nickel/dime situations. That means Richardson, Short or Logan could be targets.