With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on Feb. 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget. In three years with the Illini, Liuget -- who can line up in different places up front -- amassed 120 tackles (55 solo), eight sacks, 17 solo tackles for loss, seven passes defensed, three forced fumbles, and 13 quarterback hurries. His junior year in 2010 was his best -- 63 tackles (29 solo), five sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, three passes defensed, and 10 quarterback hurries.
Pros: Good at engaging and getting past guards using his hands, Liuget may be at his best straight over guard or shading the guard-tackle gap. Tremendous upper-body strength allows him to push blockers back, and he's generally quick to push off to one side or the other to bring a ballcarrier down. Closes in very well inside on an angle, especially over center -- he picks up momentum and brings a load to those situations. Decent outside-to-in spin move allows him to bounce out of blocks. Nice agility and speed in space; can chase down running backs very well. Wraps up as a tackler; doesn't go for ankle hits or kill shots. Gets a great push when he locks in with his hands inside. Can gain the advantage off the snap with a series of hand moves.
Cons: For all his power, I'm not as impressed with Liuget's dynamism when he's trying to split gaps -- he looks a bit too smooth and seems to get lost at times against double teams or chips. Though his swim move is effective, he needs to be more quick and violent with his hands to split those combos. Doesn't always get under pads for better leverage, which he'll need to do more consistently at the NFL level, especially at his size (6-foot-3, 300 pounds). Can be guided outside the inside running play fairly easily from the three-tech position.
Conclusion: Liuget played mostly three-tech in college, and while I think he could be successful in a front where he's headed over guards with a traditional nose or one-tech tackle alongside, his best bet as an NFL player might be as a five-tech end in a traditional 3-4 or hybrid 4-3 defense. He doesn't blast through gaps the way you'd like an interior lineman to do consistently, which may be a matter of technique, but he has become a stout run defender with some pass-rush upside.
As with so many of this year's versatile defensive linemen, it will be very interesting to see how they're talked about at the scouting combine, and where their skills best show up in a vacuum. Liuget, whose name gained momentum after his performance against Baylor in the Texas Bowl, could be a riser as a result of a strong pre-draft process.
More Shutdown 40
#40 -- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State | #39 - Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
| #38 - Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor | #37 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | #36 -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami | #35 -- Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor | #34 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State | #33 -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State | #32 - Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida | #31 - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado | #30 - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame | #29 - Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois | #28 - Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State | #27 - Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA | #26 - Brandon Harris, CB, Miami | #25 - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin | #24 -- Jake Locker, QB, Washington| #23 -- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado| #22 - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin