This is a five-part series in which I will take a quick glance at who to keep a watch for this offseason as the draft process begins. There is still a lot left to be determined, but this will give you an early glance at who some of the top candidates at each position are. In this first installment, we will take a look at the defensive tackle position.
#1 Ed Oliver – Houston – JR Oliver if he declares, is the best overall defensive player in this class. He has been a starter since he first stepped foot on a college field and has played like a man among boys. As a true freshman, he recorded sixty-six tackles, twenty-three for a loss and five sacks. As a sophomore, he tallied seventy-three tackles, sixteen and a half for a loss and five and a half sacks.
Now we look at this season, where he missed time due to injuries and only played in eight games. Despite the time missed, it was highly noticeable when he wasn’t on the field, and he still was on pace for a career-best season. On the season, he had fifty-four tackles, fourteen and a half for a loss and three sacks. You have to watch his tape to fully appreciate this beast. He’s routinely double and tripled teamed on every play. He wreaks havoc and is a constant disruptive force. At 6’3” / 292 lbs and with his style of play, he reminds me of John Randle of the Minnesota Vikings. Yes, he’s that type of monster!
1st Round Grade – Top 5 Pick
#2 Quinnen Williams – Alabama – SO (RS) Unless you follow the Crimson Tide closely, Williams is a name that has likely come out of nowhere. He redshirted his freshman year at ‘Bama. In 2017, as a redshirt freshman, he played mostly as a backup, showing flashes of his potential. He played in all fourteen games, recording twenty tackles, six and a half for a loss and two sacks. Now jump ahead to this year, when he finally got his chance to be a starter and a dominant one at that. He has been terrorizing quarterbacks and running backs all season. Through fourteen games this season he has amassed sixty-seven tackles, eighteen for a loss and eight sacks. Keep in mind. He still has one game left to play, the National Championship game versus Clemson.
Watching him play and in my film study, he stands out early and often. He routinely commands double teams, and even still opponents have a hard time getting him blocked. He’s a bit different than the ‘Bama defensive tackles that have recently come before him in that he’s more of a power guy. But don’t be fooled, at 6’4” / 295 lbs he still moves very well. If he decides to declare for the draft teams will fall in love with him, once they put on his film and watch him work.
1st Round Grade – Top 10 Pick
#3 Christian Wilkins – Clemson – SR The Tigers have such a loaded defensive line you could pick any of them and not be wrong, but Wilkins is a monster up front. While his tackle total was down just a bit this season, his tackles for loss (14) and sacks (5½) were personal bests. He is a dominant force up front, and his game will translate very well to the NFL. He’s the type of player that will make everyone around him better. Teams will go crazy over him when they begin to break down his film.
Statistically, last year was his best season, in which he recorded sixty tackles, eight and a half tackles for a loss and four and a half sacks. However this season he set his career best in sacks with five and a half and still has one game left. He’s one of the few interior players that can provide a solid pass rush. As you all know that’s a skill that is highly coveted by NFL teams. At 6’4” / 315 lbs he has the prototypical size teams covet and skillset to go with it.
1st Round Grade – Top 20 Pick
#4 Rashan Gary – Michigan – JR The Wolverine defensive tackle has been a leader for this defense, but injuries have set him back this season. Last season was his best season when he posted sixty-six tackles, twelve for a loss and six sacks. He is so quick off the snap and can penetrate the backfield quickly before the offense can adjust. This season, he tallied forty-four tackles, seven for a loss and three and a half sacks in only eight games.
When healthy he reminds me a lot of last years phenom Da’Ron Payne from Alabama. There is a lot of similarities between the two. The quickness and burst off the snap will be huge at the next level. There were questions about whether Payne would succeed in NFL and he’s had a heck of a season for the redskins. I see Gary having that same type of success or even better.
2nd Round Grade – Top 50 Pick
#5 Dre’Mont Jones -Ohio State – JR One of the more underrated defensive lineman over the last couple of seasons, Jones had a breakout year for the Buckeyes. After recording seventy-two tackles, nine for a loss and one sack in his first two seasons, in Columbus, he exploded for forty tackles, eleven for a loss and eight sacks this season. He elevated his game as a starter, and it paid off for him. He is a slow riser on draft boards, but a very underrated player. At 6’3” / 289 lbs he has decent size and can add mass if needed. Teams will look closely at his tape and see his potential. It will come down to his workouts and how he tests.
3rd Round Grade – Top 75 Pick