This post covers my preliminary rankings of the top interior defensive linemen entering the 2017 NFL Draft. That group consists of zero technique (nose) tackle, three technique (rush) tackle and 3-4 interior lineman prospects. For analysis of the respective rankings of certain prospects, see the corresponding footnotes (+).
1. Jonathan Allen (Alabama) | 6’3 290 (++)
2. Malik McDowell (Michigan St) | 6’6 290 (+++)
3. Jarron Jones (Notre Dame) | 6’5 315 (++++)
4. Jaleel Johnson (Iowa) | 6’3 310 (+++++)
5. Montravius Adams (Auburn) | 6’3 310
6. Chris Wormley (Michigan) | 6’5 300
7. Carlos Watkins (Clemson) | 6’4 305 (++++++)
8. Elijah Qualls (Washington) | 6’1 320 (+++++)
9. Davon Godchaux (LSU) | 6’4 295
10. Nazir Jones (UNC) | 6’5 295
11. Caleb Brantley (Florida) | 6’2 295
12. Isaac Rochell (Notre Dame) | 6’3 290
13. Larry Ogunjobi (Charlotte) | 6’2 305
14. Jake Replogle (Purdue) | 6’5 295
15. Dalvin Tomlinson (Alabama) | 6’2 305
16. Ryan Glasgow (Michigan) | 6’3 299
17. Vincent Taylor (Oklahoma St) | 6’2 310
18. Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA) | 6’2 305
19. Charles Walker (Oklahoma) | 6’2 300
(+) As a whole, this is a deep and diverse talent group, with many scheme dependent players that will be better athletic fits for certain teams over others. Accordingly, to a certain extent it’s a futile exercise to rank these players holistically without consideration of a specific teams. Nonetheless, these rankings reflect a good snapshot and starting point towards more specific, team-based evaluations.
(++) Extensive review of Allen’s play confirms that he’s a clear-cut top 2 overall prospect in this draft class and could, in fact, challenge DE Myles Garrett to be the first overall pick. Allen’s highly instinctive and versatile (demonstrating an ability to line up at 0-, 3-, and 5-technique with equal effectiveness), exhibits a rare blend of agility and power, and can beat offensive linemen with an array moves (bull, swim, spin, rip, club, etc.) to wreak havoc in opposing back fields. In the end, my views on Allen v. Garrett may similar to early views on Fournette v. Cook–in other words, there’s an argument worth examining that while Garrett displays the idealized qualities of a defensive end prospect, Allen presents the better bet to be the more impactful player on a play to play basis at the next level. This is an inquiry I plan to dig into much deeper in future post(s).
(+++) Similarly, McDowell will be an interesting player to take an extensive look at in a future post. At 6’6 290, he possesses clear athletic ability to merit top 10, or even top 5, draft pick consideration. But many are weary of his lack of outstanding production last season and contend that he ‘disappeared’ for long stretches of games. In my early review, I found a couple of things interesting about McDowell. First, McDowell actually displays a good motor as well as consistent toughness/competitiveness on a play to play basis. In any situation where there’s an apparent disconnect between the talent-level and actual production, I expect the most likely explanation to be that the player lacks those motor and/or toughness/competitiveness traits consistently in games. But those traits are not apparently lacking in McDowell’s game. If I’m right on that assessment, then McDowell’s lack of production (by traditional statistical measures such as sacks and TFLs) is likely more attributable to unfavorable playing conditions– i.e. having to deal with a greater degree of double-teams than peers. Second, as a corollary to the first point, McDowell was significantly more productive his sophomore season (41 tackles, 13 TFLs, 4.5 sacks and 8 QB hurries) than his junior season (34 tackles, 7 TFLs, 1.5 sacks and 5 QB hurries). Notably, the Spartans defense experience a significant talent-drop off after losing DE Shilique Calhoun (and others) to the draft. Without a complimentary pass rusher, its reasonable to assume McDowell did, in fact, face a large number of double teams. So, McDowell will be an interesting prospect to dive into deeper in a future post after more extensive review of his play.
(++++) At this stage, I have Notre Dame’s Jarron Jones rated higher than most. Admittedly, I need to better understand his injury history and how that will ultimately affect his draft status, but that information will come in time. Regardless, he shows clear flashes of first round talent in games–exhibiting an especially impressive blend of power and length to be a disruptive presence up the middle. More inquiry is needed to assess his other attributes (such as motor/consistency, agility, etc.), but, at this juncture, I think it’s safe to say that anyone whose seen his game against Miami (6 TFL’s) would agree that he’s in the discussion as the 3rd best DL prospect behind Allen and McDowell.
(+++++) Iowa’s Johnson and Washington’s Qualls are both agile enough to play multiple techniques along the DL, but I view them as the best zero-technique (Nose) tackle prospects along with Jones. Johnson displays an above-average blend of power and leverage to take on double-teams as well as agility, motor and hand technique to push the pocket on passing plays… Qualls played a significant number of snaps at DE in a 4-3-4 base at Washington but has the traditional physical build (at 6’1 320) of a squatty zero technique capable of plugging the middle and occupying multiple blocks. Qualls’ surprising agility and first step quickness are additional assets that should allow him to be scheme versatile and a quality starting interior lineman at the next level.
(++++++) I need to watch more of Clemson’s Carlos Watkins. His production this season was impressive (50 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 10.5 sacks, 4 QB hurries) and strongly suggests he should be ranked higher on this list. Additionally, I’ve seen stretches of play that suggest his gaudy production is representative of his talent level as an NFL prospect. With that said, I noted stretches where he failed to play with leverage on run plays or generate push on pass plays. Accordingly, I have him tentatively ranked #7 but anticipate that a more focused review of his play will cause me to likely push him up (as high as #3) or down (as low as #12) these rankings.