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Top Five 2016 NFL Draft Prospects- Defensive Tackle

Updated on February 6, 2016

These guys will be brought in to plug up the hole in the defensive line and be a forceful run stopper. Today I rank the top five defensive tackle prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft.

A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama

1. A' Shawn Robinson, Alabama

Bio: Nick Saban has made a habit of developing NFL ready defensive linemen during his time at Alabama, and A' Shawn Robinson is no exception. As a freshman, he led the Crimson Tide with 5.5 sacks. After splitting time at both tackle and end as a sophomore, Robinson came into his own as a nose tackle his junior year. That year, he was one of the main cogs of the nation’s third-rated defense, making 46 tackles, 7.5 for loss, and 3.5 sacks in 15 games as Alabama won the national title.

Strengths: Body perfect for an interior lineman. Well proportioned with powerful, tree­ trunk legs make it tough to move him off the spot. Has boom in his punch and blows past guards and centers if they try to wait on him. Pure power to toss blockers aside. Athletic enough to give reasonable chase to the ball. Well schooled in using length to stuff cut blocks. Has frame and length to eat blocks and allow linebackers to run free. Heavy tackler. Running backs do not break his tackles and he rarely fails to finish when he’s locked in on his man. Able to generate pocket push as a pass rusher. Leader in the locker room and in practice helping to hold teammates accountable. Coming into the draft with relatively fresh legs playing just 57% of Alabama’s defensive snaps over last two years. Has brute strength to match NFL power immediately.

Weaknesses: Pad level is his nemesis. Plays too upright when asked to move. Looks to have flexibility to drop his pads, but doesn’t do it enough. Inconsistent against double teams. Doesn’t impose his will as often as he should. Basic pass rusher without a winning, go-­to move or effective counter. Straight ­liner who loses leverage after the initial push as a bull rusher. Needs to play with wider base to improve balance. Able to get upfield as an edge rusher, but rarely turns the corner. Too content to lay on blocks when rush stalls rather than spin underneath. Doesn’t play with the quickness or forward lean to threaten edges and win in the gaps.

Projected Round: 1

Possible landing spot: San Diego Chargers

Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor

2. Andrew Billings, Baylor

Bio: Even before attending Baylor, Andrew Billings made a name for himself in high school by setting a state record in power-lifting with 2,010 total pounds at the state meet. Originally an offensive tackle, he moved to defensive tackle and saw playing time as a freshman. In 2014, Billings was a first team All-Big 12 selection after registering 37 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss. The next year, he was named him co-Defensive Player of the Year after leading the Bears with 15 tackles for loss and tying for the team lead with 5.5 sacks.

Strengths: Elite strength with a weight­lifting background. Generates booming power from hip explosion and when his leverage is on point, he can be a monster. Moved from offensive line to defensive line in college and got better by leaps and bounds each year. Drops his pad level even lower when splitting double teams and charging through gaps. Uses violent, powerful hands. Instant reaction time makes it difficult to cross him. Gets arm extension into blocker and stays clean as he pursues laterally. Insane closing burst to the sideline for a big boy. Dominates single blocks and is a sure­fire tackler when he gets hands on a ball carrier. Improving pass rusher with an effective bull­ rush. The fact he led the Bears in tackles for loss and sacks shows the athleticism and aggressive nature of his game.

Weaknesses: Very top heavy. Strong but short. Once he gets going in a direction, struggles to slow down and change direction. Recovery athleticism is below average. Plays with good initial effort but an average second gear. Still learning techniques for the position. Raw as a pass rusher relying on power over technique. Extremely young to play at the pro level. Will need positive locker room leaders and veterans to guide him as he grows into the position.

Projected Round: 1

Possible landing spot: Jacksonville Jaguars

Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss
Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss

3. Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss

Bio: Robert Nkemdiche brought elite athleticism and quick movement as the top defensive end prospect in the country coming into Ole Miss in 2013. In his three seasons, he registered 19 tackles for loss and seven sacks for the Rebels.

