The Penn State Nittany Lions had one of the best defenses in 2005, limiting offenses to only 99.1 rushing yards and 207.5 passing yards per game. They held their opponents to only 17 points per game, which was the best in the NCAA, even with a schedule that included Northwestern, Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. DL Tamba Hali was a major factor in Penn State having such an incredible season in which they had an 11-1 record, including the Orange Bowl. With his incredible 2005 season, Hali has become one of the top defensive prospects in the NFL draft.
Hali is an incredible athlete who relies on his speed to get to the quarterback, which he was able to do very often in 2005. He led the Big 10 Conference with 11 sacks. Hali made most of his plays by simply getting past the tackle before he can be blocked, much like Indianapolis Colts DE Dwight Freeney.
While it may not be in his best interest to move back, Hali does have experience playing at defensive tackle. Although he had a decent season in 2004, he had a breakout year in 2005. A major factor in this was that he switched to defensive end during just his junior year, so he is still adjusting to the position and should improve more than someone who has been playing the position his entire college career.
With the speed he has shown, it may also tempt teams who need an outside linebacker more than a defensive end since he has already shown the ability to adapt to a new position. He is also a very durable player and has started 34 of 35 games over the last three seasons.
The biggest negative in Hali is his size. Hali weighed in at the Senior Bowl at only 6-2, 267 pounds. He does have an impressively large frame but does lack the height that some teams look for in their defensive linemen. However, Freeney, who he was compared to earlier, is even smaller than Hali is and has become one of the best defensive players in the game today.
Another common knock on Hali is his lack of techniques and maneuvers to get to the passer. That is something that can be improved with a quality position coach in the pros.
Hali is exactly what most defensive coordinators are looking for. He's an intense player who can make big plays but is also very disciplined. In fact, legendary Penn State head coach Joe Paterno has said that Hali's discipline and work ethic has impressed him since his freshman year. Hali is the type of player that is always giving full effort and has shown at Penn State that he can be a leader on the field. He had an impressive Senior Bowl, which definitely helped his draft stock. He ended the day with two sacks and was named the North team's defensive Most Valuable Player.
Hali is definitely a first-round prospect. He is expected to be taken somewhere within the top 15 picks. If he is taken later in the first round, it will not be because of his size, which is one of the few things he has going against him, but because this is such a deep draft. Hali faces stiff competition from DLs Mario Williams (North Carolina State), Haloti Ngata (Oregon), Mathias Kiwanuka (Boston College) and Gabe Watson (Michigan). However, he does look like he has the most upside out of any defensive lineman in the draft.
Hali has been given plenty of credit for helping to turn Penn State into one of the best defensive teams in the NCAA. Wherever he goes, look for him to be an opening day starter and have an immediate impact in the NFL, too.
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