*In the weeks leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft (April 26-27), BR.com will offer a look into the top prospects by position. This week, defensive linemen take the spotlight, with USC's Sedrick Ellis coming next. *
In the 6-foot-4, 345-pound Haloti Ngata, the Ravens have a defensive tackle that has been described by director of college scouting Eric DeCosta as "a big block of granite."
When discussing Ngata's linemate, nose tackle Kelly Gregg, the words "fire hydrant" and "tank" come to mind.
Checking in at just around 6 feet and 310 pounds, Gregg may not break the mold as a prototype run-stuffer, but he consistently gets the job done, eating up blocks and ball-carriers using leverage, strength and flat-out hustle.
The same "tank" designation could be applied to USC standout Sedrick Ellis, another player that uses size - or lack thereof - to his benefit. Similarly to Gregg, he carries 309 pounds on a 6-foot frame and is still a beast in the middle.
"A lot of people like taller tackles, but I think my height is just great," said Ellis, who is projected to be among the top 10 picks in this weekend's NFL Draft. "You get these big 6-5 linemen, and I can get up underneath them and uproot them out of what they're trying to do.
"Great foot work, great hands and the leverage works to my advantage a lot, I think."
It is not only about technique with Ellis. He has the sheer athletic ability to wreak havoc in any backfield.
At USC's Pro Day on April 2, Ellis ran the 40-yard dash in 5.05 and 5.07 seconds. He bench-pressed 225 pounds 36 times, adding a 30-inch vertical leap.
"At 309, I'm moving fast, and very few of those guys can keep up with me," he explained to the media at the NFL Combine in February. "I have no problem playing double teams, as you guys have seen in the Senior Bowl and often in my career at SC when I took on double teams. I never had a problem with it before so I don't see why it should be a problem."
His statistics make it hard to argue with Ellis, an All-American first-team selection last year. Since moving to the starting lineup in 2005 in place of former Philadelphia Eagles first-round draftee Mike Patterson, Ellis was dominant, totaling 142 tackles and 17.5 sacks in 36 starts.
As a senior, he was the keystone of a defense that ranked fourth in the nation against the run, giving up only 84.2 yards per game, and second in both total defense (273.2 yards per game) and scoring defense (16.0 points per game).
And, Ellis performed in both three- and four-man fronts, as well.
"Coach [Pete] Carroll implemented a 3-4 scheme the last two years into our defense which was mainly a 4-3," Ellis stated. "I've been playing a lot of 'zero' technique, playing the two-gap system, and I was actually pretty good at it."
The Chino, Calif. native is also grounded in the classroom. Even though he could have been a first-day selection in the 2007 draft, Ellis decided to come back for another year to develop his game and earn his degree. He is scheduled to earn a B.A. in sociology in May.
"I worked hard to get here," noted the 22-year-old. "A lot of players in my position would have left a year ago, but I chose to stay at school and finish my classes and get my degree from USC and at the same time be a great football player."
Ellis' combination of athleticism, desire, versatility and smarts has many scouts, coaches and draft experts rating him very high.
"I think Ellis is a phenomenal football player," said DeCosta, who currently possesses the No. 8 pick. "He is a little bit undersized, but we've had a lot of success with undersized defensive lineman when you think of Kelly Gregg. He has a great motor. He is a strong guy who can play in a one-gap or two-gap scheme, in my opinion. In another draft, I think this would be a guy who would be a top 3 pick.
"But, because of this unique draft, where you have Chris Long and Glenn Dorsey and [Vernon] Gholston – those types of players with him – the picks in the latter half of the top 10 are going to have a good chance of getting Sedrick Ellis. I think he is one of the best players at his position to come out of the draft in a long time."
Considering the Ravens already have an embarrassment of riches at defensive tackle - with Gregg, Ngata and Pro Bowler Trevor Pryce - that is about as high a compliment someone in Ellis' position could expect.