by Jim O'Dell
May 24, 2004
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    Well, the dust has settled on another fun and action-packed NFL draft full of suspense and a few surprises as well.  Now, every fantasy football owner is salivating over the new crop of rookies, on offense that is.  How about having Kevin Jones carrying the pigskin for the Lions?  Or Larry Fitzgerald catching passes in the Arizona desert?  Maybe Julius Jones running down in Dallas?  What about Eli Manning throwing passes in the Big Apple?  There’s always one of the Williams’s; Roy in Detroit, or Reggie in Jacksonville.  How about Michael Clayton hauling in catches in Tampa Bay?  Or Philip Rivers leading the Chargers offense?  There are many possibilities.

    But, wait just a minute.  What about all of those “other” guys?  You know, the ones that are trying to stop the offense!  Those defensive linemen, linebackers, corners and safeties!  Which defensive players have a chance to make an impact in their rookie campaigns?  Here is my top ten players to look out for this season, if you are in an IDP league.

1.  Sean Taylor, Safety, Redskins - He will step right in hoping to make everyone ion the DC area forget about Champ Bailey.  He has incredible ball hawking skills and hits like a ton of bricks. Will be an elite safety along the lines of Ed Reed and Roy Williams.

2.  DJ Williams, Linebacker, Broncos - He has all the skills; size, strength, speed.  He is an excellent tackler.  Very instinctive player too.  Will take Ian Gold’s spot with his departure. 

3.  Jonathan Vilma, Linebacker, Jets - A perfect fit for New York, Vilma will step right in and play every down.  He can play inside or outside.  Has great range.  Draws comparisons to Ray Lewis of the Ravens, another University Miami alum.

4.  Will Smith, Defensive End, Saints - The Saints were all smiling when Smith fell to them in the first round.  He is extremely smart, and gets a great jump off the ball.  Has a great work ethic and strives to improve every day.

5.  Kenechi Udeze, Defensive End, Vikings - Udeze is a fantastic athlete; he has great size, speed, and strength.  Although still raw, he could explode for double-digit sacks this year.  Excellent burst off the line. 

6.  Jason Babin, Defensive End, Texans - Relentless pass rusher with great speed coming off the end.  Is effective against the run as well; he had 115 tackles in his senior year to go with his 15 ˝ sacks.

7.  Karlos Dansby, Linebacker, Cardinals - Coming into a situation where playmakers are needed, and he qualifies.  Plays the run well; is an excellent tackler.  Good in pass coverage as well.  Very smart and instinctive.  Does a great job of picking holes when blitzing. 

8.  Teddy Lehman, Linebacker, Lions - You can write this down now:  Lehman will lead the Lions in tackles this year.  Has tremendous speed, can cover sideline to sideline.  Has outstanding instincts, and is a natural leader. 

9.  DeAngelo Hall, Cornerback, Falcons - Pure, raw speed.  That’s how you can describe DeAngelo Hall.  Has good cover skills, but wait, there’s more.  He may pull double duty as a punt or a kick returner.  So if your league grants points for return yards, grab Hall. 

10.  Dontarrious Thomas, Linebacker, Vikings - He will benefit from playing next to Chris Clairborne in Minnesota.  Plays hard every down.  Is very strong and aggressive and has good speed.

Honorable mention - Michael Bouleware, LB, Seahawks, Tommie Harris, DT, Bears, Vince Wilfork, DT, Patriots, Dunta Robinson, CB, Texans

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