INDIANAPOLIS – No true defensive linemen were selected in the inaugural NFL draft in 1936, but that likely had something to do with the preponderance of two-way players and the fact that just 29 players were drafted.
The way Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus sees it, the importance of the position was established even before that first draft.
"If you go back watch in the history of watching football, before the game was started, it started up front," Dareus said. "Some people were scared and backed up off the ball, but the real bulls stayed up front and played the game."
There's little doubt that the talent evaluators at this year's NFL Scouting Combine - including those representing the Panthers – are bullish on the bulls. Dareus is one of four defensive linemen that some observers believe could be picked at the very top of the draft and that could help break the record of 10 defensive linemen selected in the first round of the 2003 draft.
Dareus and fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley of Auburn, along with defensive ends Da'Quan Bowers of Clemson and Robert Quinn of North Carolina, are considered the cream of the crop in a position group where demand almost always exceeds supply.
While Dareus chose a conservative tact when asked if he was the best of the best – "Kinda, sorta," he said – the defensive ends in the mix openly stated their goal of being selected No. 1 overall.
"That's what I strive for," Quinn said. "Hopefully, if I compete well enough and perform well enough I can jump up that high, but I'm just here to compete and have fun. I guess on April 28, I'll let the drafters do their drafting."
Added Bowers: "It's definitely a goal, but I don't think anybody here doesn't have the goal to be the No. 1 pick."
Quinn and Bowers also brought up a most familiar name to Panthers fans when asked what NFL defensive end they get compared to – Julius Peppers.
Neither, however, meant to suggest at this early juncture that they're the next Peppers, who went to five Pro Bowls in five seasons with Carolina after being selected second overall in the 2002 draft.
"He is one of the premier defensive ends in the NFL, and I'm just a scrawny little defensive end just coming out of college, attempting to play like him and be half as good as him," Bowers said.
Commented Quinn: "People always tell me I'm ready to be the next Julius Peppers or DeMarcus Ware. I always tell them, 'Why do
I need to be the second of somebody else? Why can't I be the first Robert Quinn?' But I guess being compared to those two isn't so bad."
On Monday at their combine workouts and then throughout the two months leading up to the draft, this year's fearsome foursome will be compared to each other.
Where they'll fall in the pecking order is anybody's guess, but don't look for any of them to fall far from of the top of the list.
"Those are great guys. Really what could separate us is what we do out here at the combine," Fairley said. "Hopefully, things go good for me and I can put up great numbers, and I wish those guys the best.
"Any team that picks me, I'll be happy with it. I can't wait to get there and hopefully bring success to the team right away and joy to the community."