Alabama defensive line prospect D.J. Pettway is a testament of the quote “It’s darkest before the dawn.”
He came to Tuscaloosa in 2011 as a four-star recruit from Pensacola (Fla.) Catholic High School. Pettway won a national championship while redshirting, but became more of an asset in the following season. He totaled eight tackles, four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 2012.
The redshirt freshman was a vital rotation player in Alabama’s repeat as national champions during the 2012 season.
A lapse in character led to Pettway being dismissed from the program after the 2013 BCS national title game.
An alleged robbery forced to take the junior college route, a transition that helped Pettway mature. He returned to Alabama in 2014, after posting 45 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks at East Mississippi Community College in 2013.
Pettway would combine for 30 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in the next two seasons. He earned his degree in December 2015 and won his third national title with Alabama.
His numbers during last week’s NFL Scouting Combine rank him as a middle-tier defensive end prospect. He was clocked at 4.99 seconds in the 40-yard dash and displayed a 28-inch vert.
Pettway put in 17 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and finished the 20-yard shuttle in 4.69 seconds (20th among defensive linemen). He is projected a day three pick and a fifth-to-sixth round draft selection, according to CBS Sports.
Pettway is not a day one or a first-year starter, but with some development he can be a valuable rotation player.
He lacks the ideal weight for a prominent defensive end at 6-foot-2 and 265 pounds, yet two NFL teams have defensive line help as a top need: San Diego and New Orleans.
San Diego Chargers—AFC West (4-12, 2015 record)
Linebacker Manti Te’o was a strong pickup in the 2013 NFL Draft. The former Notre Dame star led San Diego in tackles (83) and had a forced fumble with an interception.
The Chargers run defense was ineffective last season, finishing 27th in the NFL. Opponents’ averaged 125.3 yards per game with 17 touchdowns. Its mark in total defense was barely a refreshing step forward. San Diego gave up 361.9 yards and allowed 24.9 points, ending the 2015 season at No. 20.
Alabama had only one season in which it allowed 100 yards rushing per game with D.J. Pettway, its 2014 campaign (102.4 yards allowed). He and the Crimson Tide limited opposition to 76.4 rushing yards in 2012 and 75.7 yards in 2015.
No opponent averaged 20 points against Alabama during Pettway’s tenure. Kansas City represented the AFC West well last season, as it placed in the top 10 for its run offense. The Chiefs amassed 127.8 yards with 19 rushing scores (sixth in the NFL).
Oakland will only get better after its output in 2015 and with Denver winning Super Bowl 50, it wants a shot at repeating.
San Diego must build some depth on its defensive front, if it wants to return to competing for a division crown and a conference title.
New Orleans Saints—NFC South (7-9, 2015 record)
Quarterback Drew Brees, running back Mark Ingram and wide receiver Brandin Cooks will make sure New Orleans stays afloat on offensive. Defense, however, is a lingering issue.
Linebacker Stephone Anthony and defensive back Kenny Vaccaro are the two anchors for the Saints.
Anthony led the group with 104 tackles, while Vaccaro chimed in with 102 tackles and three sacks. Cameron Jordan, a six-year veteran, captains the defensive line with 10 sacks, yet New Orleans was atrocious in its efforts against the run.
The Saints finished second to last in 2015, surrendering 129.8 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns (31st in the NFL).
Being able to effectively run the football is crucial in the NFC South.
The Carolina Panthers can attest to this, as it captured a division crown, an NFC Conference title and appeared in Super Bowl 50 after a 15-1 regular season output.
Jonathan Stewart rushed for 989 yards and six touchdowns. Quarterback Cam Newton collected 636 yards and 10 scores.
Both Doug Martin (Tampa Bay) and Devonta Freeman (Atlanta) put in 1,000 yards rushing.
Drafting Pettway could give New Orleans jolt in total defense too. Opponents’ recorded 413.8 yards offensively and scored 29.8 points per contest. Pettway and Alabama allowed just 276.3 total yards last season and 233.3 yards during his redshirt freshman year in 2012.
Other teams that need defensive linemen
Kansas City Chiefs
Teams that need defensive ends
*The 2016 NFL Draft is from April 28-30.*