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2016 DT Rankings

April 24, 2016

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  1. Robert Nkemdiche Ole Miss 6’3 ½ 294 Jr. He wowed at the Combine with a 4.87 40-best among DTs, ‘35 vertical-best, as well as impressed with 28 reps, ‘33 ⅞ arms and 10 ¾ hands. He’s big and long in the right places and thin and athletic in the right places. #1 DT coming out of HS. Freshman All SEC (consensus) and All-American (on only some lists). He started at DE as a freshman but eventually moved inside to DT, which is a logical move and I applaud it over Mario Edwards Jr.’s insistence at staying outside. In 3 years he’s always been productive but never dominant like he was expected to be. His best year was 2015 (29 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 TFL) but his 2014 season was pretty similar (35 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL). On film though it is hard not to fall in love with him as he’s just so explosive for his size. The Ole Miss defense noticeably plays differently when he’s on the field as he’s such a disrupter. He gets double teamed all the time and it can partially explain why his stats aren’t great. He is the biggest hitter in this DT class as he can really clobber guys. He sometimes looks too skinny and I could see him being bulked up by a lot of teams, though some one gap teams would keep him at his sub 300 weight. No other DT can hold a candle to his highlight reel and I bet some DL coaches will “pound the table” for him as they want to work with him. He played a little offense and was pretty good at it both as a blocker and as a receiver. I could definitely see him becoming a short yardage FB as again he just blows people up when he can set his shoulders to them. What is tough about grading him is two things: 1) Is he a good person and will you want him on a 2nd contract? If the answer is no then you don’t take him in the 1st round as that is the “foundation round” where you only draft guys you will want to re-sign after 4-5 years. His synthetic marijuana incident at a hotel as well as his poor interviews at the Combine have not made him the most likeable prospect these past 5 months. 2) Why was he invisible so often? Will he work hard at the next level? There are too many plays where you can tell he isn’t giving full effort. His stats should embarrass him as he’s been the most athletic DT in the country the past two seasons yet hasn’t dominated like he should. In the end he’s less about production, measurables or film and more about an organization’s willingness to gamble on greatness. Not in terms of style of play but as a boom/bust DT with elite talent he reminds me of Nick Fairley out of Auburn in 2011. 5 years later Fairley is on to his 3rd team as his talent level buys him a lot of 2nd chances but his lack of consistent production can’t buy him a long term deal with any of them. Nkemdiche is more talented than Fairley but was less productive in college. Does that mean his likelihood for success is increased or decreased in relation to Fairley? Robert has Hall of Fame talent but very easily could be a bust too as an underachiever that is habitually in a coach’s doghouse. I think he makes sense as a mid 1st when his absurdly high ceiling becomes too enticing to pass up for far less talented players. Mid 1st as my #1 DT who has a Hall of Fame level ceiling but also has red flags with marijuana use, laziness and mediocre productivity. He’s the biggest roll of the dice in the 2016 NFL Draft but I have a higher grade on him than the consensus as there just aren’t that many men his size with his athleticism 4/23/16.
  2. Andrew Billings Baylor 6’0 ⅝ 311 Jr. He’s on the shorter side for a DT but has ‘33 arms (slightly bigger than normal for his height) and ‘10 hands. His 5.05 40 is borderline elite but his explosion and quickness drills were poor. His tackle totals were between 30-39 tackles each of his three seasons at Baylor (mediocre) but his 7.5 sacks and 25.5 TFL the past two years is very good. He was helped by having Shawn Oakman outside with him the past few years but when I casually watched Baylor I always thought Billings not Oakman was the tougher player to defend. Due to his lack of height his 311 lbs looks bigger than it is as he’s quite huge on film. For that size he has quick feet and a good burst. He really squares people up and can lay the wood on them. There is a lot of film of opponents being shocked at how fast he closed on them as guys his size don’t usually have such a quick step. He beats his man immediately off the snap on a regular basis. His shorter arms will be a hindrance for him as you can see OL beat him at times with their reach. He has a great motor and really battles to the whistle. He played well against top competition with OU, Texas and West Virginia being his season highs in tackles. He had one play where he beat his man immediately against TCU and Boykin tried to juke him but failed. Again his short area quickness is really impressive for his size. I love Billings and just wish he was a little taller and a little more explosive. His feet and agility are elite for a guy his size but his burst and overall speed probably aren’t quite as good as his 40 time would suggest. As a run blocker he is great at anchoring due to his large frame and isn’t moved easily. As a pass rusher he often beats his man off the snap and if given a chance at the QB he often will be successful in bringing them down because of his elite agility. Nonetheless he has some physical limitations which keep him from getting a higher grade. He should be an above average, very productive defensive tackle but I doubt he ever becomes a Pro Bowler. Late 1st round as my #2 DT 4/23/16.
