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Top Five 2017 NFL Draft Prospects- Defensive Tackle
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.
1. Malik McDowell, Michigan State
Bio: After playing mostly in a reserve role as a freshman, Malik McDowell lined up two second-team All-Big Ten seasons for the Spartans. In those two seasons, he recorded 20 tackles for loss and six sacks.
Strengths: Slippery and long. Combination of arm length and flexible torso allow him to slither into gaps and create disruptions for blockers. Freaky combination of size and athleticism. Can overwhelm blockers with pure strength and explosiveness when his feet are right. Strong enough in lower half to play through contact and cause stress in the pocket. Has tremendous amount of untapped potential waiting to be unlocked. Quick, strong hands in pass rush. Able to attack the edge with club-and-swim move. Can crank up a pocket-caving bull rush. Can redirect his weight and maintain pursuit of mobile quarterbacks. Long frame and play speed can close out perimeter runs and foil them before corner is turned. Elite playmaking radius. Explosive lateral movement and quickness. Could bound from one gap to the next in Michigan State's slanting defensive front. Will be extremely difficult to cross face as he learns the position. Has experience up and down the defensive line.
Weaknesses: Footwork and technique are a disaster. Plays with inconsistent base width and overall balance. Struggles to keep feet clean and ends up on the ground too often. Lines up in narrow, three-point stance from interior and struggles to fight back against down blocks and double teams. Can be washed out of his gap too often. High center of gravity made interior work a challenge at times. Can bend, but lets high pad level get the best of him. Doesn't consistently utilize his length with hands. Has to become better at controlling the point of attack with his natural attributes. Needs to punch and control rather than leaning on blockers. Production doesn't match up with the traits and the talent. Work ethic and character a concern.
Projected Round: 1
Compares to: Ziggy Ansah
Possible landing spot: Oakland Raiders
2. Caleb Brantley, Florida
Bio: In his three seasons at Florida, Caleb Brantley was a mainstay on the Gator's defensive line. In that time he recorded 19 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
Strengths: Compact frame with lean muscle mass and thickness in his arms and legs. Has tremendous play strength and can dislodge guards with hip torque. Plays hungry and with passion. Able to plant his flag and stand his ground against double teams. When he gets the snap, it's over. Has the initial quickness and play strength to get into the gap and plow through any and all redirect block attempts. Wants blocker to feel the power in his initial punch. Works off blocks and towards the play. Better pass rusher talent than sack total would indicate. Quick punch and pry opens blockers' edge allowing him to wedge into the pocket. Efficient mover with no wasted motion. Considers one-on-one blocks a sign of disrespect. Extremely confident. Prior to his junior year, he claimed to be "the best defensive tackle in the country."
Weaknesses: Straight line rusher and slightly undersized. May need to add more mass on his frame. Doesn't possess the lateral agility or quickness to excel as a rusher in twists up front. Not a dynamic pass rusher. Needs to add a counter move for when his power rush stalls out. Has to prove he can handle extended snap count. Part of deep defensive line rotation and was usually kept fresh. Misses out on sacks and tackles for losses due to lack of length to consistently finish when he gets near the ball. Guesses snap count, drawn offsides 10 times over the last two seasons.
Projected Round: 2
Compares to: Aaron Donald
Possible landing spot: New York Jets
3. Carlos Watkins, Clemson
Bio: After the 2015, Carlos Watkins could have been a high draft pick that year, but decided to stay in school and help Clemson win a National Championship. He did just that, thanks in part to his play on the defensive line. He led the team with 13.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks among his 50 total tackles.
Strengths: Athletic, big man. Shows good movement skills for interior lineman. Operates in twisting, stunting defensive front at Clemson. Good lateral movement and agility creates problems for reach-blocking offensive linemen. Comes off the ball ready to punch and land first with his hands. Has closing burst down the line of scrimmage to challenge running backs looking to make backside cut. Will stop his pass rush and activate hands in the passing lane when he sees quarterback begin to release. Played both nose and 3-technique at Clemson. Substantially more effective player if kept fresh in a rotation. Shows good awareness and recognition against screens.
