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NFL Draft Prospects: Defensive Tackle Rankings

Updated: Dec 28, 2018

The 2019 NFL Draft is littered with defensive line talent, with several interior D-linemen making a legitimate case to be on this list. It wouldn't be surprising if all five of these players were drafted inside of the first, and I would also understand if a few DT's not on this list were drafted earlier than some that are. Regardless of who goes where, teams will be getting legit day one starters out of this draft. Simply put, there's not a team in the league that wouldn't mind adding one of these defensive tackles to their rotation. You can never have enough D-line help, which is why we could easily see a record number of defensive linemen go in the 1st two rounds of this years draft.

1. Quinnen Williams: Alabama

Quinnen Williams splitting to the double team to collect a sack

Height: 6’4”

Weight: 295 lbs

Career Stats: 22 games

Tackles: 86

Tackles for loss: 24.5

Sacks: 10

Pass Defenses: 1

Forced Fumbles: 0

Fumble Recoveries: 0

The stat sheet numbers may look good, but Quinnen Williams’ raw talent is what really jumps off the tape and screams top five. He was undeniably the heart, leader, and tone-setter of the Alabama defense in 2018. He’s a one-man wrecking machine that can play nose tackle, 3-technique, and even a little 5-technique when asked to line up in the B gap. Let it be known that the man’s stat line is quite skewed due to the fact that he drew so much attention and respect from the opposing teams. Williams was double teamed on roughly 50% of plays, and when he wasn’t splitting two offensive linemen, it was because the offense schemed the play away from where he was lined up. Quarterbacks and centers alike would literally have to take notice each and every play as to where the defensive tackle was lined up. If a team did not game plan around the immovable object that is Quinnen Williams throughout the game, he’d make them pay with pressures, sacks, disruptions, and tackles for loss. He was a permanent resident in opposing backfields this season.

In terms of athleticism, size, and physique, the man is as gifted as they come. At 6’4”, 295 lbs with a solid but lengthy frame, he has plenty of room and time to continue to get even bigger (which is a scary thought). In four games of film study, only once was he noticeably pushed off of the line of scrimmage. If he isn’t three to five yards in the backfield disrupting a play, he’s holding his ground, stone-walling blockers and keeping his eyes on the ball as the play develops. His vision and play recognition are elite, especially considering he’s only a one-year starter and will continue to hone his already natural defensive instincts. The patience that he showcases on film to maintain gap integrity is reminiscent of a five-plus year NFL veteran. Rarely do you ever see him blow his assignment, and he does a tremendous job at getting around reach blocks when facing zone runs. The quickness he possesses on his first step is freakishly fast for his size. Williams explosiveness coming out of his stance instantly gives him an advantage in terms of body positioning and leverage. You hardly ever see a center or guard be able to get their hand placement set in time, and if they do, his hand swatting is so strong that he immediately displaces their grip with elite technique and power. And for as young and inexperienced of a defensive lineman as he is, he presents a technically sound skill set that allows him to conserve his power and not rely on simply bull rushing his opponent every play. He often splits double teams with ease using his foot quickness, hand fighting, and a swim move that embarrasses would-be blockers by tossing them completely out of the way.

Now, he isn’t without his flaws, but for a Redshirt Sophomore with only one true year of starting time, it feels like we are nitpicking. His height and length does allow for offensive linemen to get underneath leverage. Once his momentum is halted, he struggles to regain push and gets heavy feet. And although Williams has an elite burst and first step, he lacks the overall quickness and speed to successfully execute stunts and redirects. He’s also a big-bodied powerhouse who isn’t going to chase anyone down the field. His effort is lacking once the play has passed the line of scrimmage but as an every down player for Alabama, it’s easily assumed he was coached to conserve energy and save it for making plays in the backfield. All in all, he may be the most dominant interior defensive lineman to come out of the draft in years. His talents should slot him inside the top 5, but with a heavy D-line draft class and emphasis on edge rushers with the first few picks, he may slide a bit. Regardless, he won’t be outside of the top 10.

2. Ed Oliver: Houston

Oliver fly by his would be blockers and blows up the RB in the backfield.

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 275 lbs

Career Stats: 32 games

Tackles: 192

Tackles for loss: 53

Sacks: 13.5

Pass Defenses: 11

Forced Fumbles: 5

Fumble Recoveries: 1

There may not be a player in this draft class that has been covered and received as much attention as Houston’s Ed Oliver. But this is understandably so! The defensive tackle is a delight to watch as he is a walking human highlight reel. On tape you see an interior D-lineman who’s constantly flying across the field with reckless abandonment, natural instincts, and a calculated high football IQ. He’s about as elite of an athlete as they come at the defensive tackle position and is certain to make some jaws drop with his Combine performance come February. Throughout the draft process, he’ll be compared to the bigger, stronger Quinnen Williams, but they are two totally different players at opposite ends of the positional spectrum. Oliver doesn’t possess the prototypical build to be considered an every down DT, as he’s somewhat undersized and will likely be a scheme-specific type player. That being said, he was equally as dominant as Williams in his own right. Where he lacks the size, power, and length as his counterpart, he makes up for it with speed, quickness, and an ultra-high motor that allows him to play with relentless effort.

Oliver is hands down the best gap-shooting defensive tackle this draft has to offer. His first step and explosiveness out of his stance is something to marvel at. When breaking down his film, he often would shoot the A gap so fast, the offensive linemen wouldn’t even lay a hand on him. His game tape is riddled with broken plays in which he’d blow by would-be blockers and lay devastating hits on QBs and RBs who never stood a chance. His best attribute may be his ability to track the ball, as Ed is often seen sprinting down the line of scrimmage, making plays most DT’s would have no business making. His first and second effort is undeniable and even when he’s initially blocked, the Houston product can never be counted out. Whether it’s chasing down a scrambling quarterback or the ball carrier 20 yards downfield, he’s always in position to make a play and takes smart angles to rack up tackles. He has a keen sense and exceptional instincts that allow him to instantly read plays without biting on counters or misdirections. Raw power may not be an attribute that Oliver can claim to have but he’s able to transfer his speed and burst into power, similarly to how a 250 pound Khalil Mack is able to do so off the edge (NOT comparing the two).

For his size, it was quite surprising to see Houston line him up at the nose and 3-technique so often, but because of that elite first step, it worked! But many scouts fear that at the next level he’ll struggle to do the same. While at Houston, playing smaller, less talented schools on a weekly basis, he gave up the size, strength, and weight advantage to his opponents. Once in the NFL, the talent pool will be tenfold compared to the likes of the Memphis, Rice, and Central Florida O-lines he faced on a regular basis. Rarely in his collegiate career did he face future NFL talent but when he did matchup against a stout Oklahoma O-line, he had his way with four of the five lineman — the outlier was Baltimore Ravens’ tackle Orlando Brown, who stopped Ed Oliver dead in his tracks on numerous occasions. Lengthy blockers will give him trouble at the next level due to his smaller stature. He also lacks the arsenal of pass rush moves you’d hope to see in a high first-round talent, but many execs will look at that and say he has plenty of room to grow. Ed often relies on his athleticism and less on technique. If placed into the right scheme and given coaches who will not only sharpen his set of skills but also utilize his already stellar set of physical gifts (including those tree trunks for legs), then he could certainly succeed at the next level. Regardless of his downfalls, which include a verbal/physical confrontation with head coach Major Applewhite, an NFL franchise will certainly take a swing on him within the first fifteen picks.

3. Jeffery Simmons: Mississippi State

Simmons shows off his acceleration and athleticism by closing on the QB in a hurry.

Height: 6’4”

Weight: 300 lbs

Career Stats: 37 games

Tackles: 159

Tackles for loss: 30.5

Sacks: 6

Pass Defenses: 7

Forced Fumbles: 5

Fumble Recoveries: 2

Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons is a monster of a man, with a solid but lean frame, and a humongous wingspan. At 6’3”, 300 pounds and only 21 years of age, he still has room to add some mass as an interior lineman. Simmons is a do-all, no questions asked type of player. Miss State required him to play all four positions and would line him up across the D-line throughout any given game. He’s primarily a run stuffer, but don’t let his lack of sack production fool you, as he can get after the quarterback. The game tape offered countless examples of Jeffery eating up double teams and pressuring the QB from the A gap. Interior pressure is his forte and expertise. Simmons’ 5 career sacks in three years are shadowed by his 30.5 tackles for loss, 159 total tackles, 7 pass defenses, and 5 forced fumbles. Teams refused to run his way and were forced to double team him or suffer the consequences. He’s super athletic for his size but isn’t the fastest in terms of straight line speed. Simmons is ultra physical at the point of attack and for having a new age prototypical size for a DT, he plays with an old school attitude and an unmatched ferocity.

When breaking down his film, it’s hard to not love what you see. He’s as aggressive as they come, is rarely beaten off the ball, and nearly impossible to drive backwards. Simmons’ best attribute is his ability to control the distance between himself and his blocker. He does a tremendous job of extending his arms regardless if he’s utilizing his signature long arm bull rush, or attempting to stack and shed defenders. If he can control the distance between himself and would-be blocker(s) he wins his one on one’s, or even two on one’s more often than not; but has trouble disengaging once his opponents gain inside leverage. Even with such a lengthy reach, his quick hands and feet translate into an impressive set of pass rush moves. Jeffery’s swim and rip moves are quite impressive, and if able beat O-linemen on the first step, he’s likely to follow up and finish them off with a powerful punch. The Mississippi State DTs football IQ is highly underrated. On film, you hardly ever see the guy bite on a play fake and will instantly read a screen, dropping into coverage without hesitation. The instincts, effort, and high motor are all undeniable traits the young man puts on tape week in and week out. Whether it’s chasing down a toss sweep, giving a quarterback zero room to step into his throws, or wrecking any teams attempt to run between the tackles, he’ll be a week one starter at the next level.

Unlike an Ed Oliver, the quality of opponents throughout his college career can not come into question. Some of Simmons’ best performances came against the top offensive lines the NCAA has to offer. That isn’t to say the defensive tackle doesn’t show a need for improvement in several aspects of his game. Due to his upright playing style, he tends to lose the leverage battle and will need to continue to work on lowering his pad level. If initially blocked, his second effort is somewhat lacking, Jeffery has trouble regaining momentum and shows a habit of having inconsistent sluggish footwork instead of redirecting or driving with quick steps. For a 300 plus pounder, Simmons is quite athletic but isn’t someone who you’ll see making plays down field or turning on a dime, and understandably so. It’s hard to knock an interior defensive lineman for not having a 4.5-4.7 40-time but that may be the reason an Ed Oliver or Christian Wilkinson are taken ahead of him in the draft. He’s a powerhouse, and someone who’ll instantly add an interior, run stopping presence to any team in any scheme at the NFL level. Scouts, coaches, and exec’s alike will fall in love with the fire and passion that he plays with. Enough so, that we can all comfortably consider him a 1st round talent that shouldn’t make it outside of the teens come April.

4. Christian Wilkins: Clemson

Wilkins drives his blocker down the line, tracks the ball carrier, and makes a tackle for loss

Height: 6’4”

Weight: 300 lbs

Career Stats: 53 games

Tackles: 187

Tackles for loss: 39

Sacks: 15

Pass Defenses: 15

Forced Fumbles: 4

Fumble Recoveries: 2

Christian Wilkins is an interesting prospect and a hard player to label. The All-American was considered a first round pick by many last season but decided to forgo the NFL Draft and return for his senior year at Clemson. He’s a 6’4” 320 pound defensive lineman who can play every position across the line and is far more athletic than his build would suggest. He is a blend of power, speed, and agility but is still somewhat raw in technique. He can do a little bit of everything but doesn’t possess any particular standout attribute. He can play both the run and the pass, nose guard, 3-tech, 5-tech, with his hand in the dirt, standing up off the edge, there really isn’t anything he can’t do. They’ve used him as a running back in the red zone, a receiving back, and even a wildcat QB, which is quite the sight to see. Hell, during the Clemson spring game HC Dabo Swinney lined him up at strong safety, and he actually made multiple plays, including a tackle for loss. Some coaches love versatility and some coaches like a specific set of skills per position, so it’s hard to pinpoint Wilkins value at the next level.

The Clemson defensive tackle is one of the most athletic and agile interior lineman to ever come out of the draft. His collegiate production is undeniable. In four years as a Tiger, he totaled 187 tackles, 39 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, 15 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles, and another 4 fumble recoveries. Yes, you’d like to see a higher sack rate, but in his final two years the man had seen nothing but double teams and was constantly schemed against offensively. In terms of breaking down the game film, he possess a low center of gravity and good pad level but can be stood up at times. His 1st step and pop out of his stance is nothing to be in awe over, he often looks to engage with his blocker and out works them with a powerful bull rush and strong hand fighting. Christian can stack and shed with the best of them, and if given a sliver of space, he’ll shoot through any gap the offensive line gives him. His agility allows him to get around the edge quickly and has shown signs of bend and flexibility when turning the corner or stunting. The Clemson product’s swim and outside move is above average, although as a as an edge rusher at the next level Wilkins may struggle against the upper echelon of tackles. He’s best suited as a 3-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme or a 3-4 defensive end, and can be used as a tweener type outside rusher in specific situations.