  3. Sheldon Rankins Louisville 6’1 ⅛ 299 Sr. He and Noah Spence were the two big winners at the Senior Bowl as they both were unblockable in one on one drills. He had the second best Combine performance in the DT group only behind Nkemdiche. His 5.03 40, 28 reps, ‘34 ½ vertical, ‘9’10 broad and 7.44 3 cone were all near the top among DTs. What I like the most is that he was so well rounded as he was fast, strong, explosive and quick. Usually a DT is fast and quick or strong and explosive but not both. He barely played in 2012 or 2013 as a backup. Despite that he still had two +50 tackle seasons and his 14 sacks and 26.5 TFL are elite for his position. His arms aren’t the longest (‘33 ⅜) and his hands aren’t the biggest (9 ⅜) which could hamper him a bit at the next level but his short area quickness, agility, productivity and motor are all top notch. Despite his Combine being very good Nkemdiche is on another level as a pure athlete. Rankins though bests him in the character, work ethic and production categories so it will be interesting to see who gets drafted first. I really like Rankins but am hesitant about moving him too high as almost a reflexive action against Nkemdiche as Rankins doesn’t have All-Pro, let alone Hall of Fame, level talent and just because he is more dependable than Nkemdiche doesn’t mean he should be taken ahead of him. Rankins projects as an above average starting DT with some Pro Bowl potential but he isn’t explosive enough to be a superstar. While he has practically no bust potential due to his well rounded game and work ethic he also has a far lower ceiling than Nkemdiche and therefore ends with a Late 1st grade as my #3 DT 4/23/16.
  4. Jonathan Bullard Florida 6’3 285 Sr. His 4.93 40 is solid for his size but puts him as a DT not a DE. He moved all around the DL at Florida and some might have him as a 4-3 SDE or a 3-4 DE. His 66 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 17.5 TFL in 2015 was his best year but he played regularly for all four years at Florida and had a very good 2014 as well, fewer sacks but comparable tackles. He’s a violent player and has a good burst which makes me think a one gap DT makes the most sense for him. Most of his TFLs come from his quick burst where he just beats his opponent out of their stance. The more I watch him the more I’m impressed with his speed, quickness and agility for his size. He is definitely a sleeper due to how deep this DT class is as I haven’t heard much about him and he is right on the 1st round bubble talent wise. He isn’t the strongest player but should hold up well enough against the run, he wasn’t moved too much vs. Alabama in 2015, and is an impact player as a disruptor. Bullard looks like a perfect fit as a one gap penetrator as he has the best burst of any DT not named Nkemdiche. In the right scheme he has Pro Bowl potential but at worst he should be a solid player that excels as a pass rusher. Early 2nd round, barely missing the late 1st round cut, as my #4 DT 4/24/16.
  5. Hassan Ridgeway Texas 6’3 ⅜ 303 Jr. Redshirted 1 season. He ran a 5.02 40 which is elite. His explosion drills were good too but his quickness drills were well below average so he was a mixed bag. He left one season early and was only a backup in 2013 so he really only has two years of experience. In those two years he was productive with 82 tackles, 9.5 sacks and 16 TFL combined. He is pretty raw as you can see he doesn’t yet know how to use his hands and doesn’t really have any moves. The fact that he’s so productive at his age is impressive. His 5.02 40 translates as he has a real burst to him and gets upfield quickly. He has some vicious hits on QBs and loves to throw them down like ragdolls when he gets a hold of them. Texas was multi-fronted in 2015 and sometimes it had him as a 3-4 DE which looked like a good fit in college and in the future as a pro. He really has a lot of versatility as he could be a 1 gap or 2 gap 4-3 DT or a 3-4 DE. Few DTs have that versatility but his combination of frame, strength and speed is impressive. I suspect he would have been in the 1st round conversation next year if he had returned to school for his senior year. Ridgeway is a talented kid that is still very raw. Despite that he’s been very productive and fits any scheme. I really like him and think he’s a bit of a sleeper in this draft. In five years it wouldn’t surprise me if he was one of the 2-3 best DTs to come out of this draft class. Early 2nd round as my #5 DT 4/23/16.
  6. Adolphus Washington Ohio St. 6’3 ⅜ 301 Sr. He had a 5.17 40 which was average and his explosion and quickness drills were below average so overall his Combine was not impressive. He has 14 career sacks and two seasons with +40 tackles. I’m surprised by his poor measurables as he always looked impressive on film to me when I just casually watched Ohio State. Going back to the film he again looks pretty athletic and I think he plays faster and more explosively than he’s measured. In four years he played in a lot of big games against a lot of talented offensive line and he regularly made plays. He had Bosa and other very talented teammates but Washington always showed up. His ‘34 hands and good burst are his calling cards as he excels at disengaging from blockers and chasing a play due to his good burst and agility. He is great at using his hands to get away from blockers. He probably has the best hand use of any DT in this draft class. He doesn’t hold up against the run very well and has a lot of plays where he is rooted out by the OL and a hole is created where he was. He’s best on the move and when he’s penetrating so he is scheme specific as a one gap penetrator. In that role he could be very good but lacks too high of a ceiling as he isn’t an elite athlete. In the right scheme though I expect him to be an above average starter that puts up decent sack numbers as his burst, agility and hand use are all very good. Early 2nd round as my #6 DT 4/23/16.
  7. Vernon Butler Louisiana Tech 6’3 ⅝ 323 Sr. He’s a huge man with ‘35 arms, 10 ¾ hands and 323 lbs. He also is a subpar athlete with a 5.33 40, ‘29 ½ vertical and 4.76 shuttle all of which were near the bottom among DL. For a big guy he had good productivity with two 50 tackle seasons and 4 sacks the past two years. I love his long reach and he uses it well as he really disengages from blockers adeptly and isn’t just a two hole run stuffer. He had a really good week of practice at the Senior Bowl and had a sack in the game as he showed his multi-faceted game. Considering how strong and physical he is at the POA, the fact that he can add anything in the pass rush department is pretty impressive. I love Butler as a 3 down starting DT. He won’t be a Pro Bowler but should be an above average starter for a long time. Late 2nd round as my #7 DT 4/23/16.
  8. Kenny Clark UCLA 6’2 ⅝ 314 Jr. He had a great 40 (5.06) and a very good shuttle (4.62) but was mediocre in the other measurables. He had two 50 tackle seasons, very impressive considering he’s a true junior, and his 2015 stats (75 tackles, 6 sacks, 11 TFL) are about as impressive as you will see for a DT outside of the elites like Aaron Donald or Ndamkong Suh. He’s probably best as a two gap DT but he has scheme flexibility as his quickness and agility would make him fit a one gap scheme pretty well too. He excels at grabbing a RB right as he is getting through his hole. It isn’t a “splash” play as it usually results in a 2-3 yd gain for the RB but it is a good tackle that would still be considered a win for the defense. He’s quicker and more agile than he is fast as Clark has basically the same 40 as Maliek Collins (5.06 to 5.03) but Collins is much faster than him on film. While that is the negative on him, Clark is a far superior prospect than Collins as he is so much stronger at the POA. Against Stanford he could not be moved and had a great batted ball at the LOS when he took a C/OG double team on him and still pushed them back into Kevin Hogan. It really impressed me as he basically pushed 600 lbs of flesh backwards and then timed his left hand perfectly to bat the ball down. He doesn’t have star potential but Clark is a very good prospect nonetheless as he’s a complete DT who can hold up against double teams, makes plays sideline to sideline and controls his gaps. He looks like an underrated player to me and could be a steal if he slips on draft day due to his lack of flash and how deep this DT class is. Late 2nd round as my #8 DT 4/23/16.
  9. A’Shawn Robinson Alabama 6’3 ⅝ 307 Jr. He has ‘34 ½ arms, ‘10 ½ hands and is a great run stopper due to that size and length. His 40 (5.20) was average and his explosion and quickness drills were below average. As a true junior it’s impressive that he has three seasons with 38 or more tackles and two seasons with 3.5 or more sacks. He has some “oh that looks like a concussion” type hits in his career. He’s very heavy handed and gets a noticeable push against even top level OL. If you are looking for strength, Robinson is your guy. He might be the strongest prospect in the draft and definitely is the best run stopper in this class. Unfortunately he’s another overrated Alabama prospect and until I stop seeing the Alabama DL become mediocre starters or busts in the NFL then I will continue to downgrade them. Marcel Dareus is the obvious anomaly of the group but everyone knew he had stardom written all over him and that is why he went in the top 3 that year. The others (Terence Cody, Courtney Upshaw, Josh Chapman, Jesse Williams, Quinton Dial, Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan) all have underwhelmed and there is a reason for it. All of these guys are strong and physical at the POA with limited athleticism and almost no pass rush skills. Combined those 7 guys might have less than 10 career sacks as they just don’t have the body or experience for that style of play. Robinson appears to be in this same mold as most of his sacks are of the coverage sack variety. He had a very good secondary and the best secondary coach in America (Nick Saban) teaching them so it’s important to understand this guy isn’t a pass rush threat at the next level despite his 9 career sacks. He is as strong as they come and will be great as a run stuffer but this skill set is becoming less valuable to NFL teams by the year. He is a consensus 1st round candidate but I want no part of him anywhere near that high. Early 3rd round as my #9 DT who is a one trick pony as an elite run stuffer 4/23/16.
  10. Maliek Collins Nebraska 6’1 ⅞ 311 Jr. He had a great 40 (5.03) and really good quickness drills (4.52 shuttle, 7.53 3 cone). He only had 1 season with more than 30 tackles but did have 8 sacks in his 3 year career with his Sophomore year (45 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 10.5 TFL) being better than his Junior year. He’s a one gap penetrating type DT and has good arm length for that type (‘33 ⅛). He has a noticeable burst when attacking a QB and his highlight reel is pretty impressive. He clearly missed Randy Gregory in 2015 though and can be easily shut down if double teamed. He has a few plays where he just beats his man immediately off the snap but most of his sacks, pressures and TFL come from a bull rush where he takes him a decent amount of time to disengage from his blocker. Championship wrestler in high school going 48-0 his senior season. He isn’t that strong and needs to gather himself to take down a QB. His short area quickness and burst are elite as was his 2014 film making me wonder what happened in 2015 as his production was very mediocre. He probably played himself from a late 1st/early 2nd to a mid 3rd round grade because of it. Collins is a tough grade as there are flashes of Pro Bowl talent but he’s too inconsistent as a pass rusher production wise and as a run defender he is mediocre at best due to his average strength. Mid 3rd round as my #10 DT who has a high ceiling but is scheme specific (one gap only) and has a lot of bust potential in him 4/23/16.
  11. Javon Hargrave South Carolina St. 6’1 ⅜ 309 Sr. He had an amazing 40 (4.93) which was 2nd best to only Robert Nkemdiche. He played in the FCS so level of competition will always be concerning. When scouting lower level players though you want to see that they dominated, an issue I have with Wentz’s elevated stock as he wasn’t historically dominant by any stretch, and Hargrave dominated. In 2014 he was the FCS DPOY with 16 sacks as a DT! In 2015 he had another 13.5 sacks and combined for 45.5 TFL in those two seasons. That is mind boggling folks as interior DL don’t lead the nation in sacks, no matter the competition level. He played very well at the East-West Shrine game. He’s a one gap type guy with his elite speed but he has a big butt and with 29 reps on the 225 lb bench he has good strength so I could see him anchoring well against the run too. Right now he’s just a high ceiling project due to his lower level status but I’d consider rolling the dice on him as his 40 is elite, his production was elite and on film you can see that he has special athleticism for a man his size. Mid 3rd round as my #11 DT who is a roll of the dice with a high ceiling 4/23/16.
  12. Chris Jones Mississippi St. 6’5 ¾ 310 Jr. He had a 5.03 40 which is elite. His explosive drills were very poor though and his quickness drills were above average so he was a mixed bag but overall had good measurables at the Combine. He’s abnormally tall for a DT but his ‘34 ½ arms and ‘10 ¾ hands are positives to that height. He had 8.5 sacks the past three years but never more than 44 tackles in a season. He was arrested 1 month before the draft when he was caught speeding and had an expired license. The charges were dropped and deservedly so as those are two minor infractions and shouldn’t hamper a kid from possibly earning millions in the NFL. His movements are labored due to how big he is as you can tell he’s been taught to keep his shoulders down. He could have back issues later in his career due to his height. He has good athleticism but he’s so long legged that he has poor agility and struggles to “wade through the lines” when trailing a play. Personally I think he makes sense to bulk up and become a 3-4 NT as his frame is huge and he could easily add 15 lbs to it. He has good strength and is just a massive man so it makes sense for him to become that type of player. Right now Jones is a tweener between a 4-3 DT and a 3-4 NT. If he stays where he is I think he could be a solid rotational 4-3 DT but I worry about how laborsome his movements are and really dislike his trailing skills. If he bulks up though he could become a pretty good player and start in this league for a long time. Early 4th round as my #12 DT who I would bulk up into a behemoth 3-4 NT 4/23/16.
  13. Austin Johnson Penn St. 6’4 ⅜ 314 Jr. Redshirted 1 season. He had a poor 40 (5.32 40) to go with poor explosion (‘26 vertical) and quickness drills (4.75 shuttle). He was arguably the most productive DT in the nation last year with 78 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 15 TFL. His 2014 was very solid too with 49 tackles though only 1 sack and 6 TFL. He lines up directly over the center and is a very physical, aggressive player that likes to battle to the whistle. He has terrible change of direction and short area quickness which makes him unlikely to be able to bring QBs down even if given the chance at the next level. He has a great motor and is always hustling. His 40 was pretty poor but he seems to play faster than that. His poor explosion and quickness do show up though on tape as again he just isn’t a quick start or stop type of player. Austin is a strong, physical player that will battle you for 4 quarters. He isn’t an elite run stuffer like A’Shawn Robinson but is in the same mold. Austin won’t provide much of a pass rush and looks like a future average starter or very good rotation player. Mid 4th round as my #13 DT 4/23/16.