Weaknesses: Top heavy with a lot of weight around midsection topping leaner lower body. Struggled to grow and stand up for himself against Alabama's powerful double teams. Pad level rises as snap progresses. Powerful guards can get under his pads and turn him out of the hole. Quality of play diminishes rapidly when he gets tired. Needs to get early advantage as pass rusher or he won't be a factor. Missing quality counter moves as a rusher. Needs more aggressiveness at point of attack and shed blocker. Motor runs hot and cold. Needs to show more explosive, sudden elements in his game.
Projected Round: 2
Compares to: Shariff Floyd
Possible landing spot: Cincinnati Bengals
4. Chris Wormley, Michigan
Bio: Chris Wormley chose to attend college in Ann Arbor after being named the Ohio Division I co-Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press. In his four years at Michigan, he amassed 33 tackles for loss and 18 sacks.
Strengths: Well-built, thick frame from head to toe. Natural bender with ease of movement and agility for a man his size. Has experience playing inside and outside. Comes out low and aggressive off the snap. Able to generate bull-rush with speed-to-power drive into tackles. Hints of arm-over and spin moves as rusher. Good technician at point of attack. Sets strong, decisive edge with leverage, arm extension and anchor. Pursuit speed gives him extended tackle radius. Able to close down the line quickly and restrict cutback lanes. Balance is excellent; rarely seen on the ground. Able to plow through redirect blocks when charging through holes. Fairly disciplined in approach. Aware and reactive to jet sweeps and counters. Student of the game and a willing leader.
Weaknesses: Not very twitchy firing out of stance or up the field. Lacks explosion in first two steps as edge rusher. Shows delayed transition into the rush off play fakes. Needs to play with faster hands as pass rusher. His wins against blockers tend to be more eventual than sudden. Remains engaged with blockers longer than desired. Pursuit effort can run a little bit hot and cold. Could lack anchor necessary for fulltime transition inside. NFL offensive linemen will be better equipped to counter his brute strength. Needs to bring feet with him and through the tackles.
Projected Round: 2-3
Compares to: Derek Wolfe
Possible landing spot: Washington Redskins
5. Jarron Jones, Notre Dame
Bio: An offensive tackle recruit out of high school, Jarron Jones moved to the defensive line upon arriving at Notre Dame. He finished his Notre Dame career by making 45 tackles, 11 for loss, two sacks, and two blocked kicks.
Strengths: Former high school basketball player with enticing athletic traits. Able to pursue with quickness in space. Has foot quickness to change direction and extend his tackle radius. Arms are like tentacles that go on forever. Length advantage can be a nightmare for centers and guards who line up against him. Lateral quickness opens doors into backfield as a penetrator. Can be a disruptive force on the other side of the line. Has explosiveness out of stance and up the field as a pass rusher. Combines early explosiveness with rare length to generate pocket push. Frequently a nose, but has the tools and traits to play three- or five-technique as a pro. Has dominant potential if hand usage and pad level can be coached out of him.
Weaknesses: Top heavy. Missing mass through thighs and in calves. Gets battered by down blocks and can be rooted out of gap due to lack of anchor in lower half. Comes off the ball too tall. Needs to play with more consistent bend to alleviate pad level issues. High center of gravity produces issues with balance when thumped with a redirect block. Needs to recognize cut blocks and stuff them more consistently. Unmotivated and questions are raised about his football character. Doesn't treat offseason as a time to get better. Irish coaches had to work overtime to keep him interested and working to get better. Injuries have limited his growth as a player and his overall production. Missed final three games in 2014 with Lisfranc injury and the entire 2015 regular season with a torn MCL. Came back for bowl game that season and injured his foot in that game. Played in just 12 games and only started six.
Projected Round: 2-3
Compares to: Jordan Phillips
Possible landing spot: Atlanta Falcons