Versatile Long leads impressive group of defensive ends

The 2008 NFL draft should feature at least eight defensive linemen selected in the first round. The most likely candidates include DEs Chris Long, Vernon Gholston, Phillip Merling, Derrick Harvey and Calais Campbell, and DTs Glenn Dorsey, Sedrick Ellis and Kentwan Balmer.

Long, Dorsey and Ellis rank among the six elite prospects in this year's class. Long earned the highest grade of the 2008 senior prospects I studied on film last summer, and his game was even more refined this past fall. He is versatile enough to play end in a three- or four-man front, and some teams think his best fit in the NFL could be at linebacker. Dorsey and Ellis have somewhat similar styles; Dorsey spent most of his time working as a three-technique at LSU, while Ellis did most of his damage at nose tackle. Regardless, both display the first-step quickness, explosive power and closing burst to disrupt in the NFL.

The remaining five projected first-rounders have a wide variety of backgrounds and styles. Gholston is an undersized edge rusher who might fit best as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Balmer played tackle at UNC but might fit best as a 3-4 end in the NFL. Merling and Campbell are unusually big 4-3 ends coming out of the college ranks, and depending on the scheme, could play inside and/or outside at the next level. Finally, Harvey has the frame and speed to play a more traditional weakside end in a four-man front.