  14. Sheldon Day Notre Dame 6’0 ⅝ 293 Sr. He’s a short DT with good speed (5.07 40) and great quickness (7.44 3 cone is near the top among DTs). He never had a +50 tackle season but had two +40 tackle seasons and his 2015 stats (45 tackles, 4 sacks, 15.5 TFL) are very solid. 2x captain at Notre Dame which is rare (only 21 players ever had that multi-year honor). He has some huge dreadlocks. He’s got a motor that doesn’t stop and is a big reason for his solid production. His 40 doesn’t appear to fully translate as he is quicker than fast and appears to lack elite speed or burst. He does have really good feet for a big man and shows impressive agility. He is blocked initially almost all of the time and gets his production more from hustle and stamina as he seems to play a large number of snaps. I love his character and work ethic but his ceiling is pretty low as he’s short, has mediocre speed (despite running a very good 40) and doesn’t look like a future impact player. One positive though is a lot of teams seek high character backups as a cheap way to improve a locker room culture. He would fit that bill as he was a leader for Notre Dame due to his motor and intensity. Mid 4th round as my #14 DT 4/23/16
  15. Jihad Ward Illinois 6’5 ⅛ 297 Sr. His name is Jihad. Are you kidding me? He’s explosive. He’s a ticking time bomb. I’m kidding….Ward is a huge, long man at 6’5 with ‘33 ⅞ arms. He had a good 40 (5.11) and good quickness drills but was very poor in the explosion drills and wasn’t strong. He’s a one gap penetrating type DT but has the frame to add weight and become a 2 gap if necessary, though I wouldn’t go that route. He was a JUCO kid yet came in at Illinois and immediately contributed with 2 straight +50 tackle seasons. His 4.5 sacks and 12 TFL those two seasons isn’t very impressive. He has good speed and trails run plays very well. He played all over the DL as they knew he was their best player and they moved him around a lot. He has good long speed but doesn’t have a good burst and seems to take a bit of time to get going. He makes the most sense as a 3-4 DE who can stop the run but still be mobile enough to get some pressure. As a 4-3 DT he isn’t quick enough to be the true disruptor you want in an under tackle and isn’t strong enough at the POA to be a great fit as a two gap run stopper. Added weight could improve this latter issue but 3-4 DE makes the most sense. I’m not a huge fan of Ward’s tape as there are a lot of plays that he is just flat out blocked. In a 3-4 scheme he could make a solid DE but I see below average starter or good backup material at best in Ward. Plus I hate his name. Late 4th round as my #15 DT 4/23/16.
  16. Adam Gotsis Georgia Tech 6’4 ½ 287 Sr. He is an extremely long, skinny DT with his ‘34 ⅛ arms and ‘10 ¾ hands both being very big for the position. His 12.5 career sacks (11.5 the past three years) is very good for the position and his 3 +30 tackle seasons is solid and shows consistency. He tore his ACL late in the season and didn’t work out at the Combine. Due to the late timing of the injury he will miss all of minicamps, likely will miss training camp and could miss part or all of his rookie season. He’s Australian and has a decent following back home. He was a captain in 2015. He’s an athletic kid that moves incredibly well for his frame. He’s pretty thin and could easily add 10-20 lbs depending on the scheme. He has great mobility but doesn’t look that explosive. He isn’t the strongest guy and struggles to anchor against the run. He seems to be a bit raw, not surprising since he played more rugby than football in Australia. He’s basically a mid to late round project with an elite frame that could be bulked up for a 4-3 run stuffing DT or left the same for a 3-4 DE. He isn’t athletic enough to be a one gap 4-3 DT so those are his two options but I’m intrigued by his frame and his mobility for that size. Mid 6th round as my #16 DT who is a project coming off a major knee injury so a team investing in him will have to be patient 4/23/16.
  17. Jarran Reed Alabama 6’2 ⅞ 307 Sr. JUCO player his first two seasons. Both of his seasons he had +50 tackles and little else (2 sacks, 11 TFL). He has ‘33 ⅜ arms which are a little short for his height. His ‘10 ½ hands are big, his 40 (5.21) is mediocre, his vertical is mediocre and his quickness drills are below average. He fits as a 3-4 DE body wise. His film is not impressive and I openly wonder if this kid would even have a draftable grade if he played for Mississippi State instead of Alabama. I watched his Tennessee film and saw him get no push and cause no disruption all game long. If they came in his hole, he covered it and made the tackle. If they didn’t run in his hole he was a complete non-factor. Role players like this aren’t drafted off any other teams than Alabama and maybe Ohio State. Reed looks like a backup DT who will struggle to get playing time and will not be an impactful player. He did have a good week of Senior Bowl practices so I’m moving him out of undrafted free agent territory. Mid 6th Round as my #17 DT who is vastly overrated due to his connection to an Alabama program that has won 4 national titles in the past 7 years 4/23/16.
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