For a four year player at a power house like Clemson, his technique is still a little raw, but shouldn’t be considered a cause for concern. He’s inconsistent with his hands, and disappears at times, but makes impact game changing plays week in and week out. Again, coaches will likely look at his skill set and see a freak athlete that can only get better if he’s able to continue to add to his multitude of weapons. The bull rush, rip move, and ability to stack and shed are top notch. If he’s able to add a few more pieces to his bag of pass rushing tricks, then the sky may be the limit for Christian Wilkins in the NFL. The defensive tackles draft stock will be dependent on how teams in need of D-line help value versatility and athleticism. Wilkins may slide a little due to the fact that you can’t pinpoint or put him into a specific category of player. He’s a one of a kind athlete, who’s performance will only be amplified by the creativity in which he’s used. With such a defensive (especially D-line) heavy draft, Wilkins can go anywhere from the mid first round to the late second, but is likely to go somewhere in the 20’s, especially if he can perform well at the NFL Combine.

5. Dexter Lawrence: Clemson

The 350 pounder shows off his athleticism by absorbing the cut block and laying a hit on the running back.

Height: 6’4”

Weight: 350 lbs

Career Stats: 38 games

Tackles: 131

Tackles for loss: 18

Sacks: 10

Interceptions: 1

Pass Defenses: 4

Forced Fumbles: 1

Fumble Recoveries: 3

This draft is undoubtedly loaded with defensive line talent and some freakishly athletic big men. At 6’4” and roughly 350 pounds, Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence falls under both categories. He possesses outstanding power and more than enough strength to play in between the guards at the pro level. He’s probably most suited for 0-tech but would make a more than adequate 2-down 4-3 DT or 3-4 DE. The epitome of a run stuffing stone wall and anchor in the trenches, the stat sheet doesn’t do this man justice. He helped Christian Wilkins and company take advantage of a ton of one on one blocks due to the attention he garnished in the middle of the line. Lawrence is still ultra raw in his technique and often relies too much on brute strength to get the job done, but nonetheless, the job gets done! That’s what scouts will both love and hate about him, a pure athletic specimen with unlimited upside and potential, but will he be able to hone in his skills once in the NFL.

This immovable object is also a freight train once given room to accelerate, if able to build up any steam or momentum, Dexter can’t be blocked or redirected. It’s rumored that this near 350 pounder can run a 40 yard dash in 5 seconds flat. Similar to his teammate Wilkins, Clemson used him at the goalline in the “Fridge Package” in 2018 and has a rushing TD to show for it. Lawrence is agile and quick enough to stunt and cut across the line to open up lanes for blitzers but is lacking a sufficient 1st step and explosiveness when getting out of his stance. Though, he is often beat to punch and likely loses the initial body position battle on a regular basis, he makes up for it by overpowering individuals with ease. If in his way, Dexter will either run through or move aside any center, guard, or tackle with a devastating club and violent bull jerk that sends would be blockers flying. As stated, he’s best suited as a run defender but can push the pocket when asked to. With only 10 career sacks in three years at Clemson, 6.5 which came in 2016 alone, NFL teams won’t likely be asking him to do much more than eat up blocks and move the pocket. His 18 tackles for loss and 131 overall are decent but aren’t worth bragging about. What the stats may not show though, the film tape does. His presence in the center of the defense allows pass rushers to take a better angle off the edge and linebackers to run freely to the ball carrier. His impact is impossible to quantify into any numerical category, but the nuances of what he’s able to do for the rest of the defense are undeniable.

Arguably, the most raw, unpolished top 50 prospect and athlete in this years draft class, Dexter Lawrence is a ball of clay just waiting to be molded. His tools are limited but his god given talent is through the roof. If able to sharpen his skill set and possibly be paired with another interior force, you could see him have a huge impact in year one. His size, length, and power will instantly improve any team’s rushing defense, which inevitably affects the other ten players on the field. This is one of the deepest defensive line drafts in years, and there was a long list of names that were neck and neck to be slotted in at the final spot of this top 5 article. You have better pass rushers, more polished DT’s, with a more well rounded skill set, and quite possibly will be drafted above Dexter Lawrence because of it. Simply put, none of them are the monster in the middle that this Clemson product is now or can be in the future. Hence, he’s the 5th defensive tackle on this list, the potential is uncanny, unquestionable, and underappreciated.

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