Strengths: Exceptional build. Carries no bad weight and has outstanding thickness and power through out his lower body. Plus movement skills and runs like a defensive end. Has reactive explosiveness for expanded range as tackler near line of scrimmage. Wrap up finisher who won't allow running backs to break his tackles. Plays with good lateral quickness and can win the race across the face of blockers. Played stronger at point of attack this past year. Proved he could penetrate through the middle. Showed noticeable improvement as pass rusher this season. Has a decent spin move as pass rusher and plays with the power to force his way through a guard's shoulder and into the backfield. Improved quarterback pressures from 13 to 26 in 2015.

Weaknesses: For all the talent and athletic traits, his production was almost nonexistent. Produced low tackle totals and just seven sacks over three years. Never forced or recovered a fumble. Lowers head into initial off snap losing track of the ball. Tightly ­wound, straightmline athlete who needs play to stay inside his optimal area of movement. Inconsistent effort after his initial pass rush move is sniffed out. Needs to develop a counter rush move. Was arrested for marijuana possession after taking a fall from an Atlanta area hotel room and was suspended from the team's Sugar Bowl game after the incident. Scouts have serious concerns about his personal character and overall work ethic.

Projected Round: 1

Possible landing spot: Chicago Bears

Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama
Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama

4. Jarran Reed, Alabama

Bio: A community college transfer, Jarran Reed was praised for his utterly disruptive style of play. In his two years with the Crimson Tide, he registered 108 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and two sacks.

Strengths: Able to pack plenty of strength into his well built frame. Plays with bend and plus core strength. Two gap machine who can eat blocks and make his way into the backfield. Rarely beaten at point of attack by single blocks. As an edge setter he prevents running lanes from developing in gaps. Giant hands. Arms are a little short for the position but his hand quickness into blocker’s frame and instant arm extension make up for it. Engages, controls, and slides down the line looking to finish the play before it gets started. Great vision and instincts to find ball quickly. Reads running back’s lane choice and discards blocker with perfect timing. Run down specialist posting tremendous two-­year production with 108 tackles despite playing in only 55 percent of the defensive snaps. Stats register no broken tackles or missed tackles for the entire 2015 season. Overcome adversity on a long road to success at Alabama.

Weaknesses: Ineffective pass rusher. Was subbed out for teammate A'Shawn Robinson on obvious passing situations. Straight ­line pass rusher unable to turn a corner and generate heat inside the pocket. Had just two sacks and sixteen quarterback pressures during his two years with Alabama. Bull rush is lacking. Average foot quickness and lacking upfield explosion out of stance to play in a one­ gap scheme. His hand work is very mediocre as a pass rusher. Character issues as he was arrested for DUI in the summer of 2014.

Projected Round: 1

Possible landing spot: Detroit Lions

Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State
Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State

5. Austin Johnson, Penn State

Bio: A high school basketball star, Austin Johnson's massive frame made him a perfect athlete for the football field. As a redshirt junior, he recorded 78 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and six sacks all while earning his bachelor's degree in journalism .

Strengths: Exceptional size and girth with burly bubble for a lower body. Doesn’t carry much bad weight on his sizable frame and moves well for as big as he is. Plays with excellent hustle and pursuit. Rare tackle production for an interior defender with 75 this season. Won’t give in against double teams. Plants an outside leg and fights hard to hold his ground and maintain leverage of his gap. Fights through secure blocks and gets back onto the ­side of the play. Plus instincts and awareness. Against shotgun rushing attacks, looks to set an early edge and has a nose for screen passes. Bull ­rusher who can push a center deep into the pocket.

Weaknesses: Poor handwork. Allows blockers into his frame making it harder to disengage. Has to change mindset from holding ground to winning quickly at point of attack. May not have desired length for classic, stack and shed nose tackle. Showed signs of frustration with Ohio State's Jacoby Boren's tenacity. Can be knocked off balance early in play when his pad level isn’t squared up. Needs to fire into blockers and take command of neutral zone. Not a penetrating pass rusher.

Projected Round: 1-2

Possible landing spot: Indianapolis Colts

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